Wednesday, April 11, 2007

On Aging

I'm still friends with one of my old college roommates. We knew each other in high school, but got to be better friends in college and we roomed together for a year. We hosted keggers in our apartment, listened to loud rock music, chased college women, and on occasion went to class. (I admit it. I was not a good student back then.)

We remained friends after college. Through the years we both got married and had kids. We grew into different concerns. We still listened to music, but now we traded "poop stories", and other tales of our children. We went out with our wives as a foursome, or rented movies at one house or the other. There were barbeques and trips to the park with our kids. And yes, there were birthday parties.

Lately we've seen each other a lot less. Our kids are older and are at college, or in high school, or middle school. Some of them are driving. They are doing a lot more on their own. Last week we compared heart ailments. His is more dangerous than mine, though I still see my cardiologist annually. My condition is a minor annoyance. His can cause him to have a stroke. My politics have changed. His haven't, so we rarely discuss them. We talk about our parents. His mother is getting more forgetful. He's worried about her. My mother's cancer had returned and her tumors had spread to her brain.

She died yesterday morning. That's the bad news.

Her first bout with cancer was twelve years ago. She had to have a kidney removed. Five years later, they removed half of her remaining one. Two years ago, doctors predicted she would be gone in a matter of months. Mom had other ideas. She had a goal. She wanted to be there for my daughter's Bat Mitzvah. Of course she was there, and she had a wonderful time. It was obvious that she was not as energetic as usual, but she was in pretty good shape.

A few months before that, my sister and her husband adopted a baby boy. Mom had to have some time with him. Then there were the fabulous performances of my children in the high school production of Les Miserable. She couldn't miss that even though it was difficult for her to last through the entire performance.

About two weeks ago, a little before Passover, doctors told her that the tumors that had begun in her kidneys and traveled up through her lungs and lymph nodes were now in her brain. She took one radiation treatment. It left her so weak that she decided it wasn't worth it. From there she declined rapidly. She only got out of bed for the first night of Passover, but didn't feel up to joining us for dinner so we dispensed with the first seder.

Hospice was called in a few days later. Mom was bedridden. Dad was frustrated because she was getting worse about eating and about taking her medication. Last week she even stopped taking her pain medication. The last time she ate or drank anything was either last Thursday or Friday. We were over there a lot helping Dad. We called the out of town siblings who both came in Monday. She died some time early Tuesday morning. My father woke up and he knew she was gone. I raced over as soon as I got the call from my brother. We were all there for support, but Dad had what I'm guessing was the worst morning of his life.

The funeral is tomorrow morning. I'm not looking forward to it, but I am looking forward to it being over. I wrote a short eulogy. My wife wrote another. My brother wrote a third. It doesn't leave much time for the rabbi, but he did tell us that we could talk at the funeral if we wanted. I've spent most of the past two days with my siblings, wife, and children at my Dad's house. Out of town visitors have begun coming to town. Local relatives and friends have been dropping by. People have sent and brought food by the ton. Friends of my parents, people from "the old neighborhood" have come to the house in tears. It seemed strange, because we've been through the tears already. Watching someone else though, kind of makes you misty eyed.

I have a wandering mind. Sometimes it wanders into some weird connections. As some old neighbors came in tonight telling me how sorry they were, hugging me, and my father, and my siblings, I thought of Mottel the Canter's Son. It was the last book written by the great Yiddish author, Sholom Aleichem, who died before he could complete it. It is still a wonderful book, as are all of his books and stories. He created Tevya the Milkman, whose many stories were "borrowed" in order to make Fiddler on the Roof . . . another play my children were in. My mother gave me this book when I was probably twelve or thirteen years old. I don't remember exactly when. It's a delightful book, full of warm humor and painful episodes as Mottel and his family leave Europe to come to America. Througout the years I've picked up other volumes by Sholom Aleichem.

In the beginning of the book, Mottel's father dies. Mottel, the innocent child of nine, doesn't grieve, but exults in the attention he now receives and his new status as: one who is an orphan and so cannot be punished for any faults or misbehavior. Yes, his mother is still there, but he is still referred to as an orphan. Yes, the parallels are extremely thin, but minds do make connections even, or especially at my advanced age.

When this is all over, I will tell my wife about this connection. She will once again tell me that I am strange.

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At 10:14 PM, Blogger jennifer said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I understand the bit at the end. As you know reading and linking about my dad,the loss of a parent is long standing. I realize that you are a man, and respond differently. But I am deeply saddened for you.
I pray that your dad is doing well, with all the added stress.
Thanks for being a friend in the blog world. My prayers go out to you and yours.

At 7:11 AM, Blogger Jungle Mom said...

Oh Harry! I had no idea you were going through this! I will pray for all the family to have peace in this very hard time.

At 7:34 AM, Blogger Yekwana Man said...

My prayers to the Almighty are for you and yours. My Mom passed away almost 13 years ago, the night before Mother's Day. For her also, extreme medical measures for extended life were not worth it. She died peacefully because she knew by Faith that her destination was Heaven. Peace to you and your family in this time of hurting.

At 10:05 PM, Blogger Harry said...

Thank you all for your kind words and your prayers. The big challenge now is taking care of my father. He's still in good health, but after 51 years with my mother he has to learn to live on his own. We will take care of him though.

At 11:48 AM, Blogger Smooth said...

So very sorry to read of your loss. My Dad died 2.5 years ago from Alzheimers. I don't think a day goes by when I don't think of him. It's a terrible loss to lose one's parent. May you and your family be comforted at this time.

At 6:29 AM, Blogger Harry said...

Thank you for your condolences. And I'm sorry to hear about your dad. From what I've heard, Alzheimers is a cruel burden on a family.


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