It’s unbelievable to think that it has almost been two years since I finally realized I needed to talk to someone about the death of my father and began working with a bereavement counselor. Mary gave me weekly assignments (I kid you not, one of the first ones was to “have a stupid conversation with someone”). She never let me just “talk about my feelings” and instead made me analyze them, and whenever I came to a realization she’d say, “It’s great that you had that insight, but now what are you going to do with it?”
This past Monday, I took a trip to visit her and catch up. In a strange way, seeing her straight dark hair with gray streaks, her polished and clean cut way of dressing, and coffee cup in hand makes me feel like coming home. Because I know that even when I struggle to find the right words, she can piece together enough fragments to help me sort through my feelings and find what is lying hidden down below.
After sitting and blabbering about the fluff in my life for half of our session, I finally got down to the juicy stuff.
I told her about May and how I handled her death. (Written about at https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-month-of-maying/) She praised me for doing so well without having someone to talk to. But there was still something bothering me.
Hesitantly, I began. “Well, let me ask you this…because this is what’s really bothering me and it keeps coming up.”
Mary nodded, her eyes already all-knowing.
“This fear of my own death. Sometimes, I’ll be standing doing the dishes and think my heart could just give up any second. I mean sometimes, I just want to give up.”
Her brow furrowed. “What do you mean by ‘give up’?” She wasn’t condescending. She was genuinely curious to know.
“Well…uhh…ahhh..you see…umm..errr..” I struggled for words longer than usual. I didn’t want to say kill myself because that’d be a little ironic—scared of my own death but wanting to kill myself? That’s not right.
“How about this…is it kind of like you’re at the top of a ski slope and you look down and it’s really steep and really scary and instead of trying to go straight down you just decide to sit down at the top and slide? Like getting the fall out of the way since you know it’ll happen later?” She’s such a shrink. I love it.
(This is most definitely not my photograph but it sure is fitting!)
“Well, almost. It’s more like I look down the slope and instead of going down at all, I want to take my skis off and walk back to the lift.” We laughed. I was really digging the whole metaphor thing.
She justified my fear of death but also reminded me that it’s unusual because most young people my age think they’re invincible–that’s why they engage in risky behaviors. But because I’ve had loss occur all around me at such a young age, I am fully aware that I will die. In at least this sense, it’s nice to know I have confirmation that I am abnormal for my age group.
I told her that sometimes, I feel like the world is so big and there’s so much to do that I get overwhelmed that if I don’t try and do the coolest and most amazing thing, I’ll somehow have missed out and not have “lived life to the fullest” as they say.
But then Mary said the most miraculous thing. “Instead of trying to ski straight down the mountain, go side to side, it’s much less steep.”