From my inner-city emergency housing, I email my desperate message to perhaps fifty people, praying that someone will be listening on that New Year’s weekend when nobody in Brisbane is around to help me directly.
Hopefully, someone will be sitting at their computer, reading my email.
In response, one of my dearest (and, at that time, most trusted) friends (I’ll call her Heather) sends this email from Vancouver:
I feel there’s nothing I can do or say right now. I can’t do long-distance telephone therapy. I don’t have those skills. You need to get professional help.
An academic, Heather emphasizes that she is in the middle writing a big grant proposal with the deadline looming.
I reply that my situation is urgent. I am desperate. My life is in danger. I have narrowly missed being hit by a car — twice — crossing a city street against the lights!
I remind her that I have many professional helpers. But right now — in this emergency — I need my best friends to love me and to listen deeply to my sorrow. I need them to tell me that it — and I — matter. I desperately need empathy, compassion, and kindness. I need companions in my grief.
I need a listener.
I agree with Miriam Greenspan: “Without a listener, the healing process is aborted.”
And now I now understand, with Judy Tatelbaum (in The Courage to Grieve), that the low self-esteem characteristic of the mourning process often interferes with our believing that we can recover from grief.
I feel that I have slipped back to a dangerously fragile state. In my 2017 crisis, I even send Heather a link to an article about the psychological impacts of floods.
Later, I read Julia Cameron’s prescient words (in A Vein of Gold, 1996) about Heather’s particularly numb form of detached, academic doubt. Cameron calls doubt “the dark horseman of intellectual skepticism.”
Heather’s next reply
Heather’s next email describes her recent forays into psychotherapy (a novelty for her at 67) and how she is learning to navigate her issues with boundaries.
Clearly unaware of the delicate, permeable boundaries of a person with PTS, she offers to renegotiate our relationship in some months, after I moved to Vancouver:
For some time now, I have been feeling the need for more distance/space in this friendship. This goes back way before Karl’s death…. I feel that our friendship is a-symmetrical. You have said many, many times that I am your best friend. I cannot say the same thing. I don’t feel that. I sometimes/often feel emotionally exhausted by our relationship. I have felt the intensity of your need for me since Karl died, and I have not been able to respond in the way you need and ask for. I am still unable to do that. I am trying to be true to myself and not fake anything…. Since you persist in reaching out, virtually demanding performances of my love, I don’t feel I can continue to make excuses for avoiding responding to you.