Saturday, May 29, 2010


There is something about therapy that I miss.

A few weeks ago, when I was doing the mid-month challenge for still life 365, I wrote down the quotes that have most affected me during my grief. I picked one about how people who love me don't know what to say, so they say nothing.

"Even as your therapist, I think you come off as a little too competent." 

My therapist, the one that saw me both before and after my Lucia died, said this to me. I couldn't even begin to make guerrilla art from that shit. But I thought about it so much after he said it. I am still thinking about it. What did that mean? Here I was in therapy because I can't do this. Because I felt completely incompetent, inadequate, out of my league...I couldn't figure out exactly how to live without my child. My daughter was dead. I felt like walking into therapy was my way of saying, "I am floundering. I don't know what to say to the neighbors or my mother. My daughter is dead and life is confusing and impossible and so very cruel. I don't know how to keep it together. Help me. Please."

But what I really said is, "My daughter is dead. No amount of praying is bringing her back. I have a living kid who needs me to pull it together. I'm not sure how to do that." The therapist told me I was too blunt, and it even caught him up when I would say things like that. He told me it was no surprise that I was alienating people with that kind of talk. He wondered if perhaps I wasn't trying to shock people with that kind of statement. People don't like bluntness about mortality. And I would lean forward in my chair, head in my hands, and stare at my feet.

I didn't know any other way to describe what happened to us. I was so confused. She actually was dead, not lost, not passed away, no born sleeping. She was actually dead. I wasn't about to use euphemisms regarding Lucy's current state as ash in an urn on my antique secretary. Imagining my daughter in a better place might have helped me, but heaven is not something I can force. Particularly, in therapy, it felt best to state the facts: my daughter died. I birthed her little bruised lifeless body into the world. I held her for three hours until she was cold, so they could take her away and take pictures, which I would never receive. Her ripping skin disturbed me. I feel guilty about that. After that experience, I no longer know how to play in the sand box with others. I fear. I felt like I was stubbornly and squarely stuck in an existential nightmare.

It was a Catch-22. I was competent because I knew I wasn't competent enough. This I do know: I am not too competent; in fact, I think I am the Mr. Magoo of Competency. Things work out, somehow, in spite of myself. I am somehow almost eighteen months out from Lucy's death with absolutely no idea how I got here. I didn't meditate on acceptance. I didn't make peace. But somehow it happened. Time moved forward. I get it. I fucking get it. She is dead. I miss her.

I will always miss her. I will always be sad.

What I don't miss about therapy is the fucking hopelessness of talking about Lucy's death. Finally, after months of going to therapy. Crying. Talking about how my daughter died. Crying again. Repeating. I left sadder than before I walked in. I stared at my therapist, bored with myself, frustrated with his frustration. He could not fix Lucy's death. She is just dead. I was not delusional. I was not suicidal. I was kind of competent. I just wanted someone to tell me what to do everyday. I wanted him to follow me around and tell me what to do. He wasn't willing to do that, so I needed silence.

I'm sorry your daughter died. There are no words.

For others there were no words, but for me, there seemed to be an endless supply of the same indignant words. Finally, though, I reached the end of the speaking the words. The last echos of my first cry, "Lucy is dead," died out to a hollow empty silence as I stared at the Buddhist therapist. It happened in therapy. It happened because of therapy.

A headline on the Onion this week reads, "Existential Firefighter Delays Three Deaths." That was what therapy was like for me. "Existential Bereaved Mother Can't Believe that We Are Even Surprised by Daughter's Death." It shut me up. The endless repetition of the obvious: my child died. We are all going to die. And I don't think that was a bad thing.

Of course, my emailing dried up. My non-babylost friendships fell into this abyss. I couldn't hear about other people's shit. Not even my own. I somehow could only muster writing it once, on a blog, and disappearing into silence again. I feel lost trying to explain all this. It doesn't even make sense to me. It seems easier to start fresh. And now, I can't quite imagine how to do that. Fresh? I am anything but.

Still, what I miss about therapy is the deconstruction. That one comment about my competency has been replayed in my brain a thousand ways. I have broken it apart. I have thought about it. I have juxtaposed it with my friend's wise words:

Such is a bitter lesson for the strong: Because we are strong does not mean that those around us - though they may revel in this quality - will be equally strong when we need it; Indeed, it is in times of weakness that you find that those around you who rely vicariously on your strength are nowhere to be found because they cannot fathom the responsibility of shouldering the load; they cannot be strong for you... And you must find it in your heart to forgive them.

I once had a dream that I took my skin off, and laid it out on the table, and smoothed out all the scars and blemishes. I plucked unwanted hairs. I ran my hands along the surface of me. Then I grabbed my paints, and began painting me again. Making me beautiful. Making me the person I wanted the world to see. That is what I liked about therapy, figuring out what makes me tick in any given situation. Pulling off my skin, smoothing out the wrinkles, pulling out the bumps, and trying to make me more compassionate.


I have a tiny boy now. He replaced no one. He is eight weeks old.

Apropos of nothing, he smiles. And then when I smile and say hi, he coos. He seems to like us, even the dog and the very tiny urn of ashes. I feared he wouldn't be a happy baby. I was grief-stricken in pregnancy, sad and anxious, afraid of his health and happiness. When you are pregnant and in desperation for someone to listen, you might admit to someone you aren't that close to that you are scared and depressed. And that person might be kind and say, "I can imagine." Or they may say things like, "Relax. Anxiety isn't good for the baby." It fucks with you. You imagine that bout of anxiety has caused your child be sad too. Old superstitions die hard. Mal de ojo. Tie a red ribbon around his wrist. You know, a theoretical one. But Thor appears to be, you know, normal. Just thought you should know, in case you too are worried about the evil eye and anxiety.

For some reason, I felt compelled to send my therapist a birth announcement, even though I can't quite remember if he knew that I was pregnant. I also sent it to all those people who didn't say anything about Lucy, who didn't even know I was pregnant again. I debated it in my head.  Maybe I should just become a ghost too, I thought. The ghost of a friend they once had who had a stillbirth and went crazy, you know, in a very competent way.


  1. If I could write, I would have written so much of this myself. It makes me want to pick up the phone and call you right now and say "I know. Because, you know, this one time..." My therapist thinks I look too competent, too- and it makes me drop words like "dead" and "garbage" and "fuck" all over her office so she can see that I'm not and magically find a way to soothe the hurt. Which she can't. And so on and so forth.

    We should talk about this more. Like, on Saturday maybe I(yes, I can meet you- but I haven't felt competent enough to write you an email telling you so).

  2. that sounds horribly familiar from seeing a therapist for my depression. if you have got your shit together enough to say whatever is going on they are thrown.

    I hate, hate, hate all the other ways of saying dead, I shout at the tv when they someone says they have "lost" a loved one, "that was a bit bloody careless, why don't you look a bit harder and find them then".

  3. Angie, you always manage to write and explain what's in my head and get it so damn right, how do you do that?
    My husband and I have been told several times by various people from the coroner, the undertaker and the bereavement mw's how we are "emotionally mature". Being British we don't really do therapy or even counselling. I talk to my bereavement mw about practicalities, and take her blankets I've made for other dead babies.
    I do feel like I'm floundering,I'm heartbroken and trying not to be totally defeated.
    See, I just can't say it like you can. x

  4. I really don't like your therapist.

    I think by "competent," he probably meant "I can see that you'll get through this, and I understand that you need help seeing that and getting there." But YEESH. I remember when therapy hurt worse afterwards and seemed like I was a broken record and I distinctly remember the session where I had her break down for me the fine line between grieving and wallowing.

    But eventually it helped, she helped, the need to repeat the trainwreck stopped, and I was able to talk about other things. I was still stuck, but omigod, much less stuck. I'm sorry this chump couldn't get you there. I said the same things, with the same bluntness, often with profanity, and she understood. Or at least she acted as though she did.

    I haven't sent announcements -- they didn't know I was pregnant, and so many have fallen away, and I'm just not sure I could take happy talk from people who never said "I'm sorry." I also hate feeling like it's incumbent upon me to mend these relationships -- they have phones and email too, right?

    I have the fussiest, clingiest baby ever and think I'm cursed with one who refuses to be set down or leave human contact. I wanted a baby, and now it's goddamned krazy-glued to me. Not that I'm complaining. But it could get old when he's four.

  5. Hmmm, what a strange thing for your therapist to say.

    The description of you staring at your feet is just so painful to read. I'm sorry. I'm with Tash, I don't think I like him much either.

    I do worry about the evil eye and anxiety and so forth. I like the theoretical red ribbon. xo

  6. Sending love, Angie, that's all.

    Also, I have a feeling my counsellor thinks the same thing about me. I do like her though, but I think she thinks I have my shit together a lot better than I do. I went to see her last week, first time since Angus was born, and she kept saying how well I was doing. I think she needs to scratch a little harder, or maybe I need to open up more. Not sure.
    Glad to hear Thor is doing so well. You are mothering your three children so beautifully.
    Always nice to see a post from you.

  7. A follow-up question:

    Do you think your therapist meant "you're so competent that there's nothing that needs to be done here"? or "Your veneer of competence may cause people to think you're not hurting as badly as you are, so that's something to think about as you interact with people"? Because those are really two very different statements- one suggesting that he didn't get it at all, and the other suggesting that he did, but maybe other people might not.

  8. That is a very good question: definitely the latter. He felt I was too competent because I could articulate why, how and what I was going through emotionally, what I needed. He wanted me to get out of my brain. .ost importantly, he wanted me to be vulnerable with him. I didn't even really understand what that meant, especially when I felt like a raw, open sucking wound. I couldn't comprehend how to be more vulnerable than what I was. He definitely felt like I needed therapy, and also felt like he didn't give me much in the ways of breakthroughs. I guess my point was my repetition of Lucy's death,saying it so bluntly, was my form of vulnerability. Going to therapy-vulnerability. Asking him what to say and what to do-vulnerability. In many ways, I felt like I wanted tools for my toolbox in dealng, and he wanted to throw away the tools. That make sense? And btw, I think he gave me a lot in therapy because he did challenge my ways of survival and my modes of competency, even if at I really came to the point that I couldn't talk about it anymore.

  9. I'm not entirely sure what he meant by that statement and what the implication is but I do get when therapy becomes, well, boring. I bored myself in therapy, repeating the same thing over and over - I'm sad Sam's not here, I lost all my friends, no one understands...on and on until I couldn't even listen to myself. Sounds similiar to your experience. For what it's worth, I never tire of hearing Lucy's name or the refrain that she is dead and you miss her forever. Makes perfect sense to me.

  10. I don't have a single useful or special thing to say. I wanted you to know that I read this and I nodded my head and thought "strength is such a curse. It seems to cause me more grief than it gives."

  11. I wonder if they want us to get better, or not?
    And then, what is "better"?

    Another beautiful post, Angie. Thank you.

  12. a lot of this resonated with me, angie. the terms my therapist used with me over and over were "self-aware" and "articulate." i am also competent, and i do think that competence has pushed people away. but i also think we have to be who we are in our grief. it changes us, but not fundamentally. you are a strong, honest, and creative person. why should your grieving process be anything less than strong, honest, and creative?

    by the way, i find nothing at all blunt about your statement that lucy is dead and not coming back. maybe i'm just desensitized now, but it's not startling or rude or disturbing: it's just the very sad truth. it's pretty weird that your therapist didn't want to hear it. xo


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