I don’t notice the color of my therapist’s new office during my first visit, but looking back on it now, I imagine it to be an unimaginative shade of beige.
Beige is boring. And entirely expected.
I can, however, recall the way her dark hair was pulled away from her face, and her kind eyes. I wonder if that’s a prerequisite to becoming a therapist; those eyes. The kind that can coax anything from you—the truth, perhaps. Certainly everything else, too.
It’s been over two and a half years since I last saw K. She tells me my hair has gotten long—everyone likes to comment on the state of my hair. I twist it into a rope and toss it back over my shoulder to get it out of my way. It’s become a nuisance.
I speak a mile a minute because I only have 50 of them and I want to make them count. At one-hundred-dollars a session, I’m thinking how to best maximize my time. “Work is insanely stressful for both my husband and me, and my six-year-old is beating us down.” I take a deep breath. “And my mother passed away recently.”
She knows this already. I was wondering if I could start seeing you again. I’ve been having a bit of a tough go lately—among other things, my mother passed away pretty suddenly. This is what I wrote when I emailed her two days earlier.
K fixes her kind eyes on me, but I look away. I study the essential oil diffuser on the floor next to her chair—the same one I have on my desk at home—and the lamp next to the door that’s not plugged in; anything to avoid looking at her. She sits quietly, waiting for me to speak. I reach for a single tissue, then think again and pull the box onto my lap. I haven’t cried for almost thirty-six hours but it’s only a matter of time now.
I fill her in on the details; the when and where and how of it all—the rare and aggressive liposarcoma, the spike in my mother’s blood sugar levels that drove her into the hospital, the long hours spent by her bedside, the terms incurable and inoperable and hospice and funeral plans being lobbed around us from doctors and palliative care nurses. I barely had time to register how sick my mother was before I was saying goodbye. The last real conversation I had with her was over the phone, weeks before I flew back to Canada to visit her only to find it was worse than we’d all imagined.
K doesn’t say much; lets me get it all out. The tears come as expected. I work hard to speak through them.
“Have you been dealing with your grief?” she asks, adjusting the bracelets adorning her left wrist. I’m momentarily distracted by the sound of the metals. It’s a question that requires only a yes or no answer, but I can’t give that to her. Not when I haven’t yet been able to answer it myself. It’s only been four weeks since my mother’s death.
I shrug noncommittally. It’s the kind of response that would have driven my mother crazy. I almost laugh. Almost.
K doesn’t push me—another requisite for counseling perhaps. Instead, she tilts her head to the side and moves on. “You mentioned all the family you had around you in Canada. What is your support system like here at home?”
This too is a tough subject. Under normal circumstances I would have plenty of support, but my mother-in-law is going through a struggle of her own that has her and my father-in-law effectively out of the picture. I do my best to explain this to her. At least I have my husband, and a son with an often alarming radar for my mood changes. And I have friends who are doing their best in an awful situation.
“You’re going through an awful lot at once,” she says.
At first I laugh because what else is there to do when pretty much everything around you has or is in the process of crashing and burning? But then the tears come again, and this time there is no talking through them.
I am exhausted in a way that is deep and dramatic.
Eventually I tell her that, in the past few weeks, friends have been reaching out, wanting to see me when I’m ready.
“When I’m ready,” I repeat slowly.
I’ve finally managed to pull myself together for a few moments. I toss the wet tissues I’ve rolled into a ball into the trash bin next to me. “I don’t like attention on me. The visitations, the funeral—they were made so much more difficult because of all the attention. All the pity. I think that’s why I haven’t seen any of my friends yet since coming back home.”
“Because you don’t want their pity?”
Yes, but also: “It’s like there’s an elephant in the room and I don’t want to talk about it.”
“The elephant being your mother?”
I think for a moment. “I don’t want to be the girl whose mom just died.”
K’s voice turns incredibly soft, so much so that I find myself leaning in to hear her better. “But you are the girl whose mom just died.”
To everyone on the outside, my life might look exactly the same as it did before my mother’s death, but nothing could be further from the truth. My days, my experiences, my thoughts and feelings are all shaded a different color now—a color only I can see.
I am, after all, the girl whose mom just died, and this… this is the beginning of an unexpected, messy, new chapter.
I took the above picture sitting in my car three weeks ago before that first therapy session. I posted it to my private, family-only instagram account with the caption, “My face at 11:50 this morning as I was about to step into my therapist’s office because I’m not leaving my mental health and well-being to change. It was a tough hour, but I’ve been down this therapy road because and know how much good will come out of it. It’s been almost one month without my mom, the longest yet shortest months of my life.”
If you’re struggling right now I encourage you to reach out in whatever way you can and know: we’re all a mess in one way or another.