Friday, January 22, 2010

the four right chords can make me cry...

For my amazing, hilarious father-in-law, Bernard, who left this world five years ago...but whose influence, brilliance, and undying love live on and on. Happy Birthday, Dad. We miss you.

From Jun. 29th, 2004:

And I have been crying non-stop.

Though I have not spoken of this before, my beloved father-in-law has been quite ill. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer ten years ago, but due to a highly experimental treatment he was receiving, it had been kept at bay until about a month ago when he was hospitalized for a stubborn and inexplicable fever -- which has now been explained. The cancer had spread to both his spine and that magnificent brain of his. With nothing more that could be done, he was sent home.

Gregory and I spent all day Sunday with him -- laughing and joking and me promising to return the next day to read him some PG Wodehouse (his favorite) in the appropriate English accent, of course. That evening, when he turned down a serving of really good vanilla ice cream (also his favorite) we knew that something was dreadfully amiss. We were correct, and unfortunately, on Monday morning, his state worsened, and he became, for the most part, non-responsive -- but for these small, wonderful flashes of recognition every so often. It was as though he were floating underwater and would occasionally rise to meet us.

Needless to say, we hadn't expected it all to deteriorate so quickly, so we took the children to visit him yesterday -- where they each said their good-byes in their own way; the girls were beside themselves with grief, and wept inconsolably...but the boy stood bravely by his grandfather's bed and held his hand and insisted on talking to him about the big upcoming Yankees/Red Sox rivalry game on Wednesday. The boy even wore a Boston cap for his grandfather, The Hahvahd Man -- even though he himself worships at the altar of Yankdom. This small, meaningful gesture spoke volumnes about our son and the man he will one day become.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am for having taken them over when we did. Death is a part of the package -- we will all have to face it someday -- and I think that in years to come, this experience will help them accept what our culture so readily denies and turns away from: that death is very much a part of life. It comes to us all.

I adored Bernard from the very first time we met -- but fell head-over-heels in love with the man when he told me the story of his trip years before to South America to watch and photograph a total eclipse of the sun from a beach in Peru, apparently the best vantage point on the globe for that particular celestial event. He told me that he stood on the sand with thousands of other people from all over the world -- all silent, all riveted, all standing there at the same time, faces all reverently turned upwards towards the heavens, gazing amazed at the dance they saw there, like human beings must have done since the dawn of time. This brilliant, accomplished man -- who in his career made contributions to medicine and science so profound that he was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize in medicine -- told me that in that moment, on that beach in a faraway land, face upturned, standing among the awestruck masses, he never, ever felt more a part of humanity in his life. He felt a oneness that he had never experienced before or since. I was completely smitten, and I wept at his story and at the very deep and real privilege I felt at being a part of this very wise, very amazing man's family.

My darling father-in-law -- MD, world famous scientist, esteemed member of the National Academy of Sciences, lover and patron of the arts, jolly ol' chap, and all around extraordinary human being -- died early this morning in his sleep, in his own bed...his death every bit as peaceful as his life. He lived well and he died well and I was truly privileged to have known him. This highly credentialed, Harvard-educated research scientist accepted me fully and in every way -- an uncredentialed, degreeless, working class high school drop-out from Fresno with a passion for the word -- from the very first moment we met. He held my hand in the dark at my very first opera, Tosca, which I now worship. He bought me my very first bite of Beluga caviar, which I loathed then and still do. My greatest regret is that I ruined for him his life-long love of persimmons by alerting him to the fact that they taste and smell exactly like load (which they do). He knew I was right. He never, ever ate another.

He and I shared a love of Ulysses, Wagnerian operas, ubiquitous profanity, and his precious son. He was my father, he was my friend, he was the one with whom I would weep as we sat silently together and listened to the powerful, mythic strains of Gotterdammerung...or discussed the blissful soliloquy of Molly Bloom.

I am inconsolable.

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