The Impact of Tragic Events
“Chitown” has cold frosty winters, especially when the “Hawk” blows (these are gusts of winds that come off of Lake Michigan).
It seemed that the winter of 1963 was the coldest ever, but not because of the temperature. That year, on December 26, my dad died in the early morning, alone at the hospital. I remember staring out the window of the living room at the dirty, gray snow on the corner of the street. Something deep inside me froze that morning. I would never be the same again.
Alvin Jerome Berger was a wonderful father. We were very close and I was devastated by his death. I had no concept of how to cope with losing my hero.
My loss was much greater than losing my father. I lost my entire family that day. We were all devastated. My mother fell into the abyss of her grief. I was lost to my grief and so were my two brothers and sister.
I have always been shocked that no one, and I mean no one, asked me how I was feeling about my father’s death. It seems like we didn’t talk about anything personal in our family. I think this was the norm in most families at that time.
Our silent decision not to talk about our feelings had a huge impact on me. One impact was negative. My sense of isolation contributed to other problems as I became an adolescent. I internalized my grief. But pain finds its way to be expressed. I acted out or acted up. I became a very angry young man, and ended up having a serious personal crisis abusing drugs and alcohol, getting in fights, skipping school, stealing money from my mother, and eventually dropping out of high school.
But another impact was positive. I am certain this experience influenced me to become a psychologist. Deep inside I made a commitment to ask people the questions that I was never asked. To invite them to let me face their pain with them. To let no person in pain suffer alone. But before I could act on this commitment, I had a long, tough road to travel.