Saturday, February 28, 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Growing up, and well into adulthood, I would not have used the word compassionate to describe my father. It was not that I thought he was unkind, but it was not a quality that stood out to me. Kind and compassionate seemed hallmarks of my grandfather's character, not my dad's. In contrast to my grandfather, who seemed to exude a kind of saintly wisdom, Dad was much more likely to pass judgment, at least in private if not in public. And there were simply other things about him that impressed me more as "Dad" qualities: his curiosity, love of learning, controlling nature, and willingness to engage in a discussion on nearly any topic that interested him, to name a few.
It is said that as we grow older, we become closer to our true values. Perhaps that is the case in part with Dad and the quality of kindness that emanated from him in the last years of his life. As our son Harry noted at the funeral, this aspect of Dad's character came into sharp relief as his dementia advanced, and in the end, his mental faculties gone, love and compassion were all that remained. A few years ago, before we went to India, Marty, Dad and I went out to dinner, and we were seated at the bar at our favorite restaurant. By then Dad had found it difficult to follow a conversation, and beyond talking about how he liked his food and early banter with the bartender when we arrived, he didn't say much during the meal. When we got up to leave, however, he went over to a woman who had been sitting alone opposite us, put his hand on her arm, and started talking to her. Both Marty and I had noticed the woman, who didn't talk to anyone while we were there, but we didn't pay enough attention to her for her emotional state to register with either of us. After a little while, she looked up at Dad, put her hand on his arm in return, and gave him the unmistakable look of one who has just heard some well-needed words of encouragement. One of us asked Dad about it, and he replied, "that woman is very sad. I could tell just by looking at her, and I wanted to say something to her to make her feel better."
While it became a more visible attribute in Dad's later years, a few days ago I came across something that made me realize that compassion, especially for another person's sorrow, had been part of Dad's character for a very long time. He was a great fan of Variety Magazine, the trade publication of the entertainment industry, and subscribed to it for as long as I can remember. Among his papers, I found this clipping, which he had kept all those years. It is not dated, but Variety was founded in 1905, so that would put this clipping at around 1944, when Dad was only 26.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
At Dad's funeral I saw an old neighbor that I had lost touch with since my mother's funeral five years ago. He put me in touch with two other neighbors. Those connections, with their memories of my dad in his prime, feel comforting. I have gone through some old papers, and found things that I didn't notice when we moved the stuff from my parent's house--including some letters from when Dad was in the Army during World War II, a couple of poems he wrote, and his Masonic apron--the last item one I will mail to his old lodge, as it is an honor for a fellow Masonic brother to inherit it. All of this put me back in touch with Dad as he was when I was growing up.
The weirdest thing right now is the feeling of being an orphan. This sounds a bit crazy for someone in their fifties. It is nothing like being left by your parents at a young age, I am sure. But beyond the relationship with the parent him or herself, there is a different feeling when the second parent dies that I did not recall with the first. When my mother passed away, my father was still very much alive, with the prospect of several more years, and he was also living with us. There was a kind of shock then at losing a parent for the first time. Now there is a different shock, that of being left without any parents at all. Some people who have experienced this have said that they feel a new sense of their own mortality, that they now realize that they are "first in line". I don't really feel that --perhaps because if I live as long as my parents and grandparents I have between 35-40 years to go and that is a very long time. After a while I know this, too, will settle in.