“It always hurts around this time,” Libby told her therapist. “That’s when my mother passed. She died in the hospital alone, nothing but a stark ICU room with a bunch of strangers.”

Libby looked at the therapist for a reaction, but the therapist was strangely absent. She seemed to be breathing shallowly, if at all, and staring blankly out the window, deep in thought, somewhere else other than with Libby in the counseling session. Perhaps she’s trying to figure out what to say, thought Libby, giving her the benefit of the doubt.

“My mother always said that you know a person truly loves you if they’re there for your final breath,” said a distraught Libby. “Do you agree, Dr. Lawson?”

There was no answer, so Libby tried again. “Do you think that’s true, Dr. Lawson?  Dr. Lawson, are you listening?”

Again, the therapist didn’t speak, which seemed odd since Dr. Lawson was always so attentive to Libby and freely shared her comments. Libby had been seeing Dr. Lawson for two years, and never once did she feel such uncomfortable silence. Libby wrote it off to a new therapeutic intervention, wanting her to think for herself, and not depend on the therapist to give her all the answers.

“The oncologist had told me that my mother would go any minute, but I chose not to stay; too uncomfortable, I guess. I said I had things to do around the house, but that was just an excuse. I wanted to avoid the situation entirely, bury my head in the sand and wait till it was over.”

Somehow, saying that made Libby feel much better as if admitting the truth freed her to accept the situation and, eventually, put it behind her.

“Dr. Lawson,” Libby said from the end of the light brown couch. “I finally realize what you’re saying. You’re telling me that I should accept my guilt for not being there for my mother and that sometimes people do things that they regret out of fear of the unknown. I didn’t want to see my mother die, Dr. Lawson—plain and simple. I thought it would destroy me. I’m a coward, I guess. Like you said last time. I have to accept my whole self, not just the parts I like.”

Another long pause, but Libby didn’t mind this time. She felt that her therapist was speaking without saying anything. Her not giving feedback in therapy was empowering, encouraging Libby to figure it out for herself.

“That’s alright, Doctor; you don’t have to say anymore. Not being there for my mother was hurtful but not unforgivable. I own all my mistakes, Dr. Lawson. I accept my human frailties. I’m sure my mother would have understood. She didn’t go to her mother’s funeral because she was afraid, too. She thought she wouldn’t stop crying.”

Libby began writing notes down in her journal. This was the first time in a long time that she had things to write. “You know, Dr. Lawson, I wasn’t going to come to therapy today, but I’m glad I did. There was so much that I got from this hour.”

Dr. Lawson remained silent, even as the session ended. At 7 p.m. on the dot, Libby’s therapist usually said, “Our time is up. We’ll continue where we left off next Tuesday.” But this time, there was nothing, not even a glance at the clock or a look at her wristwatch. This must be another new technique Dr. Lawson is trying, thought Libby. She’s putting the responsibility on me to end the session. She’s so brilliant.

Libby stood up and was going to hug Dr. Lawson, but she changed her mind. The therapist was still sitting on her black leather swivel chair, having not moved an inch since the start of the session, staring blankly out the window like a lifeless figure in a wax museum.

“Well, goodbye, Dr. Lawson. I’ll see you next week at the same time. Thank you for all you’ve done today. It felt we had a breakthrough; finally, huh? There were so many things I learned about myself that it would take a week to process. I’m so grateful for your help and enjoyed your subtle but powerful input.”

As Libby left the therapy office, Dr. Lawson remained in her original position, staring blankly out the window. Libby felt emotional and wondered why. It was as if she had just experienced her mother’s last breath.