I remember the first time I went to see Mrs. Francis J. Thomas (Miss Francis) for therapy. I had done some group therapy regarding my personal lifelong battle with depression. It was time for some one on one sessions. It was scary looking for a stranger to trust with my deepest and darkest secrets. I looked online for someplace close and affordable. I called a Christian based counseling service because their fees were based on income. After leaving a message on the company line I got a call from Miss Francis. Since there was a group of counselors under this umbrella, I imagined a scene from, “The Wire,” where Miss Francis was sitting around along with other counselors waiting for her turn to be up in the rotation. If it wasn’t her turn, perhaps she picked up the voicemail and decided to give a f#@! when it wasn’t her turn to. Regardless, she called back and we set up an appointment.
Laying eyes on her I said to myself, “Aww such a sweet looking lady. Her radiant spirit gleamed through her chocolate cheeks. Her smile was extremely welcoming. I felt safe in her presence. She asked me why I had come in. I paused, sighed, thought for about 30 seconds, and began to tell her my story as best as I could. This went on for about 20 minutes. The remaining 40 minutes featured her talking. She wasn’t giving me any advice or counsel. She was completing my story for me, expressing things that I could only imagine saying but didn’t have the words to articulate. I was amazed. I knew this was going to work!
There are several different themes I remember about our sessions. Like the time she challenged me in a way that I didn’t think was right. I yelled at her at the top of my voice because I felt that she was being so unfair. If I recall there were a few profanities as well. I was very angry. After a moment, I was sure she would toss me clean out of her office. But she totally surprised me. “Christopher! YES! Finally a breakthrough!”
There were other times after leaving a session when I said to myself, ‘Wow, that was an interesting thought provoking.’ Then in the next moment I thought, ‘Hey wayment! Did she just rip me a new one but was so smooth about it I had no idea I was getting my ass whipped? Yea she did that! She ain’t slick! Damn, I guess she is. She got me!’
Mrs. Francis J Thomas’s
There is so much more I could say. Sometimes I didn’t have the money for the co-pay. She took me anyway. She told me at one point that she was considering retirement because she had some health challenges. She would continue to see her ‘special’ patients of which I was one. Miss Francis and I grew incredibly close through the years we had together. So much so that she shared some of her own personal challenges with me. She told me she was a bit ill and wanted her son and I to meet one another. She gave me his number and said she would tell him she did so.
My favorite and most memorable phrases of her’s were:
“Christopher, you have to learn radical acceptance.”
“Ooooh, that’ a hallelujah moment! Pat yourself on the back.” (Then she would pat herself on the back to show me how.)
She was a Christian counselor, but don’t get it twisted. We had some hard core raw conversations. She said some surprising things that blew my mind a few times.
One day I really needed Miss Francis. I called her cell phone on a Saturday with my ’emergency.’ She answered the phone and said, “I’m here for you. Just call me back in 20 minutes so I can get myself together.” She didn’t sound like herself. I asked her if she was sure it was really an OK time. She assured me it was. I did. She listened and counseled like she always did.
To my surprise and dismay, Miss Francis died two days later. She had Stage 4 Cancer and never told me. I was one of her very last patients, on one of her very last days on the earth, off the clock. In spite of her great pain and suffering she gave all she had to be there for her patient and friend. There is no greater gift one can give than this.
At her celebration of life service I found out that Miss Francis was a counselor of counselors. She was their teacher. It was a pleasure to speak at Miss Francis’ service and share with her family and colleagues how she touched my life and made me feel so special. She helped me gain my self worth, love and respect.
I share all this to encourage anyone who may need an ear and a voice to reach out for help. It’s a good thing and can definitely be a game changer. Take care of your mental health!