Grief - Kimberly Thompson

I dreamed about you last night. I wish I remembered the dream better than I do, but this one thing I know: You were dressed in white, with your beautiful red hair grown out and tumbling down the front of your garment. Not as long as you once wore it, but definitely not in the short, curly, post-chemo stage anymore. Your face had a timeless look – not young, not old. You were at peace.

It’s been six months, and still, when I hit a snag in my psychology practice I think, “I need to call her about that.” Funny that I came to lean on you so heavily – and I think you leaned on me too. You would call me with questions like, “Does this seem odd [or wrong, or maddening] to you?” or “How would you handle this [particularly thorny problem]?” You called me when your body started betraying you, before anybody had said the word cancer.

We met while we were in graduate school. A mutual friend had suggested that we room together at one of our school’s national meetings (or, as you put it, “Ph.D. camp”). I remember how friendly and open you were, and we bonded almost immediately. The meeting was held in Houston, my hometown, and I remember walking from our hotel one evening to eat at the Cheesecake Factory.

We had taken wildly different life paths. I did the marriage-and-children thing after college and then circled back to graduate school 15 years later. You did all sorts of adventurous stuff – teaching school in the inner city, working as a massage therapist in Santa Fe – before marrying and having a family in your late 30s. I am the dyed-in-the-wool Texan and a practicing Protestant Christian. You were bi-coastal, moving from California to North Carolina in the years that I knew you. You started out part of a large German-American Catholic family and ended up Jewish, raising your children in the ancestral faith of your husband’s family. You liked to say that you were Hitler’s worst nightmare.

We had different political affiliations, different body types, and different levels of commitment to self-care and exercise. How is it that you were the first to go – you who were committed to exercising and eating right.

The glue that held us together was a love of psychology, the challenges of private practice, and especially maternal mental health. You were supposed to be the liberal one, but you interrupted my agonizing about how much care to give away with your hard-headed business sense. You were my sounding board, my mirror, and my introduction to all sorts of things I’d never heard of before.

From a distance, it was hard to gauge how rapidly your illness was progressing, and so I let my opportunity to tell you good-bye in person slip by. I had made plane reservations months in advance, planning to help you through and give encouragement, but you left this world before I got there. Your North Carolina colleagues assured me that at the end, all you wanted to do was to be with your family. I’m at peace with that. It is as it should have been. My husband and I attended your Yarzeit service with your husband and son, and then shared a meal at the Cheesecake Factory in your hometown. The closing of a circle.

You introduced me to Jungian sandplay, and I now have some precious things in my sandplay collection that came from yours. Sometimes clients unknowingly fill their trays almost exclusively with your pieces, as if your spirit is coming through, trying to communicate something beyond words.

I write this not just to you but to all who are not sure it’s worth it to invest in friendship. It’s my testimony and warning to those that get so involved in work, in their marriage, and in their children that they don’t take time to be a friend. The time I spent being your friend, and the grief I feel because you’re gone, are so small compared to the treasure of your friendship. I never thought it would be gone so soon.

All my love, Kim