Imagine what it’s like to be a clinical psychological therapist, a life-coach and a medium – all in the same person. That’s what Sarry Refael was to me. For twelve years I visited her every week and talked about my life, and she, who always seemed to have everything figured out, took me on the most valuable journey I’ve ever had: a fascinating journey to self- discovery.
I met Sarry in late 2002 when I finally figured out how to choose a therapist. I knew I had to have one because I sensed that there was so much I needed to learn about myself. Being gay and very sensitive, I was often overwhelmed by emotions and experiences in my life. I wanted to learn more from them. I didn’t want to keep making the same mistakes over and over again, which was what it felt like. I wanted to know how to find peace with who I was and use my strengths instead of worrying about my weaknesses.
She came into my life during a relatively dark time: I hated my job, hated myself, and my relationship was falling apart. Then one day my friend Adar, who I hadn’t seen for a couple of weeks, came for a visit and I could immediately tell that there was something different in him; he looked happier. I asked him about it and he started talking about going to therapy with this new and amazing therapist who really helped him and two of his other gay friends, from the first appointment. I was fascinated by what he was saying and the different, refreshing energy that was suddenly surrounding him. A few weeks later, as things got even darker, I asked him for his therapist’s number.
I remember the first session, in October 2002. Ironically it was right after Yom Kippur (‘Day of Atonement’ in Jewish tradition). I sat on the couch in her office on Dizengoff Street in tears, telling her how lost I was. She listened quietly and eventually she told me this: “I know how hard this must be for you, I see how sensitive you are, and I can definitely help you. But if you decide that you want my help you have to know that we’ll go on a journey and I don’t know where it will lead. You might leave your job, you might lose some of the friends you have at the moment, and you might even break up with your boyfriend. I’m just laying it out here because your life will end up looking so different. You have to be sure you are willing to say goodbye to all there is now, if things lead to that.”
Looking back, I am not sure how “appropriate” it is for a therapist to say that to a patient, but that’s what she was like. She was a strange bird in the sea of psychologists. Fast forward twelve years, and all that she said did eventually happen: I did lose my job at web portal Tapuz – but then I landed my dream job at Helicon Records, a company that I’d admired since I was a kid. I did lose my boyfriend – but I learned so much from it that I was able to find someone with whom I could have a more mature relationship. I began to really believe in myself, learned about all my flaws and strengths, and made peace with them (…well, almost), and after a few years I developed a new perception about life, and started to see things in people and develop a means of communication that I hadn’t known before. Working with Sarry was magical to me.
Sarry used to describe herself as an “Holistic Therapist,” because in addition to her proper “clinical” knowledge, some of the knowledge that she had came from the gut. A “spiritual” (though she hated this word) magical connection. She “felt” things that she was telling me, even about other people who she had never met, and very often she was right. I guess she knew how people operate, but at the same time she was very well educated about everything that’s beyond what we see, through the gates of feelings and emotions. She was also a numerologist, which she never believed to be an exact science; she was spiritually connected in a fascinating way. A living proof that there’s definitely something beyond the here and now and our physical experience on earth.
I don’t know much about her personal life, and I hope to update this page with more details about her as they come, but I know she received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Education at the University of Haifa and then continued her studies in France and received her MA in Strasbourg. She came back to Israel and worked in rehab centers in Haifa, and in a center for Kids and Family Health before she had her own clinic. She worked in Haifa and Tel Aviv, and after 2007 she worked exclusively in Haifa.
Sarry died in 2014 from Multiple Sclerosis. According to the little she told me, she was diagnosed in 2008 after she’d been having pain in her back and leg. Her condition became worse quickly but she refused to take medications, since she said they made her ‘high’ and she really wanted a clear mind to continue working with her clients (which she often referred to as her ‘spiritual kids’). Finally the pain was unbearable and she started to lose motor capability, so she decided to end her life in Switzerland, with what is called “accompanied suicide,” at a center that helps people with incurable diseases end their lives with dignity. She bravely made all the arrangements, which included preparing her patients to say goodbye to her. She eventually went through the procedure on October 30th, 2014. She died peacefully, with her only daughter beside her bed.
At the end of her days, Sarry was strongly committed to telling her story in the hope that in the future the option for individuals to choose how their lives should end will be more accessible. “Just like we do with animals, humans deserve this too, not to turn into some kind of piece of meat that pees and poops until it dies,” she told me. “In this disease, when I become a plant, it’s like I’m not there anymore, so why make it hard on the people who love me to clean up for me for who knows how long, and who knows how much it’s going to cost, until I die? I’d rather leave this world with dignity. All this turning into a plant is not for me,” she said. “And if assisted death wasn’t against the law in Israel, I could be here for my daughter for at least a few weeks. The only reason I’m doing it now is because I have to be able still to sit for the flight to Switzerland.”
When we first got the chance to talk heavily about death, it was in 2013. Sarry told me to be careful not to idealize people who are gone and turn them into some sort of god, and I’m sure that’s what she would have said about this website: that in addition to my first book, it’s also a mini-remembrance page for her. This is my way to eternalize the memory of a great and smart woman, who helped me and so many other people, who literally rescued gay people who thought their lives were worthless until they met her and started working with her. And I hope that some of the articles here will help other people too, people she didn’t even know will learn from her long after she’s gone, which is also the real force behind the release of Imperfect Thing Called Love.
Thank you, Sarry. For Everything.