One of Bolgar's longtime patients tells me she'd never heard of the therapist until a friend made a recommendation.
"Hedda's the best."
"Oh, my goodness," says the patient, calling Bolgar brave, patient and strong. "She's, well, very, very, very perceptive and very, very devoted . . . She carries herself with dignity and hope, despite her tremendous realism."
This patient, whose name I agreed not to use, was so impressed with Bolgar that she became an analyst herself.
There's so much depression, Bolgar says, attributing it in part to the false hope of pop culture and marketing. And then, she says, "there is this whole group of women who, when they get to be 60, become tremendously preoccupied" with appearance.
What about the men, I ask, thinking of Arnold's Woody Woodpecker dye job and Joe Biden's plugs.
Sure, Bolgar allows, but most of her patients are women.
I ask if she's ever lost anyone.
"I had one patient who came to me after 20 suicide attempts and said to me, 'I will probably do it again.' "
They worked together for four years, then the patient began cutting herself loose.
"She said, 'Don't sentence me to life. I can't do it.' "
Even though Bolgar's very spirit is an affirmation of life, she respected the patient's right to make her own peace.
"We had a contract. I would not stop her."
The patient missed an appointment. Bolgar called her house and a sheriff's deputy answered. Yes, the patient was dead.
"He said, 'Doctor, you need to talk to someone. You sound upset.' "
Bolgar was terrified on her way to the funeral, fearing that the patient's family would hold her responsible. Instead, they lifted her burden.
"They said I'd given her the best four years of her life."
Bolgar has a photo of Sigmund Freud in her office. "The master," she calls him. We're standing near the photo when she tells me about a problem she's been working on since losing her husband 35 years ago.
"His mother was on the last transport to Auschwitz," Bolgar says. "He never talked about it and here I am, an analyst, and people talk to me. I can't quite forgive myself for not being able to get into it with him."
I'm no analyst, but I wonder if her inability to break through to him is part of what keeps her trying to help others at 99.
Each patient reveals new truths, Bolgar tells me. She learns something about the world, something about herself.
Something that keeps her young.