Today is my late husband’s birthday. In honor of that day I have decided to relate my experience of presenting my book, Love and Loss, to my professional organization a few weeks ago. Many in the audience were friends and colleagues. Many had known George.
In my presentation I discussed my motivation for writing the book – to memorialize George and our relationship - as well as to illustrate my now staunch belief that a therapist’s present life circumstance greatly affects her work and her patients. I discussed issues of confidentiality and, at length, the question of self-disclosure. I am far more revealing in my book – and in my blogs – than is usual for a therapist, and an audience of professionals would understandably be interested in this question.
During the break, several people – mostly friends who knew George well – came up to me and related how present I had made George feel, how much his aura permeated the room. One related his experience of their first meeting, his wit and sardonic humor; another spoke of his kindness and humanity; and still another about his satisfaction with his life and his inability to feel envy. I felt warmed. I had accomplished my goal. I carried George with me and was able to bring him to life for others.
I resumed my presentation. At the end, in the course of the discussion, I mentioned an experience I had with a young woman patient about three years after George’s death. She asked me three questions: Where was I from? Was I married? Did I have children? As she and I talked about why she was asking these specific questions, at this specific time, my own mind remained fixated on the question, Am I married? Assuming I answered her questions - and I have become more comfortable with answering patients’ questions as opposed to deflecting them – I realized there was no way I could answer that question in the negative. To say that I was not married felt to me like a denial of George and my relationship, a relationship that still very much existed for me. So, when I answered the question I said my truth, “I’m a widow.” The patient burst into tears, opening up a new avenue of exploration.
All this I told to my audience. A lively discussion ensued. One friend and colleague asked if rather than lying to my patient, I could have said that her questions were certainly legitimate and important, but rather than answering them, I would like to understand what they meant for her. I hastened to explain that I would never lie to a patient, that the issue for me was that to say I wasn’t married felt like a disavowal of George and our relationship and that I couldn’t possibly get the word “no” out of my mouth. Another colleague said that regardless of what we tell our patients, they will see us how they need to see us.
Then the man who had brought up my lying to my patient, raised his hand again. He said that he realized that he himself had just fallen victim to such a distortion: He saw me as married. I was married to George. And since I was married to George I honestly could not tell my patient I wasn’t married. I smiled. I loved it! My connection to George was so strong, I had succeeded so well in taking him with me in my mind, that others still experienced me as married as well.
And this man wasn’t the only one. Another friend assumed that when I brought up that experience with my patient, I was talking about a time before I had ever known George, before I was indeed married. And when I related the entire experience to yet another friend, he too was surprised, saying of course I was married, I was married to George.
And so my beloved husband lives on within me and within those who knew and loved him. I am extremely fortunate to have had this very special man in my life. And on this day, his birthday, I express my deep love and devotion.