Seven Years- Memories, Ironies, Tears and Laughter

My dad, in one of his favorite photos, with our Miniature Schnauzer, Windy, at my Cornell graduation. Daddy liked to look serious, but he was quite the joker.

On this day seven years ago, it was my dad’s birthday and it was the day before his funeral. Ironically, this morning I was consulting with a doctor about a health issue I am facing, with a notebook in hand to take notes as I always did when I accompanied my dad and Ben to their medical appointments. I can’t deny that I feel very alone when I look to the future and think about being my own caregiver because whereas Ben and my dad had me, I don’t have an Abby.

Today I thought about how I took notes for my dad at his medical appointments and he would then call me with proclamations of impending death based on how he decided to interpret the doctor’s advice and diagnoses. I would read aloud my notes and explain everything, which would calm him for a while. I get my anxiety as a patient from my dad. Today, I came home and re-read all of the notes I took, trying to keep myself calm and reasonable. But, the irony was not lost on me of this happening on this milestone “Daddy day.”

Each year, I do revisit the notes that I wrote the night he died to give to the rabbi. I didn’t realize that the rabbi would read the whole thing aloud at the funeral. My dad would not believe that a fuss should be made about him on his birthday, and maybe that’s a reason that it’s so important to me to honor him by reposting these notes that were, essentially, a eulogy.

Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney World, Disney

My parents with Mickey in 1987

He was such a proud Marine. He wore his USMC cap so proudly and loved to run into other veterans and share stories. But I was his Private Benjamin. The first time I drove him to the VA out in Northport he just shook his head when I clapped and waved as the guard at the gate saluted us when I flashed Daddy’s VA card. Daddy saluted, shook his head and laughed.  Although he was not an observant Jew, his Marine Corps experience, where he was one of 3 Jews, gave him a sense of pride in his religion and he did not tolerate any discrimination, gaining the nickname of “that crazy Jew” because he would fight anyone who even looked like they were going to say anything derogatory. He trained down south during the days of segregation, and he remembered with sadness and contempt the way he was not allowed to sit on the bus with his African American USMC buddies and how disgusted he was by those attitudes because it was so different than up here.

He lived and breathed dogs but really loved all animals. When I was a little girl we used to read the Dog Breed book all the time. I knew every breed and I used to say that I couldn’t be Daddy’s daughter if I could not identify every kind of dog!  But, he took great pride in his dogs and Schnauzers were our breed. The whole neighborhood knew my dad as Dulcie’s dad. And we all lived by the motto of “love me love my dog.” He was delighted when a group of kids told their sister, who was afraid of Dulcie and making a bit of a scene, to “go inside if you don’t want to play with Dulcie” instead of telling Dulcie to go away. When he was selling our house, a real estate agent brashly told him to put the dog outside. He told her she could stand outside but the dog lived there. She left and never came back. My dad was fine with that! He used to leave messages for my cat when he knew she was alone and let her know that it was a grave injustice that her mommy left her alone.

He was so proud of me and excited that in 2010 I finally was able to launch my dream pet souvenir business and he loved helping me with ideas and business advice. Just last weekend Ben put pictures from a recent dog event I was asked to participate in on his iPad so I could show them to my dad. He loved to look at the pictures and was interested so in my life that he even knew my doggie friends by name.

He had such a good sense of humor and was also a prankster. He got such a kick out of calling companies to review their products or ask questions and having them send him coupons.  Once he called me laughing so hard about his call to Uncle Ben’s Rice. He drove the poor girl crazy asking about the measurements, explaining that his mother in law had always cooked for him but now he was on his own. She asked him to hold on and he heard her say, “I don’t know if this guy is sorry that his mother-in-law died, but I sure am!”

He liked teasing my grandmother, sometimes by pretending to sneak into the kitchen to steal her freshly made matzah balls, to the point where she started counting them! To this day when I bake the cookies and hamentashen she taught me to make, I count the number of each shape and/or flavor!

He loved to laugh and to make people laugh. His facial expressions were priceless. His humor made stressful situations tolerable. I remember giving him books on Jewish humor and how he would call me to read some of the jokes, laughing so hard with his cutest laugh. He called me when he was watching our favorite comedies to recount a scene as he was watching it, and his laughter was so contagious that it always made laugh. Some of our favorite quotes came from Mel Brooks’ “The History of the World: Part 1,” “Tootsie,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Hope and Glory.”

So hard to get him to pose seriously!

My dad loved history and military aviation. He knew so much about WW2. It was a challenge to find books about things he didn’t know, but he loved to read. I used to call him from Barnes and Noble and read the summaries of the new arrivals to see what he responded to. When there was someone or something that he didn’t know well, I knew I had a winner! Ben and I used to find documentaries for him and Ben would convert them to DVDs. He loved seeing footage he had never seen, and it wasn’t easy to find it!!!  And we had many, many discussions about history.

As much as he loved gadgets, he had no patience. While he screamed about the bad instructions, I constructed tv stands and bookshelves. FIOS drove him crazy. I got many frantic phone calls when he could not get the tv to work. Ben and I downloaded manuals with the remote layouts so we could walk him through possible solutions. Ironically, he was a master at his trade in heating/air conditioning and was incredibly good at home repairs, helping neighbors and families with boilers, clearing floods, making heating/A/C decisions. Even from the hospice he gave me the perfect solution for dealing with the radiator and my freezing apartment.

He was like a father to Ben, who has ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease, and was always looking for any gadget that would make his life easier. And they often do!  I never had dinner with him where he didn’t order something for me to bring Ben, who cannot really get out very much at all any more. In the days when we did visit my dad, he would show Ben his gadgets, books and WW2 bullet casings and they would sit and talk about the wars. They both loved it.

I always knew how loved I was and I loved him. We used to speak maybe 5 or 7 times a day, sometimes to share what was on TV, or make each other laugh, or more recently, when he was living alone, I would remind him to eat and see how he felt every time I had a free period at school.  Because I was a Spanish teacher he started watching Spanish television and he would call and ask me what words meant. I used to joke with my students that he worked harder than they did. But, it also intrigued them that my dad cared so much about what I did. And that was an important life lesson for many of them.

You could take the man out of the USMC but you couldn’t take the USMC (or the camouflage) out of the man!

He was a man who was so devoted to his family. He always said that he just loved to hear my mom and I giggle with my grandmother. He was so proud to send my mom to meet me in England, even though both of us were amazed at her inability to work a luggage cart! He took care of my grandma, his mother-in-law, driving to and from work in Brooklyn to Woodmere to drive her to the beauty parlor, wait for her to be finished, drive her home, and then go back to work. He was honored and almost humbled that Uncle Larry called him every single Friday. He really missed Uncle Larry. There isn’t a friend or a child of a friend of mine that he did not ask and care about.

He was generous and was more comfortable giving than receiving help.  He taught me by example to be kind, generous and compassionate and to have a sense of humor. I already miss the phone calls. But I am still talking to him.

Seven Years of Grief- How “The Lion King” Helps Me

As Timon tells Simba in the animated Disney film The Lion King, “Sometimes bad things happen and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Today marks seven years since my dad left this world. I can’t say if it feels like more or less than that. What I do know is that it is a painful milestone date, along with many other painful milestone dates that make February a difficult month. I woke up unusually early and Tinker Bell has been at my side. She is very sensitive and attuned to my feelings, and although she is not cuddly or a lap cat, she even crawled and slept on me after I had some recent surgery. I guess she knows that today is one of those sad Mommy days.

I have not moved beyond vivid memories of this day seven years ago. There was a terrible snowstorm and I called the hospice nurse’s station to check on my dad. They said they were about to call me because his status changed. They also let me know that all transportation- trains and taxis, both of which I needed- was stopped due to the snow and I would not be able to get there. In November, I had taken a leave of absence from teaching and spent every single day for a few months with my dad and then, after returning to work in January, traveled to see him every weekend for what unexpectedly turned out to be his last few weeks. Daddy was afraid to die and I was utterly devastated that after being with him almost every day, I couldn’t get to him at this critical time. Although he was not conscious, I asked the nurse to put the phone to his ear. I told him that I loved him, that he was the best dad and that he should go if he was ready, that I would be okay. I knew that would be his worry. I left work to go home and see if, despite the warnings, there was anything I could do to get to the hospice. As I opened the door to the apartment, the phone rang. He died.

For the remainder of the day, I went through motions with phone calls and funeral plans. I wrote notes about my dad for the rabbi, a chaplain from the VA hospice who my dad liked very much and who kindly agreed to perform the service. I cried as I looked at the materials I bought and would not get to use to make my dad Valentine card and birthday cards.

Struggling with my own emotions, I also realized that for Ben, losing my dad was losing the only person who was a true dad to him, but it was also facing the reality of death, which he had been trying to deny as he experienced the progression of his ALS. I remember so clearly how upset Ben was that he couldn’t hug me to comfort me. My dad used to tell me that it troubled him that I was going to lose him and Ben, likely within a short period. It bothered me when he said it, probably because I did not want to think about that future. However, I cannot deny that when I lost my dad, I acknowledged that I could not escape the reality that I would also lose Ben.

It’s ironic that given how much my dad loved dogs, and we were a family that always had a Schnauzer, the quotes that resonate today are from a cat movie!

My dad, in one of his favorite photos, with our Miniature Schnauzer, Windy, at my Cornell graduation. Daddy liked to look serious, but he was quite the joker.


“Nobody messes with your dad.” – Mufasa
I was always a Daddy’s girl. I know that I was my dad’s whole world, and I was constantly reminded of that when he was in the hospital and then the hospice. It seems that he spent much time telling anyone who would listen about me. I think that despite the loving aspects of caregiving for a parent, it is hard for any child to essentially take on the role of parent to their parent. Growing up, I firmly believed that no one would ever mess with my dad. He was a Marine! Cancer messed with my dad and I could not protect him. It was difficult to see him struggle with cancer, particularly because he had a very defeatist and negative attitude. It was exhausting to be a constant cheerleader as he counted down to his demise. Fortunately, I did inherit his sense of humor. As an adult, I could reason that this was simply the way he coped with his situation, but the little girl in me said that he was my Daddy- he was supposed to be strong! Ultimately, cancer won, and it was heart-wrenching to watch. In my memories, he will always be the Daddy who protected and loved me with all his heart. Nobody or nothing will ever mess with that.

“He lives in you.”- Rafiki, talking to Simba about Mufasa
 “Remember.”- Mufasa
Without a doubt, I see within myself reflections of my dad. I learned so much about love, compassion, respect and patriotism from my dad. Although my dad had so much confidence in me, I also possess his ability to identify (or imagine) obstacles and things to worry about that sometimes hold me back. I try to remind myself that my dad would believe in me.

Caregiving was challenging and at times downright ugly, but what I learned from those experiences and memories is profoundly meaningful and indescribably loving. It also let me see positive things about myself. My dad had complete trust in my ability to take care of and advocate for him. Now, I want to make him proud and to let him know through my actions that he is remembered and loved in every step I take.

Camera on his shoulder, Daddy always wanted to be the photographer, not the photographed!


“Whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you and so will I.”- Mufasa
In these days of COVID, I feel especially isolated and alone. Given the state of the world, I imagine the conversations that I would be having with my dad about the tragedy that has befallen this country. I know that he would be devastated by the affronts to our democracy by the thankfully former administration that will sadly leave a lasting stain our country’s history. I miss our phone calls, though I know that he would have been screaming and I believe that it would have made him physically and emotionally ill.

In these and other challenging or puzzling times, I still turn to my Dad for guidance and wisdom. I share some of his wisdom with my students, reminding them that you get more with honey than with vinegar, and that it’s important to be able to laugh at yourself and take a joke. Sometimes, it’s memories of conversations we had that help me to move forward. Sometimes, it helps to know with all my heart that he is watching over me. And sometimes, on days like today, even with all the love and good memories and guidance, the only thought in my head is that I love and miss my Daddy.

My dad and I