Gordon Livingston, a psychiatrist and best-selling author who wrote about self-induced unhappiness and some possible cures, as well as about his own grief and anger over the deaths of two sons, died March 16 at a hospital in Columbia, Maryland. He was 77.

The cause was heart ailments, said a daughter, Emily Livingston.

Dr. Livingston was a West Point graduate and onetime Army physician who at the height of the Vietnam War was sent home as an “embarrassment to the command.”

His offense: composing and distributing a satirical prayer at an Army ceremony on Easter Sunday 1969, in which he asked God to “help us to bring death and destruction wherever we go.”


As an author, he was best known for the 2004 bestseller “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart,” a variation on a Dutch proverb. The book has been translated into 22 languages. It contains a foreword by Elizabeth Edwards, the lawyer and wife of John Edwards, D-North Carolina, the former vice presidential candidate and senator. Elizabeth Edwards, who died in 2010, also had grieved the loss of a child.


The book includes essays on what Dr. Livingston called 30 bedrock truths.

Among them: “Any relationship is under the control of the person who cares the least.” “Only bad things happen quickly.” “Forgiveness is a form of letting go, but they are not the same thing.” “The statute of limitations has expired on most of our childhood traumas.”

Dr. Livingston found in one military experience an apt metaphor for decisions in life amid circumstances that cannot be controlled. He was a young officer on a training exercise, and his map showed a hill that he could not see anywhere around him.

Flummoxed, he asked a more-experienced sergeant for advice. “Sir,” the sergeant said, “if the map don’t agree with the ground, then the map is wrong.”


In “Only Spring: On Mourning the Death of My Son,” written after the 1992 death of his 6-year-old son, Lucas, from leukemia, Dr. Livingston described his anguish, compounded by the suicide, by hanging, a year earlier of his 22-year-old son, Andrew, who struggled with bipolar disorder.

Reflecting on the loss of children, Dr. Livingston once told The Washington Post:”The lesson, if there is a lesson to be learned from something like that, is that we endure what we must. I don’t find anything more profound than that.

“Most of the lessons that people imagine bereaved parents learn are really lost on most bereaved parents: This idea that somehow you achieve some sort of ‘closure,’ which is a word that is just hated by parents who have lost children, because there really is none to life’s really profound losses. And then people say, ‘You’re so strong. You got through this.’ And the answer to that is, ‘What choice do you have?’ “

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