Shredding The Past

picture of filesI have a brand new shredder, one of those machines designed to eat up confidential papers so their contents are never leaked. Why, you might ask, would a retired older woman need such a machine? The answer lies in the ruling that says Canadian health care practitioners must preserve their clinical records for ten years after the last meeting with the patient or client. I practiced for thirty years. This is not the first time I’ve shredded.

My new shredder with its black plastic body stands in the corner of my cluttered study. To operate, I hold a pile of paper in its slit of a mouth, then watch it chew up the paper and spit out unreadable bits.

When I sit down to shred, one part of me feels relieved to render these files into unreadable curls. I no longer need to safeguard the file’s privacy. My duty to preserve the file in case the client or the law requires it in future is ended. It’s time to let go all responsibility for this relationship and the resulting written record.

That’s one part of my reaction to shredding. There is, however, another part of me. Each of these pages represents the time I spent following a session, sitting alone in my office, thinking and feeling about our work together as I searched inwardly for the next step in our work together, then sought to write it down.

Ten years later, I end up wondering where Geraldine is now: and whether Doug really did sustain his newfound self-esteem. Warm memories, troubled memories: some I feel really good about and some leave me feeling I should have done better. Hundreds of scenes come rushing back: a revivication of my past as a therapist.

Generally, it’s agreed that nobody who’s an avid reader can be efficient about cleaning out and organizing a library. Such literary types keep finding a book they loved or always meant to read. It takes them forever to dust and replace the books.

It’s something like that with my old client notes. I suppose someone else might just look at the date of our session, conclude that it was ten years or more ago and shred the whole thing. As for me? I’m like that book lover. I hold the file, stare at its cardboard cover, get lost in the memory of the client whose story it contains and end up gazing off into the misty distance, remembering our time together. Shredding becomes an act of honouring the time we spent together a decade or more ago. It’s the paper, not the memory of the client, that gets shredded.

All this shredding then get dumped into a huge see-through plastic bag. This year I managed to fill a few of these recycling containers: tangible evidence of my 30 years of work.

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