People die every day who haven’t fulfilled their life’s ambitions, found their passion, or discovered a joy filled authentic self. Every Day. I struggle with this in my life quite often as I have lost people I love, whom have died, just as depressed, lost, and alone, as they spent their lives. My Dad was one of these people.
If there was a theme that resonated in my father’s life it was to search. He spent his time forever seeking his ideal partner, most profitable career move, or physical challenge. If there was someone in life who could be forever seeking while being utterly lost it would be my Dad. Not coincidentally, he died as he lived – sad, alone, and never having found what it was he was looking for.
Watching him as a young girl growing up try one thing after another, or one women after another, or one invention after another….was tiring. Just as it feels redundant to read the preceding line, it was often a challenge to be his daughter. I was blessed/cursed with being born with an innate drive to help people. I am passionately compelled to care about others in their well being, personal life satisfaction, and sanity. I have built a business, career, and lifestyle, around this very premise. I live the life I promote to my clients, family, and friends, as everyday I do my best to be my most authentic self. These are some of the reasons that it broke my heart to realize that in spite of all of my love, care, and time that I directed towards my father – he still died as he did. How is this possible? It’s viable because many times there is no happy ending in this life. Sometimes no happily ever after exists.
In our lives we find motivation and hope in the “what ifs”. The possibilities that await us allow us to strive to be calmer, happier, more content. I believe that my job as a therapist is to support others in their dreams for themselves while helping to ground them in their lives as they exist today. My work becomes coaching the balance between finding acceptance of oneself in the moment while also allowing for the possibilities that exist when tuning into our genuine authentic self. This becomes an awareness in my therapy office. But what happens if someone doesn’t find a therapist to work with that can promote this balance? Or someone never seeks individual work on themselves? How life shattering it becomes to realize that this understanding, for whatever reason, does not always work for everyone and many times there is no respite from the pain and suffering that some will cling to until their very last breath.
A life question of mine has become: How do I sit with the knowledge that many times the people I love are people I cannot reach? This life that is so challenging for all of us, that is so out of our control in spite of our best efforts; sometimes this life never improves or gets better and then it’s done. I have been spending time thinking of my father, and other’s in my life growing up who I have loved, who did not choose the healthiest path of which to live out their very limited time on this earth. I feel helpless and ineffective as I cannot help people who are not able to receive it, or don’t want help, or…… It is unbearable to see human beings suffer, especially those we love. We can love them in whatever way the verb resonates with us. If that means daily visits, phone calls, motivational posters, letting them move in, or letting them go. It is possible that sometimes the best way to love someone is to let them go. How can that even be?
Maybe the legacy that my father has left me with is the desire to live my life fully everyday. The realization that life is precious and short came from him. It is a priceless gift to behold. He died at 56 years of age as a marathon running fit man. His cancer fed on his depression and stress levels. It took an already compromised will, that had decided life was unfair many years ago, and gnawed on it until it simply had nothing left to destroy. In the end, his deteriorated body became symbolic of his tormented soul.
I in no way had a fairy tale upbringing, and in fact wouldn’t even play with princesses, dolls, or spend my time reading books that included princes, white horses, or castles. And yet, I somehow internalized the idea that life works out, good things happen to good people, and things are fair. I wanted to believe in this. I still want to believe. The reality seems to be that sometimes good things happen to good people and sometimes bad things too. Life doesn’t always work out, and challenges present themselves to us every single day as we become forced to make wise choices that hopefully include kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance of our perfectly imperfect human selves. Things are not fair. Bad things happen to good folk all of the time.
What inspires me in my work and in my life is the potential. The potential of what we all have inside of us. The unlimited possibility. I see this in my clients as they sit across from me. I hold this idea in our space together as it sprouts roots and is nurtured in the therapeutic relationship. There is nothing more beautiful to me than being allowed to witness growth in a unique human being who is brave enough to face themselves in a therapy room. I choose to believe that everyone has the potential to reach their own best life, their own happily ever after, before their story ends. This is my version of a fairy tale worth hanging on to.
Stacey Neil, LMFT is a Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in Private Practice in Los Gatos, California. She can be reached at (408) 827-5139.