I stood in her office right next to her kitchen and tried to take it all in. She’d been dead just about three days. Her synagogue funeral was held just this morning and now we’d been invited to her home for Shiva, to pray and to offer comfort to her husband, and her three children. The rabbi recited beautiful prayers to which we were encouraged to respond. I had to keep reminding myself to turn the pages from right to left and I remained silent when they responded in Hebrew.
But all during the prayers and the offering of stories of Dori, I fought the urge to get into that office. When I did, I was so grateful that no one followed me and I was alone for a few moments though there was no door to close. I did a 360 trying to take it all in. There were hundreds of psychology related books on the shelves. The desk was big, the view to the outside verdant and comforting. There were colored sticky notes everywhere with reminders to do this and that Several canvas shopping bags hung on doorknobs here and there. A comfortable but petite leather chair sat empty, waiting for a client perhaps or anyone who needed to pour their desperately wrecked heart out to the clinician, the mother, the compassionate educated woman who worked so hard to become a master in her field. No one was in the speaker’s chair and no one would ever again be in the listener’s chair. The children’s paintings and drawings were on the wall.
It would have taken me hours to fully observe and absorb what was in that office and I wished for that time to be given to me. But I felt like a spectacle or even a ghoul as I stood in silent stillness trying to take in as much as possible, while the mourners began eating cookies and drinking iced tea. My husband or others might notice my absence so I made my way back into the kitchen.
Her death has shaken me more deeply than I would have imagined. We did not have a close relationship, but I knew her and had shared clients and friends with her. I was always in awe of her hair for which she was quite famous. She had a strawberry blond braid that touched the floor, which must have taken most of her life to grow. When I would see her or spend short amounts of time with her I would wonder how she washes it, how she dries it, what her clients think about it, how she sleeps with this braid and if it got unbraided how she would trail it along! Silly I know, but curious nonetheless. And it was stunning to me when I saw her in Whole Foods shortly after her cancer diagnosis with only a short, strawberry blond wig. Just like that, a lifetime of hair growing and a trademark—gone! Yet, she seemed fine with that. When suddenly your only focus becomes living, most else diminishes in value and importance, I imagined. This woman suffered terribly for the next 15 long/short months. I have become terrified and obsessed with the possibility of going down that same road myself.
So, I ached deeply at the funeral for her loving husband and her kids with special needs. When one twin son stood up and said, “she spent her whole life trying to normalize us” that caught my throat and spilled my tears. She did everything and more that included puppet shows, learning techniques and relentless creative patience for her children’s development. She breastfed each child for as long as they needed and became a La Leche League leader to help more moms do the same. She even helped me nurse my newborn twins after hers were a bit older by bringing me her twin nursing pillow. It helped and she helped immensely. It was a hard, hard funeral and yet all are, really.
But here’s the thing for me. Those sticky notes. They were reminders of vital things that needed to get done. They are SO important to us and we give them honor by actually writing them on these blue, yellow, and neon pink notes so as not to forget to do them. And yet now, they will not ever get done. Never, ever. Or at least never done by the woman who needed to do them. And the canvas shopping bags. Maybe she made the effort to carry them to the store for groceries. Perhaps she was the type who remembered to bring them with her without excuses at the checkout of “Oh sorry, I left my bags in the car. I’ll bring them next time.” Or maybe she never remembered them yet scolded herself to remember the next time. And now, who cares? Did it matter if she declined paper or plastic? Did it really damned matter? A few hundred “bad bags” over her years would never have made an impact. She’s dead now and her canvas bags remain hanging on the doorknobs. And I’m thinking maybe they carried items more important than groceries. She was one of the masters of “sand play therapy” which she used with her patients young and older. Using sand, water, and small figures the premise is that the psyche possesses a natural tendency to heal itself, given the proper conditions. Were some of those precisely detailed small figures carried to and from her office in those bags. The powerful quote on sand play for which Dori was a revered expert is “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” C. G. Jung
And my canvas bags are in the car and no, I hardly ever forget them. And my sticky notes are on my desk with stuff that needs to get done. My to-do list gets written regularly. I want the best for my kids but they don’t see it that way at all. They don’t really enjoy speaking with me or sharing ideas for the most part. And none of it really makes one goddamned difference when the curtain closes. It just really doesn’t. They say love is the only thing that matters in the end, but frankly I am not even sure if that is a truth or if it is just a nice thing to say to make us all cling onto hope. It might just be a marketing slogan. Nevertheless, this death of this healer and this loving mom and partner has been a tragedy.