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Returning to the World of Innocence Fifty Years after My Dad’s Death

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Date : November 5, 2016

My father died fifty years ago this month.  I was fifteen years old when he died abruptly from a stroke.  The summer before he died I was optimistic about my upcoming sophomore year of high school.   There was a parade on Labor Day down Raritan Avenue in Highland Park, New Jersey.  Later that afternoon, there were festivities in the park where I served food and ran races.  My friends and I discovered the cold refreshing taste of Rolling Rock beer.  We laughed and checked out the girls.

 

When school started I remember being focused on the social aspects of high school.  I didn’t give academics much of a thought.  I ran cross country and my coach was also my typing teacher who spent lot of our time in class talking about the team and my potential.

 

I wore different colored Levis and paisley shirts to school.  I thought I was so cool. My heart jumped out of my chest when I looked into the eyes of pretty girl in the stands at the first football game.  She smiled at me and I heard from her friends that she liked me.   I was ecstatic and in disbelief.  Why would this attractive girl be interested in me?

 

She became my girl friend.  We kissed in the alley ways on the way to house parties.  We danced to Good Vibrations and Devil with a Blue Dress.  “Good Golly Miss Molly You sure like to ball” came pouring out of the small stereo speakers.  The music, my girlfriend, kissing, dancing, hugging all felt new and exciting. The possibilities for continued pleasure seemed endless.

 

I didn’t know at the time that these were the last days of my innocence.  The last days of feeling care free and filled with hope were going to be terminated in the blink of an eye.

 

It was Nov. 6, 1966 and I was at basketball tryouts.  I turned and noticed my mother and sister at the gym door.  My mom had a look of extreme sadness and panic on her face.  At that moment I knew my life would never be the same again.   She said, “Rob, your dad was in a car accident.  We have to go to the hospital. “

 

He was in the intensive care unit in St. Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick.   The hospital staff in their supreme wisdom would not allow my sister and me to see my dad.  They felt that seeing him would be too traumatic for us.  They barley let my mother see him.

 

He died on Nov. 9, 1966 and the funeral was 2 days later.  I was sitting on my bed getting ready to go the the funeral when Jimmy Ruffin’s What Becomes of the Broken Hearted sound came out of my transistor radio.   It was sad then and the saddest song of my life’s playlist now.

 

There were a number of life lessons that became apparent for me during this time.  I learned that the institutions of medical care, religion, work, were never going to be available to support you in the time of need.  At age fifteen, I learned that these societal institutions were designed to keep us all in order and provide control rather than helping.

 

My father was not assisted by his job when his mind failed him.  The rabbi at the funeral was obsessed with the fact that my dad didn’t have a Jewish name and could have cared less about my mom, sister and I.  The gravediggers were still digging a hole for his casket while the ceremony at the grave was going on.  This didn’t happen with the rich people who had huge tombstones and manicured lawns.  The doctor who knew my dad was dying did nothing to help him or prepare his family(us).

 

I learned to be skeptical of all these institutions and this led me to be an activist today.

 

My father’s memory was denigrated by this process and it complicated my grief. My brain’s amygdala focused on the negative to help me survive.   The amygdala taught me to discard the positive memories of my father and focus on the doom that was going to stand in my pathway every day when I rise.

 

I now see the photos were my dad is holding me, clearly a picture of love and affection.  I have read his words of joy about me and the rest of my family.  I see pictures of him where he smiles and seems like he is at peace.

 

Every word I write feels like his spirit is flowing through my fingers.  Now when I think of him, I feel his blood flowing like a calm river in my veins.  When I run I can hear his voice telling me to love the moment and not look back.

 

I want to return to the world of innocence that was demolished fifty years ago.  I want to recapture those moments and move forward.  The essence of innocence is feeling safe and having no worries of catastrophes that you can’t really plan for anyhow.

 

I want to dance to Devil with a Blue Dress.  I want to sing along with Good Vibrations like I am hearing the song for the first time.  I want to hear What Becomes of the Broken Hearted and it is transformed into a song of honor that produces this,

 

“Dad, I know now that you loved me.  I know that you were mistreated the last days of your life and I will do all I can to make sure that never happens to anyone else I love.  I know I cannot change the past.  I no longer want to be defined as the man whose father died and left him alone, unprepared and heartbroken.  I now see myself as a kind, determined man who works hard.  I have overcome your loss and low self-esteem and have found confidence.  I built a private therapy practice and it is standing strong after almost thirty years.  My books and blogs continue to obtain high praise all over the country.  I have been married to Gail for over forty-four years and want to sing this to her now.”

 

“Close my eyes, she’s somehow closer now
Softly smile, I know she must be kind
When I look in her eyes
She goes with me to a blossom world

I’m pickin’ up good vibrations
She’s giving me excitations (Oom bop bop)”

-Brian Wilson and Mike Love Good Vibrations 1966

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Letting Go of Grief
Move Your Body to Rock and Soul

Letting go of Grief: Move Your Body to Rock and Soul teaches you how to work through your losses. These losses could be the death of a loved one, the end of an important relationship or other trauma. Grief is an evolving process and you will learn what the term acceptance means. It means that you will always have the option of honoring your loss, but you don’t have to be continually consumed by it. In this book, you will learn to find a landing place in your heart for grief. You will learn to embrace the pain instead of being afraid of facing it.

 

 

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