I wanted to honor my father while he was still alive. And then to preserve his memory after he was gone.
We were peas in a pod. We walked alike, we talked alike, we thought alike. We finished each other’s sentences, even when we took after Miss Malaprop. We filled in the blanks.
My father was a simple man. He loved his family, he loved his work, he loved his patients, he loved to read. He loved listening to music…
He told me once that he used to feel like the luckiest guy in the world.
And then his luck began to run out. He trusted the wrong financial advisors. He snapped a tendon in his foot, requiring surgery. He developed colon cancer, the specifics of which defied normal cancer patterns.
And yet he never complained. He kept working and making his hospital rounds and seeing patients up until the week before he died. He ministered to them as he had his own blood drawn in the hospital. It took him 2 hours in the morning to get ready and yet he worked a full-time schedule. He simply would not forsake his patients. He could not and would not stop doing what he’d always done, which was to put everyone — his patients and his family first.
Years before I heard the term #DeathLiteracy, I lived it. When I realized how sick he was, I recorded video testimonials from his friends and played them for him. I showed him pictures of his beloved house. I told him my radical thought, which was to hold a pre-funeral-funeral for him, so that he could hear the huge outpouring of love that I knew with utter certainty would be forthcoming.
He was open to the idea but we ran out of time. What we did manage to do was to record him answering the Pivot Questionnaire, made (more) famous on James Lipton’s Inside the Actors Studio. My father humored me by answering the questions 9 days before he died. Vanity about how he looked was the least of our concerns.
I later asked Rabbi Peter Rubinstein if we could play the video at my father’s funeral. Central Synagogue, where we belong, is a magnificent sanctuary. The Rabbi didn’t think that was such a great idea. He suggested audio instead. And so I converted the file and then segued from my eulogy to the recording of my father speaking, in his own words.
There was not a dry eye in the congregation. It was like hearing a voice from the grave. He even had added a special message to everyone at my prodding. (“Thank you for all the good times you’ve given to me. Thank you for all the love that you’ve given to me. And nobody will ever take that away.”)
None of this brings my father back, but it gives me great solace to know that I helped remind him of how unfathomably he was loved, and by so many, and that I preserved his legacy on a memorial website which houses the eulogies, photographs, and incredible guestbook entries people submitted online.
And now I feel lucky myself — to work with Bevival — to encourage people to have these difficult conversations #longbeforetheend or, in my case, before the end.
In my brother’s eulogy, he recounted how our father gathered the three of us and looked at us and said, “I have everything I want.”
Our father was always able to see the silver lining, even in his time of need.
P.S. Please join me in advocating for #DeathLiteracy as we count down to Dying to Know Day on August 8th. It’s as easy as snapping a selfie holding this official sign, tagging Bevival (Facebook and Twitter) or bevival.inspires (Instagram) and hashtagging #DoDeathDifferently. Details here: bit.ly/selfiechallenge2019