I strolled out of work last March. I cannot remember the date, but that is not important. It was my last physical night at the building that I had traveled in and out of for the past several years. The structure that enclosed my office space which I serviced my patients for psychotherapy. The night could not have been more surreal. The intersections were unusually quiet. The famous burger place across the street, that was always busy, did not catch my attention. There was not a car or a person in sight. I slowed my pace and ultimately stood in silence. The stillness was incomprehensible, yet soothing, and scary, but questionable. It was the beginning of the pandemic because of COVID-19, and all the other unprecedented events that came after.
I wanted to say something, to talk to someone. I have played the scene repeatedly in my mind. Should I have videoed the essence of the moment? I reached for my cellphone. No! It would not be the same. I wanted to be there and capture every second. After a year, I can still remember those feelings. Like the minutes in time remained stagnant. Hours, days, weeks, and months later, whatever I felt, I wanted to embrace the positiveness of the end of a life that I could in no way return to. Nor would it be the same for me from that night forward in my working relationship with patients. I wanted something extra to give my patients because the circumstances of existence would warrant it. I had to reach back into my origin. I had to dig under some years to find what I was looking for, something I had to be reminded of…
I sat in the family car next to my mother. I was scared. Life was throwing me off track. I still had to get through a funeral. Thank God, my mother had arranged that I would not have to see her like that again. When the family entered the church for the procession, her casket was closed. No life, gone, dead. My sister; 23 years old; murdered in her home. She was stabbed over 40 times. How could I ever get beyond that day?
As the family car left the church headed for the cemetery, driving through the neighborhood we once played at, I vividly remember the warmth I felt sitting next to my mother. How her arm wrapped around my body comforted me more than anything else in the universe. It was one of those memorial moments. I felt safe, love, and cared about. It was a transforming point in my life.
Little did I know I would be making the same ride to the same church six years and 7 months later. This time I would not have my mother’s arm around me to offer me the comfort I needed. My mother would not extend me love or make me feel safe. Once again, I asked myself how I would live with the pain. My sister and I stood before my mother’s casket for the final farewell. Although my sister is younger, she is stronger and braver than me. I felt her calmness and solace and it has rescued me, not only on the day of my mother’s funeral, but has freed me many days of my life.
Comforting. That genuine generously expression that can be given to another person. The memories of my past have consumed my days of offering Telehealth services. Once getting over the shock that brought me along with other therapists to a vast Telehealth world, I questioned how to offer comfort to those I serviced virtually instead of face-to-face. Patients who were afraid, unsettled, lost, confused, overwhelmed, lonely, and above all, offer reassurance to patients who had lost loved ones whom they could not say good-bye to. Although we were not in a traditional office setting, it was important for my patients to know that I understood their pain, hurt, and anguish.
I decided to reciprocate my comfort that I was learning from my patients, the comfort that I had received throughout my life, and the comfort that is naturally within my heart to continue offering therapy virtually. I had to be honest with myself. The world was constantly changing, I was afraid. I did not always know what to say or how to say it. I felt a lot of anxiety as each day seemed to get worse than the day before. Families were struggling with money. Children were not able to attend school, and some did not like the virtual method of learning. Physical, mental, and verbal abuse were catching like a cold. Family members were dying alone.
For my part, first I maintained a positive mind, soul, mental, and physical state of being. Reaching out for help when needed, knowing that the presenting situations may be different than issues ever presented to me. Second, accepting that I would not have all the answer or resources but, being an ear for someone to speak out their pain is sometimes worth more. Lastly, I needed to believe in the therapy process even though it was non-traditional. I was a therapist and there was a patient on the other side of the screen. I helped them as if they were in my office and offered a private time of peace, support, and comfort. During session, some patients hugged themselves to send me a hug. A few patients verbally said, “I love you”, or blew a kiss out of care from their souls. If their hand went to the screen at the end of the session, my hand met theirs.
From that day in March, while in the parking lot until today, I feel just as connected with my patients. I feel them, I see them, I hear them in their surroundings, cuddling blankets and pillows, or their pets. Patients receiving comfort is a key to the importance of beginning, continuing, and building traditional face-to-face and virtual therapeutic relationships.
Written by: Cheryl B. Triplett, PsyS, LLP, MS
I have been a therapist for 20 years. I service patients with mental health and substance abuse concerns. I specialize in driver’s license restoration for the State of Michigan. I have a Specialist Degree in Psychology and Education from Center of Humanistic Studies. Also, I have a Master of Science and Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice. I have been employed with Oakland Psychological Clinic in Livonia for the past 10 years.