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Recently I wrote about depression prompted by the suicidal death of Robin Williams. I did not know until Thursday, a client I worked with over many years had also ended their life a few weeks ago.
Although I had not seen “C” for a few years, we usually shared a phone call about once a year. As our birthdays were only a few weeks apart, she usually initiated contact by wishing me happy birthday. However, the last time I spoke to her was a couple of years ago. I understand at the start of a relationship that my job is to ultimately say goodbye to people. I give them the tools that they will hopefully continue using, to improve and enhance their lives, long after they no longer come to my office. I’ve been blessed that many continue to update me over the years, even if it is a brief text or announcement of a life event. I am both grateful for and humbled by these messages.
I had been thinking about C a lot lately and decided to leave her a voice mail. A day or two went by without a return call, and that was unusual. And then I received a message from her sister asking me to return her call. My initial sense was C had likely passed, but I attributed it to one of her many health problems. I was wrong.
C and I were the same age, and thus grew into middle adulthood concurrently. She watched me through a variety of life changes including motherhood and maturing as a therapist. I watched her perform as a creative and gifted genius whose talents never ceased to amaze me. She made cuddly toys for each of my boys at their birth. My shelf displays a treasure box she made to commemorate my marriage. Proficient in any artistic medium, C could also fix things, grow things, and understand difficult concepts far more easily than most. She gave of herself and her resources unselfishly, perhaps at times to her own detriment. The world lost one of its jewels in her passing.
It is not guilt that motivates my thoughts now, but profound sadness. I know in every corner of my heart that C pushed me to grow in the ways that, allowed me to sit with her struggles to the best of my ability and then some. C and I engaged in many conversations over the years about her contemplation of suicide. She postulated that if she left the earth, no one would care. My response was always that it would matter to me. Through my discussion this week with C’s sister and reading tributes made on her behalf, it’s clear I was not the only one who felt this way. I can only hope that she now knows the words were true.
I am often annoyed when others use public forums like Facebook and Twitter to announce snippets of personal tragedy. They feel like impersonal drive by shootings that seek attention with little regard for the reader. I have tried to thoughtfully assess whether or not using this forum puts me in the same category and I can only hope it does not. The purpose of this blog is to use the stories I know to convey information about the challenges of life for both my clients and those who invest their time reading my entries. Therefore, this post is not an attempt to process my own grief, for that will take far longer than can be digested in these few minutes. Rather, it is to demonstrate that the relationship between a patient and therapist, although contained within professional limits, does not fail to imprint the therapist, as well as, the patient. I often say I love my job. Perhaps a more accurate description is I love the people I am fortunate enough to know in ways they often don’t share with the rest of the world. And it is an honor I am humbly aware of when I am chosen to be that person.
There is yet another important piece I hope to convey. Although I don’t love his writing style, I think the message in Mitch Alboms “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” is important. Simply stated, it is common for us all to consider small occurrences and encounters in life as insignificant. Yet, because of our interrelatedness, you may likely have a profound effect on someone’s life without knowing it at the time. You. Yes You. And because of that, please do not underestimate your significance here in this world. I’ve found that others rarely note the flaws that you may believe are so prominent once we move past the age of playground taunts. Many of us see your worth and your gifts and want to love you if you will allow us. But you have to be willing to stay in order for that to happen.
I heard a story about a man that presented what he hoped would be a useful lecture to a group of teens. It was new material for him however, and he was unsure of how they would receive him. At the lectures conclusion, the group exited in a processional line. One girl thanked him and handed him a slip of paper as she passed it to him adding that he could have it, she no longer needed it. The man later retrieved it from his pocket and discovered to his surprise, it was a suicide note. If you are mindful enough to realize the impact others have on you, don’t hold back from telling them so. You may be the impetus to tip them on the side of being able to see their significance as well.
As always I appreciate and welcome your comments. If you found this helpful, I hope you will pass it on to someone else and suggest they subscribe. Take care.