Monday Musings… I …was the last person to talk to her….


I remember several years ago working with a client who had an incredible turnaround in his mental health. He was so thrilled with his joie to vivre that he called my agency and told them I was the “miracle worker”! Well I know that wasn’t true, but it sure felt good in the moment.

We tend to hang on to those memories and savour the good feeling of a job well done and, for me, a life changed. But what tends to linger and resurface in my memory are those times when the outcome wasn’t good, when I disappointed myself, or more often, when I disappointed and failed others.

Recently, I was asked a question about the happiest moments in my career. That was easy and I could think of countless moments where I was absolutely on top of the moon for others. But I hadn’t anticipated the next question, and honestly I don’t think I had ever been asked it before: Tell me about one of the saddest moments of your career.

Pause…breathe…heavy sigh…. This was my response:

Well, working in the field of mental health is a roller coaster, as our own emotions react to the situations we face on a daily basis. For me, the saddest moments have been in reaction to those I have lost. I am an ‘all in’ kind of person and so I try my hardest to give those who come to me all the tools I have at my disposal to bring them to safety and sanctuary so they can rebuild for their future. The hardest one, was a client I had who struggled with bipolar mental illness. She had been stable for some time, was taking her meds, and was even hoping to return to school. She was young, intelligent, with a heart as huge as the ocean. She was faithful in making her appointments until one day. She didn’t respond when I rang her apartment; she didn’t answer her cell. This was really unusual. I had a gut feeling something was wrong. I searched my brain to think if I had missed something. The one red flag for me was that she was into online dating and had made some pretty risky choices. We often discussed the dangers of that particular lifestyle. This particular appointment happened to be on the day before my scheduled vacation, so I tried and tried and asked my co-workers to keep trying to reach her. A few days into my vacation I learn that she was found…she had died in her apartment. I still see her face. I still remember where I would sit in her apartment. I wear her death knowing that I likely was the last person to talk with her and it wasn’t enough to keep her safe. It’s that haunting thought of being the last one that I carry with me. I do cope by knowing that I gave her my all, every time, every visit…but it is difficult to know that sometimes even that is not enough.

I am a professional and I experienced the ultimate failure. The reality is that tragedy strikes despite our words and actions. We so desperately wish that time would stand still in that moment just before someone takes their life and that a big screen would appear before the person to show them their value and that those around them are willing to walk the broken road by their side. But we can’t stop time… and we can’t bring them back. In these cases, miracles don’t happen. Instead, time marches forward for those left behind.

I am not writing this asking for your sympathy, but rather to show that sometimes in life everyone loses and so we use these experiences to never lose sight of our humanity.

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