MOURNING: When a Client Dies

A patient of mine passed away this week, and it left me with a flurry of thoughts and feelings. When a client dies, after they have spent years and countless hours in therapy sharing their innermost fears, joys, dreams, heartache and love, where does the mourning go?

Therapy is a special kind of relationship. It only works if there is a true meeting of emotions with genuine care. As therapists we spend each hour of therapy weaving through the threads of a persons life, trying to connect the strands to make the full tapestry, and this is inevitably done from a place of compassion, care and even love.

In the world outside therapy there are many different rituals for mourning that are intended to provide comfort for family and friends. They involve shared stories with family and friends but also a space to share the loss and pain. They may make us feel a little more connected to the person who is no longer there as we try to comprehend the permanent intangibleness of ‘death.’ We see other people suffering with the same excruciating grief that we feel and we know we are not alone. Talking about grief does not make it go away, but it does allow us to have a space within which to try to articulate all the thoughts and feelings swirling around in our heads and in our guts. It creates a place to try to make sense of this utterly devastating, breathless pain.

As a therapist you are not privy to this world. Yours instead is a very private, isolating pain that cannot be shared with anyone. It is a form of disenfranchised mourning, as it cannot be acknowledged by society or those around you. The relationship is not  a regular, normal one and it is also a private relationship that needs to be honoured and respected with all the ethical boundaries, just as you would have whilst your lost patient was alive. Today I sat quietly in my therapy chair to reminisce, gathering my thoughts and memories of what happened in the therapeutic space. I lit a candle and said a few words, out aloud, and then said goodbye, for now.  Next week I will speak to my supervisor or a colleague so that someone can witness and be there with me for a moment, while I sit with the grief and pain of loss.

Dearest D,  You were such a vibrant, dramatic, courageous person who worked remarkably hard during our 6 years of therapy.   While we untangled the threads of your life,  you helped me grow as a therapist and as a person. Thank you for your curious sprit, your ability to create and imagine, you kindness and the generosity of your soul.  Thank you for inviting me into your most intimate sanctum. It was a privilege and a blessing to walk the journey with you. You will be remembered and you will be missed. ♡

Author: Debra©Psych in a Box

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