Imagine with me, for a moment, that you have struggled in your marriage for years.
Others might look and think you are the perfect couple—but they don’t know of the secret addiction, the unspoken infidelity, and the wrenching anxiety that influences and infects every aspect of your marriage. The distance between the two of you feels cavernous. You’re not sleeping well, and have lost weight. You’re scared of the damage done to you to be in this relationship, you’re fearful of your reputation if anyone every found out, and you’re utterly lost. You feel frozen and stuck in your marriage, and it feels like staying in the marriage just might kill you. The agony is unrelenting.
Then you hear about Conexus Counselling, through a friend as she shares of the her good experience of therapy there. You wonder if counselling is an option. Counselling is confidential right? It might be a place to wrap words around your terrifying circumstance for the first time to another human being. The thought of uttering your story out loud seems somehow both a relief and impossible.
Asking for information isn’t committing, is it? And so you dial the number—but before it can ring, you hang up. It feels too much.
An hour later, you try again—this time the phone rings, and there is a friendly voice that says, “Good morning, Conexus Counselling.” But the knot in your throat bulges, prohibiting all speech. The voice at the other ends encourages, “I’m here. It’s hard to call. You’re welcome to respond now, or if you need to call back another time, I’ll still be here. I’ll wait for a bit.”
You hang up. Speech isn’t difficult–it’s impossible. It’s too hard. You can’t even make the call to inquire—so of course, a therapy session is out of the question.
But her voice. The voice that answered the phone. She was kind with what she said. She seemed to understand. And her voice was warm. Not impatient. Intuitively, she seemed to know that it was hard. You hung up on her and she didn’t get mad—she got compassionate.
Her voice replays in your head. Over and over. If the therapist is anything like the voice that answers the phone, it means, well, it means that they get it. Therapy is terrifying and a silence on the phone is implicitly understood to not mean rudeness–it’s terror.
You call again the next day. You make it through the ring, and you hear the greeting, and this time, just barely, you croak out that you are seeking information about counselling. The voice explains that she is the client care manager, and that her name is “Mah-LAY-nee” and that she is happy to answer your questions. It starts to get easier to ask the questions, and she gives you some options for therapists and session times, and encourages you to look for more information on the website.
It’s odd. You haven’t met the therapist, or even stepped into the office, but you have the sense that this is a place that won’t judge. Conexus Counselling is a place that is safe enough to hold your secrets. No pressure, just opportunity to get all the info you need to make an informed decision.
You call back later in the day to make an appointment. This time, it’s not hard to dial or speak. Melanie goes through the process, asking for some information and giving you details about the first appointment. She waits while you go grab a pen. She repeats the information patiently while you write it down.
The day of the appointment, you wonder if you’ve got the details correct. You hid the paper and now can’t find it. You’re nervous and your insecurities collect themselves in the details. You call again, and Melanie confirms the time and place for you without any sense of irritation. She seems to understand that this may be very hard for you.
When you arrive for the appointment, she stands up to greet you, she lets you know where the bathrooms are, what to expect. She offers you a Werther’s Original while you wait. Yep, that candy that your grandma gave you when you were 8. It seems oddly comforting to have one at this moment.
You haven’t seen a therapist yet. But something in you, already, believes that this is a good thing. If the therapist is anything like Melanie, this therapy will be a good thing.
Now, imagine that you’re not a client that is so gently ushered into a tense and difficult process of arranging for therapy, but rather a frazzled and stressed owner of a counselling organization. Imagine that the counselling practice has gotten too large to manage with a bit of help here and there, and now needs to get an office manager/client care coordinator.
Imagine, that a good friend suggests Melanie to you and now you get to receive the love and support that Melanie gives to each client. You get to be in that calm, competent and kindly space that she creates for full days multiple days each week.
I don’t have to imagine it.
This has been my world for the last 15 years.
My working relationship with Melanie began all those years ago, sweetly, with a caring friend. Rose asked me how she could pray for me. I asked her to pray that I could find the right person for this administrative person—I wanted that person to be a self starter, both good at paperwork and with people. Rose told me already had the answer to my prayer—her sister-in-law. Rose described Melanie as the type of women, that while she was working a temp job, she ran out of things to do and so asked to organize their supply closet. That’s Melanie.
Melanie was the answer to the prayer that was never even uttered.
When I hired her, I let her know that within the first two weeks, she would have to figure out how to develop a paycheck, figure out Revenue Canada deductions etc. I had no idea how to do this, and didn’t have time to sort it out. She didn’t know either—but she was paid on time because she figured it out. When Melanie doesn’t know something, she calls and asks for help. When she isn’t sure something is going to work, she tries it to see—and then tries again if it isn’t successful.
Melanie was a clear communicator, letting me know what the demands on her time were, and when we needed to do something. When she went on vacation, she would work ahead so things could run smoothly while she was gone. Heck, she timed her vacations so she wouldn’t be gone at critical times of the year.
She asked for permission to say, “our” practice—our deadlines, our clients, our issues. She was respectful as she realized Conexus Counselling was my baby (at the time) but she fully was on board as a co-parent.
Conexus Counselling was, indeed, our clinic.
The sense of responsibility Melanie had meant that when I passed a project on to her and she received it, I never checked back. I didn’t have to. It was hers. If she had a question, she would ask. If she needed to modify it, she let me know. And when it was done, she just mentioned it so I’d be aware. No huge celebration expected—just a quiet verbal check the box cuz it’s done.
Melanie was also clear in ways that were courageous and helpful. When it got too much to do within her hours, she let me know so we could hire more. She let me know that she would do a lot, but that did NOT include vaccuming the office. When deadlines were coming up, or a vacation was on the horizon, she would tell me about her workload level in ways that allowed us to make sure she was on track. Our code was her line—how close was she getting to the line, and what it would take to pull her back from the line. She told me when she hadn’t had a salary increase for a while. She helped me help her stay healthy by clarifying her boundaries.
Melanie modelled to me how to be dedicated and committed with integrity—but to have fun at the job and in life while doing it.
Melanie’s last day at Conexus Counselling was about a month ago and it gave me cause to reflect on the impact she has had on my life.
The caring she gave to clients? She gave it to me, too.
When Melanie and I began working together, I was an overwhelmed single mom working two jobs, and needing to leave work on time so I could pick up groceries to make supper before that night’s driving to this practice, or that game, and then come home and get some paperwork done or papers marked before bed. I didn’t really have time with friends because work and kids demanded pretty much all of my time.
Melanie was the recipient of my stories—she debriefed with me when one of my children got a scholarship or nearly drove me mad by pushing my buttons. She and I brainstormed how to handle a business matter at the office. She watched me flap my hands and stomp loops around the office before a media interview, chuckling at my moans and saying with a smirk and a wink, “Yep, you’re about to blow another interview and ruin your professional career—just like last week,” to remind me that my moaning and flapping was part of the routine of our lives. She didn’t ridicule me, but she did help deflate the anxiety.
She wasn’t just my employee, she was a friend. A profoundly kind and compassionate friend.
And one day in early spring of 2015, when the man who is now my Husband called, she let him through to speak to me about his questions about counselling. She could have given him the information herself. She forwarded the call to me–this was beautifully weird because she NEVER passed on calls to me that could answer herself.
At our retirement lunch, she acknowledged, for the first time, that she just had a feeling that she should let this newly widowed man speak to me. She forwarded the call to me, she says, because “I know it was ridiculous to think there might be any possibility that anything could happen, but I wasn’t going to get in the way of it happening.”
That call changed my life–and she made it happen.
This weekend, we had a Conexus Counselling retirement party for Melanie. We gathered and ate and remembered. We told stories and laughed.
And we painted wooden discs to remind Melanie what she meant to us–she is the hub of the wheel, the sunshine in the office, a person of growth, the heart of Conexus, bringing color and light to us all. The discs will be tied to a string of starlights because, after all, she is the star of Conexus.
I wish for each of you a person like Melanie in your life. Someone who makes work a pleasant place where you enjoy showing up each day. Someone who will laugh and cry with you, be supportive and encouraging, and be committed and faithful to a common goal.
It might be the end of an era but the echoes of Melanie will be lifelong.
We don’t often use the word, “love” for how we feel about our colleagues at the workplace. It’s supposed to be reserved for family and for friends who feel like family. Love is a tender word that can sound inappropriate or creepy when used in professional settings. We say we love people when they mean so much to us our hearts swell when we think of them.
I love Melanie, and I have felt loved by her. It enhanced our good work, it made us both better at it. She is a friend who is like family. We might not work together anymore, but we will remain part of each other’s lives.
Thanx, Melanie, for all of who you are and all of what you’ve done.