Mo (mofic) wrote,

My father died this morning

As readers of this journal likely already know, I was disowned by my parents when I came out at age 19. They never relented and have had no relationship with my children. That said, I still retain a lot of affection for them both and have many happy memories of them from my childhood. My father and I were very close - I think he felt closer to me than his other children often. I had very little hope that he would change his mind and want to know me again, and what little hope I had was greatly diminished when he began to suffer from Alzheimer's related dementia. Still, where there's life, there's hope. So it's only today that I can say I have none.

I'm trying to get hold of his rabbi to tell some stories, in the hopes that one might be suitable for the eulogy. There are a couple of them behind the cut.

Two stories:

1. This one I always told my kids when they were little, and I can only tell it, I think, in a way for little kids. So here goes (parenthetic comments are the ones the kids typically made):

When I was a little girl I lived in North Dakota (It was a very cold place!) Yes it was a very cold place in the winter, but in the summer it was hot, just like summer here. And we always went on vacation every summer to a lake, where we rented a cottage. We swam and fished and played for a couple of weeks. One summer my grandparents came with us, Baba Lillian and Zaida Lou. (Who else was there?) There was my mommy, my daddy, Uncle Joel (but he wasn't an Uncle then!) No he wasn't. And my other siblings - Harty and Kayo, who were very little then.

One morning Zaida Lou and my Daddy woke Joel and me up very early and we went down to the lake. We took our fishing tackle and we got in a rowboat and rowed to the middle of the lake. And we were having a fun time fishing, fishing, fishing, when very suddenly without any warning there was a storm. It wasn't a rain storm. It wasn't a snow storm. It wasn't a tornado. It wasn't a hurricane. It wasn't a monsoon. (It was a hail storm!) That's right, it was a hail storm. Great big pieces of ice were falling from the sky and they were hard and they were sharp and they hurt!

"Get into the bottom of the boat, Dale!" my daddy said, taking off his shirt as he said it and putting it over me. And I got in the bottom of the boat.

"Get in the bottom of the boat, Joel!" Zaida Lou said, and he didn't have a shirt but he took off his hat and put it on Uncle Joel and he got in the bottom of the boat. And then they leaned over us so that their bodies covered us and we sat there in the bottom of the boat, crying, while we listened to the hail falling.

The storm stopped as suddenly as it had started. My daddy and Zaida Lou scooped up the hail from the boat and then rowed back to shore and we went back to our cottage. When we came in, everybody was crying and hugging each other because they had all been so worried. And my daddy's back and Zaida Lou's back were all bleeding and torn up because the hail was so sharp. And Zaida Lou was bleeding from his head, too, because Zaida Lou had a bald head.

2. My father was a psychiatrist. He was mostly in private practice,but he also worked in psychiatric hospitals part-time. When I was in high school we read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest which is a novel about a man in a psychiatric hospital who launches a kind of rebellion and is tortured as a result by the authority figure, Big Nurse. My father was outraged :-) when I told him the plot. He was actually pretty aware of what snake pits psychiatric hospitals could be and had taken me at age 12 to see a really graphic and harrowing expose on a state mental institution called The Titticut Follies (my major memory of the movie is him whispering in my ear, "Are you okay? I didn't know it would be this bad") but he also had seen first hand how psychiatric hospitals really could be places of healing. He hated the bad press they tended to get in general, hated when people said things like "loony bin" and saw Kesey's plot as furthering a calumny. And me saying that Kesey was using the place as an allegory only made it worse. Why did Kesey have to choose a mental institution to be his allegory? He read the book at my urging, muttering to himself the whole time and full of outrage at how the description of ECS was inaccurate. But even my dad allowed that it did have literary value. He just didn't want a whole generation of school kids reading this book to think that mental institutions were something akin to prisoner of war camps and ECS was torture.

"Why don't you come talk to my class?" I said, and he asked if I really meant it. I said yes and I'd ask my English teacher.

He came to class and talked about his experiences as a psychiatrist, about psychiatric hospitals as places of healing and nurturing care. He talked about how the nurses perform most of the hands on care and how their observations are invaluable to the doctors. He talked about the caring, capable, intelligent psychiatric nurses he had known and the skilled care they offered. And he talked about electro- convulsive shock therapy, and how it's nothing like it is in the book - that the patient is anesthetized before, does not experience it as frightening and that it was extremely effective for severe depression. He said that if he ever suffered from severe depression it's the treatment he wanted. He was very sincere, very convincing. The kids were all rapt.

I walked out with him when the class was over and said I thought he'd done so well. It was one of the few times I saw my father cry. He said, "I was so worried you'd be embarrased by me."

Mervin Rosenberg was born in Bayonne, NJ on April 22, 1925. He grew up in Winnipeg, served in the US Army in World War II. He had an undergraduate degree from the University of Ohio and a medical degree from University of Manitoba. He practiced general medicine in rural North Dakota for many years and then did his psychiatric residency at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut. He died today, in West Hartford, Connecticut, July 20, 2007, the anniversary of the first lunar landing.
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