I just came in from a glorious Florida beach sunset. As if there were any other kind.
This one had a special significance for me. Ageless and timeless as they all are, I felt tremendous joy and peace sending a friend home via this one. Four days into my tropical writing retreat, I received word that a dear friend had passed away back in New York. The soonest flight I could get was three days away, and all of the services would be over by then so I sent condolences and mourned from afar. On the day of his funeral my phone was alive with calls, texts and emails from people checking in to make sure I was okay. In between came therapeutic journaling and weeping sessions. I felt helpless being so far away from his family, yet so loved and cared for. And the stormy day here ended with a magnificent rainbow.
Taking a walk on the beach, I set aside my own grieving time during the last two hours of my friend’s Shiva. While his family was receiving loving support, I embraced them in my heart and replayed happy memories. All brought me smiles, some laugh out loud moments. As my feet shuffled back and forth in the warm waves, I suppose I looked rather strange to the passersby if they even noticed my random musings. An unusual black stone with barnacle remnants washed up at my feet, followed by a perfect “Y” of coral. I picked up each of these gifts from the sea to place on his tombstone when I return, per his Jewish tradition.
I simply loved this man. He was in his early nineties when he passed. He had slowed down through the years, but with a smile that never left him, a sense of humor that always came with a joke and an impersonation of Donald Duck that could not be surpassed, he brought me intense joy. He was an award-winning teacher whose passion went beyond the classroom making his lessons interesting and fun. He turned his science into fun and magic at seminars, neighborhood block parties, and everyday situations touching thousands of young lives.
I was privileged to watch him as a loving father and husband. When he turned ninety, I asked him to what he attribute his longevity. He paused pensively for some time before he answered. When he did, it was with a confident smile and a one-word response. His wife’s name. As he became more frail and needed more care, I visited him in assisted living and then in a skilled nursing facility that separated him from his beloved. I sang along to Christmas songs next to him one activity time. “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.”
When his spirit began to take over his body, he spoke less and slowly, requiring more thought and careful listening skills from me. As I visited his bedside, he often gazed out the window and alternated his silent smile between me and the beyond. I was usually quiet, but when I did share stories about my life or updates about the family, he folded his hands and twisted his wedding ring in circles. I somehow sensed this meant something deeply symbolic to him.
The last time I saw him he was very weak, yet awake. I asked him if he wanted me to open his closed blinds and window, which were obscuring the outside world, and he smiled and nodded. I stayed by his bedside and held his hand, remarking about the nature. He stared outside and drifted in and out of sleep. When I left, I kissed his forehead and told him I loved him, his wife, son and grandson, naming them one at a time. He smiled and, with no effort said, “You love everybody.” I laughed and agreed, “I suppose I do, I’ve discovered that it is much easier to live that way.”
The day before I left for Florida I stopped by to deliver his Father’s Day card. When I arrived at his room the door was closed so I inquired at the nurses’ station. His nurse said, “He has left the building, and you should check with the family.” I signed out at the desk, knowing that he had not gone for a walk and confident that he would’ve laughed about the Elvis reference.
I was at the airport the next day ready to board my flight to Florida when I received a text from his son telling me he was gravely ill and in the hospital, yet comfortable. I knew he was in gentle, loving, perfect hands.
The next correspondence I received was that he had passed the day before Father’s Day. When I return home from Florida to his card on my desk, I know I will cry because it was never delivered and I will always miss him. Yet many of those tears will be joyful, filled with precious and many memories of fond Father’s Day celebrations and times spent together when he was healthy.
Like all of my friends who pass away, I know he will be taking a bit of me to his paradise and leaving all of his humor and sweet love behind. A precious gift indeed.