My father always dealt with life with a heavy dose of realism. By the time he was married his mother had been long since dead. And as a young father he survived the loss of several of his siblings. He understood that life was always a fragile thread. This thread could be severed at any time, any place.
He had also lived through all the surrounding deaths of world history. He survived the First World War and the Second and Korea. Neighbors died. Friends died. Even beloved pets like Phoebe, who thought the world stopped and started with Dad, eventually died.
The only living creatures that seemed to last forever were my mother’s two goldfish, named very cleverly Whitey and Goldy. They seemed to go on far beyond their life expectancies but even they eventually floated to the top of the fishbowl.
So Dad was a realist, taught life’s lessons by merely living and enduring.
This being said, it should be known that there was one death that he was totally unprepared for. He prepared endlessly for his own death. His affairs were in perfect order. Down to the gravestone. But he never ever ever figured that my mother might die before him. This was less expected than any havoc brought to earth by war or hydrogen bombs. This was impossible. He could not live without her.
The two of them were a tight unit. They never fought. I remember a mild disagreement when I was 10 that sent me reeling to my room fearful that a divorce was imminent. I had never before heard a slightly raised voice between them. Never an argument. It was almost impossible, even not normal. It was how it was.
In their dotage, they sat at the kitchen table in their Herzliya apartment playing gin rummy. This was no idle game of cards. Prodigious records were kept of which of them had won and who owed the other enormous amounts of money, sometimes reaching as high as a shekel or more. The bookkeeping was often interrupted by my father’s famous giggles when there was an unanticipated victory. Like all of his descendants, he enjoyed winning. Even more than she did. I suspect that sometimes she even let him win deliberately.
Other shared activities included the Shabbat walk to shul, and, of course, the week’s work preparing for the Friday night family dinner. The table was set by Dad and the gourmet meal was prepared from scratch by Mom. Soup to nuts indeed. Even before the soup there was always a homemade appetizer. Her famous fricassee meatballs. Chopped liver. Something Jewish and delicious. Served with style. the meal planning for the following week always began during the existing meal. So while eating the soup there would be a discussion of what type of soup would or should be featured next week. Serious talk in Israel while scuds might be falling or armies invading or government officials being incarcerated.
Dad was almost 7 years older than Mom. That was his security blanket. He was on target to die first.
That’s not how it happened.
Life has its own clock and sometimes bad things happen. And so it was that my mother, Ita bat Yitzchak, reached the Herzliya Cemetery years before my father’s date with destiny.
We all thought he wouldn’t last very long. He was already over 90. And although he was in robust good health and would walk miles every day in the searing sun, he needed her. She was the social one. The friendships were all hers. He was only interested in his children and their spouses and his grandchildren and many great grandchildren. More than that he had no interest or time for. We despaired. His happy life would end sadly. He would be depressed and lonely.
How wrong were we!
Without much notice he announced his decision. He was of sound mind and body, although we didn’t quite believe his choice was correct for him.
He wanted to move into a place in Ra’anana, an assisted living facility. He had already, on his own, visited. It was right for him.
He spoke no Hebrew. His social skills were never noticed. How would this plan fly?
Deterrence didn’t work so he moved in.
He was happy! Yes he was. He made new friends, mostly women since healthy men were in short supply. Once, when one of us showed up unannounced, the best thing ever happened, he waved and said he was too busy for a visit now. Too busy! How fabulous was that!
I won’t tell you he learned to use the computer but he did use the pool daily. He loved the Saturday night concerts. The movies. The 4 pm tea and cookies, at his regular table.
He’d often invite us to lunch. The food was delicious, maybe not as good as Mom’s but pretty darn good. The soup, though, he would note, was not hot enough!
He knew what he needed to do. He needed to surround himself with the living. Whereas we all thought he’d be reliant on memories, he showed us that he would be forward looking and alive as long as he lived.
He never forgot the wonderful marriage. He is now buried next to Mom in the beautiful Herzliya Cemetery.
May they both rest in peace.