I don’t know what to write but I know I need to write.
On my way home from work, my current therapist called me to tell me that my previous therapist, Sherifa, who had been battling stage 4 lung cancer, passed away on Sunday. Even before she could get the words out, I knew what she was going to say. I’ve been feeling anxious since Monday, so it feels eerie that my psyche knew something was off. It’s amazing how intuitive humans can be.
Have you ever had someone in your life that you can safely say forever changed you? That was Sherifa. In 2010, I entered an intensive outpatient program – IOP – at a local eating disorder center. You know those “aha” moments in life when you’re all fuzzy about something and then it hits you like a ton of bricks? Well, that was my “hit by a bolt of lightning” moment when I sat at the clinic, talking to the on site therapist, when I realized that I wasn’t “yo-yo dieting” for 15 years, but rather, my struggle with weight and food had a name – binge eating disorder. For the next two months – three nights a week – I quietly left my office and drove to Cambridge to spend several hours in a comfortable space learning why I had an eating disorder and gaining the tools (and confidence) to overcome it. Suddenly, one night while at the clinic, I realized I had gotten all that I could out of it. I told the on site therapist that I was ready to “graduate.” In order to leave the program, I had to have a nutritionist and therapist lined up. In came Sherifa.
Sherifa was about 10 years older than me, divorced, and had a great fashion sense. I was always admiring her shoes – which she always said were just as comfy as they were cute. She possessed a warmth that very few people can claim. We quickly bonded and, while I’d like to think I was her favorite client, I have a sense she made everyone who worked with her feel that way – that they were special, unique, and, most importantly, her priority. While Sherifa shared some aspects of her personal life – I knew she was using online dating, had two wonderful kids, etc – she was very careful to keep the professional balance with us. When she told me she had started dating someone seriously, I was so happy for her. She said he was an incredible man. During her bought with cancer, she told me that he was a support for her, and I was relieved to know she had someone special in her life to comfort her when she needed it.
The truth is, she saved my life. She helped me overcome some of my worst demons and luckily, lived to see much of my recovery from my eating disorder. She also helped me get my finances on track, supported me as I bought my first home, and helped support me overcome endless other major and minor life battles.
She also helped me see the grey in life. Many people who suffer from eating disorders have perfectionist personalities and only see the world as “good vs bad” or “black and white.” Sherifa helped me understand that not everything had to be all or nothing. I use what she taught me every day in my life and often quote her at work as I channel her wisdom. “I have to see the grey in this situation,” I hear myself saying. She’s an angel now (even though we were both Jewish!) I carry on my shoulder every day.
When I had my housewarming party in December 2012 – after I became a first time home buyer on my own (!) – I invited Sherifa. I told her she could think about it but I wanted to share with her this milestone in my life. I had overcome so many obstacles in my life and frankly, I told her that she needed to share in this glory because she was such an integral part of my success story. She gave it a lot of thought and told me she was going to come to support me. I personally think she wanted to see how cutely I had decorated! And she came. She met my parents and my close friends, but mostly, she stood back and observed me in this new world that she had helped me create. I still remember proudly showing her how I had organized my linen closet (which remains just as organized!). I hope she looked back at that moment as a career milestone. And, Sherifa, I can tell you now that two years later, I’m still thriving in my own home. As a housewarming gift, Sherifa brought me incense and a pretty holder. About a year later, I told her that I had used it up and was buying more. “You used it? I thought you might like aroma therapy!” To this day, I light incense in my home almost every night.
During my last meeting with Sherifa, we met at Starbucks and then headed over to a session on healthy body image at MEDA. She had incredible back pain and couldn’t sit carefully. A few weeks later she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and she later called me to share her news. We continued to talk sporadically on the phone, and then, I would just send her text messages to let her know I was thinking of her. The last time I spoke with Sherifa I told her that she did not have to worry about me, that “I was ok,” and she could safely know that she forever changed my life.
Sherifa, I am so happy you came into my life when you did. I needed you more than I ever realized and am incredibly grateful that you shared yourself and your expertise with me. I will never forget you and will always remember your smile and guidance with the utmost admiration.
The world lost a great human being far too soon. I’m sad she won’t be able to help other people the way she helped me, but for those who knew her, you should know that my life is forever changed for knowing her.
Sherifa, us Jews are a little fuzzy on this whole heaven thing, but I’d like to imagine you in a field full of beautiful flowers with your hair blowing while wearing an endless smile.
Thank you for touching my life.