I taught Thomas Hardy ‘s serial novel Far From the Madding Crowd for many years. In it, the theme of the inevitable tragedy of life is significant to elements of the plot. I always spoke to my students about this life theme. Always with the focus on how we endure tragedy rather than the tragedy itself.
Considering my conviction that one’s ability to interpret literature and to create it depends entirely on one’s own life experience providing a context, vocabulary, and empathy, I typically had to provide hypothetical anecdotes for my adolescent learners.
Unfortunately, I had some experience with the inevitable tragedy of life as a 17 year old as I lost my grandmother, aunt and mother that year. Certainly impactful on life. My endurance of those losses was tumultuous at best.
One week ago, I got the call that my father had passed away of a heart attack while recovering from a “one for the medical journals” type surgeries to repair an abnormality usually detected in children before they are 12 years old. He lived 75 years with the condition. When I asked one of the doctors amongst the masses coming through to see the drawings of how this procedure was done, and to meet the man who had it done on him, she told me that the surgery never would have been done on a man my dad’s age. She asked me what my dad’s goal was once he recovered. I told her ” he wants to get back on a spin bike”. She shook her head accentingly, “they wouldn’t do this so he could sit on the sofa clicking a remote”. It was a massive risk, and my dad who was a surgeon for 40 years was scared. But he showed courage by going for it anyway.
This is getting harder to write right now, yet the catharsis is so important to the enduring this loss.
My dad and I were close. More so in the last 10 years than before. In the last week, when I have had a thought that would typically have me grab my phone to call him, I have found myself the most saddened.
I spoke last week at my father’s funeral, and I wanted to share the thoughts I shared with so many who loved him that day.
Sometimes death brings people to a realization that they loved that person more than they realized. I’m not one of those people. I know exactly how I feel about my dad.
This is bittersweet as he always had a quiet way of bringing people together, even though he was married twice to women who weren’t so quiet in anything they did. So here we all are. I wouldn’t say it is wonderful to see you all, but often funerals are gatherings that bring long separated friends and families together. The great paradox. It is what I tried to tell Ryder and Juliette. Very sad people will be very happy to meet you. Give lots of hugs. I am reminded of what Jeff Goldblum says in The Big Chill. They throw a great party for you the one day they know you can’t come.
I hope one day far in the future my children will be standing in front of friends and family with the same love in their heart for me that I feel now for my dad. He set the bar high for me, and everyday, I try to be the best man I can be for my family. I learned that from him.
Thank you all for being here. So many familiar faces, brings back such memories, evokes even more emotion than I already carry with me today. But I am here today because of the man who raised me, a challenging task as most of you know, and the man who supported me through even the darkest times, celebrated with me during the happiest. And became more than my dad, but a close friend in recent years.
My dad was a scholar and a teacher. Yes, he shlepped teeth, but I always felt he was the ultimate scholar and I learned so much from him that I likewise aspire to teach my children.
I hope some of these thoughts will resonate with you and give comfort in the memories they evoke. He instilled in me a love of food and that food is love. We shared a passion for sports, especiall football, the game he taught me which has had such an impact on who I have become. Just last week we had our yearly guarded optimism conversation about our beloved Eagles.
Scholarship was integral to my father’s life. He showed his passion for learning particularly in his pursuit of knowledge about the Holocaust. While a virtual expert on this topic, supported by an impressive home library, he always had an open mind when others suggested alternative ideas. He was more learner than expert.
His commitment to Judaism manifested itself not only in his teachings to me and my sisters, his conservative practices, and his scholarly pursuits, but in his leadership in organizations that supported Israel, synogogues, and American Jewery. Two synogogues benefited from his generosity in their building processes. In fact, as a surgeon in a lower middle, lower class community, he often encouraged those who couldn’t pay him to “make a donation to your shul” as payment.
Family first focus, hard work, resilience, goal orientation- all further set the bar high for me.
In times of sadness, children are such a blessing. When we learned of my dad’s passing, both my children were trying to figure out the “off switch” for our tears.
Our last talk was on Thursday night. We made plans for him to come spend time with our 7th graders when they study the Holocaust. He was excited for that visit.
He won’t be there, but part of his legacy will as a portion of his magnificent library will now become part of our school collection. A tribute to his passion for the Holocaust, Jewish education and his grandchildren.
Many know that I drive quite a way to work each day. It reminds me of going to Flyers games with my dad as a kid. There is something special about my 45-70 min commute from the farm to Davis each day. I get to spend it with my kids. Those drives to watch our favorite hockey team were likewise special.
For some, this is a particularly complicated time. Dynamics make this so. There is potential for regret, for anger- I chose not to feel those things because what is really important to feel is sadness that he is gone and happiness in remembering his part in our lives. There is no room for anything else.
I am comforted that he is now with his 2 best childhood friends, Mel and Barry. Likewise Uncle Jerry, Arnie, Uncle Bill Lewis, my mom and Uncle Irv are waiting with open arms.
So thank you all for being here. My dad was a very humble man- he would never have expected this, but he certainly was deserving.
The inevitable tragedy of life affects us all. But how we choose to endure it further defines both us and those we have lost. My dad was loved by many. I take comfort in that. He set the bar high for me. I continue to pursue those heights and thus endure in a way that shows love and respect for him.