Monday, January 22, 2007

Therapy: trains, plants and letters

“So what are we going to talk about today?” Dr. Counselor leaned back in his seat after congratulating me on my paper being accepted.

“I don’t know.” I said, relatively happy and stable. “I was just here.”

“You said you wanted to come back early in the week.”

“I remember. And I do. I like starting the week here – it forces me to come to campus and refocus if I’m depressed.”

“So tell me about your weekend.”

“My parents were here.” I smiled. “It was wonderful. I really like having them around.”

“And your mom expressed her severe disappointment that you haven’t had a baby?”

“No. Never. It’s very subtle when it does happen. But they did really well this weekend. Oh, but one thing did happen that made me feel badly.”

“What was that?”

“Mom said that Aunt called her. My mom has an older sister who has two daughters. Both of them have a single child. Older Cousin a boy, and Cousin a little girl. When my grandparents died, there were four big items – one for each of the grandchildren. Aunt took the two family Bibles – gorgeous books we’d had since arriving from Ireland and England, depending on which side of the family we’re discussing. Mom got Grandpa’s trains.”

“Real train sets?” He asked, leaning forward with great interest. I nodded proudly.

“With the falling logs and steam and hills and little trees. Real trains set – an Army one and a Lionel.”


“I know! Anyway, there would be one for me and one for Brother. But Aunt called and asked if she could give one to her grandson – Older Cousin’s little boy. Mom was surprised she even asked. We’re not the type of family to argue over possessions – though I guess any family can get sucked into that pretty quickly – but this issue has been settled for years. Mom said that Aunt told her to ask Brother about it, then to let her know if she could have one.”

I paused for effect while he waited patiently.

“It’s like I don’t matter because I don’t have a baby! It’s my train!”

“Have you thought about the train a lot?” He asked.

“No.” I admitted. “I didn’t even remember it existed. But still! Because I haven’t married and been pregnant, it’s like she’s writing me off. No need to save anything for Katie. She’s going to die alone. It’s my train!”

He nodded and considered me for a moment before changing the subject. “Are you lonely now that Mom and Dad have gone home?”

“A bit.”

“Well, that’s what we should talk about next. I see him tonight – the man I told you about.”

Huh, I thought with mild surprise. He wasn’t kidding about setting me up. I gave him a card when he asked how he should give Client my email address. I cocked my head at him, wondering what the deal was, then shrugged. I can have coffee with someone, I decided. It might be fun. It will undoubtedly make a decent blog post.

I smiled when I decided he was being proactive. I’m lonely. Client is lonely. I’d like to be in a stable relationship. So would he. Rather than talking about these problems, let’s just kill two birds, yes? Free up those two appointment slots so he can help other people find happiness. As strange as I find the idea, I rather respect his plan. If meeting someone would help, then meet someone. After all, I’m proof positive that blogging your problems just leaves you with a lot of text describing your problems. Not a lot of actual progress.

All that took about 10 minutes.

“What else?” He asked, apparently ready to fix another of my concerns.

“I was writing my book last night.” I told him, then paused to answer some questions about the plot and characters and my motivation for this particular project. Then I said, “It was about Winnie. She was in my research group and passed away this summer.”

“I remember.” He said. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“She was an exquisite woman.” I told him. “Did you know her?” He shook his head and regarded me with solemn sympathy.

“I didn’t know her as well as I wanted.” I said, looking down and toying with the zipper of my red cardigan. So we talked – covering details that are remarkably fresh for me as I’ve gone over blog posts, editing and crying and adding more details as I built my chapter with regret that such an event needs to be included.

“I have her violet.” I told my therapist. “Jill gave it to me when I moved in the office Winnie used. It bloomed for Jill – she said it was like Winnie was telling her she was in a better place. That everything was OK. There were so many purple flowers.” I said, shaking my head. I don’t believe the plant was trying to tell Jill anything. Not really. “I got it just as the last blooms were dying. I have nightmares about killing that plant.”

Eager to tell him about my bad dreams – I don’t keep a dream journal, but that doesn’t mean I won’t tell stories from my subconscious – I was peeved when he interrupted.

“Has it bloomed for you?”

“No.” I replied. “But it’s healthy. It has new growth in the center – it looks full and green.”

He was shaking his head even as I spoke. “You need it to bloom.” He said firmly, turning to his computer while I raised my eyebrows. “Let’s see how we can encourage it to do that.”

After handing me a printed document on the care of African Violets, he summarized. “Light, food, water, warmth. You need to nurture this plant. Make it give you flowers. Then when you see them, you can say a prayer – thank God for reminding you that Winnie is in a better place. No pain, no worries, no tears for her. Her work here was done, and she was called home.”

I nodded. Again with the proactive, I thought, but saw his point. Talking doesn’t bring her back – all the dream descriptions and worry over that plant don’t help. But I can do something – put that energy toward finding the right fertilizer, watering from the top occasionally to prevent salt buildup, moving it toward the brighter light over my desk so it might bloom more frequently. It seems right – caring for this plant with a little more than random waterings. I like it – the advice I got. Good for Dr. Counselor.

I sat silently, sadly thinking my thoughts, and he watched me for a moment.

“Maybe you could write her a letter.” He suggested. “Say good-bye. Tell her you wish you could have seen the kitchen she painted. Or met her children before her memorial service. You can thank her for the times she showed up when you needed a bit of goodness in your life. How she made you feel less alone. You can ask for her prayers in the times you feel afraid and isolated. Just tell her all the things you wish you’d been able to say.”

“I wish she hadn’t had to leave.” I whispered and he handed me a Kleenex to wipe my eyes.

“She doesn’t hurt anymore. I don’t know why she had to go, but I do know God is caring for her now. She’s fine, Katie. I know it.”

“I do too. I’m just sad. I don’t think I really grieved for her.” I admitted. “I was so busy trying to figure out why the man I loved was so withdrawn – wanted to be stronger or happier or less devastated by this loss so that he would want to be with me again.”

“You’re a caring person. The pain was bound to come back until you felt you’d honored it enough. I think a letter would help you – you like to write. You like to talk to people. So talk to your friend.”

We talked for a few more minutes before he started to sum up, writing my name in his little appointment book for the same time next week.

“So!” He said, clapping his hands as he turned his attention to me again. “Homework! You’re going to take care of your plant – try to make it happy so it can give you some flowers.”

I nodded.

“And you’ll write Winnie a letter.” He said more gently. “Give yourself some closure and permission to be sad.”

He paused a moment and let me sniffle.

“I’m going to give your card to this man I see tonight. And if it doesn’t work with him, there will be someone else. Don’t give away that train, Katie. Your aunt can't have it - you’re going to need it for your children someday.”

Well done, Dr. Counselor, I thought as I walked back to my office. That will turn into a good blog post about therapy. And I am keeping my train. Not just because it's mine, but because I will at some point need it.


The Contessa said...

Brava for you!!!!!

I love that you kept your train.

I don't like the possesion quandry in families and heck knows my family doesn't play any nicer than anyone elses on that topic.... but what's rightfully yours is rightfully yours. Only you can give it away.

I'm glad you kept it and most importantly WHY you kept it.

Therapy sounds like its doing you some good and it doesn't hurt to rely on the kindness of others to meet people. While on some level it feels weird that its your therapist, I feel like he's trustworthy and wouldn't even suggest it if it didn't seem right.

What I get am getting from you most lately is that you are stronger. You are readily identifying your challenges and handling them so much better.

I'm really proud of you and consider you one of the horses todays post on my blog!

Grad007 said...

Hi Katie,

Good luck with the meeting with your therapist's other client! I doubt my therapist would ever suggest such a thing to me, but I have been thinking about getting to know some of her clients, that I regularly see while waiting for my appointment, a little better.

Lucy said...

I'm kind of jealous of your good therapy experiences, but I'm also very glad for you that Dr Counselor is being helpful (and that you're keeping your train).

Anonymous said...

congrats on the paper! sorry so late :o(

and yah, your dr. counselor sounds great! i am so glad it is working out.

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