The psychotherapy community just lost one of its best. More personally, I just lost my own therapist of twenty years. Most importantly, if there’s one person I can point to as a guiding light for everything I have become in the past two decades, it was Gloria.
I had already been her client for seven years, through one relationship and into my then-marriage, when I walked into her office on 7 Willow Street in Waterloo and asked, “If I wanted to do what you do for a living, how do I get from here to there?”. It was Gloria who talked me into the Master of Theological Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University’s adjunct Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. I balked at the “seminary” part initially, but a chance to actually work with Gloria in her capacity as the instructor of the Family of Origins course proved an extremely powerful lure. And frankly, the Seminary itself proved to be the best possible place to go for a lot of reasons I’ll cover some other time. So Gloria became not only my therapist but also a teacher and mentor. Teaching how to navigate and reframe and unpack family of origin mysteries was only one of her many gifts to me and other students. I regret now never having had the opportunity to take one of her Mastery courses while she was still leading them, but what she taught me — not just in that class but over the course of twenty years of great patience as my therapist — is material that I use every day of my life now.
Gloria is the reason I became a therapist. The ways in which she helped me unravel and reknit parts of myself were a form of serious magic that I wanted to understand, and more, to practice as she did. We both came into this field as a midlife career change, and more than anything else, that showed me that what she could do was within my reach. Grad school, private practice, the slow transition out of my old career, facing the personal travails of that transition, finally getting grounded, and eventually having enough professional cred to land the position at Bliss Counselling… all of this is a testament to everything Gloria taught me, and everything she modelled for me in our own conversations.
She’s the reason I’ve now written a number of letters of recommendation for my own clients as they apply to the same program I did. She’s the reason I also became a supervisor of students and qualifying psychotherapists. She nurtured and encouraged my aspirations; it behooves me to continue that circle onto the next generations who follow and pay forward the many great gifts she shared with me.
A month and a half ago, Bliss Counselling moved into that building at 7 Willow Street in uptown Waterloo. As soon as I heard the new address, I emailed Gloria to tell her the news; she laughed at the circle completing itself in new and interesting ways. “That’s just wild,” she said. I had meant to ask about appointments at that time but forgot; I know now she wouldn’t have been in any condition to work and had actually FINALLY retired for real. A couple of weeks ago, I sat in what had been Gloria’s office when I started seeing her. That evening, I wrote,
20 (or 21) years ago, I walked into the second-story corner office at 7 Willow Street. I sat in one of the chairs under the east windows; I never really thought about why I never sat on the sofa on the opposite wall. The chair and the desk along the south wall were clearly where The Therapist sat. And there she sat, the terrifying authority who was obviously going to tell me everything that was wrong with me/us/our relationship/our lives. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my adult life, frankly.
Today I walked into that very same second-story corner office, and for the very first time, I sat in the chair by the desk along the south wall. Different chair, different desk, but… this is clearly still where The Therapist sits. Only now The Therapist is -me-, 20 (or 21) years and a whole lifetime different from the woman who sat first in the chair under the window feeling terrified. And the young woman sitting today on the sofa that is now under the windows is herself the NEXT generation of therapists, although she already knows it whereas I had NO clue.
If there is a word for this feeling, I surely do not know what it might be.
Yesterday a friend who was also a client of Gloria’s messaged me to ask for help in finding a new therapist; that was the first word I had that things had gone as far for Gloria as they were going to go. I immediately sent her my own email yesterday to touch base and say thank you, but I absolutely doubt she will have received it, given… everything. My greatest hope is that somehow Gloria knew how many lives she touched, how many she helped reframe, rekindle, rebuild. Clients, students, the “baby therapists” she supervised, the Marriage & Family Therapists she mentored and guided through AAMFT, the many people who took her Mastery courses over the years to discover themselves–no-one ever seemed to walk away from Gloria without the seeds of change implanted in their minds.
My heart goes out to her family, who thankfully had the chance to be with her in whatever ways they could be when she went out by her own choice with medical assistance in dying (MAID). That’s absolutely Gloria, right to the very end. Her daughter Dawne shared a photo of Gloria in her last moments, and I agree with Dawn 200% — all I see is the beauty that was Gloria.
Goodbye, Gloria. I’ll do my best to live up to that legacy you’re leaving behind.