One thing I’ve learned doing therapy groups for over thirteen years:
I (and other people) often struggle balancing the focus on (1) people who are present and (2) people who are missing.
And people often are missing, at any group meeting.
I often name that — in any group therapy session where people who are expected aren’t there. I’ll say group-therapy-type things like, “I’m aware that so-and-so is not here. I’m also very aware of everybody who is here, and wondering how the absence is affecting you.”
I try not to have assumptions about how an absence affects others. I know it affects different people in different ways. But I know it has some effect.
Everything has some effect. And people who are missing can have a big effect.
Those of us who are present at the meeting often don’t know where the missing people are. And we want to know where people — and things — are. (See here, for George Carlin’s amazing take on losing Things.) We don’t want lose track of them.
Sometimes, when people are missing, it speaks to our fears about them. Why aren’t they here? Are they okay?
Sometimes, when people are missing, it speaks to our fears about ourselves. Are they missing because I — and this gathering — were not important enough to them?
Sometimes we’re angry at the people who aren’t there. Why didn’t they let us know? I made the effort to be here, why couldn’t they?
This topic is on my mind, today, because I do groups, every week, where somebody is sometimes missing.
Plus, I went to a high school reunion, on Saturday, where people were missing, too.
At the reunion, some people who were definitely expected were not there. For some of those people, I knew the reasons why they weren’t there. For others, we had no idea why they were missing (to some of those people, I’ve since sent the question, “Are you okay?”)
Also, there were the people who were missing from my high school reunion for a reason we knew: they had passed away.
As one of the planners of the reunion, I found out about some of the people from my class who have died as I was trying to contact people.
I confess: that was one reason I sometimes procrastinated contacting people, for fear of what I might hear about them.
And at the reunion, as in my therapy groups, I struggled balancing my focus on the people who were there with the people who weren’t.
Here are the people who were there:
Here are some of the people who weren’t there, RIP:
Why am I including this list of people on this blog, where the vast majority of readers do not know them? Why am I being so careful to spell their names correctly? Why am I afraid I am forgetting somebody?
Because people are very important. Even when they’re not in touch with how important they are.
That reminds me of the one point I wanted to make before I finish this post (and get to work on time so I can do another group) (where some people will be present and some people will not).
When people aren’t at a group, where they are expected, it has a huge effect on the people who are there. I see it, every time.
And the people who aren’t there don’t know that. How could they? They’re not there.
One final reference before I stop, for the day. My friend Janet, from Film School, loves this movie:
I know a lot of other people who love this movie, too. I’m glad that Jimmy Stewart, in that movie, had that special and magical experience: He found out how much he was missed, when he wasn’t there.
Many thanks to all from my high school class (who were at the reunion and who was not), Janet, George Carlin, Frank Capra, and all of you, here today.
There are people who were once quite important to me, but whom I lost track of, mostly thanks to my own inattention. I didn’t exactly miss them, but occasionally felt real discomfort in not knowing that they were somewhere out there doing well. In two cases, I now do know and feel much better for it.