Perhaps you’ve read the news: 48 year old psychotherapist Bob Bergeron took his life earlier this year. The author of a book entitled “The Right Side of Forty” and a therapist in New York City, Bergeron’s suicide was unexpected and rather out of the blue. He was a good looking guy with a successful practice, a supportive family and no known health problems or history of depression. What on earth happened?
I didn’t know Bergeron. My purpose in writing about him is not to criticize him, but to look at what his life and his death may say to us as gay men. Bits and pieces from his website may provide clues. Bergeron seems to have been very concerned with his physical appearance – there are a lot of photos on his website that display his well-built physique, perhaps a bit unusual for a psychotherapist. And he seems to have had trouble with aging. His last blog post, dated about three weeks before he took his life, included the following:
In 2012 I want to:
- Take better care of myself.
- Spend more time out of the house interacting and having fun.
- Find happiness with getting older and stop lying about my age.
In a video on his blogsite, Bergeron proposed defining youth as the years up to 65 – an alternative to the “50 is the new 35” trope he rejected. But both of these perspectives are problematic. 50 is 50 and 65 is 65, and to define either in terms of “youth” is ridiculous. (Full disclosure: I’m 58.) Anyone who is clinging to youth this far into midlife is in serious denial. If youth is over, is life is over? Hell no. But by the time you’re 50, life expects you to know a few things, to gain some perspective and to be able to distinguish between the ephemeral beauty of youth and the enduring beauty of a life well lived.
Perspective is the key to happiness and contentment at any age. I think that’s especially true as we get older. One of the great secrets of life is that things really do get better in so many ways. In the second half of life there is less to prove and more payoff from the hard work of earlier years. But successful living requires paying attention to what is really important: relationships and friendships, meaningful ways to invest our time and energy, physical and emotional health.
For many people, spirituality helps to provide that sense of perspective, of answering life’s big questions. What is our place in the order of things? What makes life meaningful? Whether through religion, meditation, time in nature or creative pursuits, healthy spirituality helps ease our anxieties and leads us to make positive choices.
Physical attractiveness has its place, but the beauty of youth is fleeting. If given too much importance in life, we’re in trouble. “Live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse” is terrible advice.
I’m very sad that Bob Bergeron took his life. I’m sad that he felt life was so desolate, and I’m sad for the clients he’d worked with who must be struggling to grasp how someone could be gifted in helping them with their problems while ultimately so without hope in addressing his own. But my greatest concern is how this man’s death mirrors the struggle of so many gay men to find contentment and purpose as we grow older.