I sat in the funeral home and just stood back and observed. There was a montage of pictures. I had the opportunity to see him in his youth, when he was married and a single parent with two young children. In these photos, I had the chance to meet all the people he talked to for more than 15 years. People I knew very well had real faces.
What surprised me the most was that there were so many people there that it was standing room only. I wasn’t just imagining it, there were a lot of people who really knew and cared about him. It was obvious just by observing him. To my right was a woman who was sobbing. He seems to have known intimate details about her and completed some of the sentences spoken by her children during her eulogy.
There was such a mismatch between the person I knew from what they shared and the scene before me. In my office, he was vulnerable and raw. She suffered from anxiety and depression, but even if she missed a session here or there over the years, she always came back. I wonder what brought him to me. He initially came because his then boyfriend forced him to witness that everything was “his fault”. She was resistant and reluctant at first and eventually stayed with me privately because she wanted a healthier relationship and a better life for herself and her children.
There was a rhythm between us, sometimes a joke. I got her, her pain, her fears, and her humor. He loved to be around and laugh. To lighten things up and communicate with him, I made fun of being the top of his jokes to create a safe space where he could talk freely and share thoughts and feelings that he often says he doesn’t share with anyone. I learned about his history, his struggles, and his deep fears.
He often told me, “I trust you,” “I appreciate you,” and “You’re all I have.” I believed him. That was his perception. How can it be? Did he not see all that I saw when I looked at all the people in the room who respected him? Did he not feel the great love I saw in his children, family, friends, and his two best friends who talked about him? He pretended he didn’t have anyone. That was his perception. Depression can do that to you.
He was an example of a person suffering from severe complicated grief. His life started off rough and he finally found the love of his life. His wife died suddenly and unexpectedly of cancer when their children were infants. Crushed. He was so crushed that he could never fully move. I remember he paid me with checks that still had his name on them. By then, his children had grown up, and his son would soon get married. She was his delight, his safety net, and finally made him feel like he had a chance at a healthy thriving life.
She was taking dance lessons while preparing for the wedding. This should have been a surprise. He was deeply proud of his children. He felt that he had never in his life received enough credit from the people for whom he was so eager. He used to talk so insultingly about himself. I once said to her, “You think your kids are great?” “Of course I do,” she replied. I said, “No horrible person could raise a child as special as you raised. I personally know because I met them.” I joked, “Do you think Hitler and Stalin had beautiful children?” She laughed, then burst into tears and said, “No, I should be fine after all.”
I once said: “I wish you could see the kind, caring and generous person I see in front of me. You are good enough as you are,” she cried. I asked him what was waiting for him. He said, “I never hear that.” I cried and said that he deserves to hear this every day of his life.
He never saw that he was an incredible person. I saw it in all the people who loved him and came to him today. I was very excited to see that there were so many. It doesn’t surprise me that much, because even if we can’t see it inside us, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Finally he returned with his wife. She can finally rest in his love and company. He is loved, safe and eternally grateful.
Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D., MPH, LCSW-R He is in private practice in Harrison, NY. He is also the co-founder and clinical director of Thru My Eyes, a 501c3 non-profit organization that offers clinically oriented videography to chronic medical patients who wish to leave a video legacy for their children and loved ones.
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