As a writer and communicator, this has been an unprecedented week. First, I took the plunge and wrote about my dad’s recent death while also reflecting on his immigrant family “fight to life” struggles and the ebbs and flows, the highs and lows of a father-son relationship. (For the essay, email [email protected] or Click here: Stress Doc: Notes from a Motivational Psychohumorist ™: A Requiem for a “Last Angry Man”: A Son’s Eulogy or http://www-stressdoc-com.blogspot.com/2011/07/requiem-for-last-angry-man-sons-eulogy.html .) However, what has most moved me, actually, unsettled me, hopefully in a good way, is the outpouring from readers of my blogs. Who are these readers?: some are friends, some are friends who’ve become “family,” some are colleagues or clients through my speaking or coaching work, some are former AOL chat/stress support group members, but many are people who I’ve come to know (or, at least, have some connection with) in response to an initial online question or request that then encouraged a mutual, often soulful dialogue of ideas and emotions. This communication trigger was usually related to a host of psychological or interpersonal questions or issues played out in our own hearts and minds, in personal relationships and with our families, or via the struggles in today’s demanding-challenging workplace.
Before engaging in further reflection about readers’ responses, here’s one conceptual observation. I often hear or read that non-verbal communication – such as facial expression or body language – is so much more powerful than the written or spoken word in conveying a message or influencing the message’s interpretation or its impact on a receiver. Alas, I believe the power of words is being shortchanged, if not swallowed up, in today’s hyper-visual-hyperactive-hyperlinked world. Once again this week has demonstrated that a recipe of:
a) clear and (relatively) concise, emotive and analytical, written/verbal communication regarding our diverse yet overarching “life and death” human experience that
b) portrays ideas and actions reflecting hard-earned knowledge, humble uncertainty, and interpersonal integrity through
c) personal inflection along with universal imagery and empathy (i.e., “not only have we walked in common shoes, but also have similar bunions”) and that
d) yields provocative stories mixing poignancy, playfulness and/or passion that may well provide food for thought if not a psychological feast from which a varied group of individuals can share a common table, dine and converse – both nurturing themselves and one another.
Insights and Intuitions
Enough of my writer’s recipe and rant…so what has the Stress Doc learned from this prolific, poignant and passionate sharing?
1) there’s a community of compassionate people who will stop and take the time to read your words, to acknowledge you and reach out when human connection is needed and wanted, maybe more than I fully realized (both regarding this community’s extent and vibrancy as well as my own need for connection and nurturance; as a wise friend, recently retired from the military, exhorted: “be tough…just not too tough”),
2) I feel like “Requiem for a ‘Last Angry Man’” touched a mental-emotional mind field and readers’ memories and personal associations poured forth. I suspect writing about my father made the piece especially evocative; it seems considerable numbers have tangibly distant, opaque, explosive, complicated, double-edged relations with their fathers or perhaps with the significant males in their lives; or lost a father figure way too soon,
3) there’s something about the subject of death, the final earthly transition, that especially speaks to those presently in the depths of personal and/or professional loss or transition; perhaps death is a reminder that the clock is always ticking and it will eventually wind down: when once there seemed unlimited time, now there’s a sense of time running out. Should I hold on and hope; should I let go and daringly jump? Or am I ready to let go and reach out? If I may appropriate one reader’s compelling observation, is it time to find “the courage to face those emotional demons square in the eye?”
4) in addition to the sheer numbers, the quality of many of the responses – the thoughtfulness and insightfulness, hints of pain and poignancy or open expressions of the same – however brief, say to me that most of us have multi-generational, richly deep and complex, if not sometimes chaotic, family/relationship stories to tell and share…and, I believe, we need to do so. On the one hand, I want to say sooner rather than later; yet, I realize it took my father’s death to give birth to the requiem. But I have been cogitating about him and trying to capture our intense relationship, and the implications for my own identity and career struggles within a family context for many years. (And clearly I’m not alone in this quest.) Here is a poem written around 1992:
Dad, I had a dream
A dream for only you
Why were you so lost in space?
A silent world so blue.
I was but a moon
You my rising sun
Both shadowed by our mother earth
Did you have to run?
How was I to know
Your flame was dying out?
My protective blazing star now
Sucked by soular doubt.
Daddy, daddy there’s a hole
Black as it can be
I’m falling, falling
Who are you? Who me?
Daddy there’s a hole
Black as it can be
I’m falling, falling
Who are you? Who me?
Drifting on the edge
Outside our galaxy
The void is now my only light
The price of being free.
Can I accept the fate that
To forsake my body earth
And do his artistry.
It’s moon time; the force of rhyme
Lunacy’s ebb and flow.
A moment of connection, yet
Again…I must let go.
Must let go.
Daddy, there’s a whole
Bright as it can be
I and Thou are Me.
(c) Mark Gorkin 1992
Shrink Rap™ Productions
So please, drawing on mind, heart and soul, start or continue to capture and express images of those most burning, searing hot-icy relations and interactions that scorch and blister as well as lighten up and illuminate our past, present and future. And share with others your luminous or dark, or darkly luminous, stories – whether a radiant touchstone or a small quiet gem. They are more compelling than we often imagine. (Please see readers’ sparkling bright, yet also subtly shaded and shadowed, healing crystals below.) I have a newfound and profound respect for the simple adage: “Each one teach one!” Words to help us all grieve, reintegrate and embark on new journeys, and to…Practice Safe Stress!
Reader’s Responses to a “Requiem”
Thanks for sharing, Mark. So many people would never have had the courage to face those emotional demons square in the eye, as you did with loving results. What a tremendous compliment your dad gave you when he said that never before had he felt so loved. We are all works in progress. . . but sometimes it’s so hard to let go of the hurt from the past and recognize that we are who we are today because of those struggles. . . and triumphs. You have honored your dad’s legacy in trying to understand his struggles. . .and in sharing his story. I’m not a therapist, but I know that grief is a difficult emotion that seems to wax and wane sort of like an ocean wave. Here’s wishing you a peaceful journey.
P.S. Keep those blog posts coming… there’s always something in them that touches me or reminds me of another way to look at things.
I know you from the NIH and once participated in your 17th Street groups, this was way back in the day. I felt compelled to write in response to your requiem/eulogy, and to send you sympathy over what must be an epic loss. What follows are some very random, disconnected thoughts:
Many of the things you wrote about run through countless American families, especially families touched by the Depression, immigration, the War, or the Holocaust. They include alcoholism, military service (as a form of escape), depression, uncontrolled anger, and abuse (I speak mainly of the verbal kind here — screaming, tantrums). I think an entire generation was lost to trauma from world events played out around them. Those individuals inherited their parents’ depression, anger, and rage, much like family heirlooms. And often those traits have been passed down to us, their descendants.
I always like to say people don’t know what they need to know when they need to know it. Your own father, perhaps having to do with environment, training, and upbringing, didn’t know what he needed to know (about parenting, himself, life). Mental health professionals then didn’t know then much of what they know now. And of course children born into these dramas are left to make their way in the world with the faulty information they are provided. So by time they reach their 50s and 60s, they look back at the events of the past with insight gained over a lifetime. But if only it could be applied, but one can’t travel back in time.
I think people who grew up in the Depression, give or take a decade, are tough nuts to crack because they had it so tough: wearing cardboard shoes, walking for miles to school, poor insulation from the cold, and absent, angry (often immigrant) parents. I think our parents and their parents were/are largely traumatized. My father told me he never had toys; toys were something other kids had. Not a single toy. He played with sticks. He said if you had a stick and a knife, you were at the top of the world.
In her later years, my own Grandmother refused to eat margarine because of the deprivation she once experienced. Butter was once out of reach, so she made sure to reach for it when it was there. She also never forgave Japan for Pearl Harbor and wouldn’t have anything to do with the Japanese, including sushi and Japanese products. These were ways she could get back at that country.
There’s a certain personality type of a hustler, meaning someone who had to hustle to survive. I see this in my own dad and his mother, both of whom came from immigrant stock and scratched and clawed their way out of a hole. A rubber band, a length of twine, or a lid from a plastic container were all saved for their potential use. This meant the accumulation of many things the rest of us would otherwise toss away easily. They were deeply affected by their immigrant background and by the deprivation they once experienced.
Now, my father and I stare at each other (he’s 80) when I visit. There is much left unsaid. But we understand a great deal. And we go on. I send you my condolences and wish you peace.
What a lovely piece. I, too, have been dealing with my parents’ mortality; my mom died a few years ago at age 84, and my 88 year old father’s dementia is progressing many miles away from where I live. Like your father, mine was not always an easy man to live with. But you capture well the lifetime of struggle and connection with those we love dearly, despite the ways they may fail us—or we them.
It is always wonderful to hear someone who can really write put these kinds of stories forward. Many thanks for that. Keep writing and keep growing. And please accept my condolences–for you and your family.
Wow. I am so happy that you shared this. Someday, I should commit to written words something similar. I was asked to eulogize my Dad at his funeral. It was tough, but also cathartic…just talking about my weird, eccentric, brave father in public. Hang tough Amigo. It gets no easier. Last night, H (my youngest) was helping me sort through 30+ years of memorabilia all stored over time in numerous Rubbermaid containers. (great visual for a book there…”Going Through the Rubbermaids”!) In them were many pictures of my Dad and my Opa…neither of whom H ever met. I would look at a picture, or read a letter Dad sent me while I was deployed to some far-flung battle zone…and H got to know his grandfather a bit from that. So, they never leave you as long as you don’t leave them.
Much love…you’re a Hell of a mensch yourself, BTW!
Mark, that is such a beautiful eulogy to your father. My condolences to you and your family. Best wishes, through tears…
sure, you can share with my full name and full blessing. I’m now training in psychotherapy with the AABCAP in Australia, and our conversations over the past few years have helped me enormously in getting to this point, and getting past my own burnout in teaching and counselling. My father died not long after I turned 18 so it’s been a struggle to grieve for him, not having that time together as adults to battle things out and meet on different terms. Your ability to reach so deeply into your own story is helping me in turn to reach into mine, best regards, Carolyn Minchin.
My dear Mark,
Thank you so very much, for sharing your feelings, the so special feelings for a very special man, a Dad, who’s sensitive and warm hearted son, missed so much his affection …………..
For everything there is a reason… under his hard face, was a very turbulent soul, that loved his family, but the same time wanted to show how strong he was trying to reassure his confidence, in the arms of another partner and yet, how life is, his first choice, his wife, was nursing him up to the end…..Your mom, the strong pillar of the family…you call her anxiously controlling, she had to be that way, take over both sides Mark, to be the sweet mother and the strong father, as she could see how fragile his personality really was…
But you my friend, you swam through rough seas, high waves, but you arrived at the finish line as a winner.
In one of your mails you wrote that you have two sides…….well, I think he had too!
Keep the memories of the few but full of love moments you have had with him, and be sure that behind the hard face, was a heart full of love for you.
Sometimes, as parents, we expect our children to do things the way we would like to … or to follow paths that we would like to follow and for reason we couldnt. It is very Wrong…but the older generations were more fixed on those opinions.
That’s the way they have grown up. To show emotions is not for a man…is only for little girls…to be with your kids is not for a man, is the “job” of a woman,, and when they realize what they have missed, is too late to cover the distance and reach them…….But for sure it does not mean they had no feelings..
Please take care of your self, and your mom whenever you can. She can put a hard front as well, but I’ll tell you a secret…..we moms…we love to be pampered from our kids
As for my mom is going better thank Heaven,
I was deeply moved by your eloquent eulogy to your father. He seems like a complicated, somewhat opaque guy to get to know. I’m glad you finally broke through in the end. There was a degree of closure, even though it still must be difficult for you.
My father was also rather opaque — until he reached his boiling point, and then all hell broke loose. He was the product of immigrant parents who never learned English. He broke with them after serving in the Army in WWII and marrying. I never knew them. It must have been hard to divorce his whole family. We had a decent relationship, but hardly ever broke the ice.
I am so grateful that you shared the requiem and the follow-up message below. I want to read it all a couple more times and doublecheck where I stand a dozen years after my own dad’s death; a part of me is a little jealous that you had the chance to learn so much and have the amazing warm connections, even as there was a lot of pain.
Again, I’m grateful and I’m keeping you in my thoughts and prayers,
I am sorry to hear of your father’s recent passing. Although it is a rite of passage that we all know we can expect, it is still not easy.
What you wrote and shared is appreciated and I admire you for that. You are very gifted in so many ways. So often the gifts we have are born out of much pain and suffering. Recognizing and using them makes it worthwhile.
Keep up your good work including first and foremost, healing yourself. Perhaps another book is in the works?
Good to hear from you.
All my sympathy to you on the passing of your father. Thank you for sharing. One person’s story could be part of another person’s story.
Please know that you are loved and admired by us. We will connect one day soon and we can update on where we are.
I’m so sorry for your loss, Mark, son of Abraham.
May he rest in peace, may his memory be blessed.
Thanks so much for sharing this powerful and personal family history.
You, too, are a courageous Mensch!
With a tear in my eye,
What a beautiful tribute, Mark. Very touching. It brought to mind the remembrance of my father’s death (on my birthday) in 1979. I can feel your pain reading your Euology here. Other deaths hit us hard but when a parent dies, it’s so humbling. I feel such a sense of sadness here.
You express yourself with such ease & have advanced yourself forward in a myriad of ways. His influence (besides your Mom’s) made you stronger, richer, defined in such a way as to want to help others. [I don’t have to tell you that I know] My surviving sister and I decided through all the horrific pain of “that” generation, we had a strength that others couldn’t even imagine. Hug your Mom & brother for me.
You know I’ve always admired you and considered you a mentor. I hope your Practice is thriving. I am very well; many challenges but the strength in me (God given or created) keeps my head bobbing above water. 😉 and no, I haven’t learned how to ‘walk on water’ – yet!! heh heh
Stay safe & well,
I haven’t had the time to read most of your emails. But I do scan over them on occasion. This one, by its title, looked interesting and I set it aside for when I found a moment. That came this afternoon.
I take it this is your letter and your life, yes?
While apparently more intense than the conflicts in my family, there are some parallels here, including the different treatment of my brother and I, the alcoholism, etc. Been there, done that, glad to be passed it.
Anyway, thanks for sharing.
Tom (US Navy retired)
Mark, I’m sorry about your loss. It’s never easy to lose a parent no matter what the relationship might have been like. I’m glad that you have your writing through which you can process who your father was and the family history that shaped your life. Dianne
Mark, I just had a chance to read this all the way through. It’s beautiful. You should be proud. For all he went through and all the craziness he caused, in the end, your father had the courage to confront his own demons. I’m sure the love you showed him was a big part of that. Sometimes children wind up “parenting” their own parents as they get older and experience frailty and illness. It’s often the first real love our folks experienced, as so many of your readers have commented.
All the best to you. You’re in my thoughts. Dianne
Hi, Mark! I came across the quote below from the Dalai Lama on one of my friend’s Facebook news feeds on the occasion of her 60th birthday today. I thought it summed up a lot of what you have written about your Dad and the whole topic of love and affection:
“When we are young and again when we are old, we depend heavily on the affection of others. Between these stages we usually feel that we can do everything without help from others and that other people´s affection is simply not important. But at this stage I think it is very important to keep deep human affection.”
Have a good day! Dianne
I am so sorry to hear about your dad.
Thank you for sharing something so personal. I wish I can be as eloquent as you are in expressing my feelings about my mother who is in similar situation as your dad. But someday maybe…
Sure, please do share. And please keep me on your mailing list I love reading everything that you write. I will someday come to one of your retreats it is my goal for next year.
I am not sure how you did it, just starting to write makes me so emotional. It brings a flood of memories that I do not want to revisit, yet I know how important it is to do something like this for my only son’s sake. I know I will do it when I am ready and I will definitely share it with you. Thank you for the encouragement.
I have read and reread this. It was incredibly poignant and
meaningful. So much so, that it leaves me speechless and wordless.
You are a brave man to face all of this and put it down. I am truly
inspired on many levels. Thank you for sharing this with me. I
deeply appreciate it.
I am without words after reading your Requiem. I’m glad you were able to find peace with him and yourself before he died. Sending condolences your way.
Wow, Mark, that was beautifully written, thank you so much for sharing those intimate details of your family life. It really touched me….Your boldness in pressing thru difficult feelings to a real relationship with your father, your bearing your whole heart, and those poignant memories you will always carry in your heart. How precious. My prayers go out to you, your mom and brother. Love, Joy
Thank you so much for sharing these very personal reflections – as always, you have made an impact on me. I am hoping your journey through the grief process will be kind, insightful, and comforting.
I hope to keep in touch with you as I transition from State College.
My personal and professional best to you,
very nice and meaningful. As only the stress doc himself could write.
Great article. I encourage you to see what you can do to get it in a published form. Perhaps a magazine??
Beautiful! Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for sharing that, Mark. I can’t read it quite yet because the anniversary of my Dad’s death is just around the corner. But I promise I will in time.
It’s hard – take care of yourself.
A friend told me at the time (8 years ago next month) that losing a parent is a profound experience. To which I found myself responding, “No s..t.”
Well Said. You are always in my thoughts and prayers. You are an inspiring man.
Thank you for sharing this. What an awesome tribute to your dad.
Have an awesome day!
Thanks for sharing about your father and my condolence to you and your family.
Sorry to read about the passing of your dad. My heart goes to you and your family and wish God gives power to endure this loss to everyone in your family.