"I felt an emotion today."
"Tell me about it."
"It was sadness."
"Because I'm leaving?"
"Yes.....It was a real emotion....I don't feel too many emotions but I felt this one."
"I feel sad too," I say. "But we will take some time to look back and look ahead and make sure that we know we will always care about one another before we have to say goodbye." "And," I add, because I want to tie all that caring into the future, "I will always think of you and carry you in my heart."
Shirley just turned eighteen and I've been her therapist for five years. All this time she's been in a special school and for all five years we've been working on her pausing before she impulsively throws a chair or a cell phone when she is frustrated or provoked.
I have begun the process of saying goodbye to my clients. I will leave in mid May and when I count that I will only have four more sessions with Shirley or five more sessions with John I too am sad.
"I don't want to do this anymore. He told me he'll kill me and my little niece and nephew if I break up with him.'
"What???" I know this boyfriend is bad but I am shocked by this.
"Are you sure this time? You won't sneak back?" I ask.
"Yes, I'm sure. He says I have to do everything he tells me, that it's my fault if I don't listen to him and he gets mad. He yells at me all the time and we never do anything. And he gets physical. He squeezed my arms and left bruises."
"Are you afraid of him?"
"A little, I think my Mom needs to get a restraining order."
"So are you ready to talk to her about it? Can we talk to her now?"
Oh thank God, finally. Lily is sixteen and her first boyfriend is scary horrible: jealous, demanding, controlling and escalatingly abusive. She can't say why she's put up with this for nine months. We go inside. Her mother, her sister-in-law, a friend, myself--we are all talking at the same time. We talk about what to expect and how to stay safe. Her mother calls the police. She will get the restraining order.
"I'd like to know this is settled and you are back to being a regular 16 old kid before I leave."
I don't mean leave today. I mean I will LEAVE for good. This is a kid I will miss like crazy. She is wildly impulsive and when she is herself she is also light and silly.
How will I say goodbye to my clients? I won't be their therapist any longer, I am not their friend, we are not related. Protocol says I should lean toward saying a permanent and final goodbye. They need to move on. They need to bond with a new therapist, need to know they have the skills and character to let what we've accomplished together be a glue for self care and insight and the pursuit of happiness. The need to know I believe in them.
They and I will carry one another in our hearts.
Today was a sad day for me too. There will be more by the time mid May rolls around.
And I and hopefully they will be the better for it.
We are going to learn how to positively say goodbye.