MY LAST VISIT
For at least the last ten years every time I close the door behind me at my Grandfather’s house in Sarasota, Florida to say good bye again, I think to myself, Will this be my last time, my last visit? The last time I get to be in the company of my proud patriarch, my grandfather, Herb Horowitz. This may make people who are afraid of the word Death, cringe, but in my family anyway, after saying goodbye to my brother, my father and my grandmother, we are used to the topic of END. My grandfather has been instrumental in involving me in the pragmatic discussions about end of life that goes back to when my grandmother was alive well over fifteen years prior to her sudden departure five years ago. My grandparents had a family meeting to discuss with their children the ways of their wills, what to expect, what was supposed to happen, and the general hierarchy of the plan. They had seen much of what could go wrong in families and wanted to be sure that everyone knew the road map when they finally left us. This has been one of those magic memories shaping my view of dying and what trails we leave behind that has left an indelible blueprint in my own life.
Herbie Horowitz has been a planner preparing for the inevitable future and has been consistently most responsible when it came to money. As a matter of fact, it took me a long time to identify my sense of financial success in my own business and life because he set, whether intentional or not, a high bar for what success was supposed to be about. We each have defined success differently. I often live on the edge, I enjoy life with a sense of urgent vigor. This has been a piece of who I am well before I had breast cancer, but it has been my grandparents who have taught me how to plan for later always assuming that there will indeed be a later. This I have not veered from since I have been twenty five contributing to my first 401K. I have also taught this to my son and my young team in my endless discussions about wills, trusts, the importance of good insurance, IRA contributions and bringing up the what ifs with their own families and spouses.
Herb always thought he was going to go before my grandmother and her death before his threw a serious wrench in both of their best laid plans. He goes on though in a way that is indescribable unless you have the pleasure of being in his inner circle of company like I have for the past fifty-three years. I have watched this WWII vet rise to the occasion of life despite the physical problems that have come his way since my grandmother’s death. Because of his proactive planning, he has had enough money to live at home and have 24/7 care so that he can keep his life his own as best as possible. This has been a welcomed gift to his grandchildren especially me since visiting him still goes on the same as it always has, barely uninterrupted and relatively normal. My uncle has taken on the primary role of responsible adult making sure that everything keeps ticking the way it is supposed to and we are all the better for this, surely.
Herb is an extraordinary human offering words of wisdom, advice whether requested or not, usually advice you don’t yet know you need or advice you hadn’t even considered. For him, he has the credibility of a life well lived and the years to prove his sage guidance. We all celebrated his 100th year last year at a lively celebration and I think even he is surprised that he would be around for his 101st birthday yesterday. People around him are hungry and eager for his commentary and his company. The fact that he still has his wits about him and can still multiply numbers without a calculator not to mention his regular conversations with his friends, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and yes his older sister who just turned 103 makes for desired company rather than the forgotten. He brings a lot to the table and the people eager to show up to the plate are all the better for it.
I had the pleasure of bringing him to temple this past Friday night for his birthday and the yahrzeit of my brother’s death. It was an odd juxtaposition of being there to celebrate a man turning 101 on November 17th, born in 1917,coupled with remembering his grandson, my brother who died at 25 on November 20, 1995. Herb walked in on his walker, Missy, his caregiver close by, sporting his navy blue go to blazer looking for a seat close to the aisle. Everyone was seated already and he was the last one standing anxious to sit down when the Rabbi spotted him across a very crowded synagogue. The Rabbi called out to him, welcomed him and the entire congregation turned to sing him a celebratory Shehechiyanu prayer and a joyful round of Happy Birthday in Hebrew. Children looked at him with awe and curiosity, and I could see them calculating the notion of 101 years compared to their young lives and their own parents and grandparents. He beamed with light and welcomed the oohhs and ahhs. He was revered as he should be and I almost wish he was invited to stand up and speak to them to give his wisdom of retrospect on a life well lived. But he would likely say, Nahhhh, what do people want from me, I am an old man. This makes him even more desired company as it is his intelligence coupled with his humility that make for a lovely human being.
I shed tears each time I leave him and every time the phone rings with my Uncle Bobby as the caller id, I hold my breath because the odds are simply against the possibilities of our time together. He is sharp as a tack and shows no signs of early departure, but clearly he has less time ahead rather than more. This is just simple math and reality. He has raised me and my free spirit self with a practicality that surprises me as I get older. I have him and my grandmother etched deep inside me even more so than my own parents who were too young to give the type of advice I didn’t know I needed as they faltered and floundered trying to figure themselves out. All the better for it ultimately since I got the best of my grandparents’ sound stable beautiful contributions to my life.
I do know that each time I shed the tears of grief that just come on at the most random moments each time that door closes when I head back north after a visit, if it is in fact the last visit, I have been a recipient of a life well lived. In a way that will be with me until my grandchildren get to hear my own advice and close their doors after their frequent visits. He is “slowing down” sleeping more, catnaps throughout the day during breakfast, lunch, dinner, television bingewatching, but this is all part of the process of dying. Back to the beginning, needing care and attention in the ways of an infant on some levels. I do know that the visits from all of us wake him up and this causes him the same joy and happiness he has blessed us with. If this was my last visit, I know like all the others before, it was a very good one. A very good one indeed.