In Celebration of Elizabeth Moore Erickson:
Colleague Extraordinaire, Wife, Mother, and Companion.
by Marilia Baker
A long, meaningful, well-lived life ended on December 26, 2008, blessed with a peaceful death. Concepts such as beauty, truth, love, simplicity and complexity they all were encompassed in the lifetime of Elizabeth Euphemia Moore Erickson.
The last Holiday Greeting card I received from her contained the following:
I am still living in my Hayward Avenue home here in Phoenix and enjoying Life on a quiet scale. I have had the pleasure of visits from many family members and friends throughout the year, and have found that time goes by swiftly. I am now 92 years old and still up and about, though I limit my outings and have given up travel. I am glad to say that with the help of my good neighbor and friend, I get out every day for a spin through my neighborhood (in the foothills of Squaw Peak) in a wheelchair, which I use for extended walks. I really enjoy the beautiful flowers, the cacti, and the trees that are seen year round in Phoenix. I wish you and yours every happiness this season and in all the coming years.
These words resume the existential philosophy of an exceptional woman, who found true pleasure in the smallest of moments, and in the smallest of things around her. In weaving together the pieces on Elizabeth Erickson’s life, some concepts and meanings come to mind: well-born, well-bred, and much loved by family and friends; simplicity and complexity, as well as intellectual and emotional intelligence. The passionflower vine in her garden and the anniversary orchid from her husband of 44 years.
Elizabeth as the family bedrock: her years of motherhood, of caregiving, and of graceful widowhood come to mind. With a scientific mind and prodigious memory, she was her husband’s lifelong hypnotic subject and colleague extraordinaire. I am also reminded of the many seasons of Elizabeth’s life, who experienced each phase of her life-cycle to their full extent and splendor, despite grave, serious challenges at each turn. She lived well into her 93rd year, self-reliant and independent minded, always cultivating the art of le petit bonheur (little happiness). She knew quite well how to enjoy even the smallest moments of happiness, as she described in her Christmas card, above.
The foundation of Elizabeth’s early family life: born in Detroit in 1915, she was firmly set on her family’s triple vision: the pursuit of truth and excellence through higher education and lifelong learning; the pursuit of beauty through appreciation of nature and the arts. She was kind to humans and animals as well gentle in manners, completed by refined, sophisticated taste in self-care.
This foundation was also set on the pursuit of Love in its broadest sense: healthy self-love; love for Others, and love for Humanity. Throughout her lifetime Elizabeth lived to the letter the meaning of her middle name: Euphemia, from the Greek concept, euphemios – he/she-who-speaks-well. She not only pursued the right word, the good word, and the just, well-measured word (le bon mot), but she was also an indomitable, resolute pursuer of the well-written word. She was proud of her polished, demon proofreader skills!
A unique, remarkable woman, of an exceptional beauty and intelligence: these are all synonyms for uncommon. Elizabeth embodied these qualifiers throughout the many seasons of her life. Initially, as the undergraduate experimental psychologist in 1935, chosen by the respected Dr. Milton Erickson to be his research assistant at the Wayne County Hospital in Eloise, Michigan. Then as the adult professional who wrote, co-wrote, and edited countless scientific articles presenting the hypotheses and findings of their joint research and experiments. Always as the colleague extraordinaire who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with her husband in many capacities, for approximately 16, 000 days – while raising a lively family of eight children, four boys and four girls. While nurturing their passion for each other, Elizabeth and her husband found creative solutions to everyday family and professional challenges. As a team they faced the vicissitudes brought upon Elizabeth’s shoulders by times of severe physical illnesses suffered by Dr. Erickson.
Intellectual and emotional intelligence: Elizabeth’s intellectual pursuits were many and worthy. She authored and co-authored thirteen professional articles on hypnosis (see pp.5-6). She was an editor and co-editor of the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis for many years. There are countless stories and vignettes about her sophisticated emotional intelligence, specifically in the process of welcoming her new husband’s three young children, and in fostering the power of imagination in all her children. Bert, Dr. Erickson’s eldest son, recalls with delight how Elizabeth prepared their peanut butter and jam sandwich, by smoothing and blending the two ingredients together… An appropriate ‘action metaphor’ by the young mother-to-be. Particularly meaningful to me was her habit of educating and nurturing their children’s imagination through storytelling.
Daughter Roxanna recalls the magical mornings in her childhood when her mother would read from L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series while braiding her long tresses and those of her younger sister’s Kristina. A major implication of this apparently simple tradition makes significant reference, in my view, to the indirect education of children for the lifelong habits of freedom of thought, autonomy, love for Others and respect for boundaries.
Storytelling with a purpose fosters habits of physical and mental health, self-reliance and resilience through the imagination. Evidence from neuroscience research corroborates the intricate relationship between imagination and health. What is therapeutic hypnosis if not the utilization of influential words and powerful imagery to mitigate human suffering so individuals may attain freedom from stress, dis-ease? Storytelling, by definition, through its hypnotic characteristics and post-hypnotic suggestions can build autonomy, self-reliance, altruism, and a healthy self-concept in children.
Of love for Others, here is a striking example of an indirect yet powerful suggestion: Elizabeth would systematically and thoughtfully pack a dress shirt with matching necktie for each ex-convict graduating from the Seventh Step halfway house program for former criminals, which Dr. Erickson was counsel to.
Leaving a trail of happiness: Elizabeth Erickson died peacefully at home the day after Christmas 2008, in the arms of her youngest daughter Kristina, a medical doctor. Elizabeth was surrounded by her granddaughter Joya, Kristina’s daughter and by Kathy Renée, a great-granddaughter by Bert, the Ericksons’ eldest son, named after his paternal grandfather, Albert. Four generations present together at the final moment. The life-cycle completes itself, and renews itself through the new generations.
Beauty, Symmetry, Simplicity and Complexity. The current concepts of beauty, symmetry, simplicity and complexity, whether expressed through the arts, prose, poetry, philosophy, science, physics, psychology are delicately intertwined within my reflection of what Elizabeth Moore Erickson’s life and work means to me. A simple dictionary definition of beauty, for instance, says that beauty contains all the qualities that give pleasure to the mind or senses.
There was everything in Elizabeth to encompass the depth of this concept: from her physical beauty to the harmony of her being and actions; from her lifelong pursuit of truth and excellence, to the truthfulness of her character and the meaningful, positive connotation she gave to all her actions and behaviors into the last days of her life. Upon emerging into consciousness from surgical anesthesia of several hours duration, Elizabeth was heard singing a favorite Irish tune, “Danny Boy”, a melancholic and somewhat premonitory song of an impending farewell, famous during the first decades of 20th Century America.
One of Elizabeth’s favorite poems contains all beauty and complexity of her life, and of her luminous passage through this Earth:
Flower in the crannied wall, I pluck you out of the crannies.
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand.
Little flower – but if I could understand what you are,
Root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and Man is.
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Articles by Elizabeth M. Erickson
Erickson, E. M. and Erickson, M. H. (1938). Hypnotic Induction of Hallucinatory Color Vision Followed by Pseudo-Negative After Images. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 39, 6, 581-588.
Reprinted in: Rossi, E. L. (Ed.). (1980b). The Collected Papers of Milton H. Erickson on Hypnosis. Vol. II: Hypnotic Alteration of Sensory, Perceptual and Psycho-physiological Processes. New York: Irvington.
Erickson, E. M. and Erickson, M. H. (1941, Jan.). Concerning the Nature and Character of Post-Hypnotic Behavior. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 2 1, 95-133.
Reprinted in: Rossi, E. L. (Ed.). (1980d). The Collected Papers of Milton H. Erickson on Hypnosis. Vol. IV: Innovative Hypnotherapy. New York: Irvington.
Erickson, E. M. and Erickson, M. H. (1941, Aug.). Critical Comments on Hibler’s Presentation of His Work on Negative After Images of Hypnotically Induced Hallucinated Colors. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 29, 164-170.
Reprinted in: Rossi, E. L. (Ed.). (1980). The Collected Papers of Milton H. Erickson on Hypnosis. Vol. II: Hypnotic Alteration of Sensory, Perceptual and Psycho-physiological Processes,. New York: Irvington.
Erickson, E. M. and Erickson, M. H. (1958, Oct.). Further Considerations on Time Distortion: Subjective Time Condensation as Distinct from Time Expansion. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 1, 2, 83-87.
Reprinted in: Rossi, E. L. (1980b). The Collected Papers of Milton H. Erickson on Hypnosis. Vol. II: Hypnotic Alteration of Sensory, Perceptual and Psycho-physiological Processes. New York: Irvington.
Erickson, E. M. (1962, Oct.). Observations Concerning Alterations in Hypnosis of Visual Perceptions. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 5, 2, 131-134.
Reprinted in: Rossi, E. L. (Ed.). (1980b). The Collected Papers. Vol. II. New York: Irvington.
Erickson, E. M. (1966). Further Observations in Hypnotic Alteration of Visual Perception. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 8, 3, 187-188.
Reprinted in: Rossi, E. L. (Ed.). (1980b). The Collected Papers. New York: Irvington.
Erickson, E. M. (Ed.). (1985) Certain Principles of Medical Hypnosis,
by Milton H. Erickson, MD. In S. Lankton (Ed.). Ericksonian
Monographs Number I: Elements and Dimensions of an
Ericksonian Approach (pp. 22-25). New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Erickson, E. M., Erickson B.A. and Klein, R.E. Erickson (1999).
“Erickson: A Framework of Therapy and Living”. In: Matthews,
W.J. and Edgette, J.H. (Eds.) Current Thinking and Research
In Brief Therapy. Vol. III (pp. 7-17). New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Baker, Marilia (2004). A Tribute to Elizabeth Moore Erickson. Colleague Extraordinaire, Wife, Mother, and Companion. Alom Editores: Mexico.
Battino, Rubin (2008). That’s Right, Is It Not? A Play About Milton H. Erickson, MD. The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Press: Phoenix, Arizona.
Erickson, Betty Alice and Keeney, Bradford (eds.) (2006). Milton H. Erickson, MD. An American Healer. Ringing Rocks Press: Sedona, Arizona.
Erickson-Klein, Roxanna (2006). Family Traditions: The Oz Books – Why They Are Treasured by the Erickson Family. Unpublished essay, distributed by the author to young family members, to preserve and nurture family memories and traditions.
Rossi, Ernest L. (2004). Discorso tra geni. Neuroscienza dell’Ipnosi terapeutica e della Psicoterapia. Editris s.a.s.: Benevento, Italy.
Rossi, E., Erickson-Klein, R. and Rossi, K. (Eds). Advanced Approaches to Therapeutic Hypnosis. In: The Collected Works of Milton H. Erickson, Vol. IV. The M. H. Erickson Foundation Press: Phoenix, Arizona.
Stewart, Ian (2007). Why Beauty is Truth. A History of Symmetry.
Basic Books/Perseus Books Group: New York.