A reader wrote me recently about having to stop therapy because her financial situation changed. Therapists and clients move. Therapists retire. Therapists get sick and they die.
And then the therapy is over. Not by choice.
I lost my dear therapist Kim to cancer in 2013.
It is a particular kind of loss. So private. There is no one with whom to share your grief.
And it is the loss of a huge amount of witnessing. Only Kim can describe what happened for me over the seven years we worked together. She heard everything. And now – that hearing is gone.
She taught me until the very end. At her visitation, her friends were standing round with their hands on her casket saying a prayer of love.
I was struck in that moment with how much love surrounded Kim. I wanted something of that. I told her that the love we shared would not be wasted. I continue to try to stay true to that. To live with a full heart even when it breaks.
So often I wished she could see me now. I have fantasized that she wouldn’t have let me encounter the troubles that I have encountered since. I may indeed be right. She didn’t back down from telling me what she saw as a bad idea. And more than any other therapist I have had I was an open book with Kim. She helped me feel safe to show her many, many parts of myself.
This isn’t something I have written about extensively. But the reader who lost her therapist got me thinking. I felt so alone when I lost Kim – people whose therapies are in full swing just don’t want to think about the end.
And when the end comes and it’s not by choice it’s a shock. A huge adjustment.
Early on in our therapy, I was telling Kim some story and I said – “you don’t really want to hear this do you?” And she gave me a metaphor we came back to again and again: “we are going on a tour of your house. I am coming with you but it is your house – you know the rooms, you know what there is to see…. ”
And then in our last session, I told her about an article I had read about inner geography – how a place can create structures inside of us. I told her our work had renovated my house.
We were both crying as we turned off the lights in her office together.
I saw her once more six months later at a community event and six months after that she was gone.
The more I practice psychotherapy the more I appreciate Kim. Sometimes I know she would chide me for my fluid boundaries. There is no question that I would be a very different therapist today if she had not died. I think I would be a more solid one – clearer on the terms of project. Without Kim, the water table that runs beneath my life searches endlessly for a place to call home.
If you have lost your therapist you have experienced a significant life event. You will never finish grieving the loss.
The best thing I can say is to allow yourself to be changed. Allow yourself to be changed by having her. And allow yourself to be changed by losing her.
And talk to her every day. She leaves you in one way but she’s there in another.