Video “Essence” with English subtitles and transcription of the text.
Transcription and translation into English by Adriana Coca Luciana’s mom.
Alicia: Hello, my name is Alicia Schneider Berti. We, Gustavo, my husband, and I, created the Renacer group.
Gustavo: My name is Gustavo Berti, I am Alicia Schneider’s husband. We created Renacer in 1988, a mutual help group of parents facing the death of children, in Rio Cuarto city after we lost our son Nicolás in a car accident.
For that it is necessary to define the different groups which can work with the same problems. We have then three types of groups: support groups, mutual help groups and self help groups. Beginning with the latter, they are groups somewhat paradoxical because people gather in a group to help themselves. In these groups the presence of the other is not important. The grieving groups are examples of this, where each person deals with his grief without caring for others. Then we have the support groups, where people share the same life experience but which are coordinated generally by a professional who has not that experience. The risk in these groups is that the professionals may impose their worldview to the groups when in fact it should be an axiom that in the groups no worldview must be imposed to the parents. In no group values should be imposed to the parents who participate. Lastly we have the mutual help groups which are groups composed by personas who share the same life experience and join together to find meaning to the tragedy they had to live. In this case in the Renacer groups parents don’t gather to cry together but to find meaning to our tragedies. With respect to the task of the groups, to keep the essence of the Renacer groups, it is a unique group because as opposed to the other mutual help groups, we gather for something that we don’t have and don’t want to forget. Apart from that, we have a solid philosophic and anthropologic essence and substrate …
Alicia: It was necessary due to the multiplicity of groups gathered.
Gustavo: … which was necessary to have. And the essence of the groups was based in the need of the presence of the other in our life, because if I don’t have other in front of me there is no group. So, in order for the group to exist there must be other sitting in front. And for the other to return, I have to care more for the other than for myself. And while I care more for the other, because I need for him to return, I come out of my own pain. I share the other’s pain, that is, the compassion for the other makes my pain disappear. To be with the other, isn’t it? There is no other way. So, this is important, because many parents go to the group just to unload their burden, their pain, and don’t realize that there is other person in front who they need. That is, I don’t go to the group to help myself, I go to help the parent who comes and who stands in front of me. That is the message we want to transmit, because then there is a real alternative to grieving. I don’t have the need to grieve, I have the need to care for the other parent that comes and needs me and I need him. And we accompany the parents and tell them: you are responsible for the way you live your life, if you live badly, you can’t blame your child, it is your decision; if you choose to live well, you can’t make your child responsible for that either, it is your decision, but you are responsible, and that is the limit of the group. Because as we don’t impose values in the groups, responsibility is a neutral value, because then the parent comes and we tell him: no, to whom are you responsible? To life, to your family, to God, to the child who departed, that is your decision, we accompany you so far, and we feel comfortable there, because responsibility is a neutral value. It is very easy to impose values to people who are suffering. We must be very careful not to do so.
Marcela Quinteros: When I arrived at Renacer, at the General Pacheco group, I was given reading material by the Berti to read, and I recall that at first I read it and it was Chinese, Chinese, I couldn’t understand, I think I wanted to open my head and stuff the paper inside, I said: “how can it be, no, no, what are they talking about, what are they talking about”; I said: “no, no, it is inexplicable”. And I had it in my bedside table and I read and reread it, 20 times, until at some moment something clicked, at some moment you say: “he was right”. When I heard “grieving process”, “elaborating grief”, I say: “it is not a process or an elaboration”. It is something else that I couldn’t express. I got angry because I said: “process, elaboration. It is not a cake that I finish and say: “great, I made it”. No, it is something else, I said, but I couldn’t express it in words. When they said transcend, I said: “yes, it is transcend”. Because it was something else, it was something else. It was something that I couldn’t see or touch; it was something like passing through a glass without breaking it. That word was: “that is”. It is transcend, because I don’t value it, I make a preparation and have at a specific time the end, ready, no more pain. No, I am working it, bit by bit, in my own time, as I can, as it goes, sometimes not even as I wish, not even, because sometimes you have the disposition and it doesn’t work out, but “persevere and you shall succeed”.
Then you start understanding everything that the Berti transmit, and there you start seeing that there is so much love and you say: “it is like that; what am I going to give? Am I going to give pain? Am I going to give despair? Am I going to give suffering? No. I have the greatest treasure in the World which is the treasure of love of my daughter and I share it, I share it with life, with anybody who wants it, I share it. Why am I going to keep it jealously? It is what I have, it is my treasure. And it is that, love, it is not anything else, it is love.
Gustavo: The groups are universal in the sense that we work with suffering and not with its causes because if we separate then, what happens? We make a Renacer for parents of suicidal children, a Renacer for babies, for parents of babes, a Renacer for children dead by traffic accidents, then these groups become groups of victims, and the groups of victims have a characteristic, which is that they transfer responsibility for their life to the victimizer. While in Renacer we say: “no, Dad, you are responsible for your life, if you choose to be immersed in your pain it is your responsibility, it is not the responsibility of your child. You are responsible for that.”
Alicia: nor is society’s.
Gustavo: nor is society’s. The groups are ecumenical, because suffering belongs to humanity, it doesn’t belong to a particular religion.
Alicia: We welcome parents from any religion and even those with no religion at all. And we try that nobody imposes their point of view; generally nobody does it because everybody realizes that in Renacer nothing is imposed. Each one shows a horizon of values so then the rest can take whatever they think is best for themselves. So, it is clear, it is very clear.
We have learned in all these years, 25 years, how much we have learned. However, we realize that the essence, the intuition, the seed was always there and the message is the proof of that because the message has been enriched, has gained an important theoretical framework with Viktor Frankl. Many of the words we use are from Viktor Frankl or Elisabeth Kubler Ross and some we have coined through this experience. This is such an important life experience, it is a cultural movement, as Gustavo said, to the extent that the death of a child which, at some moment, until Renacer begins, was taboo, it was not mentioned.
Testimonials from parents:
– My son died on December 1st
– Gonzalo, who was the eldest, departed 11 years ago
– Nicolás died January 13st 2007 in a car accident
– My daughter Catalina departed when she was 3 months old
– I am the father of Mariela and César
– Marina Beatriz
– Daniel, the eldest, committed suicide 17 years ago
Alicia: There is such need for a positive, loving, hopeful message. It is like looking at the phenomenon of the death of a child which so far was taboo and was so appalling, looking from the other coast; suddenly this could mean hope, compassion, meaning that these beings were transformed in better human beings.
Which are the main characteristics of the RENACER Group?
Gustavo: In this group there exist four or five elements which become part of the essence of the group working. The first is Morals, and, in essence, morals means to give the other more than what one expects from his. This is what first appears in the history of the groups. Afterwards comes Freedom. Freedom says that if we gather to work about the why, “why me, why now, why him”, we get locked in the category of before and after; this has no exit, because obviously every before was better and every after is worse.
Alicia: or appears worse.
Gustavo: or appears worse. But if we turn that question over and ask ourselves what for, my child came to my life for what, he abandoned us so soon for what, and what message they leave us, then each parent has the freedom to answer these questions, without any influence or imposition of any value to that parent at that time. When the parent chooses to answer that question, he must also assume the responsibility for his choice, then one says, then one asks the question: if I fall apart emotionally I am saying that my child becomes my executioner. But I am responsible for that. If I don’t want to give that message, then I must not act in that way.
José María: My history in Renacer was a bit complicated, because when I arrived at Renacer I was clearly very angry. It upset me to see people laughing, then I said to my wife: “how can it be that these people are laughing”. Logically, one comes to a group of that nature and thinks that what happened to you was the worst, despite seeing parents who had also lost children and I felt very upset for a year, while I didn’t speak, I didn’t want to participate in the gatherings, I went, but …
Until one day, one year and two days later, I heard a phrase which I had heard many times before, but that day something clicked, that your child is not your executioner according to the life you lead. If I lived badly I made him my executioner. Then it clicked and I started to understand a bit about what Renacer was. And then I understood more, and more, and more. I always say that I thank, in quotation marks, for the path my child left me and all this process of love that he left me in order to learn more and more about it, that is why I remain in the group and I love being in it because I know why I am here and what for. I want to stay because I help myself by helping others and I don’t want to be like I was before; and for what? To keep helping myself and continue learning about this, which is, for me, a school of life.
Gustavo: Another aspect which is a part of the essence is equality. These are groups of equals, completely horizontal. We all share the same tragedy. We all lost a child and we entered the group not by our own will but because I child departed. Absolute equality is given by the fact that the presence of the other is completely necessary. What group can exists if I am alone? Then I need other in front of me. So, this is common sense, I must care more for the other parent, so he keeps coming, than for myself. So I am more dedicated to the other than to myself. And in this dedication I transcend and I lose myself in the other, so it is necessary that there is justice to restrict this, to impede my losing in other. We may still be together, in communion, but I don’t disappear. I must give him a message of hope, a message for him to keep living, to find meaning. The theme of Renacer is grounded on the groups not imposing values on their members, that is why it is necessary for each parent for make their process, in communion to the other and in freedom to choose their path, let’s say, as a homage, as a memory of their children, without any influence from any coordinator or any worldview, because the groups are ecumenical, then freedom is essential. Without freedom there are no groups.
Alicia: The parent, from the first time he approaches the group, knows that he is still responsible. When a parent first comes to a group, he thinks that he has no responsibility because now everybody owes him to contain him, to love him, to refrain from asking anything, because he is suffering so much. And we let him know from the start that he is responsible for how he chooses to live his life, how he chooses to carry this loss, this departure, this absence, which is, at the same time, a presence, how he is going to carry on, as Gustavo said earlier, the memory, the name of his child. At the same time, we are still in this side of life, in quotation marks, we can still have other children. There are many things that life still expects from us and that’s why we are here. So the task of Renacer lies, as Gustavo says, in this freedom without imposing values, we are not imposing any options, but they are shown a wide spectrum of possibilities from which he can choose. And immediately, as soon as the parent entered the gathering, he knows he has to choose. Because one thing is what happens to us, and another very different thing is what we do with what happens to us. If we, as Gustavo said, turn our child into our executioner, in that being who came to our life and with his departure left us engulfed in the deepest sadness or if this a trigger to something wonderful in which doorstep we are standing, this new door opens up and in front of this new light we start this new path. And this parent is responsible for which path he takes. He chooses his path.
Gustavo: Deep down, on these values which, I repeat, are: morals, freedom, responsibility, equality and justice, Renacer was born, and they are part of the essence of the groups.
Alicia: To come out of yourself, to come out of oneself because suffering generally confines us and somehow we feel we are the only ones that suffer and no one else suffers as us. But it turns out that what I have to do is very simple, is open up. I have to open my heart, open my head, to be aware of the signals that life sends me and my life enriches in a way I hadn’t imagined before. And the beings that can emerge from a borderline experience such as the experience of losing a child, the beigns who can emerge from that experience are absolutely more compassionate, generous, stronger, even wiser than what we sometimes we thought we could be and life needs, we say it always, Gustavo says it, life needs compassionate beings. And how are compassionate beings made? Through suffering lived with dignity and suffering which taught us such a powerful choice of humility and love.
Gustavo: Look, we use some phrases, aphorisms which have so much force. One of them is by Kierkegaard, an existential philosopher, who said: “we understand our life looping backwards but we can only live it by looping forward.” So we ask the parents: what do you want to do, understand your life, or live it? If we want to live life we must keep going forward.
Alicia: And bit by bit we understand it.
Gustavo: And while we are living it, we start to understand it. And Nietzsche said: “he who has why to live always finds the how.” The parents come first worried about the how, how I feel, how I am, how it hurts, how I suffer, and we show them we try to show them the what for of his pain. There is where the person can change his outlook, because he can’t change the how, you are going to feel bad, you are going to suffer, sure, but there is something beyond this how, and that is the what for, I must get up for what, I must walk heads high for what, why life must not see me on my knees, I must suffer with dignity for what. All these are questions which we ask the parents. This takes them from the how I feel, and leads them directly to how they must live from now on.
The task of Renacer is really innovative in the following sense: before Renacer was born, the death of a child could be framed in what was called a borderline situation, that is, a person found his life limited by fate, by the occurrence of fate. What Renacer showed was that we can put ourselves, and it is possible, to put ourselves beyond the limit, because every limit is, in fact, a frontier. There is a boundary; there is something inside the limit and something beyond it. And Renacer proposes that you can go through that limit and in that you can achieve true humanity. There are certain groups which work with grieving, and limit themselves to show parents the different stages of grieving a parent experiences when a child dies. This approach doesn’t allow transcendence and keeps parents inside the limit, inside the limits imposed by fate. But keeping ourselves inside these limits is an infinite sadness and a dead child deserves more that grieving. A dead child, we say, deserves an inner transformation of the parents, he deserves that the parents become more sympathetic, compassionate, receptive to other people’s pain because in this inner transformation lies the best homage to a child who is physically absent but continually present in one’s life, and he is present in different ways, he is not present as pain, as sadness, as anguish. He is present in a parent who has risen beyond himself to help a brother who suffers and in this rising one transcends. And, as Viktor Frankl says: “suffering makes man lucid and the world transparent.” That is, one can see the reality of his own existence and of the world and realizes that having going through the most painful experience a human being can undergo, he has lost his fear to anything that can happen; because the worst has happened. What can I fear from now on? And living life without fear is an extraordinary experience. And that is also what the groups aim at.