I just walked out of one of those therapy sessions that is really hard. (My own therapy, not with a client.) My new therapist is a rockstar. She is so good at eliciting content, and then she gently challenges in this perfect way. I think this might be my favorite way to experience therapy, as client or therapist. Feeling hunches, and then exploring the hunches as hypotheses as we, together, land on the next level of truth, of catharsis, of hard work, of acknowledging what is.
Today’s truth was a tough one. She said it so plainly and clearly I couldn’t not see it. It was me acknowledging something that on a cognitive level I had known for a long time, and had even said many times, but she was able to say it in this way–to push me into a recognition of the truth of it–such that I started bawling on the spot. The truth she pushed me to was:
Four years ago you lost my mom, and whether through the stroke and M.S. diagnosis through marrying and moving into a new emotional space, four years ago you also lost your dad. You need to fully grieve that loss.
It came as a thunderclap.
He died. The man who raised me, who was married to Shellie Weed, who functioned as my father throughout my life, died four years ago as we put my mom in the ground.
I miss my dad. I miss the way he took control of situations. I miss the way he led our family forward. I miss the attention he gave my kids. I miss his insights and his care.
Not long after my mom died, he was at my house, and he started asking me how I was doing. It had been so long since he had asked that it surprised me. I spent hours that night opening up to him like I’d done in the past–I shared deeply personal things with him. I shared what was on my heart in very vulnerable ways. And he listened expertly, in the way he always had. But then, at the end, in the wee hours of the morning, right as I was going to bed, he said something like, “well, that explains it then…” and he proceeded to tell me that he had wondered why I had been so angry at him for the ways he engaged (or rather, didn’t engage) with us after my mom’s passing, and that now he understood why. That, clearly, it was because of all of the complex and difficult things about my own life I had shared with him. The things that I had extended into unthinkable regions of personal vulnerability to reveal to him.
Surely it had had nothing to do with him or his actions.
It was me and my context.
My level of betrayal in that moment is difficult to describe. My dad had, for the first time, used his empathic skills to probe me not for me, not for my growth and benefit, but for him. He dug deep into my psyche so that he could make himself feel better about his own life and his own decisions.
This is not something I had ever experienced with him before. This was new. I was so upset I couldn’t sleep. I sent him a text and asked him to join me immediately, which he did. I then told him how betrayed I felt. I told him how horrifying that felt–to know that he was only interested in himself, and not actually in me or my life. How messed up it was to come to me wanting to discuss a matter of concert to him, but to frame it as an inquiry into how I was fairing.
We got to a better place that morning–and have found a certain detente that has become a status quo–but today in therapy it finally settled in, after nearly half a decade, that the man I thought had shown up that night, who I shared my heart with, is gone. He has been gone for years. And he is not coming back. And no matter how much I beg to see him, no matter how angry I get or how sorrowful, nothing will bring him back. I am having to accept and grieve the loss of another parent.
My last memory of that man was about six months before Dad’s stroke in 2015, which hit him after nine straight years of care-taking for my mom during her Early Onset Alzheimer’s. He and I spoke at a conference together. We flew out there together and booked a hotel. We got fast food and talked and laughed. I presented, and then he and I presented together–something I had seen him do throughout my life, so this moment felt like some kind of rite of passage–and we slept in a hotel together. And he was himself–he was the dad I had always known. I did not know that I was going to lose him, and in such a similar way to the way I lost my mom–that I would have a human body with his name still walking this earth, but one who was different than the person I knew because of issues of the mind.
And yet, I cannot now un-know the truth: that man is gone forever. And there is nothing left to do about it but grieve the loss.
The finality of this, the truth of it, was hammered in by my therapist (who I will call J) right as I left her office. “You lost your mom, and you are grieving and angry because you also lost your dad.”
I started bawling on the spot as the truth of it sank into my awareness. It was the end of session, and I walked out in a daze. I had already been planning to go to Starbuck’s a few doors down to do some self care and sit and journal and reflect, but I couldn’t get my brain to function well enough to even write the check I owed J as I sat in the lobby. Eventually, I swallowed down the wrong tube and coughing fit brought me back into the room. I wrote the check, slid it in J’s mail slot, and walked out the door and down the street to Starbuck’s. I could barely use my brain as I approached the counter. I asked the barista what she thought I might like, and we decided on a chai latte. She eyed me a bit as she made my drink and then asked how my day was going. I told her I’d just come out of a therapy session. I’m sure she could tell I was still dazed, still processing, still reeling.
“Can I offer you a pastry?” she asked. “I’m about to close. It’s on the house.”
“Yes,” I said, tearing up. I was so deeply touched by this gentle kindness, this recognition of my humanity as I sat reeling at a tragic loss. She warmed up a chocolate croissant, put it in crinkly paper, and handed it to me. “Sometimes good things happen,” she said with a knowing smile. The words hit me deeply. I refected on the sentence again and again as I ate the yummy pastry on a bench overlooking the Puget Sound.
Sometimes good things happen.
For no reason. Not because we “deserve” them or “earn” them, but because there is good in this world, and there are people who care, and there is a connectedness in humanity, a familiarity, a recognition of the cries of the heart, and sometimes, beautifully, almost magically, we are there for each other in the perfect way, at the perfect moment, as a token from the universe, as a spiritual reminder that we are not alone.
So, if you are struggling today, and things feel out of control, and the world seems cruel and unforgiving, and you have gotten news that something really sad has occurred, or you just feel down on your luck at this strange period of cosmic shift we are all experiencing on personal and national and global levels, I offer you this story in the same spirit as that kind barista, so that you know that down the line things will get better. So that you know that while there might be hard things, and there might even be tragic loss, sometimes good things happen.
And that is important to remember.