I sat in the funeral home and just stood back and observed. There was a montage of pictures. I had an opportunity to see him in his youth, when he got married, and when he was a single parent with two very young children. In these photos I got the chance to meet all the people he’s spoken about for over 15 years with me. There were actual faces to the people I have grown to know so intimately.
The thing that amazed me the most was that there were so many people present that it was standing room only. I wasn’t just imagining it, there were a plethora of people who seemed to really know and care about him. It was obvious from just observing him. To my right was a woman who was sobbing profusely. She seemed to know intimate details about him and finished some of the sentences that his children were reciting during his eulogy.
There was such a disparity between the man I knew from what he shared and the scene I saw before me. In my office, he was vulnerable and raw. He would go through bouts of anxiety and depression but would always return even if he skipped a session here or there over the years. When I think about what brought him to me, I’m astounded. He originally came because his then girlfriend forced him to come so I could be a witness to how everything was “his fault.” He was initially resistant and reluctant and, in the end, stayed with me individually because he wanted to get into a healthier relationship and make a better life for him and his kids.
We had a rhythm between us, sometimes a banter. I got him, his suffering, his fears and his humor. He loved to kid around and laugh. To lighten things up and engage with him, I entertained being the butt of his jokes so as to engender a safe space so he can talk freely and share thoughts and feelings that he frequently told me he had never shared with anyone. I grew to know his history, his struggles and his deep fears.
He would frequently tell me, “I trust you,” “I appreciate you” and “You’re all I got.” I believed him. That was his perception. How can it be? Did he not see all that I saw when I was peering over to all the people in the room that were paying their respects to him. Did he not feel the immense love I saw in his kids, family, friends, and his two best friends that spoke about him. He made it seem like he had absolutely no one. That was his perception. Depression can do that to you.
He was an example of a man who suffered severe complicated grief. His life started out rough and he eventually found the love of his life. When his children were toddlers his wife suddenly and unexpectedly died of cancer. He was crushed. So crushed that he never was never fully able to move on. I remember him paying me with checks with her name still on them. By then his kids were grown, with his son soon to be married himself. She was his savor, his safety net and finally made him feel that he had a chance for a healthy thriving life.
He was taking dance lessons in preparation for the wedding. It was supposed to be a surprise. He was so profoundly proud of his children. He felt that he never got enough credit for it from people in his life he so deeply craved it from. He would speak so deprecatingly about himself. I once said to him, “Do you think your kids are terrific?” He responded, “Of course I do.” I said, “No horrible person can raise kids as special as you have raised. I personally know because I have met them.” I joked, “Do you think Hitler and Stalin had nice children?” He laughed and then teared up and said, “No, I must be okay after all.”
I once said, “I wish you would see the kind, caring and generous man I see before me. You’re good enough just as you are” He cried. I asked him what was coming up for him. He said, “I never hear that.” I cried too and said that he deserved to hear that each and every day throughout his life.
He truly never saw the incredible human he was. I saw that in him and so did all the people who loved him and showed up for him on this day. I’m so thrilled to see that there were so many. It doesn’t surprise me all that much because even when we can’t see it within us, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. He’s finally back with his wife. He can finally rest in peace cradled in her love and company. He’s loved, he’s safe and eternally grateful.
Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D., MPH, LCSW-R maintains a private practice in Harrison, NY. She is also the Co-Founder and Clinical Director of “Thru My Eyes”, a nonprofit 501c3 organization that offers free clinically-guided videotaping to chronically medically ill individuals who want to leave video legacies for their children and loved ones.
Check out Michelle’s new book: ACE Your Life: Unleash Your Best Self and Live the Life You Want. Michelle highlights understanding and embodying the barriers to Acceptance, Compassion, and Empowerment which will help you break free from habitual patterns and monotony that prevent you from unleashing your best self and living the life you want. With a plethora of strategies, inspiring stories, examples, and self-reflective exercises, ACE Your Life is a unique roadmap for anyone seeking to move beyond feeling “stuck.” Michelle provides encouraging, inspirational, and easily actionable tools for anyone’s situation-from individuals seeking personal growth and enhancement to those feeling “stuck” from trauma, cumulative stress, or other significant challenges.
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