The moment hope slips through your fingertips brings with it a darkness. The future dims to a gray, drab, and monotonous movie you watch play out before you. A robotic life sapped of joy.
That is the life without hope.
In early September, when I learned my therapist died, I felt my reserves of hope start spilling out of me, the lid suddenly yanked free.
It's a finicky feeling, to grieve the loss of someone you barely know, who has given you so much, a better life even, (and a better life to all who know you, an outward ripple effect only better relationships can create), and to whom you have given so little in return. Some dollars, yes, but never enough to compensate for my gain. Should she have charged me ten times more, it still would not be an equal exchange of value.
That is the word for the hope she gave me.
In I would walk broken, and out I would emerge with the tools to put myself back together. Tools to patch up my life, my soul. Tools to create a better present, to mold a better future. Tools even to close wounds made decades earlier.
A time-traveling healer.
And now, gone.
* * *
In the ten months its been with us, 2020 has done away with so much. Uninterrupted alone time during school hours gone (and my mental health along with it), time with friends, and now even my therapist. All of it gone.
Despite all its taken away, this year has given me so much.
A beautiful cherub of a baby boy. Lexapro. Deepening friendships. A healing marriage. The workout machine of my dreams. And, strangely enough, centering prayer.
During one of my last sessions with my beloved therapist (sadly conducted via Zoom), I told her of my ravenous hunger for time without a single human or sound for miles.
“It can't be normal, this need to be alone. My kids are always around. Just to have this session with you, I am hiding in the bathroom and my husband is blocking the door, and I can hear them calling for me. Isn't it selfish? If God gave me these children to care for, why do I also feel this need to get away from them and just be alone for a while?”
In her classic repetitive style, she uttered the one saying she'd underscore during every single one of our sessions since we first met: “You're whipping yourself.”
True solitude, she told me, is a human need. One that I had to reclaim if I wanted to be a good mother, good wife, good friend, good person. If permission was what I needed, she gave it to me hundredfold. Draw your line in the sand, set your boundary, and reclaim your true self. You are not just a mother, she said. You are doing great, and you deserve to care for yourself as well as you care for your family.
Permission granted. So, what next?
Although I had been introduced to centering prayer four years prior, I never committed to the 20 minutes of meditation it required. For a myriad of reasons that in hindsight seem like nothing more than bad excuses, borderline silly. I might as well have told God my dog ate my homework. “The kids need me. Well, yes, I have 53 minutes a day to scroll on Instagram, but that can be done while they're around, you know? Centering prayer, not so much.”
But now I was equipped with license to break away. My unnecessary request for emancipation had been granted.
* * *
Grief. I feel it every single day.
I wasn't able to say goodbye or thank you. I wasn't able to ask what to do next.
What will the future look like without her help? Where will I turn? Who will hand me the tools I need for the mommy guilt, the sibling issues, the marital tug-of-war?
But I do have one tool she left me: the question she asked me every session.
“Are you doing your prayer?”
In the world COVID-19 has sewn, where only isolation means true safety, I will not seek out a new therapist. Instead, I have turned to her question.
Am I doing my prayer? It's time to start.
And thus I turn to myself and to God.
At five in the morning, I rise. When my watch vibrates me awake, I pad over to an empty room and sit in silence with God for twenty minutes. Afterward, I read a spiritual book. (Thomas Merton's No Man Is An Island was exceptional.) And whenever the desire arises, I stop to write out my feelings and thoughts into my journal.
Silence and words. God and myself.
I don't have my therapist anymore, but I have God, whom Fr. Thomas Keating called “the divine therapist.”
Hope slipped through my fingers when she passed away, and the void her loss created will never be filled by a human. But it was only in her absence that I found the alone time I could give myself every single day—the only kind of alone time that would stitch in me infinite threads of peace and serenity.
Alone time with God.
If there is anything I hope for, it is that this will be enough.
Doña Giselle, I will never be able to thank you enough. You were an angel sent to help turn me toward God, and for this my gratitude is unconditional and never-ending.