Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Losing Mentors

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 9, 2012

Tea,, just lost two of her most cherished mentors, a week apart. Leonard, age seventy-five, passed away after a five-year long deterioration, with no diagnosis. David, eighty-six, passed away after a brief episode of cardiac disease. Tea loved both of them. She believes they loved her too. “It is hard to describe my feelings,” Tea says, with some sadness, but also with a sense that she does not really know how she feels. “Their mentorship has carried me through some difficult times in my legal practice, and I will miss being able to talk to them, but I feel like I have internalized them so much that in some ways I won’t miss them.” Tea says, with a sense of guilt as though she should be having a harder time. “Maybe they mean more to you as an internal voice than they do as a physical presence.” I say, stating the obvious point that these mentors have helped give her confidence and so their day to day existence did not mean that much to her. “Yes, that makes sense, but I feel like there is something wrong for feeling this way.” Tea says with some awkwardness. “It is hard for you to give yourself permission to have your feelings without judging them.” I say, again stating the obvious point that feelings need to exist without judgment. “People in your life impact you in different ways, and it sounds that both Leonard and David have had their major impact on you through the confidence they gave you, and so it makes sense that you carry them around with you, so in that way you are not suffering a loss.” I say, reminding her that her minimal sadness does not mean that she did not care about her mentors. “Yes, I need to stop judging,” Tea says with dismay. “Both Leonard and David would have told me that too,” she says with acknowledgment to their importance in her life. “Maybe you can pay your feelings for them forward by mentoring others.” I say, suggesting that she might want to express her gratitude that way. “Maybe,” she says reluctantly. “Right now, I just want to absorb their loss.” Tea says, making a reference to the loss of her child. “That is a good idea. Loss is a big theme in your life, so I am sure we have a lot more to talk about.” I say, nodding to her struggle with losing loved ones. “Yea, that is for sure. Leonard and David both knew me when my son died, and  over the years, they were very helpful to me in so many ways, but at that time in my life they were not so compassionate. ” Tea, says, suggesting that she harbors some disappointment. “Yea, I can see how that still hurts you.” I say, thinking about how complicated relationships are, particularly long-term ones. “It is nice that you can see the layers of your relationship, and that there were supportive times, and some not-so supportive times.” I say, pointing out that she has maintained shades of grey. “Yea, that was hard on me early on, but I have gotten much better at that,” Tea, says as if to reassure me that our psychotherapy has been useful to her. “Between turning 50 and losing two of your mentors, you have been stimulated to think deeply about a lot of people in your life.” I say, bringing our sessions together. “Yea, I would like to be less stimulated,” Tea says, relaxing the mood, as she knows it is time to end.

4 Responses to “Losing Mentors”

  1. Jon said

    The loss of mentors can be a bittersweet rite of passage, as with the loss of parents. Like it or not, one becomes the next generation –the older and teaching generation the one has learned from, and perhaps endured, over the years. Shirah, as you have told Tea, a most wonderful way to honor one’s mentors of the past is to become a mentor of the present. Sadly, Tea has many losses with which to deal – both current and past. These can be understandably overwhelming. Hopefully, Tea’s feelings will allow her a sense of calmness to remember and honor those who are no longer with her.

  2. Shelly said

    I agree with Jon. As we learn in the cycle of life, the pain of loss does not really hit us in the first seven days of mourning (shiva, in Hebrew) nor even the first thirty days (shloshim), but when the reality of our loved ones’ absence settles in. Tea should in no way be ashamed of her feelings nor attach judgement to them, for they are simply feelings– for good or for bad. How painful for Tea to remember that her mentors were nor compassionate about the loss of her child: a most horrific life event occured and two people she respected did not behave as Tea expected them to. Thank goodness she still has you, Shirah!

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