My dad was born in 1922, my mom in 24, both first generation Americans. They met at Camp Kindervelt when they were 16 and 14. Dad fought in the war with the 101st mechanized cavalry which was the advanced troops, the scouts. So he was there when some of the camps were liberated, and saw most of his fellow soldiers killed or wounded. It was no accident that he and my mom got married within a few weeks of his discharge.
When we joked with my Mom that she couldn’t wait for him to return so they could get married, with a sly look on her face, she would say “your father couldn’t wait, I was having a great time in college while he was away. And indeed we later found a picture of her in a night club, with a guy in uniform, who clearly was not my father.
My Dad and Mom were living in Florida when my Dad died. He died on a Wednesday, just shy of his 93rd birthday. His heart gave out while he was playing gin rummy at the club house, one of his favorite things. I’m told he had a bad hand, and that’s what did it…they took him to the hospital, and he stayed alive until he could talk by phone to each of his children and then he waited for my mother to get there to say goodbye before he died.
When I would go to visit my mother, I would take her to the cemetery. She would look at the date of his death, shake her head, and say “you know, he waited to say good bye to me at the hospital. But that was quite a present he gave me.” You see he died on November 3rd, and my mother’s birthday was the 5th. In fact we had to delay the funeral because my mother said, in much more colorful language than I will use, that a funeral on her birthday wasn’t happening. So remember that, as I tell this story.
We all thought that mom wouldn’t last long after dad was gone. After all, he had really taken care of her. Three years later she was still going strong. That’s when I had a thought she might never die. After all, when my dad was taking care of her, she would ask for something and he would often say, what are you crazy? They loved each other immensely, but boy could they bicker. Actually mom won most arguments.
In fact one year they were arguing about whether or not to come back to New Jersey for Passover. My father wanted to and my mother didn’t. They were fighting so badly that my sister asked me in my mediator mode to call and talk to my dad. When I called he said “I wish my children would butt out.” I asked him what was going to happen. he said “your mother and I will do what we do” What’s that? “we will argue and argue and argue.” OK. Then what will happen? “and then we will do what we always do-whatever she wants!”
So after he died, she had aides who were with her 24/7. They jumped when she asked for something. I have to admit there were times that she did not speak to them very nicely. But they tolerated it and in fact really cared for her. So in reality, I realized she was living like a queen. She could get whatever she wanted, without any argument. Her kids came to see her all the time, her grandchildren and great grandchildren lived near by and visited regularly. I don’t think she really wanted to give that up. So I decided she might actually live forever.
Unfortunately I don’t think that ever happens. About a year later, we got a call on the Saturday night after Thanksgiving. Mom had gone to the clubhouse, had dinner, some of her favorite wine, gone back to her apartment, was sitting and talking to her aide, and suddenly had become unresponsive. My nephew, the doctor, a pulmonologist, visited with her and said that he didn’t think she would make it through the night. So my brother and sister and I rushed down there. We got there at various times on Sunday, and Mom was still completely unresponsive, but alive. We arranged for hospice care in the apartment as it was clear she would not recover. The hospice doctor came, examined her, and made another appointment for Tuesday, but said truthfully he didn’t expect to come back. We took turns being with my mother. We all said goodbye and told her what a great mother she had been. We kept talking to her, knowing that people say that hearing is the last thing to go, but never really knowing if she was hearing what we said. There was absolutely no response at all. We told her that it would be OK for her to leave. But she didn’t.
Fortunately, I had completed my Jewish bioethics class. It gave me insight into how to deal with end-of-life issues. I was able to explain to my Aunt Carol, my mother’s best friend and at 88 years old the youngster of their group, why we weren’t taking my mother to the hospital or tube feeding her at this point. We were allowing her death to proceed naturally with out extending it.
But it was starting to get hard watching my mother. Without nourishment it looked like she was withering away. On Wednesday, the nurse told us not to go too far for lunch because she didn’t think my mother would make it through the afternoon. Instead we came back and she was still the same, her blood pressure was maybe even a bit stronger. My wife came down that evening, she had been sick and we didn’t want her to come down until necessary. When she walked in the door my brother asked her to go talk to mom. “We think since you were the only one not here, maybe she was waiting for you before she was willing to leave,”he said. Debbie went into talk to her. It didn’t make a difference. In fact when she got out from talking with my mom my sister said, “I guess you weren’t that important after all.” We all laughed. In fact we spent most of the days telling stories that made us laugh, or looking at old pictures, or cleaning out things in the apartment (which we all acknowledged was necessary, but a little creepy with her still in the next room).
We were really stuck. Although we didn’t want to go home, we weren’t sure how long we could stay. This could go on for a long time. The doctors had given up on predictions because every one had been wrong. We all thought that the moment we left my mother would die . And make us turn right around and come back. We thought that was my mother’s style. But she fooled us again. Very early Friday morning my mother died. We all went to the apartment, and said our final goodbyes. The funeral home came and took her body, and we made arrangements for the funeral. Since she died on Friday the funeral would be on Sunday.
Saturday night we had a dinner at my Mom’s club house. My siblings, our spouses, those children of ours who could make it, my aunt and uncle, some cousins and mom’s aides. The waiters and clubhouse staff kept coming over and telling us how great my mom was and that she would be missed. They didn’t have to remind us how good a tipper she had been. We spent that dinner telling all the stories, giving the eulogies, that we would not be giving in the short funeral service the next day.
So here’s the bottom line, why I am telling this story. So you will see the miracle of exercising the strong will given to us by God. My brother and sister and I were in Florida, together, for eight days. We live fairly spread out and although we see each other somewhat regularly for holidays and events we never spend any extended time all together. I believe that my mother wanted us to have that time together, so she waited to die until we had a new Viniar family record for most time for all three of us together in the last 50 years. After all when my dad died we were together for six days, for his funeral and Shiva with my Mom. She knew we would not sit Shiva together in Florida. So my mom wanted to beat Dads record, and she made sure she did. Oh, and here’s one last thing. What did I tell you up front to remember? Remember I told you that Mom thought my father dying two days before her birthday was quite a present? Well, By waiting, by holding on for six more days before she died, my mom had waited until November 30. November 30, the day my mom died, was, my father‘s birthday.