07 November 2012 by Published in: General musings 35 comments

Many of you have been on this journey with me since its beginning in 2005. I have often said how important this blog is to me and how much I cherish my interactions with you here. I try to keep things on-topic most of the time, but those of you have been with me for a long time know that writing—and this blog—are often my personal therapy. In the end, I am a writer. It’s what I am, and it’s who I am. Often, my writing feels like it’s the one and only thing that is completely my own. That means that sometimes I deviate from that which is on topic for this blog because I have the need to talk about what’s going on in my life. I apologize for that, but it really does help me, and I appreciate your perpetual patience with that.

Earlier this year, I did just that, discussing the ordeal that Susan and I faced with the ultimate decline of my parents’ health. That was, without doubt, the most stressful and most horrendous time of my life. As an only child, I was backed into a corner and forced to make the sorts of decisions that nobody ever wants to make, especially where one’s parents are involved. Although it was deeply personal, all of you did so much to help to ease the blow and to help me feel a little bit better about the awfulness of it all. And for that, I am and will be eternally grateful.

Part of that terrible journey has now reached its inevitable end, and I am writing this just to try to comprehend it and to try to process the unthinkable. As is my wont, I will share it with you, my extended family.

On Sunday, I flew out to Los Angeles to try a case. It’s been a while since I’ve done so, and I faced a real challenge. I am the sixth lawyer on this case, and the first three screwed it up royally, perhaps even irretrievably. I am left to try to fix the mess, even though it may be too screwed up to fix. I spent the day yesterday preparing a witness for his testimony and defending a last minute deposition of a critical witness. I did some legal research for a pretrial motion that I intended to make, watched the Eagles lose on Monday night football, and then I turned out the light and tried to get some rest before what promised to be a long and tiring day (trial work is exhausting—you have to pay very close attention to every single word being said, and being “on” for hours at a time is very mentally tiring).

When I go to California and it’s usually only for a few days, and I do my level best to keep myself on east coast time, as it makes the jet lag on the return trip a lot easier to take. That meant that I woke up at 4:30 this morning with a real sense of unease, that something was wrong. Realizing that while my body’s internal clock was telling me that it was my normal time to wake up, I rolled back over and slept for another hour. I got up at 5:30, went through my normal morning routine, and put on my navy blue suit. I had just finished tying my tie when my cell phone rang. Knowing it was 6:00 in the morning in L.A., I knew it had to be someone back east calling. I picked up the phone, saw the number of the nursing station at the nursing home where my parents now live, and gulped, knowing that this was not going to be good news.

The nurse—a kind soul—told me that my father had vomited during the night, and that when they tried to rouse him this morning, he was completely non-responsive. She indicated that the staff physician wanted to have him transported to the hospital to determine what was wrong, which I authorized. I explained my circumstances, and asked her to deal with Susan, as I figured I would not be able to take a call in court. I then proceeded to finish my trial preparation and make the long trek into downtown L.A. for the court appearance. My co-counsel and I got there with an hour to spare, so we went to the courthouse cafeteria for something to drink and so I could put some cases he had printed out for me into my trial notebook.

I had no sooner finished doing that when the phone rang. This time it was Susan, calling to tell me that my father had suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage, that there was nothing that could be done, and that he would not survive 24 more hours. Stunned, I asked her to set the wheels in motion to handle funeral arrangements, etc., that I would have to rely upon her since I was tied up and unavailable. My wife is a rock. She is probably the strongest person I know, and she is at her very best in a crisis. With that, and to my eternal gratitude, she took charge.

Now numb and desperately trying to process what I had just heard, I told my co-counsel that if there was any way that I could get there to say goodbye, I wanted to do so. He understood—Jim is a kind and very decent man for whom I have nothing but the utmost admiration and fondness—so we went and sought out opposing counsel. She nodded understanding, but would not agree to a continuance—something for which I can never forgive her—and said she would leave it to the court. Fortunately, the judge showed some compassion and granted my request for a continuance for one week.

I then fielded the call nobody should ever have to take. It was the doctor from the ER at the hospital, telling me that there was nothing that could be done, and did I want any heroic measures taken. I said no, make him comfortable, give him some dignity, and just let him slip away. And with that, it was done. I stood on the street in Los Angeles across from the courthouse, weeping. Poor Jim—he didn’t know what to say or do, so he just stood there, with his hand on my shoulder, not saying a word. It was what I needed at that moment—just a decent, compassionate human being letting me know that I wasn’t alone, and for that I will always be grateful.

I went back to the hotel, quickly changed into more comfortable clothing, stuffed my other belongings into my carry-on, and called my very few relatives to tell them the bad news. And then it was time to commence a race that I cannot win: the race with the grim reaper.

Jim drove me to LAX, and $700 later, I am writing this on a plane to Philadelphia. Susan is driving there, and will pick me up at the airport. There is no Internet access on this flight, and I have no way of knowing whether I will get there in time to say goodbye to him. I just won’t know until I land.

As we flew east, I got to witness one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. As I watched it, all I could think was that God had given me a gift: a final beautiful sunset for my dad. Perhaps it was his spirit leaving—I just don’t know. As I sat there with tears running down my face, I was immensely grateful for this fleeting gift of nature’s beauty.

I don’t know precisely what awaits me when I land in Philadelphia, but it’s only a question of when and not if. I will have to tell my mother that her husband of 54+ years is gone. I will then have to explain to her why the medical providers do not think that she is capable of attending his funeral, prospects that chill me to the very fiber of my being. And now, at the age of 51, I face life without my dad. I knew that this day would come sooner than later; when I saw him for his birthday in August I had a very strong feeling that it would be his last. I have viewed the last five+ years since his first stroke as borrowed time, and I am grateful for every minute of that borrowed time. And now that borrowed time has run out, as it inevitably must for each and every one of us.

My dad was my first and best friend. Some of my earliest, happiest memories are of watching ball games with him, and he was always my favorite golfing buddy. I will miss his easy, mischievous grin and his big, outgoing salesman’s personality that I could never match. I will miss his ability to find fun in almost any situation. I will miss him terribly for the rest of my days, and I can only hope that he is proud of the man that I have grown into.

UPDATE: I am now on the ground in Philadelphia, awaiting Susan’s arrival. There was an accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that held her up. My father is still alive. I have a hunch that he’s waiting for me to get there, which I desperately want to do.

ADDITIONAL UPDATE: He’s gone. I did not get there in time. Joseph Wittenberg, August 10, 1920-November 7, 2012. I will miss him for the rest of my days.

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Comments

  1. Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 8:06 am

    Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss. I know no other words other than to give you my deepest sympathies. This post is beautifully written, even with such a sad message, and I do appreciate your courage in writing it. I hope you and your family find comfort somehow.

  2. Alton Bunn
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 8:46 am

    Eric,

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. I lost my father three years ago and understand what a hard thing it is. You have my deepest sympathies and I hope you find comfort with your wife and family.

  3. Mike Peters
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 9:17 am

    Bro,

    You and your family are at the forefront of my prayers.

  4. Brad Snyder
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 9:36 am

    Eric,

    My condolences to you and Susan and your family. Take comfort in the great times you had with your father and celebrate his life. I will keep you in my prayers.

  5. Brent Oman
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 9:46 am

    Eric -

    I am so sorry for your loss. My father was my best friend, and we lost him 6 years ago. Time allows the great memories to block out the grief of loss. Our thoughts are with you and your family.

  6. John Foskett
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 11:34 am

    Eric: My deepest condolences. i had a similar experience involving my mother.

  7. Nick Fry
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 11:52 am

    Eric,

    My sincere condolences on your loss. My prayers are with you and your family during this time.

    Take Care
    -Nick

  8. John Mills-Darrington
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Eric
    My prayers are for you, Susan and your mother
    John

  9. John Benintendi
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 3:10 pm

    My Friend -

    First, I want you to know that I was saddened to hear of your loss. My heart goes out to your mother, to Susan, to you, and to the rest of your family.

    Second, please know that you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. There is so little that one can do other than pray and to let you know you are being thought of and prayed for.

    I know it is of little comfort but my favorite passage in the Bible comes to mind – Luke 23:42-43. “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” I am sure that your father is in paradise this day.

    Take care my friend.

    John

  10. Brian L.
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Eric, thoughts & prayers go out to you.

  11. Gary Dombrowski
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Eric, Please accept my sympathy to you and your family at this most difficult time. ~Gary

  12. Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Hi Eric

    There are some things you never will get over, but you will allways move forward.

    Think like this:
    Do not think about that you have lost your father. Think instead of how lucky you were to have had him as a father and friend for all those years.

    I know that you – with Susan by tour side – will move on.

    Regards and thoughts from Denmark.

    Jan

  13. Chris Evans
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Please accept my condolences.

    In terribly sad and trying moments as these I try to take comfort in the words of George Harrison from ‘All Things Must Pass’:
    ‘Now the darkness only stays the night-time
    In the morning it will fade away
    Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
    Its not always going to be this grey’

    Chris

  14. Jacob Jackson
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Deepest condolences to you. I know words are just that, but know that your internet family is with you.

  15. Butch Barringer
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 7:26 pm

    I am terribly sorry for your loss. In a way, you are fortunate, as you got to spend many wonderful years with your dad (mine passed when I was 12). You will have those memories with you for the rest of your days, and you will love remembering them. My best to you and Susan.
    Butch Barringer

  16. Beth
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 8:00 pm

    I stumbled across this entry pursuing further information on To Appomattox. May God heal your wounds, ease your pain, and soften your grief.

  17. Scott Stemler
    Wed 07th Nov 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Eric,
    My deepest sympathy goes out to you and your family for your loss. Always cherish all of the memories with your father. I lost my father back in 1996, but there is never a day that goes by that I don’t think of past experiences with him.
    Take care,
    Scott

  18. Dennis
    Thu 08th Nov 2012 at 8:22 am

    My sincere condolences to you and your family Eric. Having lost my parents earlier I understand the trial you are facing. Hopefully the words of your friends here will let you know many are standing with you to help as they can.

    Regards,
    Dennis

  19. Thu 08th Nov 2012 at 8:52 am

    Eric,

    I am terribly sorry to hear of your loss. My deepest condolences to you and yours.

    Kind Regards,

    Damian.

  20. Thu 08th Nov 2012 at 10:24 am

    Eric,
    Bummer wishes to sincerely express sympathy on the loss of your father. My dad has long since passed and his memory, widom and humor lives in my heart always. We have been blessed in the mentoring experience that many have missed. I reflect on Lincoln and his eloquence in the quiet times.

    “In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once.”

    Abraham Lincoln

  21. J David Petruzzi
    Thu 08th Nov 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Eric, glad we got to talk about it a couple times since yesterday. We share very similar circumstances because of my mom – two years ago I got that phone call too (she had already died in my case) but you feel very helpless when you can’t be there.
    I never got to meet your dad, but as you know I spoke on the phone with him several times. He always had a spring in his voice.
    When my mom died, I asked myself that same question – was she proud of me? Many told me she was, and that was good enough.
    Let me be one of many to assure you that your dad was very proud.
    J.D.

  22. Rick Allen
    Thu 08th Nov 2012 at 5:50 pm

    That piece of writing alone would have made your Father very proud.

  23. DLC
    Thu 08th Nov 2012 at 9:47 pm

    My condolences on the loss of your father. We spend much of our adult life (30-60) when our parents are elderly and we are away from them, waiting for “the call”. The thought of “the call” can take up alot of our time with dread. Then, when “the call” comes, we are never prepared and ready. Many get “the call” and it is shocking and traumatic. But more, like me, go through months of hospice, chemo, radiation, and despair. Neither is preferable and loss hurts just the same.

  24. Kent Dorr
    Thu 08th Nov 2012 at 11:28 pm

    Sincere condolances to you on your loss. There is something deeply profound in the passing of ones parents, especially if the relationship was rich. It is not regret but more that the ordered universe one has always known is forever gone.
    I got that call about 3 years ago..first from my father telling me my mother had passed and then 8 weeks later a second call that my father was dead as well. No farewells in either case. Cherish the memories of what you had and it will help sustain you in the loss.

  25. Mike Fitzpatrick
    Fri 09th Nov 2012 at 6:28 am

    Eric,
    My condolences on the loss of your father.

    Mike Fitzpatrick

  26. Michael Aubrecht
    Fri 09th Nov 2012 at 4:03 pm

    (((Giving you a big hug bro.)))

  27. R.K. MacDonald, Jr.
    Fri 09th Nov 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Eric, that was beautiful. Yes, the sunset was for him. I feel the same about my father, I am 53, and I don’t know how I’d react to losing my father, little alone my grandfather. My father taught me everything. Godspeed my good friend.
    You will see him again. That I know.

  28. Clark B. Hall
    Sat 10th Nov 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Eric, please count me close alongside your friends who stand beside you at this terrible time.

    I never had the pleasure and honor of meeting your father, but I do know this great man lives on through you–and throughout the larger body of your important scholarly work. Look at it this way: Without him, what in the world would we know about cavalry in the Civil War?

    Indeed, both your father and his DNA (TE) will hold forth gallantly on the field of mounted combat until the end of time. And those of us who adore you would not of course have it any other way.

    I lost my father at the age of 16 and the day does not go past that I do not yet seek the approval of this most important man in my life. One imagines you will seek–and secure–this same approval of your own esteemed father…

    With heartfelt condolences,.. Bud

  29. Brian S.
    Sun 11th Nov 2012 at 3:06 am

    Hey Eric,

    I’m sorry to read about this. God bless you and your family.

  30. Sun 11th Nov 2012 at 7:58 pm

    So sorry for your loss. I know you will miss him but your memories of him will come daily so cherish them with wonderful thoughts. You will have something postive each and every day.

  31. Gordon Ponsford
    Mon 12th Nov 2012 at 9:03 am

    Hi Eric
    My thoughts are with you and your family

  32. Mon 12th Nov 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Eric,
    So very sorry for your loss. It is always so hard to lose a parent.

  33. Tom Canfield
    Mon 12th Nov 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Eric, My deepest sympathy. I read your blog entry and found myself with tears in my eyes. It has been a year last September that my Dad passed. It is as raw some days as if it where that long numbing day again. I know how much your Dad ment to you and the loss you feel. We all know the day must come but never quite are ready for it when it does. But he suffers no more. I missed getting there for my Dad too and the woulda-coulda’s abound. When that weighs on me, I think of how he handled the routine and know he wouldn’t want the fuss. All the best my friend to you and Susan.

  34. Thu 15th Nov 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Eric,

    Just checked in here, and am getting caught up. I was greatly saddened to hear of your pain and loss.

    I lost my mom in March, a wound that is still very raw.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  35. Kevin Lonergan
    Thu 29th Nov 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Eric:

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Be thankful of all the Good Times that you had with your Dad! Your father raised a kind and compassionate man who has given back to the world! My most sincere condolences.

    Kevin Lonergan

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