Most of us will experience many losses over our lives, including the grief that accompanies these sad events. Elizabeth Kubler Ross described the “stages” of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression (sadness) and finally acceptance.
Although being familiar with the grief process is helpful, it never dampens the intense feelings associated with the loss of a loved one. These feelings can be overwhelming, but with time and support from friends and family, that sense of loss diminishes as the routine of living returns. The “hole” created by a loved one’s loss remains, despite well-wishers stating that the hole will vanish or be filled with wonderful memories.
In truth, the hole doesn’t fill in but always remains, although often softened to a bump that is tolerable. Eventually, the sadness does resolve and remembrances of positive moments, often stimulated by conversations with mutual friends, bring a sense of joy and a smile. I look forward to that time, but for now, I must feel the sadness and the vacuum from the death of a dear colleague and friend, Dr. Fritz Engstrom.
I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Fritz in his role as the chief medical officer at the Brattleboro Retreat for over 20 years. During that time, he expanded the medical staff and facilitated the creation of new programs, including LGBT, Emerging Adult, Uniformed Services, and the opioid addiction Hub and Spoke programs, to name a few. But more importantly, Fritz supported the medical staff, all Retreat employees, administration and the mission of Anna Marsh, the Retreat founder, in “humane treatment of the mentally ill.”
The feeling of the Retreat as a family that he fostered then remains true today. Some of his style is reflected in his participation in the Residential Talent Day where he amazed the adolescent residents by drinking a Diet Coke while standing on his head. His Ole and Lena jokes contributed to the humor that often lightened the seriousness of a moment. He always presented salient topics during ”Mental Health Week,” along with his unique style of teaching through the use of Hollywood movie clips to emphasize aspects of psychopathology for professionals and the public alike. He presented, using this teaching technique, each year at the annual Cape Cod Symposium. His love of tennis, Bridge, Brattleboro, psychiatry and the Retreat was only eclipsed by his love for his children, Carl, Anna, Thaddeus and Alexandra. The Retreat family holds him dear to their hearts. As a colleague he will be missed, but as a friend he will never be forgotten.
With much sadness, we wish him farewell.