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Therapy talk to get us through the day

June 5, 2012 · 18 comments

in Inspiration, Relationships

When my first shrink died a few years ago, I felt betrayed. How could she leave me? Even worse — how could she have cancer when she knew so much about healing?

Being this honest might make me look incredibly self-involved. Then again, we’re talking about therapy, which means I have to be super-honest. And in the end, this special woman remains an enduring mentor because she challenged me by her example in both life…and death.

The last time I saw her was during an unbearably hot, humid May afternoon at her beautiful Manhattan home. I’d stopped therapy a few years earlier, feeling sufficiently “cured.” But we kept in touch. Near the end, the news was terrible. The cancer had returned. A stroke had left her paralyzed on one side. Hearing all this, I felt a need to see her again.

A nurse’s aide let me in. My beloved therapist was in bed with no makeup, hair mussed — and stark naked except for a pair of giant old lady underpants. There was no air conditioning. I fed her a little soup, then laid down with my arm around her clammy, bare shoulders. She couldn’t talk much anymore. Yet, she managed to say one sentence very clearly, with that signature fire in her eyes: “I want to do this my way.”

The next week, she died. Ever since, I’ve been trying to reconcile that last image of her broken body with the petite, feisty Jewish grandma who took me through my career, the arrival of my daughter and the end of my marriage.

It would be easier to remember her as the warm-hearted diva with the coiffed blonde hair, red lipstick and cute clothes. But she had other ideas; her final gift was to let me past the powerful, professional boundaries of our relationship and share her personal despair.

To this day, I remain somewhat shocked at the memory of seeing her in such a diminished state. Then again, she was the kind of shrink who was always pushing me to find myself, to live outside the box. Now she was showing me how to be real.

Taken together with her other life lessons, she laid the foundation for me to truly change and make my own destiny. She also had the amazing ability to blurb her ideas in profoundly simple one-liners that eventually wove their way through our years of therapeutic conversations:

Your parents can’t give you what they never had.

If your parents didn’t give you what you needed, then you’ve got to get it from somewhere else.

How you exit a room is as important as how you enter it.

“Money” and “competition” are not dirty words.

You can be furious with your mother — and still love her. 

In times of conflict, don’t walk away with your marbles. Stay in the game! 

Ask for what you want.

I wrote blog posts based on three of her tips:

Everything you need, you already have. 

Win-win is better than win-lose.

You can be single and still have romance in your life. What a relief to get this all down in a single post. If feels like I’ve finally made peace with her passing. Guess I can let go now, and do it with affection, appreciation and hopefully, some grace.

P.S. — Here is a link to a post you might like: “How to find a good shrink” on BettyMingLiu.com.  :)

 

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rose T. Ellis June 5, 2012 at 7:16 am

Beautiful post! And whether you believe it or not Betty, you now are the sage. The truth you share is just as valuable and therapeutic to many of your readers, … (speaking for myself, but I’m sure many others would agree) … and much cheaper too!

2 Skye June 5, 2012 at 7:50 am

How touching! Your therapist would be moved to know you’ve honored her this way. She would appreciate even more that you’ve listened. She would be proud of who you are.

3 betty ming liu June 5, 2012 at 7:57 am

Rose! Did I save you some money today? That’s a good thing. And thanks for giving me confidence. You hit the point exactly. I need to just make what my first shrink shared part of me and keep going.

Yes, Skye, she was proud of me while she was alive — truly a good therapeutic mommy while I worked out all the Chinese Confucian-Confusion crap with my own biological mother.

Another reason for writing this post is that I need to get down to business with my second shrink, a guy around my age, who is knew my first shrink very well as his teacher, therapist and friend. When I went to see him, I said that given the way my dad was, I needed to learn how to deal with guys in a healthy relationship. And we’re still working on that. This could be a long haul!

4 Dora June 5, 2012 at 9:07 am

Wow. The quotes alone are so helpful. I might have to print them out for myself. Thanks for this post, Betty.

5 Laura Madden June 5, 2012 at 9:33 am

Yes, this is definitely going up on the bulletin board above my desk.

6 J June 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

This is so touching to me, Betty, I want to tear up. I definitely will be saving these quotes too. Thank you so much for writing this blog entry.

7 Jean C. June 5, 2012 at 10:34 am

What an extraordinary story! You’re the only person I know who has seen their therapist naked. (At least I hope so.) That must be an indelible image, a shock against the consistent selfless objectivity a good shrink embodies. You were lucky to have her!

8 Christina June 5, 2012 at 11:32 am

I agree, beautiful post. Also, a beautiful relationship. I am glad you treasure the gifts she gave you, and that she was so fierce! Thank heaven for real women.

9 Joel Friedlander June 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Thank you for posting this, Betty, it was an act of bravery, and I love her quotes!

10 betty ming liu June 5, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Wow, I have never had so many commenters agree on the same point, all in a row. And to think I almost didn’t post this….

Dora, you’re welcome. These quotes will indeed come in handy at some point, I’m sure of it.

Laura, I am thrilled to have a presence at your desk! It’s me and my shrink, who was truly a good mommy.

J, I’m glad you’re saving the quotes too. Btw, the only reason I’m not including my shrink’s name is that I’m not sure our last moments would go over well among some professionals so I want to protect her reputation.

11 betty ming liu June 5, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Christina, it was indeed a great relationship. I guess I was also mad at her because I felt like we were on our way to a friendship. At her shiva, her husband told me that his wife really loved me. That was so touching.

Joel! As the book expert, you now your way around a good quote. So i’m very glad to have your input on this post. :)

12 betty ming liu June 5, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Jean C. — missed your comment before. But yeah, seeing your shrink naked is one of those things most people just don’t think — or want to think about! Haha. It was a bit much but now that I’ve unloaded in this blog post, I am feel much better about it. :)

13 Gerry Jacquette June 25, 2012 at 9:08 am

Hi Betty:
Your blog about your therapist’s demise included a thought (how could she have cancer when she knew so much about healing?) that I wanted to comment on. From my perspective it seems like getting cancer has genetic and environmental factors, and a whole lot of bad luck involved. It feels like the breast cancer movement has made such a fetish about the mood of the patient influencing outcome — not supported by clinical study — that it makes women feel bad that they can’t completely control their disease. Barbara Ehrenreich, the social activist and feminist, gave a radio interview once that talked about this in her own personal case.

I thought your therapist’s gift was showing that even when very little is under your control, you can make small choices that help maintain your integrity.

Best,
Gerry

14 betty ming liu June 25, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Gerry, thank you for the wisdom. And of course, you’re looking at the big picture. I was looking at the situation from my own navel and part of me still hasn’t gotten over the fact that this special woman is gone. And yes, I will always remember how she fought to maintain her personal dignity.

15 patty December 10, 2013 at 7:22 am

Betty,
Missed this post originally, but was so glad to be redirected to it through your latest post. Very valuable information, which I’ll use this holiday season! Enjoy ( or get through — whatever works!) and see you in the New Year. xxoo

16 betty ming liu December 10, 2013 at 8:03 am

Patty, thanks for stopping by. This is one of my favorite posts. So much timeless, helpful info from my first shrink. Hope you’re well and happy holidays!

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