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Remembering the Good – Grieving the Loss of Old Friends

A few weeks ago, a dear friend, colleague, and college pal passed away, and I’d like you to meet him. Dr. Sietze VanDerHeide, JD, was a brilliant and sensitive doctor and lawyer who was also a very charming fellow. He quietly added depth to the field of psychology and was just plain brilliant at helping people […]

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Dr. Sietze Vanderheide
Dr. Sietze Vanderheide

A few weeks ago, a dear friend, colleague, and college pal passed away, and I’d like you to meet him. Dr. Sietze VanDerHeide, JD, was a brilliant and sensitive doctor and lawyer who was also a very charming fellow. He quietly added depth to the field of psychology and was just plain brilliant at helping people figure out themselves and their relationships. 

In school, he used to call me Little Buddy—and like most short guys, I don’t like being reminded of it—but coming from him, it felt like he was taking me under his wing. He wasn’t just taller, he was also smarter and more aware, and I always admired him. I called him Big Guy, and there was never a cross word between us, which is not common among strong therapists, but we could disagree in the most agreeable manner.

Dr. Sietze was the best of us, and he brought out the best in others through his work and through just being himself. He was one of those special people who just lifted you up by being with you. A specialist in neuropsychology, he worked with patients who had extreme cognitive impairments, which can be very taxing on the soul. I guess his was so big he could handle it.

It is said that we grieve in direct proportion to the amount that we loved, and many of us are very sad right now. It has also been said that we are alive until the last person who loved us forgets. I will not forget Dr. Sietze, and neither will many others. When someone touches you with their wisdom, and you can feel their love from the other side of the room, pay attention.

It is amazing how much comes back to me. I remember grad school and joking around in the halls with Pizza Man (another nickname, as Sietze rhymes with pizza), listening to each other’s early work in the field, and feeling great about growing as people and professionals on similar paths. A bond was formed, kind of like when the Beatles played in Hamburg, and our lives were from then on intertwined. 

We didn’t hang out much after our careers took off, but we stayed in touch, we followed each other’s journey, and he was there for me more than a couple of times when I needed to talk. He always had good answers. It was a comfort knowing that I could reach out to him, and he would always get back to me.

I don’t remember him ever complaining much. Maybe that’s why I didn’t know he was ill. He wouldn’t want to burden anyone else with his struggle, but I’m sure many people reached out to him when they found out.

I wish I had known, so I could have shared some more time with him, but I respect his decision. My first wife, who passed away many years ago, made the same choice. It’s important to give someone you love the room they need to make their final exit in the fashion that best suits them. 

He was an important person in my life, a good person, and spending more time with him would have been a wonderful experience. So now I will channel my sadness and reach out to a few more friends I haven’t spoken to in too long. Reconnecting is more important to us as time passes, and Dr. Sietze’s death is a reminder to work a little harder on it. 

He was a very good man, an accomplished and notable therapist and mediator, a loving husband, and a buddy. I will miss him very much.

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