When she said this to me, I cried HARD. I didn't understand. I couldn't even SEE a day where that would even be possible, and at that time, knowing I had somewhere to go every Monday to process and express my pain, was what got me through the week and into the next one. I saw it as her rejecting me and not wanting to see ME anymore. I constantly feared that she would decide she no longer wanted to hear my bullshit about Don and loss and death and pain. I decided in my head that she was bored with me, or that she thought I was a whiny annoying repetitive dolt that she no longer cared to see. I FELT repetitive, but I was in SO MUCH PAIN, and it wasn't getting better. The only thing I could do was keep showing up to therapy, keep talking about and writing about the pain, and hope like hell that one day, it would turn into something else.
I sobbed and sobbed and told her: "Please don't say that to me. That will never happen. I will need this forever. I can't have anything else END. I can't have this just disappear on me, like Don did. Like my marriage did. Like my life did. You can't just leave me. I have nightmares about it." "I won't ever leave you. It won't be my decision. YOU will be the one who decides when it is time for what we are doing here to change. It will be 100% you who makes that call. And notice I didn't use the word END. Nothing will end between us. Just like I've always told you about Don - the goal was never to "let go" of him, but to change your relationship with him. Once you have done that, and really GET what that means, the relationship between us will also change. Maybe we will become friends or even colleagues, but trust me on this, you won't NEED to see me every week in this way, forever. "
Fast-forward to the past few months. Without even realizing it, the exact things that she said are now coming true, but in even bigger ways than either of us probably imagined. There have been many weeks where one of us had to cancel due to crazy schedules, snow, or her taking care of her elderly mother, who has been slowly dying for the past year. If there is a cancellation, she always offers to call me. Sometimes I say yes, other times I say; "No, it's okay. I can wait until next week. It's nothing pressing." Two years ago, I couldn't even breathe most days if I were to miss a session. Now - there are more days than not when it's "nothing pressing."
In addition to that, she is writing the Foreword in my book, and creating the Arc of the story with her words about our time together in grief-counseling. Plus, she is the one who suggested long ago and put it in my head , that perhaps I should look into becoming a grief-coach myself. Now, over time, although still technically my therapist, she has become my friend and mentor. She is letting me assist facilitate with some grief-groups that she runs, and one of her private clients is letting me sit in on a few of their sessions. She is training me and walking me through the logistical parts of the grief world.
Last night, she sent me an email asking if we could do our session via phone again this week, because she will be getting back late from her mom's house on Long Island. She ended the email by saying: "I'm pretty stressed out - I might need to talk to YOU! You can practice on me . Ill help you with your stuff and you can help me with my stuff. That's what I do with my friends who are colleagues in the grief- world. We unofficially use each other to keep us emotionally sane, so that we can be at our best for our clients. Welcome to the club. "
I can't tell you how amazing it feels to have come full-circle in this way.
Back when I was in pain 24/7, I NEVER would have been able to see this coming. But I kept trying anyway. I just kept showing up to talk to her and process, even when it felt like it wasn't helping. And she kept trying too, even on the days when SHE felt truly powerless, and felt like maybe she couldn't help me. We both stuck with it, and we didn't give up on each other, or on ourselves, or on the process of hard, hard grief-work.
You HAVE to sit inside the pain and work through it and with it, if you ever want it to become something else. You have to understand where its coming from and what it wants and how to process the emotions you are having. That is what I did every single week for almost 3 years with Caitlin. We worked HARD at moving through my pain, and now that pain is evolving. FINALLY.
This is why I get angry whenever people say stuff like "Just decide to be happy. Happiness is a choice", and all that nonsense. When you have been through a trauma or huge life-changing loss in life, happiness is NOT a choice. Not for a long, long time. You are simply not capable of feeling joy - until you work through all the hurt and grief and pain that sits underneath it, buried. It is very hard work, which is why most people choose not to do it. They don't WANT to feel that kind of pain. So they deny it or suppress it or drink it or push it away or keep busy enough to ignore it completely or feed it with any number of unhealthy addictions or distractions.
But guess what? If you are willing to go there, and to ignore all the people who don't get it telling you to "move on' and "stop being sad" and you just keep working on YOU, what lies on the other side of that is joy. And purpose. And life. But you have to work for it. I have worked my ass off for every ounce of joy I now feel, in this post-loss life. But that's okay with me, because joy that you worked for is so much sweeter than regular joy. Joy that was earned feels so much more intense, and you feel it with every cell inside you.
In my post-loss life, when I look at a sunset, I don't JUST see a sunset. I see beauty and death and loss and colors and brightness and love and meaning and nature and miracles and peace and wonder - and always, the soul of my husband. Every piece of joy I feel now carries his death, and carries his life in it. Everything is more intense now. Everything is turned all the way up.
Pain eventually evolves into something else entirely. If you mold it enough and sit inside it enough and shape it enough. It might take you 2 years or 3 years or 5 years or more, but it can happen. It happened to me. And the feeling is blissful.