Updated: Nov 17, 2019
After a courageous and lengthy battle with cancer, my dad passed away on January 11th, 2018. I have had so many thoughts and emotions about my dad, his illness, and his death, and I’ve just skimmed the surface in the eulogy (below) that I delivered at his funeral on January 16th.
I want to begin by thanking my Mom for taking care of my Dad for all these years. I can’t even begin to imagine what went on behind the scenes, but even just making sure that he got to his appointments, that he took his medicine, and that he ate and drank enough was no small feat, and then you also conducted research to find him the best treatment available all over the country, and kept in touch with and questioned his doctors constantly. You nursed Dad back to health after multiple surgeries and setbacks, and you are most of the reason that we had him for as long as we did.
When my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 11.5 years ago, we were told he would probably not live more than one year. Matt and I had only been married for a little over a year at that point, and we didn’t have any children yet. Upon learning of my Dad’s diagnosis, I decided that I wanted to have a baby. Although my dad was already a grandfather, I felt an urgency to see him in the role of grandfather to a child of mine, and I hoped that he would live long enough for some of his personality to rub off on that child. That child is Caroline, and my Dad lived long enough to not only be a major presence in her life, but in the lives of Will (whose name he called out and whose hand he squeezed hard last week, in the midst of his delirium) and James as well. He loved each one of them so much, and they are the beneficiaries of my Dad’s gentle and comforting nature, his abounding patience, his keen interest, and his sense of humor.
I missed my dad for years before he was gone; not because he changed much, but because I knew he would be leaving us. I began taking notes about him so that I wouldn’t forget anything, and I’ll tell you some of the things that were significant for me to remember.
Family was a matter of paramount importance to him, and he wanted us to be together always. When his father, Benjamin, was dying, he called my father into his hospital room and said, “Stay with Henry,” my uncle, and he called Henry into his hospital room to say, “Stay with Julian.” That was a lesson my Dad passed down to us: stay with the family. This past week, we were all together as much as possible, and we will continue to be together, and my
Dad would be happy about that.
My Dad served in the Navy as Lieutenant, Junior Grade , and loved stories centered around the sea, particularly Billy Budd, Robinson Crusoe, Captains Courageous, and Mutiny on the Bounty. He used old-fashioned words like “dungarees” “salve” and “sanguine.” He called aluminum foil “tin foil” and so do I. He tied his shoelaces like a child: two loops first, then a knot. He loved and appreciated nature, and was always awed the brightness of green trees against the grey sky right before it rained. Whenever we would go to Florida he would remind us how amazing it was that we could be in New York in the morning and Florida by lunchtime.
My Dad was a man of integrity who always strove to do the right thing, even if that thing were difficult to do. He was a man on whose advice and dependability you could constantly rely. He was gentle, patient, and almost never raised his voice. I can’t recall his ever being angry with me except for one time and I deserved it. He made me feel comfortable and supported, and he was always interested in what I had to say, even the most mundane things. He was a true renaissance man, someone who was equal parts business and creativity. He made the most stunning and professional-level pottery as a hobby, and we are proud to display it in our home. He was a successful entrepreneur, and managed to not offend anyone with whom he was negotiating. He was a consummate diplomat and peacekeeper, both at home and in his professional life. Most of all, there was something magical about him, such that everyone who met him loved him immediately and forever.
One of my favorite things about my Dad was his sense of humor. At a very traditional Japanese restaurant, after taking a look at the indecipherable menu, he asked the waiter, deadpan, for a roll with butter. He once said to one of our family’s dogs, ‘‘I like you, Buddy, because you don’t have any of my credit cards.’’ When he and my Mom were shopping for a sofa bed, he told me that one of the brand’s motto’s was ‘‘For people you want to come back again.’’ My Dad joked that there should be another brand whose motto would be ‘‘For people you don’t.’’ I asked which sofa he would choose and he just smiled.
My Dad often used his sense of humor to diffuse tension. When I took him to the hospital for a test a few years ago, he walked up to the check-in desk and said to the woman behind it, before she had even asked him a question: “Julian Jadow. J-A-D as in David-O-W, 12/19/1930, four children, six grandchildren. Not allergic to latex. And they say I have a likelihood of falling but it hasn’t happened yet.” He liked to tell people in the medical profession that he had something called ‘‘micturational syncope’’ and then wait eagerly with a twinkle in his eye to see their reaction. I think he was testing them to see if they knew what it was and how to spell it. Once, during a hospital stay, he got a flyer which said that for Hanukkah the chaplain and music therapy team could pay him a visit to brighten his room with songs, prayers, and joy. I read this flyer to him and he asked “How do you get them to not visit?” Although he greatly respected and cherished all of his doctors, he liked to poke fun at them to keep things light. He would report, “She doesn’t see anything in the liver. But I’m not so sure she knows where the liver is.”
Over the course of his life, my Dad was a hero on multiple occasions. When my Mom choked at home (several times) my Dad performed the Heimlich maneuver on her. He once pulled a little girl who couldn’t swim out of the deep end of a swimming pool when her parents didn’t see her jump in. And as for me…watching my Dad tolerate much of his pain unmedicated over the last few years, especially after he suffered compression fractures in his back as a result of radiation, encouraged me to do the same with my migraines. He changed my life, just by being stoic. What’s more, being able to rid my body of excess toxins also enabled me to have a third child, something I had always wanted. Without my Dad, there would be no James.
I don’t know what my Dad was like at home during his numerous treatments, but to me he rarely complained. He was brave and tough, and he didn’t like to think of himself as sick. He would say, “I may drop dead at any minute, but I’m not sick.” Anytime he answered the phone, even right after major surgery, he would clear his throat before saying hello so that his voice would sound strong. He didn’t want people to think of him as weak, and he would say of his cane, as he was using it to walk, “I don’t need my cane, it just gives me confidence.” When he said that, it reminded me of my grandmother, his mother, who would always tell people, as she aged, “I can’t walk, but I can dance.”
Up until two weeks ago, my Dad answered his phone whenever I called, and we could still have real conversations. Then he got too tired too talk. And then he drifted away. I will miss calling him everyday on my walk to school to pick up the kids. I will miss his presence at family gatherings. I will miss his comforting and supportive nature. We lost a great man. I hope he knows how much he was loved, admired, respected, and appreciated, and how totally unforgettable he is. We could have relied on him for anything. I feel extremely lucky to have had him as a father.
When I think back to that time over a decade ago, when we were first given bad news, all I wanted was for my dad to survive. I guess you could say I felt Dayenu, or It would have been enough. And then I wanted to get pregnant, so that Matt and I could give my dad just one grandchild from us. And I did. Dayenu. And then we made my Dad a grandfather again. Dayenu. And then again. Dayenu. And after all these years, last week I was told that my Dad had only a few days to live and I thought, “Not Dayenu.” When it comes to a loved one, it’s never enough. I know that, with respect to my father, I got everything I asked for and more. But we still weren’t ready. It wasn’t enough.
I imagine that one of the biggest fears, when facing death, is that people will forget about you; that life will continue on without you and that you won’t only cease to exist but that, in the act of people’s forgetting, it will be as if you never existed at all. Dad, I want to assure you that we won’t forget you. We will talk of you often, we will think of you always, we will look at your picture, we will cry, and we will laugh. We all love you so much. They said one year, Dad, and you gave us 11. You are our own personal Hanukkah miracle, and I am so grateful for that.