On Wednesday when Smartmom got back from her evening run Hepcat said, "Oh by the way, you got a phone call from M. He said, 'Everything's okay, don't worry about it.'"
"Everything's okay, don't worry about it? What does that mean?" Smartmom wondered aloud.
Hepcat figured that Smartmom would understand the message, that it probably pertained to something Smartmom and M were talking about.
But it didn't: it made absolutely no sense to Smartmom, who questioned Hepcat, "Are you SURE that call was from M?" Hepcat was pretty sure that it was from her therapist, M. But he wasn't ABSOLUTELY sure. "I think it was your therapist," Hepcat said. "But maybe it was someone else named M. Do you know anyone else named M?" Finally he said, "Why don't you just call him."
On Thursday Smartmom left a message on M's machine. She said, "Hepcat said that you called. He thinks it was you. The message was a little strange. Could you call me back..."
A few hours later M. called. "That wasn't me," he said. I didn't call." Smartmom laughed at the confusion. Then he said, "But I won't be seeing you Monday." This stopped Smartmom in her tracks. M. has never, in the two years that she's been in therapy, cancelled a session (except for the month of August) "Why?" Smartmom asked nervously. "Because my father just died. I'm planning the funeral now."
Silence. Smartmom didn't know what to say. Because of the traditional boundaries of therapy she felt it would be inappropriate to say any of the thoughts that instantly popped into her head:
--I didn't know your father was alive.
--Where did he live?
--Did you love your father?
--What did he do?
--Did you have issues with your father?
--How did he die?
--Who was your father?
Smartmom did say, "I'm so sorry. How are you doing?" Those were the only words that eventually came to mind. M said, "I am heartbroken," She thought maybe he was crying. She wanted to comfort him, she really did.
"But I'm okay," he added in a reassuring tone. Selfishly (pragmatically) Smartmom asked if he would be seeing clients next week. "I may work on Thursday. It's too soon to say. But I won't be able to re-schedule you."
Merged with his loss, Smartmom began to feel her own. She wouldn't be seeing M. next week. He is her life-line, her confidante, her good object -- she hated the idea of missing a session. How will she survive?
Smartmom did manage to say, "Take care, feel better." Phrases so incredibly inadequate she feels embarassed to repeat them now.
When they got off the phone, Smartmom felt like calling M right back and telling him how terrible she felt for both of them. But she didn't - that would have been wildly inappropriate. She did go out and buy a condolence card at Barnes and Noble. Walking home in the snow she wondered, what is the proper etiquette when your therapist's father dies? (She wondered if Emily Post ever dealt with this?)
In the note, she wrote, "In my silence I was saying: I can only be grateful to your father, the man who, with your mother, spawned you and brought you into the world to be who you are. In my silence I was wishing you a bearable grief, comfort and all my love."
Smartmom still doesn't know who called the other day to say, "Everything is okay, don't worry about it." Maybe the call wasn't for her at all. Or maybe it was. She may never know. Just like she won't know the answers to her questions about M's father and so much else.
But "Everything is okay, don't worry about it" is what she might say to M about missing next week's session; about not telling her what she wants to know. About dealing with the loss we all dread and know will one day come.