by Marshall R. Goldberg
There is a beginning and there is an end.
To all things.
To us and all we love.
There is a first breath and a last.
Just yesterday, we were talking to an amazing vet who is founding a web based community of vets in order to help them keep current with information, improve their networking, and help them with the business aspects of their practices. He was showing us a video about how to do a caesarean section on a goat. Ah yes, it was bloody and all that. But fortunately, such things do not the disturb the Olde Soldier. I watched in fascination. When the little goat was brought outside its mother’s uterus, the attending vet wipes off the birth fluids, and, as if by magic, the beast takes the first breath of its life. The vet described his awe at this first breath, and it took me back once again to that moment of my father’s last. Once again, affirming the role all us play in the cycle of life.
For, alas, after a long decline as the result of congestive heart failure, the Old Soldier’s father took his last breath on April 27th.
I am a lucky person.
As I often tell people, I have to apologize as I come from a fully functional family. We all get along. Sure, we have the usual sibling rivalries of a three child family. But nothing more bothersome than be cured by a quick laugh. My mother and father always seemed to get along through thick and thin, with an occasional bout of moodiness. But all in all, we are a peaceful bunch, not prone to any sort of physical or verbal violence.
I am a lucky person.
Lucky to have known my father the way I did. Even more lucky to have him as a father. His advise and example to me and all of us is timeless.
My father never resented paying taxes even when it was tough and burdensome. “This is the price of living in a civilized society.” Quoting the words of whatever famous historical person first spouted the utterance. (Jefferson?)
Honest without a gray area. No lies. No half true. No exceptions. He worked as a consulting structural engineer. In the years he had his business, I remember him coming home to relate the stories of the various “bagmen” the politicians would send to extort him in order to land contracts. He paid a price for refusing them and got something back for that price that remains of the highest value.
My father didn’t have a tinge of greediness. At age 66, he said to my mother, “Lil, we have enough. I can work longer for more money, but our needs are simple.” After retiring, he didn’t put his skills on the shelf. He continued consulting as a checker for other engineers and served with distinction as an arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association well into his late 70s. When luck struck me at Microsoft, he was quick to council – “Don’t be greedy.” Having seen so much greed in my getting longer life, it wasn’t that hard to build a nice set-aside and improve the quality of my sleep. Thanks Dad.
We knew the end was coming. Slowly but surely, the heart attack he had in his fifties due to his cigarette smoking, was taking its toll. Congestive heart failure had set in pretty badly. Thanks to the miracle of modern medicine and new treatments for the condition, he led a remarkably good quality of life in spite of it.
Finally, in the middle of last year, the condition worsened to the point of forcing him to give up driving and resort to a walker. The doctors said there wasn’t anything more they could do and told us they didn’t know how much time he had left. My father always wanted to live to the year 2000. We worried he wouldn’t make it. But the old fellow hung in. A cerebral incident and terrible anemia took him to the hospital several times, but somehow he continued hanging on. Two week before he died, he took a terrible fall. My father called the rescue squad. They came and feverishly revived him. In retrospect, my mother would have preferred they let him go at that moment. Problem is without clear instructions either posted or worn on a wristband, rescue squads do what they are trained to do – rescue.
From what my mother said when he went to the hospital that last time, it was pretty clear he wasn’t ever coming home. I had two business meetings coming up, one on 4/26 in Toronto, and another on 4/27 in Armonk. Decided to leave the Thursday before the meetings giving me plenty of time to visit.
Over the weekend, it was obvious from his condition that death was close at hand. My poor mother was having her own health troubles as well. After being with her for a couple of days, I understood. The situation was draining beyond description. When we both left the hospital on the Tuesday before he died, we could barely talk.
My meeting on Wednesday, the 26th got cancelled due to the illness of one of our key people. On the afternoon of the 26th, I started to drive toward the airport for the meeting on Thursday. Half way to the airport, I had a premonition that it was the wrong thing to do and turned back for the hospital. Called my sister. She flew up from New York on the Shuttle to join us later that night.
When we got to the hospital the next morning, he was no longer able to communicate and was extremely restless. Having been with my wife as she was dying, I recognized these as “death throes.” My brother Paul and his granddaughter Nili joined us as well. After we shuffled ourselves in and out of the room for lunch, we all gathered round. He was much quieter now and his breathing was deep and labored. The nurse said his kidneys had finally failed. I looked at my mother and we both knew the end was very, very close. At 1:30, with my mother and I at his head holding his hands and petting him, his breathing got more and more labored and then quietly stopped.
Being there was a gift. Not so much for me or for him, but to help my mother in the transition to her new life. My mother knew my father since they were 6 years old, were a couple for 72, and married for 67.
My he rest in peace and his spirit continue to serve as an inspiration to those of us that knew him and loved him.