The End

Yesterday I learned what for me is sad news. Center for Pastoral Counseling of Virginia (CPC) is closing. In 1996, I, along with about twenty other therapists, began this organization, a breakoff of a much larger organization. I helped choose the name and logo. I served in many capacities over the years, both formal and informal. In many ways we were a family, a congregation formed around our mission of providing counseling that respected and incorporated faith and spirituality, key resources for healing. Although I have been retired since 2011, some former staff members continue to be among my closest friends.

While looking for something else last evening, I ran across the following essay I wrote on April 8, 2013. It was a synchronicity that I couldn’t ignore. I will give no further introduction, as it speaks for itself.

Today is the last supervisory meeting of the year. I am sitting in the counseling room where I come for these bi-monthly meetings, the room where I saw clients for many years. I glance down at the fake Persian rug littered with crumbs, my only thought an idle observation that no one has swept recently. This is new for me. When I worked here, I would have made a mental note to get out the vacuum cleaner before the next client arrived. In the past two years, even though no longer on staff, I would have been tempted to vacuum because no one else had done it. Now I’m not even tempted. As I note this shift, I realize this could well be the last time I sit in this room. At the end of June my license will expire, and I am not renewing it which means I can no longer supervise. It has taken me two years into retirement to come to the willingness to let go of the license I worked so hard to earn, but I am finding that supervision cuts into my new life. Blocking out time for it each week feels like taking a backward step, away from what energizes me most.

Two former colleagues visiting the newly decorated office space where my last meeting was held.

This is the room that I once thought of as mine. It was not mine exclusively; many people used it, but I cared for it. I had been in charge of decorating it, and then did the menial jobs that made it a welcoming space—dusting, vacuuming, polishing the coffee table, caring for plants.

I see the scratched coffee table standing on the crumby rug, and have no urge to find the scratch remover or furniture polish. I barely notice the dead leaves below the plant I repotted years ago and I am not curious about the dryness of the soil—actually, I can tell from where I’m sitting that it is dry, but if they want to let it die, so be it. I am finished.

How can it be that this room which once seemed the center of my life has so little power to activate me? It served many purposes in my years at CPC (Center for Pastoral Counseling of Virginia). I sat here on a weekly basis as part of the leadership council discussing finances, policies, and plans for the future. That meeting was followed by two hours of staff meeting in which the council’s recommendations were discussed, sometimes ad nauseam, case presentations made, clinical issues considered, personal and group dynamics explored, and administrative work done. Here too Doug and I sat for two hours a week to supervise a group of residents. Our peer supervision group met around this coffee table eating lunch as we discussed our work, but most important of all, this is where I saw clients and led a women’s therapy group. It would be difficult to calculate the thousands of hours I’ve spent here in various capacities. Neither can I determine how many nights worth of naps I’ve taken stretched out on the couch where I’m sitting, how many apple, cheese and cracker lunches I have eaten at the desk between client sessions and phone calls, nor how many times I’ve vacuumed the floor and dusted.

This is the room where I grew up as a therapist. In the early years, I often left staff meetings feeling inadequate and confused having lost myself amidst the strong opinions voiced by some group members, the narcissistic posturing of the older men, and the silent minority who hesitated to speak at all. Slowly I learned to hold onto myself more effectively, not to get lost in someone else’s viewpoint. From making “powder milk biscuits” for a meeting, hoping that they would “give [this shy person] the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.” (Garrison Keillor) I grew into one of the “elders” of the group, no longer reticent to express my views. I remember the day when I differed with one of the most senior men in our group. He looked out the window with a vague smile on his face, not willing to meet my gaze, and I realized that he was afraid of me.

This room contains vital memories—Becky’s quietly offered wisdom, Jim’s amazing poems, Ben’s laser-precision insights, Suzanne’s clarity in leadership, Gary’s fear for his depressed son, Carey’s uncooperative kidney, Doug’s unerringly to-the-point jokes, Kay’s bright presence . . . and more.

In this room we puzzled our way toward community, always hopeful, never perfect—stumbling, going in circles, moving ahead, stepping backwards, loving and laughing, criticizing one another, arguing and making up, nurturing gifts, sitting in silence heavy with loss as we said goodbye to far too many people, celebrating our milestones and achievements. This room has contained much laughter, many tears, and hours of hard work. These walls have gathered in years of stories, some of my own, and many from clients whose stories aren’t mine to tell but mine to remember, stories that have helped form who I am.

The gift given to me at retirement–Sacred Space was the name of our monthly newsletter, but it also reflected our feeling about the spaces we shared with each other and our clients. The stone now stands in my garden, another sacred space for me.

Today something is different. I have let go. This room is no longer mine, not even to check up on. I will walk out, not to get the dust cloth or watering can, but to leave, to return to my world of writing and gardening and grandchildren. I still have crumbs to deal with but of a different sort; there are new plants, new places of growth I want to tend. As I stand up I don’t even need to look around for one last time, because I know I am taking this office with me, folded up compactly and stowed away inside me along with my childhood playhouse under the front porch, and the shaded cottage in Ramotswa, my solitary graduate dorm room at Garrett, and my green back yard garden—part of my life’s collection of “rooms” that have held me as I have grown into a larger self. I am in the room called retirement now and find in it all the challenge I can manage. I gratefully walk out the door.

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kathiekurtz

18 Comments

  1. Donna Burkhart on April 10, 2024 at 5:36 pm

    So moved by the picture of you and your closing paragraph! Love you, dear one!

    • kathiekurtz on April 10, 2024 at 5:41 pm

      Thanks, Donna. While this closing is sad, I realize that I am doing well where I am. That organization was central to my life for many years, and just because it is closing doesn’t in any way diminish its gifts to me.

  2. Diane Puckett on April 10, 2024 at 6:01 pm

    Beautiful, Kathie. Thank you for sharing that.

    • kathiekurtz on April 10, 2024 at 9:53 pm

      Thanks, Diane. You knew me in the CPC years that now feel almost distant. They were good years, but retirement is good also. Glad we have both reached that time of life!

  3. Joseph Gascho on April 10, 2024 at 6:34 pm

    Very well written–as with good writing, it speaks more broadly than to just your leaving, mourning, your sacred space. Thanks.

    • kathiekurtz on April 10, 2024 at 9:59 pm

      Yes, Joseph, I was very much aware of how that essay and the current time are connected. I am grateful for the synchronicity of coming across that writing from eleven years ago, almost to the day from when it was written, at the exact time when I needed to reflect on that past time. One can’t plan or make such things happen. This came as a gift, putting words to what I was feeling but hadn’t articulated yet.

  4. Saloma Furlong on April 10, 2024 at 8:50 pm

    Kathie, I appreciate these vivid reminiscences, and the insights you share with them. Letting go of the familiar past is often a necessary step to embrace the present and imagine our future, and yet it is also hard to do. Your manner of letting go sounds so healthy in this case.

    • kathiekurtz on April 10, 2024 at 10:01 pm

      Yes, for me, the compulsively neat person, to not feel compulsive–that was a moment of clarity for me!

    • Joann Henderson on April 11, 2024 at 7:56 am

      Thanks for this, Kathie. Feeling some of the same as I move into semi-retirement. still in my office but considering options as I continue cutting back. These rooms of our lives are sacred indeed. Glad our paths crossed through AAPC and although I was never at the CPC I heard much about it through BonnaSue. Speaking of, do you have any current contact info for her? Enjoy the new space and pace of retirement! Just a few years behind you.

      • kathiekurtz on April 11, 2024 at 9:08 am

        Thanks, Joann. You know, don’t you, that I live in Harrisonburg now. I’d love to see you some time. I didn’t know if you were still working and I haven’t tried to contact you, but now you’ve done it, so let’s figure out a time and way. I too value the times we’ve spent together. I don’t have contact info for BonnaSue. My guess is that EMU would.

  5. Eunice Wenger on April 10, 2024 at 8:59 pm

    I can see why this closing is a milestone for you. There are many lifetimes in a lifetime, each of them bringing particular gifts.

    • kathiekurtz on April 10, 2024 at 10:05 pm

      I like your idea of many lifetimes in a lifetime. That is certainly true in this case. I have found it interesting when I now confront situations that draw on learnings from that particular lifetime. It reminds me that I am more than who I seem to be in the present. I still contain those other times or worlds.

      • Annetta Miller on April 11, 2024 at 8:02 am

        So well said, Kathie! Thanks for this. Annetta

        • kathiekurtz on April 11, 2024 at 9:11 am

          Thanks, Annetta! It seems our paths rarely cross these days. We could change that–I’ll see what I can do on that score.

  6. Sandy on April 11, 2024 at 12:47 pm

    It is indeed sad news that CPC is closing; I wonder if there is anything to take its place during these charged times. The photos brought back memories.

    • kathiekurtz on April 11, 2024 at 1:27 pm

      I think most therapists will continue in more private or individual ways. I just found out that the host churches haven’t been told yet, so it is best not to spread the news right now.

      • Helen M Hurst on May 21, 2024 at 11:17 am

        Hello Kathy, I do not know you or you me, well perhaps I know you through your writings. I find a connectedness to you as being a person who likes the challenge of moving on without knowing the consequences! Some wonderful surprises come with that. It is called” letting go and letting God”. Such freedom!
        This is how I found you:
        The other day I was swinging my 18 month old great granddaughter. Suddenly I started singing “Swing, swinging., swinging neath the old apple tree.” thought , “Wow, where did that come from?’
        I had not heard that song for 80 years. I suppose it was stored in my lullabye file folder, stored WAY back in my mind. It was so good to hear it again, even if it was in my squeaky voice. I did not remember all the words, so I went online to find it, and you popped up!! Surprise! Instead of some commercial “gathering” of lyrics, I was blessed to connect to a REAL person.
        I, too, came from a conservative Mennonite home, and launched into “the world beyond”, but always keeping my foundation on “I know who I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep me”—-2 Timothy 1:12.
        Thank You so much for your writings. I did order your online. Looking forward to reading it.
        Thanks again,
        Helen Hurst

        • kathiekurtz on May 22, 2024 at 8:39 am

          Helen, what a delightful surprise to hear from you out of the blue! We are currently traveling, so I won’t reply in depth now but will try to do so when I get home. I always find it interesting how songs from the past pop into my head after years and years of not thinking of them. That happens to me, particularly with old gospel songs, whose theology is questionable to me, but the tunes catchy. Our minds are amazing in their ability to store something for years and suddenly bring it to the surface again. More later.

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