|Symposium 2012 Mary Jo Barrett The Future of Psychotherapy Men in Therapy Attachment Theory Gender Issues Couples Great Attachment Debate Clinical Mastery Attachment Ethics Clinical Excellence David Schnarch William Doherty Alan Sroufe Etienne Wenger Challenging Cases Diets Couples Therapy Brain Science Mind/Body Narcissistic Clients Linda Bacon Community of Excellence Future of Psychotherapy Wendy Behary Anxiety Trauma Mindfulness CE Comments|
|A Day in the Life - Day in Life 1|
My next client, Suzanne, came in with her eyes glued to the floor. "I was up all night," she said dully, lowering herself onto the couch. "Oatmeal is dying." With three special-needs children and an overworked husband, this client depended on her cat for unconditional love. Moving my rocking chair closer, I sat quietly while Suzanne wept. Gradually, we began talking of her relationship with Oatmeal—the ways they'd played together, the places they'd traveled together, how they'd grown older together. When I observed that Suzanne had many good memories to draw on for comfort, she took a shaky breath and began to describe the photo album of Oatmeal that she wanted to create. I did my best to stay present for her, but inside, my head was spinning. Today was becoming Death Day. I was a therapist; I was supposed to be able to roll with this sort of thing. Why was I feeling so spacey, and at the same time, so vulnerable?
Alan entered next, tears running down his cheeks. "I've been crying for hours," he gasped. His grandfather had been the only nurturing presence he'd known. Alan had never met his own father, who'd left his alcoholic mother before Alan's birth. Then, when he was 3, his mother had parked Alan with her parents, never to return. His grandmother had done her best to raise him, but she'd been distracted by her own problems. Grandpa had stepped up to the plate, becoming a warm and reliable surrogate father, role model, and mentor.
But over the past several years Grandpa had sustained a series of heart attacks and strokes. Again and again, he'd reassured Alan that he'd live to see him grow up—never mind that a hospital bed appeared one day in the living room, or that Grandpa could no longer get to the bathroom without Alan's help. "I'll beat this," he insisted. Then, overnight, Grandpa contracted pneumonia and died. Alan felt as though he could hardly breathe. "I know I'm really not feeling it yet," he gasped between sobs. "But if I'm like this now, what will I be like when it really hits?"
I was catapulted back to the day that my own grandmother died. More than 40 years later, I still remember the hospital scene: the elders holding each other, so absorbed in their grief that they never thought to comfort me, a mere grandchild. But I was 4 when my grandmother had moved into our home to take care of my brother and me when my mother became ill. Gently, quietly, Grandma would sit with me on our porch glider, rocking back and forth, telling me stories, teaching me to play gin rummy, or simply holding my hand and listening. Standing there in the hospital room, I literally didn't know how I'd survive without her. But no one noticed my desperation. Instead, my father assigned me the task of phoning relatives from a pay phone in the hallway, then hovered to be sure I got the wording correct. "Not 'died,'" my father instructed: "say 'passed away.'"
"Just sit with Alan," I told myself now. "Listen to him. This isn't the time to structure a Gestalt double-chair good-bye or instruct him to write a letter to Grandpa. Let him cry." After a while, I gently tried to put some words to his grief, words like "alone," "sad," and "angry," reflecting his sobbing sighs, shudders, and clenched fists. Finally, Alan looked up at me and took a long, shaky breath. "Thanks for letting me be here," he said softly. "I don't have any more tears for now." He stood up and shuffled out the door.
I walked down the hall to the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face. I stretched up to the ceiling, swung down to touch my toes, and twisted from my waist. Usually, under stress, I snack. But today, I had no appetite. I struggled to distance myself from my clients, to remain a trained observer of their grief. My body churned with nameless emotion. I never let clients get away with the generic, "I'm upset." But today, making my way back down the hall to my office, I couldn't define my state of mind any better than that.