LEARNING HOW TO LIVE

By Tom Ferraro, Ph.D.
Jan. 19th 2006
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Jordan Ferraro at age six
Exactly what is it that we can learn from our children if only we will listen?
(Photo of Jordan Lee Ferraro at age six taken by Dr. Tom Ferraro)

As I stumble through the mourning process following the death of my son Jordan Lee, I have received some wonderful letters from my readers. You can’t imagine how nice this is. The act of writing is usually such a private and lonely thing, like depositing words into the darkness. One never knows if anyone is actually reading what you write.

One letter came from a champion skateboarder who remarked that honoring the dead comes about automatically with the recognition that the dead person is actually internalized into our behaviors. In his case he had lost a surrogate father who he had loved dearly. He said that his surrogate Dad had always used the phrase “more will be revealed” whenever the reader was uncertain about something. After his ‘father’ had died he found that he was using this phrase all the time. He had internalized his ‘father’ into himself and this was a way of truly honoring the person who had passed on. In fact you could say the person who had died was still living inside of him.

And this got me to thinking about exactly how I will internalize the essence of my son. We are always told that we the parents should be the teachers and our children should be the learners. So what will I be learning from my son who has died so young?

Many have said that loss has a way of strengthening you. “That which does not destroy you makes you strong” is how the saying goes. And there is much research support for this idea. Goetzel and Goetzel wrote a book which summarized years of research on the 400 most preeminent achievers in American history and they found an interesting commonality. All these super achievers had lost one or both parents at a young age either through death or divorce. Think of Clinton or Reagan in politics as good examples. My wife had lost both her parents at a young age and she and her brother Tim and sister Trixie have all gone on to great heights.

My good friend Vince Albanese is one of the great lawyers and real estate developers in America and a fact that not many realize is that he lost both parents at a young age. I was talking to a friend of mine about this and he told me that his two sons, Christo and Stolis had lost their mom when they were teenagers and he noticed to his great surprise that they have both become so strong and kind following this loss.

Freud has written extensively about loss and said that when we lose something we internalize its characteristics, a fact that my skateboarding reader so astutely pointed out to me. So what character trait or what mechanism will I be internalizing from my son Jordan? This is easy to see as soon as I mention it in words. Jordan loved the arts, painting, relaxing, traveling and just hanging out with friends. He was similar to many young people who have not yet become addicted to work and to worry. I was always amazed to see that he would travel to Costa RicA or Italy or Barcelona, Spain and spend the summer there surfing or skateboarding. I would be home with my nose to the grindstone and would read with awe the post cards he would send. But for me it was always ‘no rest for the weary.’

Often I would write articles about burnout and sport workaholism and warn the readers about this. In the sport psychologist office we are often confronted with this type of patient because this is what it takes to get to the top. And I could relate to this problem as well. I am used to working seven day weeks year round and never taking a vacation. A true American that embraces the rat race.

I am aware of the great works of Johan Huizinga,. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Lenore Terr all of whom point out the importance of play to our mental and physical health. But somehow their words get lost in the wind as we plunge into the grind that we call our life. So I hope and pray that I will learn this simple thing from my son. I hope I find myself hanging out more, traveling more and just being a little more lazy. “Party on Garth..Yea…party on Wayne”

There once was a great poem written by a dying woman. In it she wrote that she had one regret in her life…that she didn’t have more fun. So I hope that my reader and that Sigmund Freud are correct and that I learn to honor my son by adopting some of his easy ways. After all what should be so tough about having fun anyway?

And I want to thank every reader including Jane, JT, Barbara and Lisa for taking the time to write and offer such kind love and support. Another thing I have learned through all this heart ache is that many have also suffered loss and they all seem to have a lot of love to give. I wrote a poem recently and in it I mentioned that I felt I was now different from others, like being on the other side of a wide river, alone and sad. I see now that I have much company on this side of the river. The company of others who have taken the long swim I call mourning. We all somehow got to the other side. No one has drowned and we all have our memories to keep us company and warm. And the river keeps on rolling by.