On November 10, 1991, I told my dad how much I loved him and that I would be okay. I told him everything. I knew it was time. It was just the two of us in that room. I was sixteen. And then he stopped breathing. Forever. I knew it was coming but I wasn’t prepared for how much it would hurt. It was one of the most painful moments of my life by far and it’s the one that has shaped who I am most profoundly.
I would give anything for that moment to have never happened and for my father to be here now. And yet, at the very same time, I am genuinely grateful for that incredibly painful moment and how it forced me to grow. I became fiercely independent, living in my own apartment at sixteen by myself less than one year after he died. Before his death, I would never have thought I could do that. And then I lived through the most excruciating loss I could imagine and learned that I could. That pain transformed me, empowered me and taught me more about who I was and who I could be than anything I had ever been through before that moment. And as I have grown and weathered other painful moments and watched my clients in my therapy practice sit on my sofa and share with me their own pain, I have learned that the most painful moments in our lives also fuel incredible growth and understanding.
But it requires something of us — we can’t hide from our pain, escape it with addictive behaviors, or stuff it away and pretend it didn’t happen, as tempting as that may be. We have to embrace it, accept it, feel it— maybe not right away, but over time. When we lean into pain, it creates the space for growth and self-understanding. Being a part of my clients’ journeys to create that space is an incredible gift for which I am enormously grateful.