I’m on a cross-country flight for my godson’s wedding. It will be the first time seeing him since his father, my dear friend, died of cancer. Steve died during COVID making his death one of so many for which there was no memorial; a gathering for him further complicated by his having moved to Canada. When I hug Susie, his wife, it will be our first touch since she lost him. She wisely planned a brunch for old friends the day before the wedding so that she could give space to those first greetings since Steve died—a gift to all of us and to herself, to be sure. It was her attempt to untangle the joy of a wedding from the unfamiliarity of Steve’s absence.
But joy and loss cannot be untangled. I will think about Steve countless times during this wedding of his son, dear Caleb, who looks so much like him. While I am only predicting, I’m guessing that the day will go something like this…We will sing, think of Steve, pray, think of Steve, toast, think of Steve, cut cake, think of Steve, dance, think of Steve, and so on. Joy and loss tangled together.
I’ll remember how Steve and Susie laid their hands on our shoulders and prayed for Dan and me during our wedding 30 years ago this May. I’ll remember Steve asking me if my allergies were bothering me once when I was crying. I’ll remember Steve telling me that I was more valuable than what I could do when I was planning to miss an important event. I’ll remember the way Steve made going to get donuts into a Spanish verb—“Donarmos!” he’d announce, grin wide.
And I’ll remember being asked to be Caleb’s godmother, on a day we weren’t thinking any of us would be gone before his wedding.
God, I hate death. But I love weddings. It will be wonderful to witness this rite of passage for dear Caleb and I feel sure the wedding will buoy me. I will wonder at where he is in his young life…the adventures ahead for him. I’ll enjoy seeing the joviality of his friends, the special touches that will set this wedding apart from others. I’ll watch Caleb and his new wife—Natalie is her name—for the signs of how they connect. I will be grateful for the solid foundation of his loving family, however incomplete it may feel without Steve present.
As happy as the day will be, I’ll feel the sting of death. We all will. A wedding celebration shows how we stand in rebellion against death, insisting that life carry on. Although today I don’t feel much like a rebel. Today, I just miss Steve.
Did you see the two-time heartbreak of Mikaela Shiffrin in the Olympics this week? She fell in one ski event, regrouped, then missed a gate in the next event. Slalom, which the commentary explained to me, was her specialty event. How crushing and horrifying and wrenching. After missing the gate, she sat down on the edge of the course and would not move for a very long time. Other skiers took their turns while she folded in on herself by the fence. The image of her sitting there burned into my mind and heart. How many of us can relate to a disappointment so acute that we are rendered immobile? And how often in the last couple of years have you wondered if you can keep going?
These are a few items from a list called “Signs You’re Succeeding in Life Even If You Don’t Feel You Are” that I found way before the pandemic from www.lifehack.org. Here are a few of them that caught my attention in our 2022 life:
I have seen so many of my clients grow in asking for help and discovering new depths of their resiliency as they’ve navigated setback after setback and come out on the other side. And I LOVE that this list points to our success being tied to how well supported we are by the people we love.
After some time, a teammate came and sat down next to Mikaela. Someone came to support her and sit with her in her shock and pain.
We all need people to sit with us and we need to be people who sit with others.
So, I encourage each of you to reach our to someone in your support system and tell them how important they are to you. And, if you feel disconnected from the support you need, reach out and let your people know you need them. And if you know someone who is sitting on the side of the course, heart-broken and immobilized….sit down next to them.
None of us can do it alone.
3 Things That Will Help
I just did something I’ve never done before. I turned in my completed draft for the book I’m writing to my editor! It was a momentous thing that was accomplished by a stunningly ordinary click at the end of a very regular looking email, but man! What the attachment on that email represented for me?
I’m not sure why I had this impression that it would be a month or so before my editor got back to me with edits and revisions, but somehow, I thought I’d have this gap-month where there would be nothing to do on this project that has been so consuming for the last year! I could think about things I’ve put off…”Janice, just wait till your draft is submitted” has been a bit of a mantra of late. My mentor group has pressed me, “write your book, Janice, don’t get distracted!” And so I did! And I was expecting this break between submission and the next big effort. But you know what happened? My editor said, “ok, let’s set up a meeting next week to talk about it.” NEXT WEEK?!?!?! What happened to my month? And…yikes, what are they going to say? I suddenly realize I need to be prepared to hear their feedback and actually face what will undoubtedly be another round of?
Does anyone relate to this? I think we have all been expecting that COVID was behind us, that we could forget our masks when we went out, and that we could be confident of in person, indoor stuff happening…I dunno, forever?! But no. We have to re-up our efforts and watch those delicious freedoms get rolled back in order to keep people safe. Not what we were expecting. What do we need to re-up? I was thinking of this in relationship to my book project and three things cross-over.
Hanging onto these things will help us all to come together and re-up for the challenge ahead. Together, we can do it.
Look for my book coming out in the fall of 2022. The working title now is, Living Better: Self-Care for your Inner World.
Starting in June, I began to see some of my clients in the office. A first in nearly 16 months and…wow. My clients are beautiful. That’s what I keep thinking as I sit with them. The subtleties of their eyes and gestures…they way they hold tension in their bodies and catch their breath with emotion…there is so much I miss through the screens. I had one client say, “yeah, I will definitely be coming in person from now on. I get so much more out of therapy this way.” While I cannot say that our conversation that day was qualitatively much different that the ones we had in May, I knew exactly what she meant. The connection felt different. The energy went back and forth with more ease and I could feel our brains mapping each other in a way that is just harder over Zoom. It was just…organic. Easier and more flowing.
I realize that some of my clients will never come back to my office. The ease of meeting online is a huge plus; no pressure to get a sitter for my couples, the ability to meet during a lunch hour, not having to deal with traffic or a long drive. I have many clients that I’ve never met face-to-face and as I review the month, the ones who have come into my office are clients I had seen before the pandemic hit. They know how meeting face-to-face felt before and they are the ones opting to make the trek back to the office. We are so happy to be in the room together again that we share many dumbstruck, grinning moments, marveled at the normal feeling so novel!
By now I have many, many clients that I’ve only ever treated online. For them, they don’t know me in the flesh! I’ve only ever been their telehealth therapist. I wonder if the motivation to come in to the office will ever come? We’ve gotten to know each other through the screen and we’re in a therapeutic groove and so, maybe we just keep it this way. That thought makes me a bit sad.
I think of the couple that murmurs to each other during our sessions while I ask helplessly what they are saying. Or all the times I think that someone has reached over to touch their spouse, but their hands are out of sight. I’m slower to know if my dear clients are tearing up or getting disregulated through the screen as well. I can?t see a jiggling leg or wringing hands or see a quivering lip as easily. And I suppose they are missing much of me as well.
And so, my field has forever changed. We all now settle for ‘not quite as human’ experiences because we’ve trained ourselves to cope and even prefer them. For now, I’ll keep celebrating the gentle thrill of my in-person sessions and soaking in all the humanity I’ve missed this long year.