Four months ago, my therapist told me she would be retiring this summer. I was taken aback –a phrase that suddenly made perfect sense to me since I felt as though I had been physically moved without my consent.
In a way, it didn’t seem like such a big deal. We had been slowing down. I wasn’t coming every week anymore. After nearly three years, my depression had cleared. I had been able to finish a large project of which I had despaired. I had resolved some of the issues that other therapists had not quite gotten to -- probably because I wasn’t ready to face them. She also helped me negotiate the start of my seventh decade – I’m 63 -- with a sense of proportion and grace.
I know almost nothing about “Sharon.” I don’t know if she’s straight or gay, married or single. I have no idea where she lives, whether she likes to vacation in Maine or the Cape or if she plans to travel abroad in her retirement. She had told me that she treated children and teenagers but I don’t know if she has kids of her own.
And yet, I do know her. Even though the intimacy of our relationship has been entirely one-sided – appropriately all about me -- I know that she is patient, kind and wise. Although she speaks softly, she has a big laugh that comes easily. She is grounded and purposeful and I want to say she is possessed of grace, another phrase I never use and one I can’t explain. I certainly learned a lot from her --and by that I mean her approach and perspective as well as her insights.
When she first told me about her retirement plans and asked how I felt about it, I realized that I’d been hoping for an on-going relationship. I have a few friends who, long after ending regular therapy, still make an occasional appointment for a “tune up,” especially at times of transition or stress. But after thirty years, Sharon was closing up shop. There would be no tune-ups. She offered to refer to another therapist. At first I said no, but at our next-to-last visit I decided I wanted a back-up so I took the phone number of a colleague Sharon said would be a good match and (this being the real world) would also accept my insurance.
I dreaded our last appointment. Even though I’d known Sharon for only three years, the loss felt as profound as when my rabbi of twenty five years left his pulpit. My sadness was even deeper than when my physician of nearly twenty years left her practice.
I didn’t know how to say goodbye. Should I give her flowers, or a book of poems, or maybe just a card?
In the end, I brought all three as well as a Boston cream pie cupcake, which she accepted with a delighted laugh. They were retirement gifts, parting gifts, things I chose because I was pretty sure that Sharon would love them much as I do. Because during our three years, bounded by all the conventions and rules that properly govern the therapist-client relationship, we shared a lot of love.