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Akhtar, S. Smolan, A. (1998). Visiting the Father's Grave. Psychoanal Q., 67(3):474-483.

(1998). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 67(3):474-483

Visiting the Father's Grave

Salman Akhtar, M.D. and Andrew Smolan, M.D.

While adolescence is a nodal point for fine-tuning the internalized object relations of childhood (Blos, 1967), emotional revisiting of the primary objects continues throughout adult life. The establishment of romantic intimacy and marriage during young adulthood (Erikson, 1959; Escoll, 1991), the assumption of the parental role with the arrival of children (Colarusso, 1990), the earnest scrutiny of one's identity and the overcoming of emergent sexual competitiveness and unconscious envy of offspring during middle age (Erikson, 1959; Kernberg, 1980), and the final consolidation of a postambivalent world-view during old age (Akhtar, 1994; Cath, 1997) are all contingent upon the working through of our relations with the parents of childhood. Continued dialogue with parents—actual visits, phone calls, correspondence, exchange of gifts—greatly facilitates psychic development.

In situations of parental loss during childhood, even young adulthood, such internal updating becomes difficult. Transferences (both within and outside a treatment setting), creativity, and transitional phenomena then substitute for actual contact. Anniversary reactions (Pollock, 1970), the use of the deceased's physical possessions (Volkan, 1981), and visits to the burial site acquire much greater psychic significance under such circumstances. It is striking that this last-mentioned phenomenon, though ubiquitous, has received scant psychoanalytic attention. Our paper seeks to fill this gap and to highlight some interesting developmental and technical issues in this area. To accomplish this, we report selected aspects of the analyses of two men whose visits to their fathers' graves played an important role in treatment.

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