Editor's Note: In honor of Father's day, Rabbi Michael Levy shares this loving tribute to his father. Click here to read Part 1, which ends with a doctor's discovery of a spot on his father's lung.
My parents tried to cover up this health crisis like all the medical problems of the past. This was especially so because my wife Chavi and I were expecting.
In September, all four of our parents helped with our "big Sunday." We moved and arranged furniture from morning until evening. The file cabinet made its way from the "second bedroom" into ours. A bed disappeared downstairs into the storage area.
A big empty space appeared along one wall of the second bedroom, waiting for a crib. I didn't see my mother's tears when my mother-in-law caught her off guard with the question "How's Aaron?"
I learned about the spot on Dad’s lung only as they were preparing him for the operation. The bicycle ride of so many years ago came to mind. The collision had happened.
I visited Dad on the eve of Yom Kippur. It is a time of year when Jews traditionally experience God's judgment, and ponder whom He will seal in the Book of Life for the coming year.
On the surface, we talked about recovery. But I got the sense that Dad, too, had realized that the collision had happened.
Dad was in pain from the operation, but he was still a teacher. Now Mom was his student, even as she took increasing responsibility for his constant care. He taught her all the details she had never needed to know before. For her, he began organizing all his papers, the insurance, the bills, the bank accounts, the monthly and quarterly and yearly obligations of all sorts.
Our daughter Tehilah arrived eight days later, and Dad visited her two weeks after that. When he held her, it was as if he wanted to impart in some magic way all that he had learned, so that the success for which he had struggled would come easily to her.
He lost weight. A surgeon in Florida told him that the cancer had spread to his stomach and that in all likelihood, he had only a few months to live.
I got the feeling that he’d been expecting this. If he experienced anger and grief, he shielded his children from it yet again. He investigated hospice care, so that he could die at home, as peacefully as possible.
Dad put up a front for the scores of people who visited him. The conversation was always about them. He was still Foxy to the grandchildren. Only when they went away did he let my mother know about some of the pain, and succumb to sleep.
When I visited him in December, we shared the home movies that he preserved for us on a VCR. It was a way of thanking him for many happy memories, and beginning to say good-bye.
By late January, he had made the final hospice arrangements, increased his intake of morphine, and now only had five minutes or so every few hours during which he could communicate with anybody. He would let my mom know who it was he wanted to speak to. My sister, my brother, and I, visiting at different times, waited to be summoned.
I recited the Final Confession with him. He had already made his own peace with G-d long before the formal prayer. If this is Your will, he said, as it became ever harder for him to maintain himself, I accept it.
My jet was leaving in two hours. I went in to say goodbye. I had dreaded this minute most of all.
"Goodbye for now," we told each other. We were both relieved that we had managed to say something.
I wanted to back out of the room, the way one does from a royal presence. I wanted to make up for all those times I had not respected him. But he wouldn't have understood, so I turned and walked out slowly.
"A little to your right," he said. I was not so familiar with their Florida house, and as always, reflexively, he was teaching me another lesson.
He stopped eating on February 14. In the middle of the night, my mother could hear from the monitor that he was no longer breathing.
He started breathing again, and then, as if he himself were participating in the decision, he stopped.
As I hold my two grandchildren, I think about transmitting to him the truths my father taught me. From my stories about their great-grandfather, they will understand that those who have learned to keep their balance as they travel through life know how to end the journey with dignity.
When they are a little older, I will explain Dad’s final lesson: Though the teacher must fall, his teachings remain to steer his offspring for many generations to come.
A native of Bradley Beach, New Jersey, Rabbi Michael Levy attributes his achievements to God’s beneficence and to his courageous parents. His parents supported him as he explored his small home town, visited Israel and later studied at Hebrew University, journeyed towards more observant Judaism, received rabbinic ordination, obtained a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and lectured on Torah and disability-related topics.
As a founding member of Yad Hachazakah, the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, Rabbi Levy strives to make the Jewish experience and Jewish texts accessible to Jews with disabilities. In lectures at Jewish camps, synagogues and educational institutions, he cites Nachshon, who according to tradition boldly took the plunge into the Red Sea even before it miraculously parted. Rabbi Levy elaborates, “We who have disabilities should be Nachshons --boldly taking the plunge into the Jewish experience, supported by laws and lore that mandate our participation.” Rabbi Levy is currently director of Travel Training at MTA New York City Transit. He is an active member of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY. He invites anyone who has disability-related questions to e-mail him at email@example.com
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