On a Personal Note: To a Dear Friend

Dearest Marilla
Yesterday I moved out of our office and it feels like a severing of the last connection I had to you.  In all the years it’s been since you’ve been gone, it’s always felt like my space that I shared with you even though I’ve shared it with so many others.  Perhaps that helped me manage the pain of missing you.
I moved in there about 20 years ago when Victor was our “landlord” and he had taken on the lease from someone else I never knew.  Who knows if she had taken the lease over from another person before her?  It  went from her, to Victor, to you, to Alice, to me in these past 2 decades.  But my memories echo with our talks, both professional and personal, our connection, your music, the way you always greeted one of my clients (he’s still with me) and how amused and surprised he was that you did so, stories of your hard work in Asia after the tsunami, your excitement when my kids would come to the office, all your stories of happiness, joy, sadness, and regret.  All mine too.  And we both just held each other’s process supportively and without judgment.  And we became dear friends.
I know I started to lose you when your slipped disc also led to a slipped grasp on reality.  How I wish you’d never tried to lift that damned water bottle.  When Alice took over, we stopped offering water in the office.  When I took over, I bought a Brita pitcher and cups. None of us ever wanted to take that risk again.
You slowly disappeared, coming less and less often to the office, seeing fewer and fewer clients, and seeming more and more confused and frail and altered.  Victor was renting from me at that point and insisted you see the doctor to see if you had Parkinsons.  That damned water bottle was like the release at the top of a Mousetrap game.  From there everything  in your life went downhill leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.  Finally you disappeared altogether, handing the lease responsibility to Alice, who never wanted it.
It took over a year (maybe even 2?) to hunt you down and find you in that nursing home.  You asked me to help you get rid of some things but then couldn’t part with them, the exceptions being a scarf and a shawl which you gave me. I was worried you had a suicide plan.  I vowed to come more often than I ever did.  Once I brought your favorite Sees Candy – a reminiscence from our days escaping the office for lunch and then stopping for a treat.  You worried that the candy would break your teeth and started walking down the hall offering it to other patients and staff.    So the next time I came I took you down the street for a milkshake.  You refused to wear shoes and went in your slippers and talked to everyone at the tables next to us.  I still saw you as my sweet friend, Marilla. But at the same time, I could see how they saw you; I didn’t take you out again.  I realized how much control I didn’t have.
The first time I came to see you, we sat in the front lobby.  One of the patients approached us and then scooted toward the door.  It locked.  Lights flashed, alarms went off, staff came running.  You told me she wasn’t allowed to go out and you didn’t understand why she kept trying.  You had been told you had to stay there, so you did.  Many visits and probably two years later, you grabbed my arm as I came down the hall and said “Oh good!  Let’s go out!”  Your grip was surprisingly firm and I had already concluded I couldn’t take you out.  You steered me toward the door and I tried to convince you to stop and talk to me about it.  Before I could slow you down we got to the door.  It locked.  Lights flashed.  Alarms went off.  Staff came running.  My heart broke.
It was so so hard to come see you.  So hard to see you like that.  Sometimes I felt my presence confused and upset you as you slipped further and further away.  Perhaps it was a convenient excuse for me to come less often.  I let a year go by.  I felt awful about it but I also felt like I was trying to plug fingers in holes in the dam of my parents’ and in-laws’ health issues and it all felt like too much.  I finally put my big girl pants on and came by.
You didn’t know I was there as I stroked your hair.  You fell asleep and I left.  Jim told me sometimes you had bad days and encouraged me to try again.  A few months and some deep breaths later, I did.  You were in a wheelchair, you had no idea who I was or why I was there. I’m not sure you knew who or where you were.  We listened to the pianist and then the staff asked me if I wanted to take you out to the patio.  Sure!  I’d love to.  They left me to navigate how to manipulate the chair, the doors, and you dragging your feet on the floor.  You enjoyed being outside, I think.  You muttered to yourself the whole time – things I couldn’t hear or understand.  You were somewhere else.  You were someone else.  You got tired.  I took you in, struggling with the chair, the doors, the resistance from your feet.  I never went back.  I have no idea if you are even still alive or if alive is what you are.
So the office was the refuge of my memory of who and how you had been.  And now that is gone.  All the furniture and art and lamps that got left behind by leaseholders before us are gone.  The framed posters (which may well have been yours) have been taken by some nice lady from NextDoor.  The vertical tower of little drawers where we left the mail, the coatrack under which we hid the spare keys, the coffee table where we kept the plant and the radio that never worked are sitting by the dumpster in the parking lot.  The plant you told me about – the one you put on that table because the astronauts took that kind of plant into space with them to purify the air – I brought that home.  Alice wanted to dump it and I insisted we keep it.  I’ve thought of you every time I’ve watered it. Every. Single. Time.  So I guess there is the tether to my connection to my old and dear friend.
Marilla, I saw an article written by Esther Perel who said that a therapist without an office is like an actor without a stage.  How that resonates with me.  To some extent, though, I’ve adjusted to the whole work from home routine – even though I swore for years that I would retire if and when our profession succumbed to all virtual.  The real grief I feel is this final loss of the space we held as we developed our friendship, love, and respect for one another.  Perhaps it’s harder with you because, with one exception, to my knowledge, everyone I’ve worked with over these 20 years is still walking the Earth with me.  But you, Marilla, you are gone.  And you’ve been gone a long time.  Even if you still breathe.
I love you, Marilla.  I miss you.