Almost a year ago I read my dad’s obituary at the funeral. Many of you were there, so I won’t repeat that.
It was a bit dry and chronological, and even genealogical and I don’t think it really captured the essence of what Dad was all about.
I think we were all in a state of shock because of the speed at which it all happened. The last four months of his life really weren’t his best, after he had his stroke.
We received quite a few cards and letters expressing this shock, but one or two were different and remembered interactions with dad in his life that we had forgotten about, and that sparked other fond memories. And when I thought about that more, I discovered interesting parallels in my own life.
One of my childhood friends and neighbours remembered that dad couldn’t abide crumbs in the butter during breakfast. That brought out a smile in Mum and me.
That got me thinking how he couldn’t cope with double dipping with buffet food. Even when we had fondues together he would insist on us dipping with one fork and eating off another.
It was perhaps ironic that he died of an infection because maybe his immune system had not been boosted by our fondue germs.
My cousin Colin remembered dad skiing off the edge of a cliff which was in character with his bad skiing but completely out of character with his lifelong fear of edges and heights. At the time Colin said to me, I just saw your dad ski off the edge, but it can’t have been your dad because he doesn’t like edges. We found dad shortly after with ripped ski outfit but otherwise intact, claiming he had to avoid someone in front of him.
That reminded me of how he used to go up ski lifts with his eyes closed but he eventually used “mind over matter” and convinced himself that he had to get over the fear of heights if he wanted to enjoy the skiing.
So not so much “the journey is the reward”, but “to get the reward you have to put up with the journey”.
And that reminded me of many car journeys with many hours of “are we nearly there yet” from me and Murray.
Overcoming fears also featured in how despite being afraid of dogs as a boy, Dad welcomed a pet dog “Butch” into the family home shortly after getting married. And thereafter he was always a dog lover. He never quite made his peace with cats, but there is a difference between fear and loathing.
I myself often drive my actions through overcoming fears. One of my biggest fear is of public speaking. Yet here I am: “Hineni”. And my job now forces me to address hundreds of people at times.
we used Yiddish and Swahili without even knowing it
As many of you know mum and dad emigrated to Kenya shortly after getting married and Murray was born out there. That certainly made me feel less guilty when Marney and I left for California and kept continents and oceans between grandparents and their only grandchild Katya. History repeated itself again when the family was restored after a few short years in paradise with the womenfolk claiming that paradise was overrated.
Growing up with dad was an interesting mix of third generation Jewish immigrant coupled with African civil servant, by which I mean we used Yiddish and Swahili without even knowing it. It was only when I got to school that I found out that not everyone called insects “dudu” and spicy food “khali”, but at my school most people knew very well what chutzpah was but not why this schlemiel was wearing schmutter.
However there were also phrases he used such as “make yourself useful” which when used in later life by me, backfired in a business context. I somehow never understood the implication of my uselessness when it was used on me, and that was not appreciated by my colleagues.
The stone-setting is meant to indicate the end of the grieving period, when we can start to get on with our lives, but I don’t seem to have started grieving yet. I seem to have been robbed of that opportunity by feelings of guilt and anger.
Guilty, because I was frequently out of the country in the months before he died. When I visited him in hospital one time I actually walked past his bed because I didn’t recognise him at first due to his extreme weight loss. I was in America when the decision was made not to operate and to switch to palliative care. Luckily I just made it back in time to see him alive, if not conscious.
I’ve been angry, because I feel he didn’t receive the best medical care that he deserved.
I’ll spare you the detail, and hindsight makes everything obvious, but I do think his doctors should have worked out why his heart valve replacement never delivered the full benefits that were expected, why his stroke had no apparent cause, why his blood pressure was dangerously low every time the paramedics scooped him off the floor and ambulanced him into hospital, and why he rapidly lost 3 stone in weight.
In hindsight we realised that strokes are symptoms of cardiac infection.
He died waiting for the annual appointment with his cardiologist, because he didn’t want to make a nuisance of himself.
Unfortunately the ticker wasn’t ticking properly. And it is quite important that it does.
If we can learn a lesson from this, I would say that we should make nuisances of ourselves when medical conditions are changing us for the worse. Some of dad’s friends have had similar heart valve replacements and I sincerely hope that his experience will forewarn them.
I think with more risky surgery we might just have eked another 10 years out of him, and maybe then he would have got to see his only granddaughter get into uni, hopefully to graduate, marry, have children of her own. That is certainly my biggest regret, but – another one of his phrases – “we don’t always get what we want in life”.
a leader and not a follower
To summarise dad’s life, I would say that he liked things “just so” and he liked to get “his way”. He was prepared to confront and overcome his fears for the eventual reward and enjoyment, and sense of achievement.
I believe he was happy that he passed down his mathematical and problem solving nature to me, which has been the mainstay of my career, and that he has also passed down some sporting prowess – although that has definitely skipped a generation.
He was a leader and not a follower, and I am happy to have followed a number of his choices in life and his characteristics.
However in death perhaps leadership is not the best trait, and I would therefore encourage his friends and relatives not to follow him too soon and to all enjoy a healthy long life.