Lessons Learned Oddly Applied

Growing up, Mom and Dad made sure every visitor felt welcome in our home with a (proverbial or actual) warm and welcoming embrace. 

And our cultural, religious and family traditions had to follow suit.  My parents never cared much for tradition that didn’t honor everyone, engender both joy and remembrance and welcome the stranger.

I remember, at one Passover years and years ago, a relatively new friend of Mom (she made friends every day, even in the elevator or on a City bus) came over for her first Passover seder and brought something that she had made and  . . .  


there were noodles in it.  [NOT kosher for Passover.]

It was a shock to all of us that someone would make something homemade (especially to my mother) because, after all, we lived in New York City.

SIDEBAR:  No one “cooked” except for Mrs. Travers (of blessed memory) who made the same cherry Jello mold with fruit since the early 1960s.  Don’t laugh because it became so “groovy retro” in the 1990s.

So my mother was charmed and mortified all at once. Still, what to do about the noodles?

Without missing a beat, my mother put the noodle dish on the Passover table.  As everyone sat down, she thanked her friend for bringing it and advised those observing the Passover dietary restrictions that this was not a dish for them.

Just as it is written that, each of us was liberated from the land of Egypt and we eat the Hillel sandwich of the matzah and maror signifying the bitterness  of slavery and other symbolic foods, the Blogger family ate the matzah, maror and some pasta and veggies, in observance of our tradition and our parents’ rules about joy and welcoming the stranger in our house.

Fast forward twenty or more years to Dad’s Shiva.

Ok, “Shiva” was only one night, so it doesn’t even meet the requirements of the name, Shiva. And, a female rabbi who looked about 11 years old led the service. 

And THEN . . . .

My brother beckons me to the kitchen. 

SIDEBAR: It has taken many years but I think that my brother and I are in a good place.  I know we love each other.  And, I have a deep admiration and respect for him.  And, he is just so adorable and handsome and funny.

“Hey, E . . . . ” he says with his Texas drawl.  “SOB’s [Sister of blogger’s] birthday is in two days and we are going back to Dallas. We brought this birthday cake with these crazy striped pastries on top.  Like the ones Grandma and Grandpa used to bring from the bakery in Brooklyn.”

The following things ran through my head:








“BOB [Brother of blogger], great idea!!  Let’s wait until the Shiva minyan is over and those who would be totally offended have left, OK?”

So, when we thought “the coast was clear” and some of SOB’s friends were still around, out came the birthday cake, with candles and everything.

Also? It was GREAT cake. (Just sayin’.)

And, courtesy of BOB and his family, there was joy for us three kids amid the sadness.  And we bent the traditions so far back that they almost broke in two — but not quite.

And Mom and Dad smiled down.  They were proud. 

And the three of us?  We would not have done a thing differently.

Lucy and Ethel and Nat

I have mostly stopped blogging out of respect for Dad because the week to week life of an aged man needing 24 hour care is something that is reserved for family, on a need to know basis.  To discuss the details, although helpful to those in similar situations, would have been an indignity to Dad.

But some things are funny and sad.  And they need to be shared if only so we all know that life and death, love and hate, laughter and mourning, all exist at the same time, in every moment of our lives.

BOB (brother of blogger) came home to see Dad on a Friday.  Dad’s joy was unparalleled at having most of his family at the dinner table, even though the rest of BOB’s family was still in Dallas (which is to be expected; they have school, etc.).

Saturday morning, Dad was barely responsive and unable to walk.  We knew this was the beginning of the end.  Except, not quite.  Because Dad is the comeback kid.

Still, we all came running.

At around 7pm, by sheer force of family will, we had Dad in a wheelchair in the living room and drinking wine and toasting life.  But we had to help him sip and then we had to get him back into bed.

But, if this was going to be the end, then our Dad was going to have whatever he wanted.

And, in the days ahead, that amounted to wine and chocolate ice cream.


THIS IS AN IMPORTANT PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:  Ask your loved ones for their ice cream of choice for end of life/palliative care purposes.  I was surprised that SOB wanted chocolate (I was sure the answer would be vanilla) and that BOB has no preference (I was sure it was strawberry). Avoid the wrong ice cream choice at all costs.  Don’t worry about the meds (other than the “chill” meds).  Worry about the ice cream.  TRUST ME.

By Sunday, BOB was having his first goodbye moment with Dad before he left to fly home to take care of his family.

ANOTHER SIDEBAR: Dad never goes down on any of the first fifty counts.  How else do you think he got to 96.5???  We all knew BOB was coming back before the FINALE.

Monday afternoon, we re-enrolled Dad for hospice.  He had been kicked off of hospice three times because he so far outlived every guestimate.

Tuesday afternoon, the hospice doctor was scheduled to come to examine Dad.  Earlier that afternoon, Dad awoke from 36 hours of total unconsciousness and wanted fruit and ice cream and wanted to get out of bed.

EVEN BIGGER SIDEBAR WITH PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Death is never as linear, neat or as easy as in the movies.  It is a war of attrition.  At no point is it clear that the elderly or infirm person will die; it is clear however, that the caretakers might kill themselves.  Resist the urge to go out the window.  Close them.  Child locks are best.  Just sayin’.  You eat more and drink more than ever you thought was possible. Go with it.  The gym and the drying-out will have to wait.

So, Dad is being fed ice cream and fruit in the dining room, just as SOB is saying, “he needs to be back in bed before the hospice doctors get here….”

Sidebar:  It was important for the hospice doctors to see him how he was — dying — and not judge him by his “perk” in mild energy and appetite. We needed hospice so that when he died, he would go from our warm embrace to ritual cleansing to burial and there would no interference by EMT or NYPD because that would defile his body.]



SOB slow walks to the door, yelling, “coming!!!!” as I pop a wheelie on Dad’s wheelchair and careen him toward his bedroom.  I stop to get my scarf that is strewn on a chair, because I want the full-on Snoopy “Curse you, Red Baron!!” look.

Janet freaks out — but we need to have flair in these difficult times.

As Janet opens the apartment door, I finish my dash into Dad’s room where his wonderful aide is taking a short break.

“Quick, into the bed!!!!”

“Sorry, Dad, I know this is hard. . . . .” as Heather and I left him and place him on the bed, and then swing his body so that he is lying comfortably.

Dad goes back into his semi-coma before we even get him on the bed.

Heather and I barely assume our places in the chairs in Dad’s room before the hospice doctors come in.  But everything is like a movie set.  If this were the 1950s, we would be casually smoking cigarettes, as Dad is resting comfortably.

SOB looks at Heather and me and mouths, “strong work.”

The doctors note Dad’s strong pulse but acknowledge that hospice is indicated.  And they order all of the appropriate comfort paraphernalia  — from medicine to diapers.

Dad never regained consciousness.

And Lucy and Ethel took their bows.

The Future is Bright

I am executrix/administrator/trustee/attorney-in-fact for quite a few in the elder generation, whether alive and dead or, frankly, somewhere in between.

When ULOB died, he had no will.  So his only heirs at law were those immediate blood relations who survived him — SOB, BOB and me.   The word, “heir,” has a connotation that one sits back and someone unknown official throws money and jewels at such lucky heir.

Now, back to reality.  There was an apartment to clean out, assets to be gathered, debts to be paid and tax returns to be filed.  And that means that at least one person has to step up and seek appointment by the surrogate’s court as administrator.  Translation:  At least one of SOB, BOB and me.

I drew the short straw.  I don’t actually think we had a contest.  I think SOB and BOB met when I was in the bathroom and decided that I was in charge.  At least they apologized.

And so, I became the court-appointed administrator for ULOB.  The gathering of assets and paying of debts were not difficult.  Figuring out the fate of the annuities that named the two women of his life — AROB and POULOB — as joint beneficiaries, was harder.

SIDEBAR:  All I can say that if AROB and POULOB had both survived ULOB and I had to divide these annuities between the two — well, I would not think so kindly of ULOB.  AROB (z”l) made life less uncomfortable by predeceasing ULOB.

And then, there are three tax returns — one for the year in which ULOB died, one of ULOB’s estate and one that I have to file as the fiduciary of his estate.  Every one of these measures different periods and sometimes counts the same money.  “Whatever,” the three of us say, it isn’t going to bring ULOB back to life so we pay unto Caesar that which the Tax Code says.

Except we didn’t know much about ULOB’s finances.  I chose to continue using ULOB’s long time accountant to make sure we covered everything.  Continuity is important in these matters,  And, because ULOB’s accountant was probably older than ULOB, I also have a lawyer overseeing things.

I sent the stuff off to ULOB’s accountant and hadn’t heard in weeks.  I emailed the lawyer, wondering if perhaps the elder CPA had  . . . .  Luckily, he emailed me that day.  “I am missing social security and pension information.  Can’t do returns without them.  Also need 1099s through date of death.”

SIDEBAR:  ULOB never had very steady work, so who knew he had a [as it turned out, miniscule] pension?  And because I am also consumed with Dad’s taxes, I forgot about the 1099 for social security.  That was my oversight.

Aaargh.  The latter request was easy.  But what pension?  And the Social Security Administration?  The mail had stopped coming long ago.  Oy Oy Oy Oy.


I looked in ULOB’s decrepit files and figured out the pension source.  But I had to email my siblings.

From: [Blogger]
To: [SOB]; [BOB]
Date: Wed, 26 Mar 2014 16:23:25 -0400
Subject: [ULOB]


So, I learned that [ULOB] got a pension from the Equity League.  Trying to get a 1099.  Also, on the phone with Social Security Administration for a 1099.  I am never being anyone’s executor again ever. [emphasis added]


I thought that was a clear statement of my intentions and future wishes.  In retrospect, I should have had a court “so-order” it.

Actually getting the 1099s were time consuming but not difficult (but absolutely bloggable –especially at the SSA office — at another time).  [P.S.: if anyone needs a guide through the morass, just call or email me.]

In four hours, I got both replacement 1099s.  In triumph, I sent an email to my siblings:





Thursday, March 27, 2014 12:51 PM


[SOB]; [BOB]

Went to the Equity League pension office AND the social security administration and got both missing 1099s!!!!!  I am basking the glory of a productive day.  (although not so productive from a career perspective.)



But still I do not want any more responsibilities, especially since managing the world of Dad (may he live to 120) is a constant project.  And then SOB, ever the protective older sister, sends me a reply email, gently quieting my fears about the future, all the while adding an additional burden:

[Blogger], Thank you for managing all Dad’s finances and [ULOB]’s will and finances.

I’m sorry but  I listed you as my executor, but don’t worry as we will both be demented and incompetent so you will be excused from the task. [emphasis added]




After a moment of shaking my fist at the screen, I laughed out loud.  SOB always brings me back to the proper perspective.  We will both be in our 90s (G-d willing) and then . . . who cares?  I will be executor.  No problem, SOB.  Bring it on.

The future is, indeed, bright and carefree, after all.


Life Imitating Art

Life Alert.  Remember when the company roared onto the home health care scene with the commercial about an old woman on the ground and yelling in a very nasal grandma voice, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”?

That commercial went viral — as much as it could in the 1980s before YouTube.  The Company went so far as to copyright that line.  Today their commercials are more respectable and less kitschy.  Still, they are morbidly amusing until you have to send away for information on the product.

In order to keep Dad in his home on his own, we needed to get Dad the life alert system.   Because we absolutely want him to have a hands-free intercom into which he can yell if HE has fallen and can’t get up.

Life Alert still has its quirks.  One of the selling points for the product is that there is a total refund if the person dies within 3 years of signing-up for the service.  No questions asked. Other than maybe, “may we see the death certificate?”  So, actually, at least one question asked.

Sounds like a stupid business model, since people who get Life Alert are not in the best of shape when signing-up for the service.  What will that person need with the money?  The person is DEAD.  Maybe the company banks on the fact that no one will remember about the money-back guarantee.  I guess it is a shrewd calculation about the probability of dementia afflicting the survivors rather than the probability of an aged, infirm person surviving another three years.

I went to Dad’s house today to have lunch and to try to reintroduce him to the Internet.  About once a month, we try this.  He doesn’t type well, so he is unlikely to send an email.  He can’t get the hang of the left click/right click, one-click/two-click protocols even though he was previously able to navigate them.

We spent an hour practicing getting in and out of Google, getting in and out of email, etc.  He would set up the email and I would type for him.  Then he would click send a few extra times.  We sent (mostly unintentionally) multiple emails to SOB and BOB.  They responded.  Uh oh.  Now what?  “Dad, do you remember which is the reply icon?”  He nodded.  “Great, now click.”  “Dad, click once.  ONCE.  only ONCE.  Ok Ok ok ok ok ok ok. Let me get us back to the right screen.”  And so it went.

SOB emailed me, “I am plunking down a cool million that by tomorrow he will be blaming something about the computer that is not allowing him to send or pick up his emails.”  So, I called Dad and said, “remember to try again a few times tonight to make sure you have the email and Google thing down.”  Either he will declare defeat tonight (and then I win the bet) or he will make it work and not try again until Monday (in which case I win the bet).  Insider information.   SOB uses her powers for good.  Me, not so much.

Time for a nap.  Tomorrow, POB, SOS and I are taking Dad to the Met to look at the new American Wing.  More bloggable moments.