My Dad, Two Years Later 5/3/11
It is fast approaching two years since my dad died. It will be two years on May 4. I wanted to write a small remembrance to honor him.
I remember my dad in his hospital bed a few days before he died. He had gotten no clear diagnosis from an ever changing parade of doctors about what was wrong but it was clear he was not doing well. Only after his death did we find out he had adenocarcinoma. He had been having severe back pain for a few months which had masked what was really going on. He was hooked up to a variety of machines in the technological way we escort people out of this life.
In that room at Lankenau Hospital were, among others, my sister, my mom and my Aunt Arline. Almost unbelievably, they are all dead now. (Sadly my Aunt Arline, my dad’s sister, died this last week)
In a private moment in that hospital room, my dad pulled me aside. He said he did not think he was going to make it. He asked me to take care of my mom in his absence. I tried to reassure him. Even then, it was very hard for me to imagine the world without my dad in it. He was that big a presence.
Stepping back, I want to recognize his devotion and loyalty to family. He was unfailingly loyal to my mother. I do see my dad as an incredibly positive role model. He had his faults (who does not) but it was almost as if he had some secret knowledge about the value and worth of consistent caring.
My parents built a world around their love and it held up strongly. By any standard, almost 60 years is a good run. The example stands as one object lesson of a good, well-lived life. Which is not to say that they did not encounter much adversity together. My brother Richard’s death at age 2; prolonged business adversity, including Chapter 11; my sister’s illness – and that only touches a few items on a longer hit parade. I think the adversities brought them together though and increased both of their senses of empathy for suffering.
I would note that my dad did frequently compliment my mom. It could have been about her cooking (she was amazing!), a golf shot she hit or some other random act of kindness she performed. He lavished praise and there was a sweetness about these proclamations.
His kindness was unusual. As long as I can remember, this Jewish man gave Christmas presents, usually $25, to a wide variety of people, especially workers at the Wynnewood House where he and my mom lived for many years. He did this way after he had the money to afford that type of generosity. I think my mom thought it was mishuganah but that was my dad. It was out of control and it never stopped.
I think of William Blake: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Probably not the sense in which Blake meant it but it rings true to me.
I am prompted to offer up three poems I want to share.
Yom Kippur by Yehuda Amichai
Yom Kippur without my father and mother
is not Yom Kippur
From the blessing of their hands on my head
Just the tremor has remained like the tremor of an engine
That didn’t stop even after their death.
My mother died only five years ago,
She is still being processed
Between the offices above and the papers below.
My father who died long ago is already resurrected
In other places but not in my place.
Yom Kippur without my father and without my mother
Is not Yom Kippur.
Hence I eat to remember
And drink not to forget
And sort out the vows
And catalogue the oaths by time and size.
In the day we shouted Forgive us,
And in the evening we cried Open to us.
And I say forget our sins, forget us, leave us alone
At the closing of the gate when the day is done.
The last ray of the sun splintered
In the colored glass window of the synagogue.
The ray of the sun is not splintered,
We are splintered,
The word “splintered” is splintered.
All That Could Go Wrong by E. Ethelbert Miller
now fills my life.
The face of my father
is now my own.
My hands now show
their age and not what
they have built
I cannot sit at the
kitchen table without
thinking of him.
Head bent over his
meal and feeling the
heat of it against his brow.
How hungry I was to know
what he felt and how afraid
of my father’s hunger I became.
A man in my own house
with my wife’s back to me.
In bed where I
slept alone if it was not
for some sense of duty
to death or marriage or
whatever comes next in this
life which kills so slowly
and every breath is his breath.
Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, – but the best is lost.
The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter,
the love, –
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.