An Aging Baby Boomer’s Reflections on Losing a Parent

             Published on December 29, 2003, Pawtucket Times

              Last week, Frank M. Weiss, my 89-year-old father, died. While he had been ailing and was well along in years, it was quite a shock to receive the phone call from my sister Mickie that he had died.

               The death of a parent can be considered a major milestone in an aging baby boomer’s life.  In her 264-page book published by Cambridge University Press. Debra Umberson, author of “Death of a Parent: Transition to a New Adult Identity,” says “the death of a parent launches a period of self-realization and the transformations of the adult identity.”

              Umberson, a professor and chair of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, states a parent’s death is “the turning point in one’s emotional and social lives of adults and can bring changes in how a person views themselves and their relationship with the outside world.”

             A parent’s death creates an “opening that pushes them into the final transition into adulthood, Umberson says.

           Dad’s death did create for me an opportunity for reflection on his life.

            My dad loved his wife, Sally, very much.  Married for more than 62 years, she was the most important person in his life.

            His four children were also very important to him, too.

           Over the years, I remember Dad always telling me on our weekly phone calls how proud he was of Mickie, Nancy, Jim and me.  He also loved his five grandchildren, Leslie, Jennifer, Kim, Stephanie and Jamie, and his three great-grandchildren, Jacquelyn, Allison and Haleigh.

           Dad warmly accepted Justin, Deb and Patty, his children’s son and daughters-in-laws into the Weiss family.

           As a youngster, I remember Dad working hard to support the family.  Although he worked long hours, he would always find time to go to a ball game or just spend time with his kids.

           Fast forward to the adult years.  When my siblings became adults, he would continue to be our biggest fan.

          Even during the ups and downs in our personal and professional careers, Dad was alway there giving us advice, encouragement, support and oftentimes, financial backing.

          Coming from a Jewish heritage, we always joked about how appropriate it was for Dad to be in the “Schmata” business, otherwise known as the clothing business.  He worked for more than 30 years at Colbert Volks, a well-known woman’s clothing store in Dallas, Texas.  He could see a style or trend before it happened, aways predicting what new coat styles would sell in a particular season.

         How ironic, I thought when Mickie informed me that he suddenly died at Colbert Volks, shopping for a present to give to my mother.

          Dad was like the Energizer rabbit – he kept working, working and working. No retirement for this man.  Two years after his bypass surgery, my 70-year old Dad wanted to chart a new course in his career.  he began a second job and worked at C”est Simone, a national manufacturer of women’s appear, until the mid-70s.

         I will always remember:

         Stories of Dad’s childhood. He was a great football player and a Gold Gloves boxer, I was told.

          Shooting hoops in the backyard for ice cream.  He always lost– we always won, getting that double-dipped chocolate ice cream as a prize.

          At restaurants, I remember Dad drinking cup after cup of black coffee, with the decaf coffee never being quite hot enough for  his tastes.

         Dad would touch people in simple ways. He had a roll of Susan B. Anthony dollars, giving out the coins to anyone who crossed his path. “Don’t spend them ,” they’re lucky coins,” he would say.

        My dad was very honest.  Once a coat manufacturer sent him a box containing money hoping to entice  him to purchase  coats from the company. Dad never accepted that money.

         He was a practical joker. I remember being told a story about the day he sat as a very young child, at a street curb and put his leg in front of a truck, daring the vehicle to go.  This particular time the joke was on him – the truck moved, his leg didn’t, and bones in one leg were broken.

       As a teenager, Dad would tip over outhouses throughout his neighborhood.  He would  assure me that nobody was in them.

         Years later, at this sister-in-law’s house in Pikesville, Maryland, Dad walked over to her neighbor’s house and gave his advice on how to plant a tree.  Heeding his advice, the neighbor dug the hole deeper, deeper, and deeper, until the ball of the tree was five feet from the top of the hole. Later a local landscaper would come by and inform the tree planter that the hole was too deep.

        Throughout his long life, Dad cared about people.

       During his Army days, as an officer of the day, he ordered a cook to put cold cuts out for a group of soldiers who came by to eat after being out in the rain all day.  The watery beef stew was not good enough for these guys, he would later tell me.  While his superiors called him on the carpet for that act of kindness, he stood up to the military bureaucracy, demanding them to be accountable to their troops.

        By tapping his business colleagues, Dad would successfully raise money for the AMC Cancer Society to help those battling that dreaded disease.

        Later, he would be recognized by the organization for his fund-raising efforts. For those who know me, perhaps that is where I get my skills in fundraising.

         In thinking back, I thought dad seemed to know that death was near.  A week before he died, in my last phone conversation with him, I sensed he knew he was ready to go.

        Dad had made peace with is life experiences, the good and the bad, telling me that “he had lived a good, prosperous life, had a beautiful wife and was very proud of each child and their accomplishments in their lives.”

        Due to my mother’s Alzheimer’s and his failing health, years ago he was forced to sell and move away from the house he had lived in for more than 50 years, the family  homestead and a place with  happy memories from him.

       In his final days, Dad  was in constant pain and had great difficulty walking. Dad went the way most of us would want to go on December 18, 2003 –very fast and in no pain.

       Over the coming weeks, I am sure that I will continue to process my Dad’s sudden death, a major  milestone in my life.

       I am reminded of this phrase from the movie “Summer of 42”: “Life is made up of small comings and goings – and for everything we take with us – we leave a part of ourselves behind.”

       So true. While Dad’s love may well propel me into adulthood. I can assure you that my memories of him won’t be left behind.

        Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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