Tuesday, June 28, 2016


“I won’t be here next week,” Mona begins. “I’m going fishing with my parents.”

I feel disappointed for Mona. I’ve been seeing her for a little under a year, working on her need to separate from her parents. A 30 year old paralegal, Mona works in the law firm where her mother was once senior partner and lives in a house her extremely successful father bought for her. Although Mona was raised by a series of nannies during her early years - her parents busy building a business and developing a career – they now crave her time and attention.   

“I know,” she continues. “We’ve talked about it and talked about it. No, I don’t really want to go. No, I don’t like to fish. Yes, it’s awful being stuck on a boat with my folks for a week. Yes, I wanted to save my vacation time so I could go to Europe.” Pause. “And I’m going fishing.” 

“Do you have a sense of why you made that decision?”

“The consequences of not going are too great.”

“And those consequences are?”

“My house. My job. Little things like that.”

“Do you think your parents would take away your house or your job if you said you didn’t want to go fishing with them?”

“It’s important to them. If I can make them happy, why not?”

“What about what makes you happy?”

“Oh yes. There is that I suppose.”

“What would make you happy, Mona?”

“Being on a desert island somewhere, all by myself.”

“Is that true?” I ask.

“Yes and no I guess. In some ways it would feel like I felt as a kid – alone and adrift – surrounded by my books instead of water. There were times that felt welcoming, peaceful. Other times I felt so, so lonely. All I wanted was Mommy or Daddy to come home and be with me. But even when they were home they weren’t with me. And that was worse.”

“So now Mommy and Daddy have come home to be with you.”

“I suppose.”


“You know, I’m not sure that’s true,” Mona says. “I mean, yes, they’re always there. I can’t get rid of them. But I’m the Mommy and the Daddy. I have to take care of them.”

“So you’re still not getting what you need. And you’re certainly not getting what you needed as a child.”

“That’s for sure.”

“But I wonder, Mona, if you keep trying, if you keep trying to get what needed from them. If you keep trying to get them to take care of you as you hadn’t felt taken care of as a child.”

“No doubt. Look what I chose as a profession, a paralegal. Not putting paralegals down or anything, but I know I’m smart, I know I could have been anything I wanted to be – a doctor, a lawyer, CEO of a corporation. But, no, I’m a paralegal and Mommy and Daddy get to take care of me forever.”

“That’s really sad, Mona. You’re saying that you kept yourself from realizing your full potential in your attempt to get what you never got from your parents in the past.”

“It’s worse than that. Because what I get from them now are the same things I was able to get from them as a kid – material things. I never wanted for anything materially. But what I wanted was their time and attention. And, yeah, I suppose I do get that now, but it’s really all about them. I don’t even know why I keep trying.”

“I think you do know why, Mona. You keep trying because inside you there’s a needy dependent little girl who yearns for Mommy and Daddy to be home taking care of you.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

“The problem is that you can never make up for that, Mona. The past is past and however much you as that little girl might long for and deserve to have loving, attentive parents, there’s no way to redo that.”

“That’s charming. So what do I do?”

“You - and we - have to work on helping you to mourn that which you never had. It’s hard. It means feeling sad and angry, sad and angry, sad and angry, until you can get to a place of acceptance.”

“Doesn’t sound pleasant.”

“No, it’s a long, difficult process.”

“Meanwhile it will have to wait. I’m going fishing.”   

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


“I still can’t believe it,” Marcy says, tears streaming down her face, her hands clenched into fists. “

I can’t believe my big brother is dead. In an instance. He’d just played racket ball that morning. To die just like that. No sign of any heart problems. I can’t believe it.”

“I’m so sorry, Marcy. I know how important your brother was to you, almost like a stand-in father.”

Marcy nods, sobbing, unable to speak.

“And his sudden death must bring up all the feelings you had as a child when your father died so suddenly.”

March nods again, reaches for a tissue and blows her nose. “That’s why I know Dave did everything he could not to repeat our father’s history, not to leave a wife and young kids. He never smoked, didn’t eat red meat, exercised. And he barely made it into his fifties. It’s so unfair,” she says. “Life is so God damn unfair!”

Silence. Marcy looks up at me and says, “You look so sad yourself.”

Marcy has read me correctly. I reverberate with her pain. Although I never had a brother and my father didn’t die young, I’ve had my share of losses. The intensity of Marcy’s pain brings back the feelings of agonizing loss, of emptiness, of disbelief at knowing you will never again see the one you loved. That life is unfair goes without saying. I no longer rail against that indisputable reality. Loss is a necessary part of love and life. And life without love isn’t worth living.  

I respond honestly. “Yes, Marcy. I am. I feel the depth of your loss, your sadness and just as your brother’s death brings up past feelings about your father’s death, it also stimulates feelings about my past losses.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you sad,” she says, immediately illustrating the problem of a therapist being self-revealing.

“That’s perfectly okay, Marcy. You don’t have to take care of me. You have more than enough to do right now taking care of your own feelings. And, besides, although your pain now feels overwhelmingly agonizing, I know that you wouldn’t have given up having your brother in your life. And that’s true for me and my losses as well.”

“Oh no! I would never have given up having him in my life. Not for a moment. I literally don’t know what I would have done without him as a kid.” Pause. “But I’m still going to miss him,” she adds plaintively. “I feel like a kid when I say that,” she says between sobs.

“We all carry the child part of us along with our adult self, so I’m sure both the adult you and the child you will miss him. Very much.”


“You know what you said about my not having to take care of you?”

“Right. You don’t.”

“I was thinking how different that was than when my father died. I was only six, but I felt that I had to take care of my mother. I was supposed to be the one to make her feel better. And I couldn’t do that. She felt bad for a long, long time. I can feel how I felt as that child. That long, long time felt like forever. And while I tried to take care of her, she wasn’t so good at taking care of me. Good thing my brother was 18, or who knows what would have happened to me. Probably shipped off to some aunt I hardly knew. My brother tried hard. But sometimes my clothes didn’t match or my hair was all messy. I don’t remember the other kids making fun of me. They mostly felt sorry for me, but that didn’t feel so good either.”

“It all sounds terribly painful, Marcy. So hard for you.”

“And now I’m back at it again. Trying to make Mom feel better. But it always seems reasonable. First she loses her husband, now her son. What could be worse than that? But I don’t want in that role again. It’s such a burden.”

“Are you concerned, Marcy, that you will need to take care of me, too?”

“No,” she says hesitantly.

“You don’t sound too sure.”

“Well, you don’t seem depressed and you’re certainly functional.” Pause. “But maybe making you feel sad worries me. Like I’m not supposed to do that.”

“I understand, Marcy. We should continue to look at that. And maybe looking at your feelings of needing to take care of me, will help you work through some of the past issues with your mother and free you from the burden of feeling responsible for her happiness.”