Sometimes clients act surprised when I disclose that I struggle with life too. I’m not sure why they are surprised, but knowledge cannot insulate you from real life. We never want a client to think that we (collectively) as therapists have it all figured out, trust me- we don’t. We do spend lots of time feeling, verbalizing and practicing emotions, but that does not protect us from the harsh brokenness of reality. Life has a way of happening anyway.
I want to share with you that all of us (Bonnie, Ruthie, Erin, and I- Lisa) are really feeling broken this week. As a group we are in grief, confusion, and mourning. We very suddenly lost our therapist teammate Mary Ellen Peterson last week. She experienced a catastrophic stroke last Saturday night, and passed away, surrounded by her family, about 4 days later.
Mary Ellen was a fierce woman. I have often said that I want to be her when I grow up, and I still do! She was a wise, balanced, hilarious, caring, warm, selfless, and fearless woman. Mary Ellen had been a therapist for almost 40 years. Forty years of hearing the stories and helping in the lives of so many people. She wasn’t jaded, or cynical, even after walking alongside probably thousands of hurting people. Her compassion was unrelenting in spite of the depth and marathon of honest humanity that she lived in daily. I saw her live out her care and respect for others, literally, until the day she died.
Mary Ellen’s professional experience always reminded and advised us as fellow therapists to “respect the process.” Clinically, the process refers to the natural progression of a human experience. Most often you can’t force change in the process, but you can work to influence it. Life is a process too, and it always concludes with death. That is a harsh concept for most of us living people. Death is a reality for all; your entire life process will conclude with death too. If I could have asked Mary Ellen to help us through this, she would encourage us towards acceptance of her own process coupled with joy for the life she had lived.
We will choose joy for her, but we will still mourn for the loss we all feel. We will faithfully walk this road despite our grief. Mary Ellen was loved by many people and she is gone much too soon. We will miss her wise but spunky self. We will miss her head-to-toe coordinated outfits, we will miss her warm spirit and acceptance of all people. We will honor her and her life’s work by continuing in our own work, having been influenced by her.
And in living our own authentic lives we have to stick together during these painful days. As a group we will cry and laugh together if we need it. We will try to do self care (read: chocolate and naps and laughing for me), and we will honor her life process. We won’t turn away from the pain, we will bear it as part of our own process, blessedly intertwined with hers.