Most of her contemporaries are long gone, but Hedda Bolgar, who will be 100 years old in August, is still a thriving, accomplished psychoanalyst. When she was 65, a year after the death of her husband, Herbert Bekker, she founded the Wright Institute Los Angeles to educate and train mental health professionals. At 99, she teaches, sees patients 20 hours a week, and exercises with a personal trainer. She also drives -- a Prius -- and recently worked on a presidential campaign.
Yet this master of talk therapy says she has one deep personal regret: that she didn't place more importance on pushing her husband to talk about something that she knew had plagued him for decades. At the time, Bolgar was focused on her career and let it slide. When her husband died suddenly on vacation in 1973, it was too late.
"I never got my husband to talk about the fact that his mother died in Auschwitz," says Bolgar, who fled Vienna the day the Nazis marched in. "He was Jewish and his parents didn't want to leave Austria. When I went to say good-bye to them, I said, 'Will you please go to the American consulate and at least apply for a visa? You may not get it right away, but you'll be in line.' His mother patted my head and said, 'We appreciate your concern, but you're hysterical.' His father said, 'This is Austria, not Germany. Maybe there won't be much left other than work, but that's not the worst thing in the world.'"
Bekker, who was not yet married to Bolgar, stayed behind to protect his family but was unable to: His father also perished in a concentration camp. When he later joined Bolgar in the United States, he didn't want to talk about it.
"By that time I was a psychoanalyst and everybody else was talking to me about things, but he just wouldn't," she recalls. "I've always felt that I should have insisted more. It was something he carried and I'm sure it was terribly depressing." Now it's something she can't quite forget.
Bolgar's mistake -- not finding a way to have important conversations now -- is a common one in families, and one that she has taken to heart. "I live by one idea now, which is that in analysis, we don't try to avoid things and we don't try to hide things," she said in an interview for the upcoming film The Beauty of Aging. "We are committed to uncovering things and dealing with them, and I think that needs to be true with how you live -- it needs to be true in every way."
For Hedda Bolgar's thoughts on the liberation of old age, facing death, and what to give a 99-year-old for the holidays, read the full interview.
Image of Hedda Bolgar courtesy of www.beautyofaging.com.