This quote from Gabor Maté comes to mind as I read Nina’s Memento Mori by Mathias B Freese.
“I needed to write, to express myself through written language not only so that others might hear me but so that I could hear myself.”
What’s it about?
This is retired psychoanalytic therapist, Mathias B Freese’ memoir of his 2-year marriage to Nina.
I have not read Mathias Freese before and is taken by his unashamed revelation of himself, and in the process, who his beloved Nina was. And this without fear (she is dead and he is old), and without favour (he has no need of this). This book is one man’s expression of love as he bears witness, through memory, to her life. It is a collection of short reflective essays, existentialist in nature and psychoanalytic in process.
I mean no disrespect, when I refer to 78-year old Freese as “old’ as I am aware that “old” is relative and subjective. He himself freely refers to his mortality and what is to come in the memoir.
Freese lays bare his regret and sadness in not loving Nina enough due to his self-perceived inability to express love and to love as well as he should – his “emotional deficits” as he calls them. It is his hope that this memoir would honor his memory of their time together and of the woman that Nina was to him.
The poignancy and sadness of his story are evident. While there is much exposition, references to feelings and emotions are somewhat lacking in the “I am … “ emotional-kind. It is indeed intriguing to read the workings of a psychoanalyst’s mind. Reading this book is like a game of “hide-and-seek”.
Through the essays, Freese professes his need for “mother”, one who would nurture and guide, and love unconditionally. This he had missed out in his early years and consequently, he claimed this role of child in relation to Nina in desiring and seeking safety and hope. These, she was able to provide in her quiet unassuming manner.
She had understood the trauma of his childhood, as she had been in worse. This was followed by two abusive relationships prior to meeting Freese. The commonality of unloving parents, growing up without proper guidance or care (as expected of parents) nor kindness and love perhaps bound Freese and Nina. (Freud did mention something about neurotic complement in marriage? I stand to be corrected 🙂 ) The manner of how each coped was contrary, Freese in his refusal to conform and is outspoken, while Nina adopted the roles required of her and was quiet.
Though he felt inadequate and not “good enough” as a husband, Freese acknowledged “I was Nina’s final grasp at tranquility, of personal realization after decades of torment. I served a good purpose as the human I am.” Perhaps he did love her and in the way she needed to be loved – not as he thought she would want to.
Is it enough to know that one is needed and served a purpose? It would seem not, as Freese’ narrative is replete with regret, of not giving more to the woman who had provided him with space to be and caring in a manner suited to him. His biggest regret for not bringing her from the hospice to their new home to live out her final days. I found the self-flagellation at times difficult to bear.
Did he see her during their marriage? “When we are in a marriage or a relationship, we fabricate images of the other and live accordingly,” he wrote. I will let you decipher this from Nina’s Memento Mori.
While Freese generously gives in thought and intellect, he characterizes himself as restraint in emotional expression or acts of affection. Yet his affection and love for Nina is undeniable. She is portrayed as an industrious woman who cared for two children while working as a seamstress while in abusive relationships. He loved her gracious giving of herself, in receiving his love as he chose to provide it, her quiet stillness, her unimposing presence.
What strikes me is despite the frank self-disclosures, there seems to be much that was not said. “At some levels we choose not to recall.” So what has Freese chosen not to recall? Perhaps that his love is received and is enough. Nina felt the love he had for her – he was “on her side” after all.
And tangentially, I wonder if Freese as psychotherapist and writer with a love for words, has found his manner of coping with his stated inadequacy to express his emotions. I will let you decide for yourself, or not.
This book is both an eulogy and an elegy of Nina, to say and express what he did not when they were together. It is Freese seeking absolution.
As a reader, I thank him for his courage and candour.
I hope Freese experience the redemptive power of writing this memoir. As he said, “I know I must change”.
Would I recommend it?
Yes. Heart-wrenching, thought-provoking.
My rating: 4 /5
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