My father, while still mentally sharp, is in a declining state of health; it’s not surprising for a man of 95. He needs a walker or wheelchair to get around. His vision is failing and he can no longer read, which is a big loss for anyone but especially for someone as well-read as he. His hearing is not so good anymore either. He naps a lot and is often tired. Still, his spirit is strong and his attitude amazingly positive given the circumstances. I am in awe of him, I must admit.
My sister had the great idea to send out an email to all our cousins to give an update on my dad as noted above, and to ask for something very specific: a letter with family news, thoughts on the world, a reminiscence. My brother offered to print out the letters or emails so that the aides who now help him out throughout the day could read them to him. In this way he can still be connected to family, which means a lot to him.
Since she sent the email out (signed from the three of us, my brother, sister and me) we’ve received a heartwarming collection of letters. Many provided updates on family members, positively kvelling [bursting with pride] as they shared impressive accomplishments and events, from babies born to books birthed.They shared all sorts of interesting stories, like one cousin who provided details of a wonderful cross-country road trip that ended with a long term house rental near their daughter and her family.
I appreciate all the news and updates yet it is the personal memories of my dad that bring me close to tears, more of joy than sorrow as they’re a celebration of all my dad’s best qualities: his kindness and intellect and humor and quiet dignity, the way he could make up a children’s story or tell a joke.
These reminiscences give me solace, as the Jewish faith doesn’t have a belief in heaven or rebirth or any of that reassuring stuff I used to wish we had since learning about other religions long ago. Instead what matters and has meaning is how we touch each other: how we make lasting memories that are forever imprinted on those we love, we pass down traditions or stories, like my cousin who learned from my father how to make a soap bubble in the tub, taught it to his kids, and now is passing that along to his grandchildren.
Another cousin writes of his first baseball game being with my dad, describing the very moment when he saw his first baseball field and the lifelong love of the game that was born that day with my brother and my dad in Philadelphia. We share experiences that turn into lasting memories, and it is reassuring that even those events my father has long forgotten have already made their lasting impression. And through these letters, those memories come back to him.
There are also sweet tales of my mom and dad, a cousin remembering her college days near my parents and how they invited her over for meals. Another cousin who went to graduate school in Philadelphia reminisced about dinners with my parents and how my dad would participate in father-daughter events with her two young girls (now grown women with kids of their own).
It is good to share these recollections while my father can still hear them and take in all the love evinced in these simple memories, so wise to share them now while he is still here to appreciate them. To celebrate a life while it is still being lived, really doesn’t that make complete sense?
My family is spread throughout the country and yet there is this connective tissue of deep abiding love and concern that unites us. And there’s a respect and admiration of our elders I can only hope will continue as we all age. For now my 95 year old father is embraced with loving stories that celebrate his wonderful life.