Since last year, Veterans Day is a special day to me. It is a day that I experienced the death of a WWII Veteran. Someone who served in the US Navy (although I don’t think he ever left US soil), and was proud of his navy service.
Last year, on Veterans Day, my father died, after spending almost a month in intensive care after an automobile accident. You can find the whole story at grandpa_a. Tonight (in advance of tomorrow) I’m reposting two memories, slightly edited.
On November 10, 2004, I was waiting to hear from my stepmother, Rae. Hear from her I did. My dad was taking a turn to the south, and therefore, I should jump into my car and do the same. I did. I left North Hills (northern Los Angeles) at 11:15 PM arriving at Mission Viejo (southern Orange County) at 12:15 AM. I picked up Rae, and down we went to the hospital.
When I arrived, we found my father with a heart rate of around 130, a BP of around 94/something (after application of Norephedrine), a respiration rate of 30+, and a temperature of about 105. This went on all night, while they tried to figure out the cause. They took blood gases. These were mostly good; in particular, the white blood count was not high. They took a chest X-Ray (something called an KAD, or something like that) to see if there might be internal bleeding. Never found anything. Rae and I tried to sleep in the waiting room.
Around 9:00 AM in the morning, we had the opportunity to speak to the doctor. From doing so good, my father had rapidly deteriorated. He summarized the problems. He recommended that we discontinue the vasorpressors (the norephidrine that was artificially raising his blood pressure). My dad was 82, and had indicated he wanted no heroic measures, and didn’t want to be a burden. We agreed with the doctor, but didn’t want it withdrawn until family arrived. We also did not want heroic action to be taken should he code; i.e., no shocking. We started to call family.
[You may be asking yourself: Given my father's wishes, why was he on the ventilator in the first place. Two reasons. First, the paramedics did it in the field even before Rae and I could arrive. However, we agreed with them, due to... Second, going into this, when the accident happened, we thought it was short term (three weeks) and recovery was possible]
All through the morning, we had a stream of non-family visitors. Rae had her friends from Red Hat and the church visit. We had also had numerous visits by her pastor. As a digression: When my father married Rae, she was Jewish. Shortly after that, she had an experience that moved her to Christianity. Why could I say: they wouldn’t be having more kids. So, they joined a Presbyterian Church in Mission Viejo. Rae has been very active in the church; my father on the periphery… and underlying belief wise, he was still Jewish. I do have to commend this Church: most of the day we had an associate pastor with us, and she was a wonderful help. We also had numerous telephone calls, including a discussion with my good friend, whom I’ve known for 25 year, Rabbi John Sherwood.
By 12:30 PM, my wife and my father’s brother, Ron had arrived. Also visiting was my wife’s sister, who was taking my daughter to her house with her kids (my daughter only made it to the waiting room; she did not see my dad in this condition… her last memory of Grandpa was him saying “I love you”). We said our good byes.
I told my father that he had been a great dad, and that I hoped I could be as good of a dad to my daughter as he had been to me. I told him that I loved him, and that I would miss him, but that it was OK to go, for I didn’t want him to suffer. I told him that I would take care of things, would take care of his wife, and would raise his granddaughter to be someone of whom he could be proud.
At around 1:30 PM, we disconnected the vasopressor. Through the afternoon, both his heart rate and blood pressure continued to dip. 82/something. 50/something. By 5:00 PM, the BP was 38/26, and the heart rate was around 80. It then started to move down. 78 77 76 74 73 70 68 67 64. I stepped out to get my wife in. When I came back, it was around 50. The normal human heart rate has a lower end of 60; below 60, the body does something called Bradying, which is short for Bradycardia. Bradycardia is a general term that describes a number of conditions in which the heart beats at an unusually slow rate (fewer than 50 to 60 beats per minute).
Once he was in Bradycardia, it was fast. Suddenly, the heart rate was at 5, then 0, asystoli, flat line. There were a few electrical quivers. When he died, he was surrounded with his wife, Rae, my wife and I, and his brother Ron, with Rae and I holding his hands. I think he went easy. The end of the story. He died at around 5:30 PM PST, although he wasn’t pronounced dead by the doctor until 5:55 PM.
In front of me was a shell. A cold body (muchly due to the air conditioning brought in to bring his temperature down). All the folks I’ve seen that have died (my mom, my grandmother, and now my dad) got smaller (physically) in death. But it’s just a shell. We did the paperwork. We went home.
My 10 year old (as of next Wednesday) daughter really said it best. As she was riding home with her mom (while I went with Rae and Ron to gether Rae’s belonging and financial paperwork), she called me and said, “Daddy, Grandpa’s soul is going to be reborn in someone else. And that person will be a very lucky person.”
The following morning, I wrote the following remembrance:
My father was born in Flushing NY in 1922. He was the eldest of four brothers; the son of a tailor who lived over his shop. I can’t give you too many details of the early days; Uncle Herbert can (and perhaps he will reply to this post and do so). His mother died young, when he was in his twenties, and sometime thereafter, his family moved to Los Angeles (how’s that for glossing over details). My dad went to Southwestern School of Accounting, and was a Public Accountant. He married his first wife in the late 1940s, and my brother was born in 1952. He loved my brother very, very much. He divorced that wife in 1955, and retained custody of my brother. He married my mother in 1957, and I was born in 1960. My mother was a CPA, so they formed an accounting company of their own, Faigin and Faigin. My brother died, reported due to an accident (I never knew the true details) in 1970. It devistated both my parents. My mother died in 1990 on my wedding anniversary. My father remarried a year or so later to Rae, who had lost her husband. This brought me some new wonderful family members. This should bring you up to date on the familial backstory.
So, who was my dad, and what do I remember. This is a jagged collection of memories.
I remember being in Indian Guides with him, painting rocks and bark to invite people to meetings. I remember going on Indian Guide campouts with him. It is because of this that I did Indian Princesses with my daughter, continuing the tradition. I recommend this program to anyone who is a dad.
I remember going on trips with him to East Los Angeles, to visit his clients. We would hit small mom and pop grocery stores, mexican candy companies. I’d always get sweets… and get to sort the paid bills afterwards.
I remember him taking the time to be with me.
I remember him telling bad jokes, and being enamored with old-time radio stars, such as Al Jolsen (his favorite), Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, and so on.
I remember his teeth. Specifically, I remember how he would remove his dentures just to gross out us kids.
I remember him taking me to the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion to see musicals, starting in 1972 when my mother was too sick to attend The Rothschilds. From this came my love of musicals.
I remember him reading Robert W. Service to me, especially Bessies Boil.
I remember him, at the Passover Seder, reading the Four Sons. He loved to act, mug, and play with his voice to make a point during the story.
I remember him being active in the Masons and the Shriners, especially with his good friend, Raymond Schwartz. I remember him going to the Masonic Picnics.
I remember him playing bridge with my mom and their friends, the Cohens, the Schwartzes, and the Strausses. Perhaps this is where I got my love of gaming.
I remember him telling stories of his time in the Navy, when he was a pharmacists mate, 2nd class, at Camp Elliott, which is now part of Mirimar NAS in San Diego. He found it ironic that he was in the Navy, as he could never swim.
I remember his disorganized toolbench, where eventually you could find what you need. I still have his 30 year old power drill, which I still use today.
I remember him taking care of my mother as she died of cancer, and fiercly defending her when we would fight.
In his later years, I remember him fighting with the computer, and eventually learning to use it and to use Email. However, he could never quite get the printer figured out. I would get calls from him that stuff wasn’t printing, and it was because he had been playing with the printer queue again.
I remember him cooking. He loved to cook peppers and onions in olive oil. He made a mean spaghetti sauce, and a great pot roast in tomatoe sauce. Rae says that I got my cooking skills from him, with which I must agree, as I don’t think my mom could cook.
I remember him collecting autographs and first day covers. For many, he would frame them and put them all over the walls.
I remember his love of baseball, which never rubbed off.
I remember him taking pictures. And more pictures. And more pictures. And still more pictures. I’ll probably find about 50 cameras at the house, together with probably 200 photo albums. In particular, I remember a few specific cameras: His Konica T-3 SLR, which I have. His Fuji POS, which he received at a special party my mother threw for him at the Magic Castle in Hollywood.
I remember him loving fountain pens, just like me. He had boxes of pens, and even more ink. He’s the only man I know that has a quart bottle of Schaeffer Black Quink Ink in his supply closet. There are about 6 bottles of ink on his desk (I only have 3).
I remember him being a luddite when it comes to computerizing financies. I’m going to have loads of two-peg journal books to go through to figure out stocks and bank accounts.
I remember him being a packrat. He collected office supplies. He collected biographical books. He collected CDs. You name it, he collected it.
I remember him being a good friend and caring about other people. After my mother died and he remarried, he cared about her children. He was a second grandfather to my sister-in-law’s children. He was there when people needed him. Until his last year, he volunteered to help seniors with their taxes.
For many years, I remember him being a staunch Republican, going counter to my mother, the strong liberal. I remember him backing Nixon and Reagan. This year, however, had he been strong enough, he was going to vote for John Kerry.
I remember him being a people person. He would just light up when he was around people, especially those that hadn’t heard his stories before.
I remember him being there for me and my family. We spoke weekly on the phone, something I will miss, talking about everything. He had good advice, which I grew to respect as I got older. To the youngsters reading this: listen to your parents. They’ve been their and made the same mistakes. They do know what they are talking about.
I remember his love for his granddaughter, “Small and Feisty”. He had pictures of her everywhere, and she loved him. I remember him taking her to Disneyland when she was three, and being there in the hospital when she had her open heart surgery at the age of four.
I remember his love for his family. He enjoyed spending time with his brothers, Herbert, Ronald, and Tom, and researching family history. When my daughter was little, we picked up a copy of Grandfather Remembers and gave it to him. He filled it out, and now it is a lasting memory for her of her grandfather. To those of you who are grandparents: take the time now to write out your memories for your grandchildren. Record an oral history. Annotate your photo albums. It is worth the time. You will create that memory that will outlive you.
I remember how he loved Yiddish and Yiddish stories. I remember him reading the Freiheit. Recently, the PRI program The World had a report on a Klezmer version of Peter and the Wolf called Pinchus and the Pig, narrated by Maurice Sendak. He would have loved it.
I remember how he loved his wives. I remember how he loved my mother, Nancy, even through the depths of her depression, her anger, her rages, her illnesses. I remember how he rarely lost his temper (and when he did, you needed to worry). I remember when he first told me he had met Rae, and how they quickly grew to love each other. Even though there was an age difference there, I saw the deep affection that existed between them. Through this recent illness, I’ve gotten to know Rae very well, and she has moved from being “my father’s wife” to “my stepmother”. He chose well.
I remember how he touched people. A few months ago, I went to a funeral that was packed to the gills of people who loved the deceased. My father had friends all over the world, and helped many people.
In short, I remember a deeply caring man, who I really think was responsible for making me the way I am today (both for good and for bad). He does live on in me, and I think he lives on in my daughter as well. As long as we remember someone, they never die.
So long, Dad.
Life goes on. As we remember the veterans of our most recent battles, let us not forget those who fought for this country in earlier battles: our fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers, and those before them.