How does one measure a life? Is it the good people that one has left behind? Is it the kind deeds they have done in their lifetime? Is it the amount of things a person has acquired? For the first time I am left having to answer these questions.
My father died this past Friday night unexpectedly, suddenly and tragically. And I keep asking myself, how am I supposed to measure his life? Growing up with Ta, as we used to call him, was the greatest privilege that any daughter could wish to have. Although death is not the sort of conventional topic you discuss, it hovered over our home like a grey veil all the time and seeped into discussion on more than one occasion. My father was an orphan at age nine. So he frequently asked us growing up, “Will you miss me when I die? Will you remember me when I’m gone?” We always changed the subject, usually with a joke or handed him a sandwich to shut him up. We understood what he meant was, “I don’t remember my own father well, and all I want is that my own children remember me.” And remember him we will. I don’t think we could forget him even if we tried.
He had rituals and words and inside jokes that will keep all nine of us siblings linked to each other forever. “Egbok” stood for Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, which he would say to us every time we were scared. “Am I as fat as that guy?” was a frequently asked question he asked us, usually in Disneyland while waiting in line for a ride, while people watching, as we licked something sweet. Tonight during Shiva, a friend who had survived her two sons being inflicted with cancer told me that my father, who was also a brilliant Doctor, comforted her by saying “Remember to replace your fear with faith, and the key to health and well being is CHIPS”, which he said stood for “Chocolate, Hawaii, Ice cream, Prednisone, and Sex.” His sense of humor was contagious.
Much like Patch Adams, he was always making practical jokes. His favorite treasure was his plastic poo and his plastic throw up he would hide for the nurses to find during their late night shifts, hoping it would make their working environment caring for the sick and dying a little easier. This week I sit pondering his life, and have listened to person after person say, as they conjure up memories of my father, “No one was as sweet as your father, no one made us feel more comforted, or more loved then your dad.” As my brother said at his funeral yesterday to the well over five hundred guests that attended, “I believe no one is here to pay respects to my father out of obligation, we are all here because we truly truly loved him.” His business partner of 25 years said it perfectly when he described my father saying, “He wasn’t a perfect man, but he was perfect enough for me.” This was the same business partner who shared a doctor’s office with my father, a partnership that was based on a simple handshake. Twenty-five years of private practice, and they never had one single written contract.
Every person who has visited us during Shiva told us his or her own “Ta” stories. There are so many moments and so many memories that have flooded our ears and filled our hearts with great comfort. Like the time a young boy was crying after his father left to New York to attend the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s funeral in 1994, and I learned today, it was my father who spent several hours comforting this boy, speaking to him, and giving him love when he couldn’t make sense of losing his only Rebbe.
He truly loved the underdog. He was the greatest advocate for the flawed man, and felt every person’s pain so deeply. As my husband said tonight, Ta was a man who knew how to hug. When you kiss someone, you kiss his or her face. But a hug is embracing a person’s back, every person’s entirety, even their flaws. To get a hug from Ta, was the greatest most enveloping embrace because we knew he was truly embracing all of us, even our mistakes. I will surely miss those hugs the most.
I’m not sure how to measure a life. I’m not sure if anyone can really measure what a life is. But I do know, if we had to measure my father’s life based on the amount of people that loved him, the amount of comfort he gave to SO many during his lifetime, if we had to measure his life based on how much acceptance and total unconditional love he gave to everyone around him, we would not be able to measure it or quantify it, for it would be an infinite and an unaccountable amount.
My dear father, wherever you are I know you are watching over us. You are waiting for us at Dawning, you are enjoying peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, and you are hugging every person who misses their loved ones up in heaven. And I promise, I will never ever forget you- not ever.
I love you Ta. I love you with all of my heart.