I must be a skilled sailor.

smooth sea

When my dad died I basically spent a year going through the motions without fully internalizing what happened. To be honest, I couldn’t because it was my first year teaching (that experience is hard enough when everything else is going smoothly). Eventually I went to a free grief counseling group provided by my dad’s hospice care. I realized when it was over that I had more to say and ended up making an appointment to meet with Dr. Csotty.

His office was very homey. It had pictures of Dr. Csotty holding a fish and smiling happily, family photos, and several nautical prints. This seemed surprising when I initially walked in because he was in an office building, but it was almost like entering a home once you made it through his office door. Living in southeast Michigan affords one the luxury to be on the water, and judging by the nautical business card and fish-a-plenty, Dr. Csotty did.

I went to Dr. Csotty because I was anxious and dealing with what I can only describe as the aftershock of my father’s death. The emotions and memories I buried while focusing on my first year of teaching began bubbling to the surface. I thought that meeting with him would be a brief prescriptive measure that would cure me of my anxiety and sadness, likely in a few months. I was self-aware, so this wouldn’t take too long.

I initially saw Dr. Csotty weekly to discuss anxiety related to my father’s death. Our conversations eventually included family, work, friends, and politics. The last wasn’t my doing, he just slipped that in every once in a while. We eventually moved to meeting once every other week as I became less anxious and more content. I probably didn’t need to continue going, but it was nice to get an outsider’s perspective on my life’s current events. He was a sounding board when I switched buildings, took a year off from teaching, and started a small business. He saw photos of my wedding and cheered me on when I moved to Indiana without any idea of what my career would evolve into (this is not an easy task for an anxious worrier who identifies herself with her career).

After I was accepted into my doctoral program, I spent a week in Michigan to see friends and family before heading to Texas. I also called Dr. Csotty and asked to meet for coffee. He happily obliged and I told him about the program, my future goals, and how excited I was. It was a really nice conversation. Politics slipped in. Typical Csotty.

After the end of the first semester we traveled back to Michigan for Christmas. On a Saturday afternoon at Olgas I sat at a large circular table with friends. While ordering, I realized Dr. Csotty was sitting at a booth nearby. I wasn’t sure if he saw me, but we locked eyes and smiled. He came over to say Merry Christmas and say hello. He seemed so damned happy. That was the last time I’d ever see him. In hindsight I am okay with this. It reminds me of the last scene in The Dark Knight Rises where Alfred sees Bruce enjoying his life. Alfred locks eyes and smiles because he sees Bruce is in a good place. Dr. Csotty saw me out in the world, hanging with friends and happy as a clam. How cool is that?

Yesterday I received a call explaining that Dr. Csotty had died. His funeral is Friday in Michigan, which I obviously cannot attend. I was in shock when I heard. He’s not a spring chicken or anything, but I had hoped he would be around for much longer. When I tried to find his mailing address to send his family a card I found his obituary. Once I saw the picture I cried. He was the nicest man. He was truly invested in my happiness. I can picture his face when I would say someone had wronged me. He’d shift in his chair and make an “oh hell no” headshake. He wrote notes down in three columns. I don’t know what those columns stood for. They’ll go down like the three shells in Demolition Man or Marcellus Wallis’ briefcase in Pulp Fiction- a mystery.

Dr. Csotty helped me so much. I am sitting in Texas because of the indelible impact he made on me. I am infinitely more confident, self-aware, and willing to advocate for myself. He was the coolest. I cannot tell you how many times the people closest to me would ask “what did Dr. Csotty say?” when I was weighing a tough decision. Everyone trusted him. Here are a few of the larger lessons I learned from him:

  • If you are angry you are one of two things: hurt or afraid. It is that simple. Ask yourself which one and proceed from there.
  • Speak with I statements: “I feel…” “I noticed….” This will make people less defensive because you’re putting the ownership on yourself.
  • You cannot change who people are. You can only change how you respond to them.
  • Sometimes that feeling in your gut is telling the truth and you should listen to it.
  • It is okay to think about a response before saying it. I often wait a bit to respond when someone says something hurtful or catches me off-guard. Probably because I am checking off the boxes above before responding. 🙂
  • Don’t drink diet coke. True story. He was not pleased.

I bought the print above to place in my study nook. I have always enjoyed this saying and the nautical theme is very Dr. Csotty. That’ll keep me in check when I get ready to stand on my next 27 soapboxes. I’ll miss him.

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