My father died last week. I was with him during his final days and at the end, and would have had it no other way. Friends told me that the passing of a parent is a right of one's own passage; that it signals something about the intergeneration transition that must inevitably occur. I was prepared for that transition, since it is a nature progression of life. What nothing could prepare me for were the countless decisions–some small and others literally about life and death–that would happen during Dad's final days. Every decision seemed tinged with family politics, even in a microscopically small family.
I was determined about three things. First, that Dad would die as calmly and pain-free as medically possible. Achieving this meant a transfer to hospice and the type of care that can only happen outside an acute hospital environment. Second, that my parents' obvious religious differences, never a source of conflict in my experience with them, would not become a flash point at the end. And, third, that my father's body would receive the sort of careful treatment and burial dictated by his religious tradition.
All three things happened, though not without substantial tension between my mother and me. I suspect that this tension is inevitable when there are such stark intergenerational differences in ways off dying. What helped enormously was that my father very clearly conveyed what he wanted to two nurses and me in the early morning hours a few days before he died. I am so fortunate to have been part of that conversation, and understand in a deeper and more personal wan how important it is for parents and adult children to talk about these things before it becomes too late.
I cannot say enough good things about the wonderful doctors and nurses at Mission Hospital in Asheville, NC, or the incredible staff at Solace Hospice. About my father, I invite you to read my eulogy, delivered at Beth Israel Synagogue in Asheville on June 1, 2012.
Shikie Frankel is my father. Not “was,” but “is.” He will always be my father and I his son. He is a part of me in ways I am only beginning to discover, and will be influencing me still should I be fortunate enough to live to 100.
Few of his influences were direct in the form of commands or imperatives. I do not remember his instructions or admonitions. What I remember most clearly and want to talk with you about is how he lived it and the sort of example he set for his only child.
I could talk of the years Dad took off every Friday afternoon to spend with me playing golf when the weather permitted, bowling when it snowed, or doing something else that involved just the two of us. Eventually, well before I had my driver’s license, those Fridays included dropping me at the Yardstick to manage the 6 – 9 pm evening hours. Dad gave me the gift of his time and his trust—just part of what made him a superb father.
I could talk about the incredible courage I saw him muster to endure and recover from two massive surgeries for life-threatening problems. I am pretty sure that either would have reduced me to quivering in fear. I will never forget the equanimity he showed as Wolf accompanied him out of the preparation area and to the operating room for the first operation.
I could also talk about how, in the more than 55 years I have known my parents, I can never remember a quarrel about their very obvious religious differences between an equally conservative Jew and a Baptist. Never have I heard either of them make a negative statement about the other’s faith, a quality that that seems in short supply in today’s world.
But, what I really want to talk about is what I could only learn about Dad after I became an adult of a certain age—that he had the very rare and very valuable gift of being able to relate to almost anyone, something that is obvious just in the people gathered today in this room. His friends over the years in Salt Lake included fellow merchants, fellow congregants at Kol Ami, customers at the Yardstick, and a wonderful native Japanese couple who became my Uncle Frank and Aunt Elsie.
When Mom and Dad left the Yardstick and Salt Lake for North Carolina, I seriously thought that he would either die soon or start making plans to return to the Utah. He did neither. Instead, he found at Beth Israel a collection of other older Jewish guys from New York, all of whom knew similar stories and had some of the same memories. At the golf course, he found new friends from other places, united in their common fondness for the game.
After his heart surgery, he made more friends at the cardiac rehab program, some of whom I met as they visited him following his lung surgery. These included truck drivers, car mechanics, farmers and more, fields where Dad’s knowledge—and to my knowledge, his interest—was minimal. For the past several years he purchased the daily papers at a convenience store along the Weaverville Highway, and when Mom asked me to get them when I first visited during his radiation treatments, I grumbled to myself about how home delivery would be so much easier. Then I discovered why he persevered through all kinds of weather to get the papers at this store. As I waited for change to put into the paper dispenser, the woman behind the counter asked if I was Shikie’s son. When I said yes, another customer, who had been drinking coffee with some other men, stepped over to introduce himself. Within seconds I met three or four people who obviously felt great affection for my father. He would meet these people at the store every morning for a short conversation, maybe some coffee, and most of all a connection to other human beings.
I want to be more like him in this regard. Dad found all his convenience store buddies interesting. And all of them told me that they prayed for his recovery.
Shikie Frankel is my father. For that, I am grateful and very lucky. Thank you, Mom, you picked well those 62 years ago.