Foreward for Love and Loss

Reprinted below is the foreward written by Donnel B. Stern, Ph.D., training and supervising analyst at the William Alanson White Institute in New York City and adjunct clinical professor and supervisor at New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. He is one of the luminaries in the field of Relational Analysis and himself the author of two books, two edited books and over seventy-five articles.

Foreward for Love and Loss by Linda Sherby
By Donnel B. Stern

I have often thought about writing a book that portrays life as a psychoanalyst. I mean really portrays it - an affectively alive book that lets readers know what it’s like to live a life at the same time that you’re doing treatment every day. How the life influences the work and the work influences the life. I have thought of writing a novel (who knows, maybe I still will) and I have thought of writing a memoir. Well, I don’t have to worry about the memoir anymore, because Linda Sherby has written it, and she has done it in a way that I hope and believe will draw readers from inside psychoanalysis and outside it. It is easy to imagine this book crossing the ordinary barriers that separate professional books from books of general interest. In fact, if there is any justice in this world, it will cross those barriers. It is the one psychoanalytic book I have read that deserves to become widely popular. More than that, it is the one psychoanalytic book that I have read that really would be fascinating to people who are not themselves psychotherapists. Once you’ve read it, see if you don’t agree; anyone who is a reader will find this book hard to put down. And yes, I do know how unexpected it is to say that about a book in a series written for psychoanalysts.

The problem anyone trying to write a memoir about being a psychoanalyst faces is the integration of the life and the work. In fact, I think that’s probably the problem for anyone trying to write a book about what life as any particular kind of worker is like. Has it ever occurred to you how rare it is to read a book about the nature of work? We have many books about love. But there are so few about work. Work can seem to pale when set against the passion of life, so that as soon as you start to describe the life, the work takes a back seat.

Oh, there are certain seeming exceptions: actors and actresses, rock stars and other prominent musicians, famous painters, dancers and so on. A few creative geniuses in business, government, and academics. But think about it. When you read those books, it’s the rare exception for the focus to be on the work. It’s the work that brings to attention the subject of the biography or autobiography, but it’s the life, lovers, and friends of that person that is the stuff of the book.

And that’s what’s so unusual here. Linda Sherby is hardly a celebrity. That’s not why her life interests us. She is an everyday person. Well, sort of. An everyday person who can write like the wind. One of my favorite novels happens to be Laurens Van Der Post’s A Story Like the Wind, which concerns the lives of the Bushmen of Africa. Love and Loss, despite having nothing to do with the Bushmen, is a story like the wind. It grabs you in a way that you’re not used to being grabbed by anything in the psychoanalytic literature. Unless some other duty calls, if you are a psychotherapist you are not likely to put this book down until it ends. And if you’re not a psychotherapist - well, you’re not likely to put it down, either. It is that gripping.

How did Linda Sherby do this? Why has she been able to write something so thoroughly compelling? I think I know why she could do it, and why I didn’t. The reason I couldn’t figure out how to do it myself was that I didn’t have a particular theme relating the life and the work. Linda does. With enormous generosity of spirit, she has allowed us to know everything she can think to tell us about her life with her husband, George, whose illness and eventual death is the thread along which the pearls of her narrative are strung. As Linda works with her patients, we understand how it is for her; we feel what it is like for her to live her life, to love and lose George. It’s indelible. Linda gives it to us straight and to the heart. All of us have been there, even if we have never lost a spouse. We have lived with heartache while we continued to want to help other people with everything we had. But never has anyone come back from a place like that with a narrative that braids the life and the work together as Linda has done here. That’s what’s unique about Love and Loss. That’s why Linda could do it when I, and no doubt many others, could not manage it. She has been willing to supply the thread of life along which the pearls of work could make a necklace.

I have every confidence that George was as committed to this book as Linda herself has been. The book was, and is, an act of courage for both of them, and it came at no little sacrifice. It would have been easier not to write. It is a memorial to George, and to Linda’s devotion to George, and it is a gift to its readers.