Bob Livingstone is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCS 11087) in private practice for 22 years in San Francisco, California. He holds a Masters Degree ...Read More
My father died of a stroke on November 9, 1966 in a hospital near Highland Park, NJ which was my hometown. I was fifteen then and didn’t have any idea of how to deal with his sudden death. I sensed the thread of security I clung to had become permanently unraveled. I was an adolescent without any tools and I doubt if I knew what the word grief actually meant.
I did poorly in school when I did bother to show up for class. I was sullen, hostile and terribly afraid of what would happen next-the very definition of anxiety. I tried to get girls to feel sorry for me as a way of getting attention. I worked as a fry cook/dishwasher after school where I smoked cigarettes and drank gallons of sugar infused soft drinks. I also began a downward spiral into drug abuse that ended several years later.
My mother couldn’t really reach me because she was doing her own mourning and I wanted to help my younger sister, but didn’t know how. My mother didn’t have the strength the set limits for me. I brought home F’s on my report card and lived a life in quiet desperation.
I have had many ups and downs since that late fall day in 1966. I actually wrote a book about grieving my father’s death. It is titled Redemption of the Shattered: A Teenager’s Healing Journey through Sandtray Therapy(BookLocker, 2002). I felt I did the hard work and learned to accept that he was dead. I also discovered ways to let him go. I learned to connect with his spirit and watch him peacefully fly away.
I have had a successful private psychotherapy practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have been blessed to have been married to the same wonderful woman for almost thirty nine years and I continue to obtain accolades for my writing. Life was good.
Then two years ago I began having a series of health problems; one of which was life threatening and terrifying. I stopped thinking about my father and became hyper focused on my health. Every morning I would wake up and wondered if this day would be my last. My only goal was to survive each day. I wondered if every ache and pain would become chronic and everlasting.
Instead of using the healthy grieving process I had diligently learned, I resorted to my fifteen year old state of being by feeling hopeless, bitter and afraid. I didn’t want to connect with my father’s spirit any more. I didn’t really know what to do, but to dial into survival mode and feel as little as possible. What I felt most was fear and that was followed by shame for feeling so inept and useless.
I have been on earth longer than my father was. He died when he was fifty-six. I am fifty-nine and have felt I have been living on borrowed time every since I passed my fifty-sixth birthday. I felt survivor guilt and longed to have my memory of him be anything but a disheveled and angry middle aged man who never found his calling in life.
I look up in the sky and ask his spirit how he is doing. He says, “Son, I am so proud of you for all you have accomplished. I love that you are upholding the Jewish Tradition of doing your best to heal the world. That is wonderful work that you are doing in the jail, your practice and your writing. You are a good man, son.
Remember when I was sick and took all my anger out on you? I didn’t really know what I was doing. Maybe now you can understand the terror I felt because my body was betraying me. You know how to take care of yourself and if you put your trust in life, you will be OK. I wanted to tell you, but I couldn’t at the time, that worry serves no purpose. Please give yourself permission to let the fear flow out of your being and release it into the air.”
I am running my almost daily five mile run and am listening to Jimmy Ruffin’s What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? What does become of the broken hearted? The broken hearted experience happens to everyone. The heart gets shattered into little pieces and slowly they grown back together like a pumping jig saw puzzle. Your love grows stronger than ever and you learn to embrace the horrifying memories as well as the good ones. You stop pushing the bad stuff away and instead wrap your arms around it and love the turmoil as much as the joy.