They were not pretty times.
Bent on self-destruction, I was getting kicked out of undergrad. The “counselor” (I use the term quite loosely) at DePauw suggested I see a therapist in Bloomington over the summer– that perhaps she could help me get back on track. He admitted, in a somewhat exasperated voice, that my problems were beyond his skill level, a comment I interpreted as “well, you’re too screwed up for me to help.”
At home, if possible, things were even uglier. My parents had gone from crazy to please-institutionalize-us-as-soon-as-possible, my dog had just died. I needed a hero. When I mentioned the therapist referral to my folks, I was met with, “why, are you crazy now?” The fact that it was one of the terms the school listed for my re-acceptance, should that ever happen, is the only reason it happened.
She was vibrant and engaging. I liked her from the beginning. For two years, we met weekly and talked, sitting comfortably on her window seat. She offered me an unconditional support system, something I desperately needed at the time. She was willing to start where I wanted to start- didn’t push unnecessarily, validated my experience and encouraged forward movement on my part. We addressed Big Issues like drinking and intimacy and smaller ones like cleaning. I felt safe with her.
Fast forward to nine years ago, when I attended my high school class reunion. One of my classmates approached me. She was beaming, excited to tell me how proud her current supervisor was of my personal progress. My tell-tale red splotches were already starting to spread within seconds of her greeting. “My supervisor worked with you. She’s so proud of you!”
“You’ve come so far,” she gushed.
The problem here (aside from me having no contact with this peer since high school) was her supervisor was my therapist. She was proud of her work as a therapist, and had discussed it, years later, with my classmate, who in turn, felt okay talking about it at a reunion.
Skip ahead another several years and I see my former hero-therapist at a wedding. We were at the bar, where I was in search of some caffeine. She slurred over to me, and within earshot of everyone waiting for their wine, asked about my various issues and how I was doing with them. Humiliated, again, I responded as briefly and kindly as I could muster, and she went on about what a great mom I must be. She was still talking when I grabbed my diet coke and escaped.
Here was a woman who epitomized connection and wisdom for me. When I studied Relational-Cultural Therapy I found places where she demonstrated the principles of it clearly in her relationship to me. Sometimes, when I was stuck with a client, I’d wonder what she would do, and try that. Current behavior aside, she was helpful to me once upon a time. She was a lifesaver in turbulent waters. Now, I wanted nothing more than to hide from her the rest of the evening.
She jumped in and out of my life in random ways- I saw her during a playgroup meeting once and she commented about my son’s headstrong nature being hereditary. Due to her success with me, my sister saw her, where she shared details of Meg’s boyfriend’s therapy, encouraging Meg to stay in a bad, bad, bad relationship. Then, last fall, she jumped in again, indirectly.
These intrusions brought on all kinds of fantasies about actually speaking my mind. Letting her know that if she ever, I mean ever, offered to treat anyone with the last name Makice, Clendening, or anyone who has a nodding acquaintance with said names, I would kick her professional ass. Meg and I discussed whether or not to contact our Aunt to make certain our cousin wouldn’t wind up in therapy with her.
Turns out, we don’t have to. Last week, Meg called to tell me she was dying.
She died Saturday.
I’m confused. I’m sad that I didn’t get to somehow process my disappointment with her– that now there’s really no way to integrate both the horrible experiences and the helpful ones into my meaning-making during this loss. Somehow, there was a human, who had gifts and flaws, like others I’ve lost. I don’t want her contributions marred by mistakes– I’m also not inclined to dismiss her betrayals either. It’s a complicated grief.
Really though, it’s a complicated grief that started nine years ago, when she fell off the hero pedestal.