A Counselor’s Grief

One week ago today my peer counselor and friend, Megan, died from a terminal illness. She had, in fact, been dying the entire time I knew her; not in that generalized way we’re all dying, but specifically and acutely from a relatively rare autoimmune disease. Death was ever present in our conversations—the cloud that no breeze could blow away, the doorway that got rapidly closer no matter how many turns the path took.

I’m still actively grieving for her; still aware of the cottony feeling in my head, the heavy feeling in my chest, the ache in my gut, the sting behind my eyes. All reminders that someone I valued deeply is no longer here. I’ve gotten stuck half a dozen times trying to write about her because I didn’t know what to say; didn’t know how to describe who she was to me, how what we shared impacted me all the way down to my marrow.

We were peer counselors first and friends second. That’s the tricky part of this for me, the novel part, the complicated part; because I’d never had a relationship like that before. A relationship based on the belief that to provide another human with your exquisite attention, to act as a loving witness, to compassionately mirror what you hear them saying as they process their trauma and trapped feelings can lead to profound healing and insight.

For one hour every week over the course of a year, we sat on our respective smartphones and held space for one another’s shame, anger, fear, hatred, self loathing, uncertainty, and anxiety. We asked one another to be acknowledged for small victories, for taking those baby steps that ultimately lead to a stronger self identity and more intimate relationships. We reminded one another that we are whole and perfect just as we are; that the programming we were handed wasn’t our fault or choice. We sat with our vulnerability and praised one another for our courage as we looked at our families of origin and the adaptations we made to survive them.

We never went to lunch together or shopped or played music or lazed in the sun of a glorious Seattle summer. We hadn’t met one another’s families or friends. We never took a road trip together. I didn’t know she had been in a band, that she played the bass, that she had a beautifully earthy alto singing voice. We didn’t hang out or go to the spa or do any of the activities I associate with my girlfriends.

But we would have; we could have. In a slightly altered version of this world, we would have been great friends because we were similar in a lot of ways. Both born in 1971, musically inclined, amazonian in stature, irreverently humored, pro marijuana, generally anti-establishment, listeners, caretakers, feelers, seekers. These were the things I saw in us that resonated, that would have brought us together. And they did to an extent, but in the context of us first having been counselors.

So part of my grief is because I wish I had known her as a Friend friend. I wish we had taken those road trips and smoked those joints and banged our heads while howling at the moon. Carefree soul sisters doing their best Thelma and Louise.

Instead, we met while taking Holistic Peer Counseling. She had been living with her disease three years already and I was a new mother. Circumstance had dictated a different path for she and I; one much different than if we had met in, say, 1998. A path that would be narrow and yet incredibly deep.

Megan saw Me as only three other people have. She made space for and witnessed my darkest, most embarrassing and shameful facets, and she did so while dying. She chose to use a chunk of her vital energy every week to give me that gift; a gift so priceless, so powerful that it’s still living and working inside me.

I chose to hold space for her dying; to stay with her, to not avert my gaze, to not shun her during the most vulnerable transition a human can make. In doing so, I moved a little closer to my own death; got a sense for it, maybe even made friends with it inasmuch as a living person can. Because Megan showed me what it is to face death bravely, to square off with your karma and untie the knot, to do so consciously and with great intention.

I am honored to say she was my friend.

2 thoughts on “A Counselor’s Grief

  1. Shannon West

    This is a beautiful piece of written work! She was a wonderful person, we need more in the world like her! We were all blessed to have her in our lives in one way or the other, she is truly missed!.


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