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|A Day in the Life - Day in Life 4|
I wanted to move forward, too, to flee the office and escape the day. Instead, I fell into a soft leather chair, exhausted. Even the energy of Katy's fury and determination couldn't erase the fact: Stella was dying. I whispered the words aloud. Why couldn't I wrap my mind around this irrefutable reality?
Death had never entered my office before, not in a client's body. At that moment I lurched forward in my chair, as though I'd been physically pushed. Death had never entered my office. I understood, all at once, that I'd been holding onto an extraordinary belief: that my office was a space protected from death. Unconsciously, I'd decided that my clients couldn't die, not so long as we were working together on a better future. Therapy was hope. And hope, I'd persuaded myself, had the power to ward off death.
But here was the truth, hard and unyielding: Stella would die soon. And with her death, our relationship would die. Nothing—and certainly not therapy—could stop that from happening. My mouth went dry. Tears welled in my eyes.
I wasn't ready for Stella to die. And then, unbidden, came an even more disquieting truth: I wasn't ready to die. I said the words out loud: I'm not ready to die. I'd created a life that—finally—I truly treasured. After 15 difficult years as a single parent, I was living a balanced, connected, happy life. I was married to a man I deeply loved. My children were grown and launching well; miraculously, they now actually seemed to like hanging out with me. My grandchildren were pure delights. Most of my friends were still alive and well. Life overflowed with blessings. Death, now, was unthinkable.
I was stunned by my own magical thinking. Imagine: I actually believed that as long as I practiced therapy, I wouldn't die! As long as I was helping people change, they—and I—couldn't pass from this life. My desperate equation: change equaled hope. Hope equaled life. Ergo: good therapy could keep death at bay.
I heard myself giggling out loud. So Death couldn't work his will until my clients and I were done? By that logic, we'd never be done. I smiled at the image of Death in my waiting room, checking the clock and tapping his foot impatiently while I scheduled more sessions, rechecked my messages, took yet another emergency call. I imagined myself poking my head into the waiting room, admonishing, "Death, you'll just have to wait your turn."
But the joke was on me. I sat quietly for a while, letting the knowledge seep into my body.
I finally stood up, gathered my things together, and took out my key to lock the door. I remembered, then, that I'd just renewed my two-year office lease. Good thing, I thought. I'd need some time to learn to live with death.
Barbara Stock, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in Evanston, Illinois. Previously a stringer for the suburban Chicago Tribune, she's also a freelance writer. Contact: email@example.com. Letters to the Editor about this department may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org