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My Therapist Retired Right After My Traumatic Loss

Photography of a restored Art Nouveau sofa.

“That’s about all the time we have for today. We will continue next week,” my therapist said.

I wiped the tears from my eyes and started to stand up.

“Before you leave, I have some news that I need to tell you.”

I sat back on the couch and looked at her. She was sitting in her chair exactly where she sat every week. I had no idea what she was about to say.

“I am retiring,” she said. Then she took a breath and added, “Out of all my patients, I knew you would be the most difficult to tell.”

She was right. I didn’t say a word or move from my seat on the couch. I sat there and waited for my therapist to tell me that she was kidding. She never did.

My therapist was retiring? Now? How could this be possible? What would I do without her? How could she do this to me, in my greatest hour of need?

 

Fifteen years earlier, I had been coping with infertility. Like many people who have experienced this struggle, I didn’t handle it well. I had always dreamt of being a mother, and my husband and I were ready to have a baby.

We were on our second round of in-vitro and, to me, it seemed like everyone around me was pregnant. I didn’t know if it would ever happen for us and I was distraught. I walked around miserable all the time.

One day, at lunch, my mother-in-law handed me a card.

“This is the name of a therapist who comes highly recommended,” she said. “She specializes in grief, which is what you are going through in some form.”

I had never seen a therapist before, but I took the card willingly. I knew I needed help to deal with my feelings about our infertility. I recognized that I was not handling it well.

I felt a connection with this woman from our very first appointment. She seemed to understand how devastated I was. She gave me the tools to better deal with my feelings, especially when I was around pregnant women or babies. Her advice helped me to get through what, at the time, was the most difficult period of my life.

Eventually, we were fortunate enough to have our two beautiful daughters, which meant I no longer needed to see my therapist.

 

Our life as parents happily moved forward until one day, 12 years later, when my husband died very suddenly after suffering a heart attack at only 48 years old. It was a horrible nightmare. I didn’t know how I was going to cope.

Only a few days after the funeral, I received a surprising phone call. It was my former therapist. She had heard about my husband’s death from some of her other patients and was calling to see how I was doing. When she asked if I would like to see her, I immediately said yes.

The moment I walked back into her familiar office, I felt the tiniest bit of weight lifted off me. I knew that I was with someone who would understand and could help me to get through the impossible. She specialized in grief because she had been through it. Her husband had also passed away at a young age.

The few months that followed were the most challenging of my life but I was so thankful that my therapist had found me again. In my period of mourning, our sessions were the one hour in my week where I was able to just talk freely about anything I was feeling, with no judgment.

I remember once saying to her, “I thought my infertility was the worst thing that could happen to me. In retrospect, that wasn’t so bad. I wish I could go back to that now.”

Her response was typicaly wise: “Don’t belittle your feelings at that time. That was a loss as well. Feeling as horrible as you do now does not negate your feelings back then”.

She still “got me,” all those years later.

That’s why, when she told me about her retirement, I was petrified. It was only a few months after my husband had died. How was I going to get through this without her?

I was angry. My therapist was the one who found me again. How could she possibly abandon me? She offered to continue with me by having phone appointments. We tried this for a while, but it was just not the same as speaking in person. After a few sessions, I told her it wasn’t working for me.

I tried a new therapist recommended by a friend. She was lovely, but I did not feel that connection with her. So I gave up and stopped therapy for a while. I handled my feelings on my own, while remembering the helpful tools my therapist had given me. She had taught me well, and I was a good listener. For a time, I was able to get through the pain.

But a few years later, when I was going through a particularly bad period, I finally found another therapist that I “clicked” with. I realized then that maybe there wasn’t only one therapist for me. I developed a rapport with my new therapist, and she helped me to move on from those challenging years.

I realize now that I was perhaps too angry when my therapist retired. It had felt like my husband had just left me. While logically I knew that he didn’t purposely leave, I felt abandoned. First him, and then my therapist. I was left alone by everyone I needed. It was the worst time in my life, and my therapy appointments helped to get me through my week, and her choice, which had nothing to do with me, felt personally wounding.

I can now look back at that time with a clearer head. I know that my therapist didn’t abandon me. While I understand why I was so upset about losing her, I also get that she was retiring. She wasn’t firing me; it wasn’t personal. She wasn’t “mine.” She was just living her life, as I am living mine.

I am not in therapy at the moment, but I always keep the option of going back on the table. If I do, I would return to the therapist I saw most recently, but if she decides to retire, it will be just fine. This time, I am sure I will find someone else.

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