Peter A. Lichtenberg, PhD was inducted into the Radnor High School Hall of Fame on Friday, November 10, in Radnor, Penn. Peter was honored for his work and impact on the field of gerontology and especially in helping to understand, aid victims of, and prevent financial exploitation of older people. He lost his wife Becky at age 25 to a sudden death and his wife Susan at 55 to breast cancer.

Life Achievement Honor Feels Great

It was four days of excitement, sharing, exploring, honoring, reflecting, and enjoying so much being “home”— at Radnor High School, with my brother, in Philadelphia. The hospitality and friendliness of the Radnor HOF committee and the teachers and students was extraordinary on Friday at the high school. The splendor and specialness of seeing former teachers, and classmates as well as sharing this HOF weekend with John Crosby and my brother Andy, was beyond my wildest imagination. The love and friendship I felt from John and Tom Wilson when Tom’s letter was read was extraordinary.

I then spent nearly two days with Andy and Deb at their home near Easton before coming into Wayne, returning my rental car, and catching the train into Philadelphia’s suburban station. After checking into my hotel at 12th and Market I walked—to Independence Hall, then back around to the Barnes and Art Museum and then to the Palestra and had the thrill of seeing a true Big 5 game—just like 45 years ago. It was a special upset by Penn over Villanova and the streamers flew just like the old days.

Both Wives Would Have Loved It

How Becky and Susan, my deceased wives, would have loved the entire four days. They are who I honor whenever I receive something special. They were in my mind and heart after hugging John and taking the microphone. Their impact on me continues to be profound even as I grieve them.

Andy showed me lots of pictures from my parents’ computer and there was Susan, and there was Susan and me. I felt the separation and the dream of one more day. One more shared laugh, one more kiss, one more walk across the city.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023. It is time to go home. I just taught a 3-hour CE class in the Philadelphia Marriott and now I’m at the airport. November 14, 1984, is the day I lost my 25-year-old wife.

Choosing to Honor Both Wives

It is about 4 pm now at the airport. I am transported to 4 pm on the 14th, 1984. I had a full day then. At 7 am, I had to track Becky down at the hospital – dead on arrival (she was out jogging with no ID).

I sat with her. I called her parents, my parents. A few hours later I ushered her parents to the morgue to be with Becky. Then at 4 pm, the tasks done for the moment, the fear, the panic and the hurt started to settle in. No one was about to leave me alone—thank goodness for my friends in graduate school. November 14 has not defeated me, but it is still there.

I bring Susan and Becky with me. To inspire me. In my work, in my marriage to Debbie, in my parenting of Emily, Thomas and Sophie and in life’s adventures such as walking the city. I created an endowed scholarship at Washington University in Susan and Becky’s name.  That feels like the best I can do. I always want to do more though—they deserve it!

Read more from Peter: Grief and Healing: Against the Odds – Open to Hope

Peter Lichtenberg

Peter A. Lichtenberg, Ph.D., ABPP is the Director of The Institute of Gerontology and the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute. He is also a Professor of Psychology at Wayne State University. He received his bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis, and his Master’s and doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Purdue University. After his internship he completed a post doctoral fellowship in geriatric neuropsychology at the University of Virginia Medical School where he also became a faculty member. A clinician and researcher throughout his career Dr. Lichtenberg, one of the first board certified Clinical Geropsychologists in the nation, has made contributions to the practice of psychology across a variety of areas including in Alzheimer’s disease, medical rehabilitation and with those suffering from late life depression. He is particularly interested in the area of intersection between financial capacity and financial exploitation; finding ways to balance autonomy and protection for older adults. He recently completed the creation of the Lichtenberg Financial Decision Making Rating Scale, and the Lichtenberg Financial Decision Screening Scale: tools to be used to assess major financial decisions and/or transactions of older adults. He has authored 7 books and over 160 scientific articles in Geropsychology including being the senior editor for the American Psychological Association’s Handbook of Clinical Geropsychology. On November 14, 1984 at the age of 25 Peter was widowed when his wife, Becky died while jogging of a cardiac arrhythmia. His grief was intense and complicated but he emerged and was happily married again in 1999. In 2010, his wife Susan was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and although she functioned at a high level throughout she died of heart failure in February 2014. Peter began a writing class in May 2014 and in the fall of 2015 decided to write his story of grief and healing in a piece titled Twice in a Lifetime. His personal and professional experiences give him a unique perspective on grief and healing. He lives in Detroit, Michigan with his children Thomas age 14 and Sophie age 11.

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