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When Healers Pass Away: Navigating the Death of My Therapist

Yesterday, I found out my therapist passed away, unexpectedly. Today was going to be our next appointment. I last saw her 2 weeks ago, on December 29.

I’m not even sure how to process it. I’m stumped. I’m stunned. I’m gutted.

Who helps you process the sudden death of the person who helps you process life?

I found out she passed away from a friend of mine who also went to her.

One of the first things I thought was “Shit. She didn’t get to see that she’s in my new book.”

Why was that my first thought? Because she’s quoted throughout my new Professional Troublemaker, which is what it is, with all the insight it has, because of the work her and I have done. Over the last four years, she has helped me grow into the woman I am. She’s even in my acknowledgments because she has gifted me with countless moments of clarity that have shifted my perspective. I thank her loudly and publicly, often, even though she was not really on social media. I was proud to tell people I had a therapist who was helping me work through all my shit bit by bit.

I was so excited to tell her in a few weeks, and give her a copy, with the parts of it where I quote her highlighted.


She’s the reason I speak so openly about the value of therapy. For the last 4 years, Dr. P has been there for moments of crisis, and helped me see my way out the fog. She’s given me more A-HA moments than I can count. She’s led me to answers I didn’t even ask questions to.

She was so kind, even if she was dragging me for filth. That laugh of hers was so easy and disarming. She made big problems feel small, not because she didn’t take them seriously, but because she would always calmly say “we’ll work on that” or “let’s unpack that.” She was so reassuring and affirming.

She wasn’t on social media. She didn’t have nobody’s IG presence, and she was so removed from the world of digital, which I loved. One day I went in her office, on edge, and she offered this up:

She wasn’t a therapist with a brand and I wasn’t sitting in her office as someone with a platform. I don’t know if she ever read anything I wrote and I think I preferred that because I’d go in there talking about how many people said what about me and she’d tilt her head in a way that told me “ok so?” It always calmed me down because in her office and in her sessions, the world got quiet. No one could reach me.

In one session, I was deeply stressed and she could tell I wasn’t focused at all on our work. Without judgment, she told me we’ll try again next time.

In our last session, she saw my book advance copy over my shoulder and said “OH I SEE THE COMPLETED BOOK!” And I said YES! Because in March 2020, as my deadline was looming, she’d check in on my progress during our sessions. When I’d tell her I hadn’t done much writing, she’d push me to figure out what was standing in my way. We talked about how my procrastination was a form of self sabotage. What did I not believe about myself that caused me to delay this thing? What was I AFRAID of about my possibilities that made me afraid to complete this manual on fear?

Dr. P got me together countless times! She was my life accountability partner. So when she saw the finished book, her excitement was real. And we talked about if I felt prepared for it. I didn’t tell her that she’s mentioned a few times through it and that I thank her at the end of it. I was going to surprise her with a final copy in the beginning of February and tell her “Look! You’re all up through it.”

That session was two weeks ago. Now I wish I had told her.

She helped me make some sense of my habits and patterns, and helped me name my traumas. When the world shut down because of COVID and I found myself pouring all my anxieties into my work, she checked me in the best way, and I shared that insight.

She wasn’t family. She wasn’t my friend. She wasn’t my colleague. But she was absolutely someone whose loss has shaken me. I didn’t know HER but she knew me better than anyone else because there is an intimacy you forge with the person whose purpose it is to see under what is surface. It’s a different type of loss, because she served as a true safe space. Our relationship was one-sided. I went in, told her my problems, and she’d guide me to realizations. I paid her for her time. Yet and still, the person she was, the training she had, the kindness of her smile and her voice.

She was whole. She was here. Now she isn’t here. And I feel that loss.

This is different. I’m still stunned.

My love to her friends and family. I hope they know that she was a life changer for so many people.

I wonder what she would say right now to me. What question would she ask? She knew how to ask me questions that didn’t allow me to give bullshit answers. This is what I imagine:

Dr. P: So how are you feeling today?

Me: I guess I’m okay.

Her: *silence as she looks at me intently*

Me: I’m not okay. Your death has thrown me for a major loop. I don’t know how to handle it so I’m just working and writing through it.

Her: What are you avoiding by working through it?

Me: The realization that I’m feeling a loss that feels really big, really personal, and I’m feeling selfish about it because I don’t know if I’m mourning you or mourning what you not being here means for me.

Her: Is there a difference?

Me: I don’t know.

Then this is the point where she’d ask me a question that would have me going “WOWWW!!!”

How are you supposed to feel if your therapist passes away, and it’s unexpected? She’d probably tell me “there is no one way you’re SUPPOSED to feel. Tell me how do you actually feel?”

Two sessions ago, I had finally opened up to her about something that was on my mind for the past year, that I hadn’t brought up in our sessions. I realized I was still keeping secrets from HER. I am truly a work in progress.

In that last session, I told her that in 2021, I was going to start bringing a notebook to our sessions so I won’t miss any of the goodness she drops on me. She smiled and told me that would be really good. I ordered that notebook the next week and it is on my desk, waiting for our session today.

Thoughts Notebook in gold

Dr. P’s gone. This is so weird and wild.

I thank her for helping me grow up. I have more of that to do and the legacy work she leaves behind will live loudly in me as I show up as the most vulnerable and true version of me.

While I’m here, lemme say thank you to therapists. You might not ever hear how much you change the lives of your clients. But please know, you are doing world shifting work as you do your job.

Dr. P has changed my life and I won’t ever forget her. Sending so much love and light to her family and friends. I hope she rests with all the peace in the world.

Update: Since writing this post, I’ve gotten so much AMAZING feedback, from clients of Dr. P, to her peers to her mentees. I’ve even heard from therapists who said they’ve created contingency plans, in case something happened to them. I’m blown away. All this is to say, I’m still so thankful to Dr. Yvonne Patterson, for basically holding the world together. And for being the catalyst for my healing journey. 


Therapy Resources


Professional TroubleMaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual by Luvvie Ajayi Jones

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  1. a
    January 13, 2021 at 11:39 am

    I’m sorry for your loss.

    Have you watched Dick Johnson is Dead on Netflix? There is some brief mention/insight into patients left behind by a therapist. It stuck with me for some reason.

  2. January 13, 2021 at 11:53 am


  3. Brenda
    January 13, 2021 at 12:00 pm

    I am so sorry. It’s such a weird relationship, such a weird grief when you can’t work together anymore. It’s so hard when the person you want to talk to about how you’re feeling is the person you can’t talk to anymore.

  4. Tracey McGee
    January 13, 2021 at 12:10 pm

    I am so very sorry for your loss, Luvvie. You inspired me to reach out to an angel therapist who got me through a very very dark time in my life. Thank you.

    • Kibali Muriithi
      January 14, 2021 at 12:58 am

      Some losses are complex in that strange strange way, that they cannot be truly named or articulated. It’s as if words are not enough to convey their gravitas. So all one can do is sound them out, or type them with all the solemnity they deserve… but still remain fully aware that you can do them no justice.

      Dr P sounds like she was amazing at her job; able to set clear boundaries and ensure that your sessions were about drawing out the best version of you one interaction at a time. She also sounds like she was a lighthouse. Oh the life-coaching of it all!

      May she truly rest, knowing that her work with you and other patients will keep her name alive. Her watch is truly ended. ❤

  5. Shannon
    January 13, 2021 at 12:21 pm

    I am so incredibly sorry. I can’t imagine how you even start to process that.

    Somehow I think the universe made you get that notebook for a reason. Dear Dr P.

    • CM
      January 13, 2021 at 2:43 pm

      Luvvie, great work demonstrating the tools she taught you. What a tribute to her skills as a therapist. Sending you love and light.

  6. January 13, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    This must be such a deep, disorienting loss. I’m so sorry. Some of what you’ve written about her made me think of something I heard Frances Frei say to Bozoma on a live she held with her the other day – “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence – and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” It sounds to me like your Dr. P was a leader in the truest sense of the word, and you will be part of her living, lasting impact. Xo

  7. Janeen
    January 13, 2021 at 2:06 pm

    Sending you lots of love, that’s a hard loss to swallow for sure. We always think that certain people such as our therapists would live forever and never even think of the possibility that we can lose them. I’m sure she was and is proud of all you’ve accomplished in your time with her.

  8. January 13, 2021 at 2:26 pm

    I am so gutted with and for you, Luvvie. I hope you are able to… do whatever it is you need to do as you process this loss and this grief.

  9. Stacy M.
    January 13, 2021 at 2:51 pm

    I am so very sorry for your great loss. Losing someone who knows and understands you is devastating and my heart is aching for you. I am also in therapy and have a wonderful therapist so I will be processing this at our next session. I’m sending you lots of love and blessings. Please take care of yourself❤️ I am proud of you for sharing this with the world. It has helped me so I hope it helps others, too. Love & Light❤️❤️❤️

  10. Saudah
    January 13, 2021 at 4:01 pm

    Wow. I don’t know why that is what keeps coming to me. Just, wow. And ” …. I don’t know if I’m mourning you or mourning what you not being here means for me” is so deep and so honest. My prayer for you with this loss is strength and comfort. I truly believe the tools and insight that she gave you will get you through this.

  11. Laura
    January 13, 2021 at 4:21 pm

    I lost my therapist of 12 years on Christmas. It continues to be a complicated and confusing loss. It’s an isolating grief that I can’t share with my friends and loved ones, no matter how hard they try. This was very helpful. Thank you!

  12. Julieann Alvarado
    January 13, 2021 at 4:54 pm

    Therapist here,
    How can I get a copy of your book? I’d love to hear what else Dr. P had to say; she sounds wonderful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us; I’ve already forwarded this writing to a dozen coworkers <3

  13. T.T.
    January 13, 2021 at 5:39 pm

    Luvvie, I feel your sadness and loss. Dr. P was my therapist as well and I’m devastated. I’m at a loss and don’t know how to process this at all. It meant so much to me to have her in my life. Thank you for writing this, it lifted my spirits!

  14. January 13, 2021 at 5:53 pm

    I’m deeply sorry for your loss. What a tremendous loss. I’m incredibly moved by your tribute to your therapist. I said good-bye to many of my clients in September as I transitioned from a full time position to a small private practice. And I said good-bye to some clients who died over the past several months. I’m still grieving the loss of all of these relationships. Your article is helping me to process this grief. Thank you. 💛

  15. January 13, 2021 at 7:28 pm

    That safe space is so sacred and it is entirely normal to feel unsure as to where you will find that again. These therapists are so amazing and a blessing.

  16. Pamela Grier
    January 13, 2021 at 7:37 pm

    i my heart broke at the first was someone you trusted with something You cannot share with another. damn. caint wait for her to live on in the book👌🏾

  17. Idprefer Anonymity
    January 13, 2021 at 9:35 pm

    A fellow therapist here. Dr. P was a very, very special woman. I’m so glad her words are immortalized in your book. I can’t wait to read them. She sounds, in your therapy, just as she did as a friend and human being. Chicago’s psychology community is mourning her hard.

  18. January 13, 2021 at 9:43 pm

    Dear Luvvie,

    Thank you for this wonderful piece. I have been seeing Dr. P for almost four years and your words mirror how I am feeling. She helped me through all kinds of traumas and always pushed me to live a more authentic life. Because of her guidance I became Reiki certified, became an entrepreneur, strengthened my meditation practice….

    When traveling the world I always acquire stones and at times gifted her with some because I know she collects them as well. I have a black stone that she gave me years ago in my wallet. I am completing a book as well and had a shoutout to her in my acknowledgments and a few quotes.

    This is a huge void for me now but I am still going to push forward to make her proud of me.

  19. Gloria
    January 14, 2021 at 1:53 am

    I saw your post about this on Instagram and I was like huh?! I’ve never thought of that. Who helps clients grieve the loss of their therapists? That’s mind boggling and I wish you all the peace, courage, and comfort as you deal with this loss. I’m a therapist and this has now got me thinking, what happens to my clients if I’m to pass away suddenly? 🤨 Anyway, love from Kenya 🇰🇪

  20. Debbie Stevenson
    January 14, 2021 at 2:17 am

    May God bless you through this with exactly what you need. So sorry Luv❤️

  21. Sandi McCree
    January 14, 2021 at 2:50 am

    My sincere condolences May you find peace & comfort from this beautiful tribute honoring Ms. P Thank you @iLuvvit in your grief you’ve generously shared light to so many of us who often feel alone drowning in darkness now knowing we can float until we have the strength to swim

  22. Holly Marotta
    January 15, 2021 at 9:58 am

    This is a beautiful tribute, and even this brief writing is FILLED with wisdom, both from her quotes and from your own wisdom that’s no doubt come from her questions as well as your own experience. Thank you for sharing ALL of that with us. I’m grateful such a woman existed and that she so powerfully impacted many more people who are still here to pass that impact along. Extra excited to read your book now. Sending you love and serenity, Luvvie. ❤️

  23. Bernadette G.
    January 16, 2021 at 11:36 pm

    I too am stunned, devastated, and numb. Dr. P was my therapist for the past 13 months. She taught me so much about vulnerability, boundaries, and to just do it!!. I know the look you mentioned in your piece. It always made me slow down and get real within. I loved how she always started by establishing presence, followed by a deep breath & sigh, and the ask: how are you? She was absolutely AMAZING and one of a kind. I have so many lessons learned. I am heartbroken because our work was just beginning, yet grateful for our time together. I’m praying for all of us who grieve the loss of Dr.P.

  24. Andre Patterson
    January 19, 2021 at 9:31 pm

    What an amazing tribute you have written for my sister, Dr P. I want you to know that hearing things like this about my baby sister will help keep her memory alive. We are all still in a state of shock and tremendous sadness due to her sudden passing. Life is not going to be the same without my baby sister. She had such a bright light that followed her everywhere. I am filled with joy that she was able to share such a brightness with all of you. We know you will find peace and guidance with the next therapist you choose to share your life journey with. We also hope that you book is a huge success….just like Dr P!

  25. Michelle J
    January 21, 2021 at 12:47 pm

    Luvvie, thank you for this post. My counselor died unexpectedly in June 2020. I have been just as stunned as you are. Many things you wrote here I could have written; it’s such a surreal space through which to navigate. Like you so accurately illustrated, I too have these imaginary conversations with him, knowing exactly how we would walk though various issues, scenarios & problems (including his death). This part crystallizes why this loss is so hard, and so weird: “She wasn’t family. She wasn’t my friend. She wasn’t my colleague. But she was absolutely someone whose loss has shaken me. I didn’t know HER but she knew me better than anyone else because there is an intimacy you forge with the person whose purpose it is to see under what is surface.” My counselor knew all my secrets, and he saved my life. I will forever miss him. May the memory of your time with your therapist be a blessing, and may the help and peace she gave you continue to sustain you as you move forward. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  26. Shawna C
    January 24, 2021 at 11:50 pm

    Great therapist-client relationship. She sounds like such a beautiful person who really understood you. So sorry for her passing and your loss of a great relationship. I’ve had one negative therapist experience and one positive therapist experience. Loved reading about your ideal therapist experience.