A year ago I sat in a hospital room for a week with my eldest brother. We watched my father pass. Together we held each other in spirit. Incredulous and helpless in the night in silence.
So hard for me to believe that a year ago I watched the most unbelievable and life altering event which many of you have faced long before me. The loss of the life of someone so near and dear to you that you have never imagined that they would leave you let alone their own body. My father told us for a while he was dying yet at 94 he took no meds and was so incredible as an artist and intellect. We did not believe him. I still don’t. Even late in his life he defied age…. Always so well groomed on his own. Always offering his advice of how things would be “in the final analysis”. My world has literally shifted entirely and normally I would call him to discuss such a trauma. Or my mother. But her illness has left her unable to converse with me. And …he. is. Gone.
Facebook hardly feels appropriate to commemorate or celebrate him. He would have hated such a trivialization of communication. Complained about the disconnection we agree to in using devices. Abhorred the current state of my own lack of attention to the things of the past and rituals that matter. Family gatherings. Dinners. Moments of reflection. Discussion. Moments. Time. Time running slowly and not so fast that I am breathless to even take anything in.
Most of this year I have spent angry. Angry at him for leaving me with so many possessions that now feel completely pointless. No one wants real cameras. Or books. Or records. Or 17th century art. No one wants anything he valued. What to do with it all??? Screaming at the heavens : that he thought it was all worth more and I can’t give it away.
But, truthfully mostly angry honestly that he left me at all. I did not want to grow up. To face the moment with no shelf of any generation above me. To be getting old myself and facing mortality. To be reminded of impermanence every day. To note how little we value the elderly. How they fade. How a generation of survivors is ignored. Of how I’ll never be able to get my children to understand fully his brilliance when they become mature enough to take in the loss as nothing can capture him or her until you met them. And now I can’t show him to you.
Sometimes I listen to outakes of “the Partisans of Vilno” movie where he was interviewed about surviving and fighting the Nazis in the forests. I listen mostly to hear his voice. I’m so impressed by his courage. Daunted by his struggles at such a young age. I can’t even believe he went through all he did and came out on the other end as glorious and accomplished. Out of nothingness but his own vision. No gifts. Maybe some excellent luck.
It’s been one whole year. A long year in many ways. And a fast, short one as it was only yesterday that you left me.
My father did not really talk about the holocaust much or his losses. He did say that my mothers Alzheimer’s for him was like the holocaust all over again. Ripping from him
someone he loved. I could only imagine that this was ptsd. Now I think I understand a bit better. Wish I had been more compassionate to him.
So one year. I can’t write those words without my tears coming.
In celebration of my extraordinary father let me try to find at least ten gifts from his passing.
First lesson. In the most awful moments you can be surprised by human nature. I encountered three amazing nurses and hospice care individuals that were perfectly suited to my father and to our support that renewed my faith in compassion, kindness and decency of other humans and were ultimately the most ironic of gifts for Stanley who was a huge cynic about human nature after being heartbroken by Nazi occupation in his youth.
Number two. There may just be an afterlife. My father was not a particularly spiritual person, at least that I know of. Nor did he discuss his mother and the loss of her very much at all, if at all. But in the final hours of his life he was heard calling out to her again and again. And at times seemingly speaking to her. This gave me reason to believe we are potentially greeted by our loved ones as we transition. And gave me some level of comfort about death. Maybe, just maybe I will be able to share a bagel with radishes with him again, at least in theory as who knows if we can taste after we die (how unfortunate!).
Number three also related to spirituality, maybe time and alternate universes are here now. In dreams and meditations. There are the dreams all of his children have had of him since he has passed. The dream I had was so completely vivid, and in many ways terrifying. But, it definitely made me feel strongly that my father was reaching out to me from wherever he is. It was an extraordinarily real dream. I know that if anyone could reach out from another universe with the power of his devotion and love, it would be Stanley. I do hope I am visited by him more often and in more vivid and realistic ways. I miss him terribly and have become fairly obsessed with alternate realities as some desperate means somehow reach him again.
Number four. You are what you yourself create. You create your health and spirit. Or maybe somehow have the possibility to do so. Not sure I completely understand the dynamic. However, my father was an example of an individual who took no medication and at 94 years of age was miraculous. What’s the lesson? It was not simply good luck. He invested in his health. He slept very regularly using no alarm clock. He would fall asleep at the same time every night after reading. And wake up at the same time every morning. He would do a morning ritual. Which included shaving, grooming, at times some exercise, and a very regular breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the day. He never overate. I never saw him drunk. He chose foods and supplements he researched quite carefully all to enhance his good health in a very natural and organic fashion. He had very few vices. He actively used his brain all the time. He exercised, so to speak, that muscle. He painted, and called it his own form of meditation. He believed in hopes, and dreams. He very much felt that there was no life without those dreams. So an ironic gift of his death is that it’s chasing me to be more vigilant about pursuing my own dreams and somehow creating a little bit of the magic he did.
Five. Love. And family. And marriage. My father was madly in love with my mother. They fought like any other couple here and there but ultimately their mutual respect was unparalleled. They set an example of an extraordinary marriage, last week would’ve been there 69th wedding anniversary. I can truly say that he adored her and put her before himself as she did for him. I don’t think many people understand truly what it means to put someone or something ahead of themselves. My parents exemplified that. Family was everything to him. I am inspired by him to try to create that in my family.
Six. Never lose sense of old world style and elegance. This is not about clothing. It’s about swag. Old school swag. He was clean cut and groomed like a gentleman. He would not let my brothers come to the dinner table in an uncollared shirt. He demanded a certain protocol of elegance around him. And from us. The way we would need to have conversations at dinner. The manner in which we were required to respond to his discussions. But all carried an air of formality and mostly respect. Respect for elders.
Seven . Have humor. My mom thought he was hysterical. She would exclaim “he cracks me up”. This was never more evident when they would disagree and he knew he was wrong but would tell her she could now “beg for his forgiveness” which led to laughter and instantly making up over whatever squabble. I imagine a little humor could go along way, if I could ever get my husband to laugh at things I say. I’m working on that one.
Eight. Always be growing. Developing yourself. And grit. Never ever giving up. He was creating a show of his photographs in his basement shortly before he died. It was sad because he could not get those he wanted to come to drive that far to see his exhibition. His tenacity and drive to paint or to create still at 94 was remarkable. He never gave up. The day you give up you die. Literally.
Nine. Good food. Good pleasures. My father was a man who enjoyed a lot of life’s sensual pleasures. He adored beautiful art surrounding him. Fancy sports cars that he owned, not to show off to anyone but because he thought the lines and mechanics were stunning. He loved beautiful watches, binoculars, cameras and lenses. Photographs and photography equipment, violins, art of many genres but nothing modern because he felt it exhibited zero talent or excellence, and he adored good alcohol and food. My father once made a lobster out of tomatoes when I was little. He made the most amazing sandwiches for us in the summertime that I would eat sitting on a towel on the grass in our backyard. Each sandwich was crafted with so much artistry, love, and gourmet flavors. Salami and bacon. Two essential ingredients. Or a bagel, he would slice literally into six pieces and cut with thinly sliced radishes and salt. Caviar, champagne, and wonderful aquavit amongst other spirits. The best smoked salmon. He really enjoyed having us sit and share a wonderful bottle of wine and would always be well-stocked for our arrival. Always wanting to share something special surrounding a table together. I wish desperately I could invite him for dinner this evening. Food is my way of giving love. It’s something special that can really create such special moments.
Also, I have to add to this that both my parents were extremely hungry during the war. So they exhibited tremendous gratitude towards having food. And the abundance of it that we have in this country. My mother celebrated thanksgiving declaring it a Jewish holiday. She loved it. She loved the thankfulness of it. How great. A holiday about gratitude. She was so delighted for the freedom we have in America and the huge amount of food in our fridge. So, I am very grateful for food, abundance, and the freedom our country gives us. All of this I got from both my parents. Around the dinner table.
Lastly I’m super grateful for my brother Allan. I can’t go through this day without mentioning him. He was with me in the hospital for the week we sat watching my father as he passed. Late into the night sitting together, talking as we had growing up, except this time we weren’t giggling or laughing or making fun of each other. We weren’t talking about boyfriends and girlfriends or dreams or correcting each other’s personalities. And the silence of those moments we sat together I realized the incredible importance of having another person share your sadness. A person who is courageous enough to hold onto you when you don’t know how you’re holding on yourself. A person who shares the burden with you of losing someone, and maybe losing a parent. Another person who is feeling similar loss with you. A person unafraid to stand up and be there with you for something awful, and terrible. A person willing to make a very difficult decision that ultimately none of us ever know is the right decision. I saw some qualities in my brother that I have never ever seen before. Maybe they’ve always been there but the occasion really opened my eyes to his depth. His courage. His quality as a human being. His vulnerability, his great love for my father. His tremendous devotion to him. And how he carried himself out throughout hosting a Shivah with so many people coming around him to give him love, and seeing how special he has been in other peoples lives. I am just so grateful for how he’s helped me in the last year with my father’s estate and with the care of my mother. Allan. I love you so much.
And as much as I hate last year at this time, my fathers death gave Allan and I an opportunity to be alone, one on one, for almost a week, day in and day out, sharing time in a way we never would have had we not undertaken this process together at that moment in time. I will forever hold that week as one of the most, if not the most important in my life, and ultimately brought me closer to Allan than any other human being because we shared something together that we never would have shared. So I guess I’m grateful that I had a chance to have a brother, and grateful he was there with me, for me and for my father.
The lesson here? Well that’s an obvious one. I’ve got to get my children to love each other the way I envision a brother and sister should. To understand that they will share the burden of caring for me or my husband or have each other when we are no longer here. I have to get them to understand the great gift of a great sibling.
I think that’s all I want to say for now other then I am deeply and profoundly sad today. I guess I want to also mention that it’s possible that my father could come back from the grave he was that powerful, and perhaps if nothing else, he might raise his fist at the presidential election. That’s meant to be humorous and that I think he is literally rolling around in the heavens disparaging our choices and the direction we are headed. Certainly with his death it feels like something amazing has died and a smell has overtaken the universe. I know that had he not passed away the way he did, this particular presidential election would have for sure killed him. That’s pretty much the kind of black humor my father would have made about the situation. He would’ve said, “in the final analysis,…”. It was never the final analysis. Until last year. August 27, 2015. I miss you terribly Stanley Wulc.by