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My Anniversary Reaction to Warren Bennis' Death

"Warren, you liked me! You really liked me!" - with appreciation to Sally Field

My last mentor, Warren Bennis, died a year ago on July 31, 2014.  As a psychiatrist I have known about and observed what is referred to as anniversary reactions in friends and patients, but I have never experienced one of my own.  That is until today.

My particular reaction to the death of Warren is a mixture of equal parts heartache and a smile in my heart for the love I felt towards him and believe he returned.

There is something else I discovered since his death that I wish I had had the chance to tell him about while he was still alive.  And that is the healing power of a beloved and loving mentor.

Towards the end of his life when we would meet I would find myself tearing up in his presence regularly.  It wasn't a "boo hoo" type of crying. It was more that my eyes spontaneously started tearing up on their own.

On one occasion I told him, "Warren I have a confession to make. I've been using you." Being used was something that Warren, like many famous people, were always on the alert about and resented. 

He looked at me with an immediate negative reaction bluring out, "What?" in an offended tone.  But then knowing about our relationship and how this was completely out of character, he smiled and said, "Okay, Mark, what is it?"

I next responded that I was using him because being with him and feeling his respect for me was healing something that never occurred with my father and that I never thought would be healed.  And it was that feeling of having that long standing hunger and wound healed that caused me to cry.

At that point he looked at me and rubbed his chin and remarked, "Not a bad way to use me Mark."

But here is that thing I realized since his death that I wasn't aware of earlier.  It was not his respect or admiration that healed me. It was feeling enjoyed by him. It was that my mere presence independent of accomplishments put a smile on his face that I'm guessing might have touched his heart.

It was feeling taken in and enjoyed in that matter that in essence took the "half baked" part of my personality back into a loving oven and then finished cooking me until I was "well done" and well.

The healing power of enjoyment is a special power that many mentors would do well to realize they have and something they would do well to realize is very important to their mentees and possibly more so than their guidance.

After Warren died, it was the first time I was mentorless in more than forty years and at first I was startled and wondered who I could find as my next mentor, now that the last of the six mentors I was blessed to have had died. I then thought, "What if instead of looking to find another mentor, that I internalized all of the love and belief that my mentors had given me and became the guy myself?" (It didn't matter that I have already been mentoring close to twenty people myself).

I haven't looked for an other mentor and have in fact tried to own "being the guy" myself.

In the past year an interesting transformation has occurred inside me and I think it represents the best of Warren and my past mentors.  I think it also something they lived with towards the end of their lives. What I've decided is that I will only let people into my life personally and professionally: a. that I look forward to seeing; b. whose back I have and who have my back and c. that put a smile in my heart.

Rest in peace dear Warren.  You loved me well and made me want to be a better man.

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