Thursday, October 22, 2009

Day to Day

Considering that all I want to do is eat cereal out of the box and read novels, I'm doing pretty well. After some searching, I found two shuls with daily minyans so that I can say Kaddish. Neither's perfect: One is inconvenient and the other is Orthodox. Whatever.

I've been going to work and getting things done. I've continued showering; I even made it to the gym last night where I ran two and a half miles. I've only had one dream where my father was still alive and disappointed in me.

I miss my father. But, anyway.

The whole death thing really knocked me for a loop. Wow, it was fast. As recently as September, my dad was being treated. There was medicine, and where there is medicine there is hope, even if one is poisonous and the other is flimsy. Then, suddenly, he had six months; then merely weeks; then I was in the backyard of the Casey House in Montgomery County, sleep-deprived and tear-glazed, casting a protective shadow over the bed in which my father had managed to open his eyes for the last time. It was a blue-and-yellow afternoon, with hawks circling several layers up from butterflies, and we had decided to roll his bed outside.

Everyone who could come came over his last couple days. We pressed his hand, played his iPod, read to him from Isaiah. The rabbi shook a lulav and an etrog at him, because it was Succot, and then kissed him on the forehead. And that afternoon, twelve hours before his labored breathing faded away, he saw us there. He knew we had gathered, for him, for whatever good it would do. For an hour or so, he managed to stay conscious, my brilliant, generous, lazy, sentimental, anxious-depressive-insomniac, loving, witty father, and then he dipped under again and never woke up.

Then, suddenly, there were things to do. We had to sleep, and write obits, and talk to the funeral home, and plan speeches. We had to break down and get up again. My mother cried; I've never seen her look so lost. We had to deal with that. We had to eat, and dress warmly for the funeral, because the day we interred him was a day borrowed from early March. It had everything but crows in it. I think I cried hardest when my father-in-law lifted the shovel to help bury my father.

But my friends, my friends, my friends did everything that is good in this world, everything good people do. At one point at the cemetery three of them had staked out places around me, bolstering me. Later, they came to the house and sat with me on the floor. They came every night and sometimes during the day, too. The experience was, as I said, a plane crash, but it was also a water landing on par with Sully's, because of my friends and my family's friends and my family. I can't thank you enough.

RIP, Tateh.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Crawling Back Toward the Light

Step One: Return to New York

Step Two: Return to work

Step Three: Return to normal

Friday, October 09, 2009

RIP Paul L. Bloom (1939-2009)

After about forty hours in hospice watching my father die, I am thoroughly and otherwise exhausted. Later I will have more to say about the experience, which was basically a plane crash; but one whose impact was softened by the tangible love of family and friends.

For now, I leave you with a letter to the editor from the NYT in 1981, written by a complete stranger, entitled "God Bless Mr. Bloom!":
To the Editor:

Paul Bloom's grand exit from his job as special counsel to the Energy Department in the Carter Administration prods our uncomfortable acceptance of 10-figure oil profits. The mind has almost gotten used to corporate gains in the billions, oil sheiks fresh out of ideas about what to do with their money, petroleum executives living on such a grand scale that it makes the palaces of Pharoah look like the South Bronx.

But not Mr. Bloom's mind. No weak resignation for him. In one glorious parting act, he distributed $4 million (a mere frivolity by measure of fossil-fuel accounts) to four charities with the promise that all would be spent helping the poor warm their bones at oil burners too expensive for them to run.

Mr. Bloom's imagination hasn't failed him or his heart. Yet even more, his wild act of charity reminds us of that line from ''Man of La Mancha,'' which Mr. Bloom seems to have taken to heart: ''Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.''

God bless Mr. Bloom! ROBERT H. POPE, Pastor, Pascack Reformed Church, Park Ridge, N.J., Feb. 14, 1981
Mr. Pope, wherever you are, if you're still there please feel free to come to my father's funeral, Monday, October 12th, at 10:00 AM in DC. We will save you a seat in the front row.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Off (Again)

My father's condition has deteriorated more quickly than anyone expected. I am furious and anxious and despondent but mostly I'm numb because how could this have all happened so fast? Almost a year ago he was in Botswana dashing out of the way of stampeding elephants, and in South Africa reuniting with long-lost members of the family. Then he fell down some stairs, came back to the States to get x-rayed, and voila.

I told my Dr. Russian this story, and after pushing a box of tissues over to me, he said, "Well, pancreatic cancer is a fatal disease."

True, O king!

Last weekend, he could barely move around the apartment by himself. This weekend, I have no idea what I will find.