Did you glimpse in first light the world as you loved it
and see that, now, it was not wrong to die
and that, on dying, you would leave
your beloved in a day like paradise?
-- Galway Kinnell
My last few posts have been a little heavy in the way that a ton of bricks is a little heavy. I promise I will work in some lighter posts soon.
I have had a client since the very first week of internship back in September -- Mary seems as good a name as any other. Over the past 9 months, Mary and I have met weekly for life review therapy and we have formed a very, very close professional relationship. She is an amazing woman, old-old, who has lead a full life of discovery, adventure, family and reconciliation.
She is the client I have that is the most ready to pass away. And by that, I mean just that. She is ready. She has spoken often about how she is ready to go and how she is humbled and profoundly grateful for the life she has lead. For her, dying is part of living. She is not fearful. She is just old. And ready.
The past few weeks we have been going through her scrapbooks and her stories have made me tear up a little. In fact, when I have my field supervision, both my field supervisor and I have cried openly when speaking about this incredible woman and her passion, fire and spirit. We have also cried openly about the incredible teaching experience working with Mary has been for me as a graduate counseling student.
I'm tearing now.
I asked my field supervisor last week if she had any ideas about how I should structure our last sessions. I stated that it would be difficult for me, but that I had had a profoundly enriching student experience, for which I was grateful. My field supervisor pointed out I was talking about the worker/client relationship, but that I wasn't talking, necessarily, about how I was feeling about the relationship ending. She was right. I am grateful, and. And Mary and I have grown close. I don't have a desire to continue visiting with her, really. She's met all of her goals and I'm confident she would have had the tools necessary to face the relatively brief time she has left. And I know, based on her feedback, that she would have been able to look back on this therapeutic relationship and be able to pull out how strongly I believe in her and how competent I believe she is. It's been such a positive experience. But it's been one filled with so much meaning. I feel overwhelmed at how moving it has been. And that is a difficult thing to process through emotionally. I have a feeling. I have many feelings. I'm still sorting through them.
I'm past tearing now.
Why am I telling you all of these personal things about this client?
Mary and I, technically, have two more sessions on the books. We have started to wrap. She is physically tired, has worked hard to ensure her children know she loves them, has several health issues, and she's at the point where she will welcome death in the most positive, peaceful way imaginable.
I arrived at internship today to find out that Mary was in the skilled nursing facility after being discharged from the hospital yesterday, and, she is now on Hospice. (Seems fast, but sometimes these things move fast.) When my field supervisor first told me this, I immediately smiled broadly, laughed, and said, "Blessed Be. This is exactly what she wanted."
I went to visit Mary this afternoon in skilled and it is clear that she doesn't have much time left. When I woke her up gently, she smiled and said softly, "Oh, it's Lisa. You came to visit me!" And she laughed.
Then she said quietly, but joyfully, and this is almost ver batim -- as close as it's going to get -- I've been thinking about it all afternoon -- "Lisa, you've been a dear, dear friend to me. I've so enjoyed you and your visits. Thank you. Thank you for coming to visit me. I think I'm on my way out and I'm too tired to visit now. So tired. But thank you for coming to say goodbye. Now you kiss me on my forehead, dear."
I willingly obliged and that's when my tears started flowing. I told her, "Mary, you have taught me so much about living and aging and dying." (And then I mentioned some specific things we talked about in session I won't mention here). "And I'm crying right now because I'm so happy for you."
To which she closed her eyes, sleepily responded, "I know, dear! Isn't it wonderful!" and fell back asleep.
I told her to enjoy this journey, watched her sleeping form for a minute, and then walked to my field supervisor's office, tears streaming. I asked her if this ever went away -- the tearing and how emotional I felt -- and she said, "Not if you form this kind of bond. I've kissed many foreheads in my years here, and if you're comfortable enough to do that, you celebrate the journey and grieve the loss."
Mary, I don't think I'm going to have a chance to give you the closure letter I've written to you. And that's more than ok. Part of your generativity has been talking about my school and my role as a student, so you must know how grateful, how truly, truly, truly grateful, I am to have worked with you. My professional and personal selves have been fundamentally changed by the person you are and time we spent together and I will look back at this time in my life with incredible tenderness and fond memories.
Rest well, dear heart. This is a life well lived.