Or the divorce party. Gonna' wash that man right out of my hair (a real oldie, you're not expected to know it).
The due a person gets for surviving a long association with an institution, sometimes trying, sometimes rewarding. Like marriage or work, or any serious social commitment that’s lasted long enough to feel. . .important.
Endings that beg formality.
Graduations, for example. FD hates going to them. He says, "What's to celebrate? You're just going to have to go back to school in September. There’s always another school."
He’s of the opinion that you learn more on field trips and reading encyclopedias. So he doesn’t get it. Would you ever stop learning, he asks? In his world there’s always something more, something new.*
But for some of us, our relationships are the most exciting something new in our lives. We don't just exchange phone numbers to say, “We’ll keep in touch!” and then not keep in touch. But it's harder, we know, once we've moved on, followed different paths. We become relationship-lazy, perhaps one of the reasons graduations are the perfect places for goodbyes. Give the work, the relationships, their due. And move on.
Then once we've settled down, established some roots, we find we're on the move again. In this economy some of us are moving back to our families of origin.
Where else am I going to go, now that I have no job?!And some of us are moving away, taking the only jobs available, leaving extended family behind.
A friend of mine has a daughter who is being transferred a continent away, taking her spouse and children with her, the chutzpah, seriously. My friend, isn’t going to be hopping on planes to see her kid, she can’t afford it. This is a separation, not a termination, but it sure feels like a termination. Try convincing her otherwise. I wouldn’t begin. Sometimes people just need to spleen anyway, you know, let the tears roll.
When family moves away, it can hurt pretty bad.**
When it's friends, it might hurt, but the impact has to be different, less intense. We have to be happy for them, stay positive and profess, “We'll still get together, we'll visit. Now we have a good excuse to travel. A free hotel in a new city!” Like this is so easy, traveling. So pleasant, And so affordable.
Years ago, when my best friend (we had one of our kids on the same day, different hospitals) told me she was moving to Miami, I looked at her and without a trace of sadness sighed, “Nice knowing you. I’m terrible at keeping up, just being realistic here.” She wasn't pleased. But some of us get used to separations, terminations, young.
In our case, our time together was regimented, limited really, to one day a week, Saturday. The Jewish Sabbath consists of 25 free hours of not answering the phone, not turning on the television, not traveling, definitely not working. It's more like eating and drinking most of those 24 hours, singing, visiting friends, learning, and going to the synagogue to pray. I know, it's a tough life.
But once she moved I knew she wouldn't be a part of that anymore, that we would have to find time during the work week to talk on the phone, and that wouldn't happen. As it turned out, soon after she moved, my parents bought a condo in Miami. So now, when I visit them, my friend and I either get together for dinner or we talk about getting together, and that’s fun, too. It's like the proverbial call from the cousin at the airport between flights. "I'm here in town! Just called to say hello!"
All this before email, you know, all this drama. Now, we say,
"We'll email!”Cause we have so much time for this, time to write back and forth about what happened today, yesterday, the past six weeks, six months. But some of us do pull it off, and we know how special it can be. But it’s not easy to keep up, is the truth.
So it can be tough, terminating, facing the reality that what we had together has to change, will go bye bye forever, lost to the past. Those of us who accept it don’t mind calling it what it is, termination. We say, “Goodbye, for now!” and celebrate the relationship we’ve had, redefine one for the future, try not to drop off the face of the earth, and when we do see one another again, try to pick up where we left off.
Negotiating a termination, saying goodbye well, means communicating what to expect from one another. What we would like, optimally from one another in the future. We'll expect more or less communication, depending upon the relationship. We say in therapy that there is no such thing as no communication and that may be true. But people over-diagnose no communication, tend to assume too much. They think,
"Where did you go? You haven't called. You must not like me."Oy. Maybe nothing could be further from the truth. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Our time isn't our own. There may be none. There is so much to do. And depending upon our histories, it may be hard not to take it personally. No call back, no letters. We'll perceive that as abandonment, an absence of emotional attachment, not enough, surely, to get the pencils writing, the telephones to ring.
But each of us has probably rejected more than we know, terminated relationships without a thought to those we've left behind. We only notice it when someone disappears on us.
So it can be touchy, this leaving others behind us, doing it well.
None of us wants to hurt anyone's feelings. Some of us can't walk away from a conversation until we're sure we haven't upset anyone. We can't terminate a conversation!
My tribe is particularly neurotic this way. Saying goodbye at a party takes two hours, seriously. Maybe this is a universal, for sure you don't have to be Jewish to worry about hurting peoples' feelings. As you turn to leave the party you can hear, in your head, the accusatory thinking. . . She didn't even say goodbye!
Long way around to talk about termination in therapy.
It symbolizes the death of an important relationship.So we have to ask the question: Can a relationship really die?
We know our memories are buried in the hippocampus of our brains, probably wrapped in cozy blankets, stuffed into crowded, but air conditioned storage units. We pay by the year. If the memories are there, tucked in a tiny address in our brains, can a relationship, a metaphysical bundle of memories, really die?
They're all in our heads, somewhere, these relationships.
We used to say in family therapy, that there are invisible rubber bands around relationships, that it doesn’t matter what we call them-- married, divorced, separated. It is the relationship that defines the couple. And if they haven’t got a decent rubber band around that, if they don’t feel intimately connected, then guess what? They are already separated, even in a committed, married relationship, they may even be emotionally divorced.
The relationship between the therapist and her patient is also a metaphysical, cognitive entity, also bound by a rubber band. It can be very close, actually, intimate in some ways. But it isn’t marriage. The commitment of therapy is to treatment goals and objectives. It is the work we're committed to, and the intimacy is work intimacy, with no promise of ever-lasting, never-ending love. When the work is done, it is time to pack up our skill sets and go home. The imaginary rubber band becomes very thin, very, very large. You're gone, but not forgotten.
That’s the ultimate message the therapist has to convey to the patient in the process of letting go.
You are unforgettable. Your story is unique and you are amazing. I have learned from you. I’ll miss you, and if you need to come back, just give a shout. Thank you for trusting me, for sharing with me. I hope it helped, our time together.They used to teach an entire course on termination, thirty years ago, in graduate schools, but I don't remember hearing this, that it is the therapist's obligation to convey these things to the patient, the meaning of the relationship.
What we do learn is that every one of us has or will have so many cut-offs in our lives, so many disappointments in relationships, so many deaths, both real and imagined, that a professional should be the last person to add to that class of aggravation.
Leave people miserable about the termination, unsatisfied, and unfulfilled, and they’ll bad talk you for years. I think that’s how they put it at the University of Illinois. They may even sue you.
And we can’t let that happen.
But you can’t please everyone all of the time, can you? And sometimes a therapist knows that a patient needs something more, someone else. It’s not easy sometimes to hear
We're not meeting your goals, and that's not good; it’s time for you to move on. You’re not getting better under my watch.We make this call, by the way, not the patient. If we believe this to be true, then we have to insist upon another opinion, at the fatal six month mark, at least social workers do.
Am I helping this person? Should I get a consult? Should I punt?We have to think this way. If we feel that punting will be detrimental, we need to get a consult, discuss the case with someone else, get a fresh opinion. And our consultant might say, punt. Each time I've done this, by the way, referred out, it has always been a positive thing to do. People need permission to move on, and we have to give it to them.
Sometimes we know that we're just exhausted, or we have exhausted our bag of tricks, and we're sure that a new perspective has to be better for the patient than to rehash the same old themes every week. Easing this human, our patient, down gently, feels next to impossible at first, especially if he or she has learned a certain amount of dependency in the therapy. First you crawl, then you walk, but a good mama wants her kid up and running, exercising.
The booby prize of therapy, surely, is a very quiet voice in the head, one that directs emotional wellness, fights off panic, and keeps you rational.
Up and running, exercising in the playground, no longer looking back, you hear, "Been nice to know ya'! Drop me a line!"
Because in this virtual world of ours, termination might just be a thing of the past.
*A complete exaggeration about FD to embellish the post. He does keep up with a few friends and some of his hundreds of cousins, and he never misses a barbecue.
** If you're my kid, and you're reading too much into this, CUT IT OUT! (cut it out is American English slang for Please stop! I assume everyone knows by now the meaning of chuzpah. (Let me know if you don't.)
***See Cat's post (I fired my first sponsor) about changing sponsors, one that prompted me to write Changing Sponsors, Changing Therapists on the Second Road