Dear Rhoda and Norman,
I’ve taken one of the self-addressed envelopes you left on your father’s dresser and I’m writing to let you know a little about his first two weeks here at the Home. You asked me to drop you a line about him whenever I felt up to it, so here it is. Don’t worry that this is taking me away from anything. Rest assured if I weren’t writing to you I’d probably be sound asleep. It’s raining in Worcester so it’s hard to think of doing anything constructive. My daughter, when she visits, tells me reading the latest articles on how to live with arthritis is constructive. Better yet, she brings me old “Candid Camera” TV shows to watch. She says when you laugh you feel better, that pain is all in the head. The things she tells me are what make me laugh.
I want you to know right away Irving has already made an impression on most of the residents on our floor. First of all, he’s the only one who wears a hat all the time. Mostly it’s a black yarmulke and he’s forever putting his hand to his head to make sure it’s on. Late in the afternoon he always gets into a suit jacket and changes from the yarmulke to his gray fedora. It’s a beautiful hat, no matter how old it is. Anyhow, that’s when his praying really gets serious. It’s as if he’s trying as hard as he can to get God’s attention before the day is over. You know Irving prays almost all the time. Sometimes it’s in his room, but his roommate isn’t too thrilled and turns up the TV to give Irving a hint. So usually he’s out by the nurses’ station where a lot of the residents park themselves in their wheelchairs between meals. They just sit there looking off into space. But now your father gives them a show to watch while he sways back and forth with his eyes closed and his lips mumbling the prayers.
When he first came here, Irving tried hard to get all the men to wear hats. He used to say, “It’s a terrible thing, it’s a shunda, for a man not to cover his head.” But believe me, he got nowhere. Maybe a few did it for a day or two just to please him, but no one was comfortable with the idea. Most of the people here used to go to synagogue on the High Holidays and that was it. If Irving wants to wear a hat all the time that’s his business, but it’s not for them.
Let me tell you what happened the first night he was here. Irving came into the dining room, looked around, and saw people eating. “Who said the prayers?” he wanted to know. He asked the question loud enough for everyone to hear. I’m sure he figured someone must have done it if people were having dinner, but he had to be certain before he ate anything himself. When no one answered, you could see from the look on his face he couldn’t believe it. I think he must have been wondering what kind of a Jewish nursing home he was in. He let everyone know in no uncertain terms it was a shunda to eat without first thanking God for the food. So he did the prayers himself in Hebrew, loud and very slowly, like a teacher scolding a kindergarten class. Next Irving announced that he would make the blessings before every meal. Not a word from anyone. In his own mind that probably meant no one would eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner until he got to the dining room and said the prayers. I could have told him right then and there to forget about it. I knew as soon as food was on the table they’d eat it. No one was going to wait even two minutes for Irving to get there and make it official. At that moment they were still in a state of shock over the way he showed up and acted like he was the boss, but that wouldn’t last long.
I said no one would wait for him but the truth is this campaign of his wasn’t a failure altogether. Two of the three residents who share Irving’s table don’t touch their food until he comes in and does the blessings. Frankly, whether it’s out of respect or fear I’m not sure. The other one who sits there couldn’t be bothered with what Irving says or what anyone says. He’s a loner and whatever you tell him falls on deaf ears.
Irving has also tried very hard to start a minyan since he’s been here. There are about eighteen men on the floor and I know he went and spoke to all of them about it, even those who don’t know who they are. As I see it, there’s no way he’s going to get ten of us together for prayers even once a day, never mind every morning and afternoon. You know and I know he’s probably done this all his life. To him it’s like breathing. But for everyone else here it would be a new commitment. They’ve lived without it up until now, so what do they need it for? I can only tell you I’ve been here long enough to know such commitments don’t get started in a nursing home.
Let me put it this way. Your father does what he thinks is right regardless of the way the rest of us live. His hat is on his head from the minute he wakes up, he does his praying all day long, and he chants the blessings a lot louder on Friday night and Saturday. He’s getting to know most of the residents by name and his face has a smile for everyone that makes a whole circle between his mouth and his eyes. I’m sure he’s thinking all the time which of us he can push some more to join the minyan. It’s a pleasure having him here.
I’ll try to write again soon.
Dear Rhoda and Norman,
I hope you’re both well. I thank you again for stopping in to see me when you visited here last week.
I’ll bet you never dreamt your father would have anyone going around calling him a “cop,” but it’s already happened a few times. I’m not saying you should speak to him about it. The truth is what he does shows how much he cares for other people. The problem is it doesn’t make him popular with everyone.
Irving doesn’t understand why anyone would sleep in a wheelchair with his head bobbing up and down when he could be lying comfortably in bed. So he’ll go over, give the resident a good shake on the shoulder until he wakes up, and say, “You fell asleep in the chair. You’re too tired to be sitting out here. Go to bed.” He does it no matter what time it is. Usually it takes the poor man or woman a couple of minutes to sit up and figure out what’s going on, but Irving doesn’t always have so much patience. Sometimes he just releases the brake on the chair and is already pushing it toward the resident’s room before the victim or one of the nurses yells at him to stop. A few times the sleepers were already back in their rooms before they knew what happened. Some of the residents have started telling your father ahead of time not to bother them if he sees them sleeping in their chairs. A joke here one day was that any group sitting together in the lounge or by the nurses’ station better get a designated person to stay awake and make sure Irving doesn’t wake up any of the others.
Your father also makes it his business to see that one resident in a room should be considerate of the other person living there. So he goes up and down the corridors once in a while looking into every room like a policeman on the street. If he catches someone watching TV while the roommate is sleeping, he marches right in and shuts off the set. Then, with that big smile of his, he tells the poor resident that God will send a reward for his kindness in letting the roommate sleep in peace. After he did that a few times people naturally started closing their doors when they had the television on. But the nurses won’t allow that and they open them again. I was right there when one of the residents turned red as a beet. He told a nurse if she wanted him to leave his door open, “You’d better keep that crazy cop out of my room.” Still I have to tell you when Irving came by one afternoon and saw me lying there trying to nap and turned off the game my roommate was watching, I could have hugged him for it. The sports maven I live with wasn’t interested in any reward he might get from heaven. But he watched the rest of his precious game somewhere else and I was able finally to sleep.
The latest thing your father has started is going to get some of the nurses upset. The one story you’ll hear at every table in the dining room three meals a day is how long one of the residents had to wait for a nurse to come after calling for help. All we can do is pull a string they’ve got hanging behind the bed and hope a nurse is at the nurses’ station to see the light go on above our room number there. There are times when something hurts so much every minute seems like an hour when you’re lying there waiting. After hearing that complaint so many times, your father decided he’d sit next to the nurses’ station during the periods each day when they’re off giving medications. When someone pulls the string and no nurse is there, Irving goes to the room to see what’s wrong. If the resident is in pain, your father finds the closest nurse and reports it. Naturally the nurses can’t just ignore him so they’ve got to stop what they’re doing and go help the person Irving is telling them about. That throws them off their schedules and so other residents start complaining about not getting their medications on time. In my heart I’m sure your father is doing the right thing and some of us should even be helping him. But I know from experience here a nurse can make life difficult for a resident who makes any kind of trouble.
Maybe you can mention these things to him without discouraging him. Just tell him he’s trying to do too much. Anyhow, he has made a name for himself on the third floor and he is definitely popular with those who know him well.
Dear Rhoda and Norman,
I want to thank you again for the can of cashews and the strudel you brought me when you came to see Irving on Father’s Day. He was thrilled about your taking him out to dinner and for a ride back to Milford. He hasn’t stopped talking about it since you were here.
Yesterday, my son Gary and his wife Rachel visited with me in the afternoon. I had forgotten Rachel is a cousin to both you and your father and she knows you from growing up in the same town. Anyhow, she and Gary usually stop a few minutes to see Irving when they’re here. So Rachel went to visit him while I had to sign some papers for my son, and then she came back with Irving to my room. All the talk was about different people who lived in Milford and I recognized some of the names because my wife also had relatives there. Irving told us some very funny stories. It seems he can remember everything that happened there for the past seventy years. He had a smile on his face all the time and every story had a terrific punch line. Believe me, it’s the most I have laughed in a long time.
But after a while I could see there was a problem. Irving began jumping all over the place with some of the people he was talking about. I could tell his mind was going in and out. He definitely spoke to Rachel like she was three different people in that one conversation. When he asked Rachel about her son, she told him Mark was finishing up college. Irving smiled, as if to show her that her joke wouldn’t fool him, and said he was talking about her son Leonard. Leonard, of course, is Rachel’s brother. So she laughed because she thought he was the one doing the joking and reminded him Leonard was her brother. Irving didn’t answer one way or the other but he still wanted to know about Leonard, not Mark. A little while later he took Rachel’s hand and asked, “So how many children does your daughter Rachel have by now?” I won’t bother you about how he confused Rachel with her grandmother. He was with us for almost an hour and went back and forth between three generations more than once. I was happy that at least Rachel was Rachel again to him when it was time for her to leave.
Irving and I sat together in the dining room that night. It seems one of the men from his table was given extra medication and missed dinner. While we ate he told me about growing up in Russia and how a pogrom killed most of his family. Did he ever talk to you about it? He hid himself in a pile of hay and begged God not to let the soldiers find him. He lived through it and made up his mind to show God his gratitude the rest of his life. For him the way to do it was to become Orthodox and follow all the traditions. So he’s still keeping the promise he made back in the old country. He also gave me a good picture of what it was like later on when he came to Milford. I was enjoying every minute of it, comparing it to my own memories as a boy on the Lower East Side of New York. Suddenly Irving smiled at me and said, “So, my child, what did you learn in Hebrew school today?” I realized right away he either thought I was you, Norman, or someone else very close to him. The only thing I could think of was the story of Abraham going to sacrifice Isaac. He listened to me as I began to recite the story from memory. First his eyes had a gleam in them and then some tears. But even before Abraham reached the place to give Isaac to God, Irving was back to himself and began talking again about his life in Milford.
I guess I’ve said more than enough. I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know about your father’s condition, but I thought you should hear it from me. I’ll try to spend a little more time with him if I can.
By the way, he asked me again at dinner to help him get a minyan together. I told him he’d have a better chance if he talked to some of the women residents about it. He was shocked. “Such a minyan would be a shunda, ” he said. “You should never say such a thing, Harry, even for a joke.” So I don’t think the minyan is any closer than it was two months ago.
Dear Rhoda and Norman,
It was very nice to see you on Sunday and I hope you’ve been enjoying your vacation this week. At least the weatherman has been good to you. I’m writing a letter so soon because your father has done something wonderful here in the Home and I wanted you to know about it right away.
On Monday, the day after you were here, Irving and I were sitting near the nurses’ station while the nurses were on their rounds. I told you before why he goes there and sometimes I just sit with him for company. Anyhow, a resident named Rubin came over. He’s a man in his sixties with terrible arthritis in his arms and legs. Rubin mentioned to Irving it was his mother’s yahrzeit the next day and he wondered could he have Irving’s help in reading the prayers for the dead in Hebrew. Your father was overjoyed. He’d told me many times how he used to teach Hebrew classes to the children at the synagogue in Milford. Of course he reminded Rubin they’d have to say the prayers both at night and the following morning. Irving told him they’d do it downstairs, in the chapel on the main floor. I’m sure Rubin wasn’t crazy about pushing his walker from the elevator to the chapel, especially at seven in the morning, but what could he say? Irving even suggested the honor to Rubin’s mother would be double if there was a minyan there when the prayers were recited. I think Rubin knew he didn’t have a Chinaman’s chance for a minyan so he just shrugged his shoulders and said nothing. That’s when Irving asked him if he had a yahrzeit candle to light on Tuesday night at sundown, at the start of the memorial period. Rubin had no candle and told Irving he didn’t even know it was allowed. You know, even when your father makes a face because he’s unhappy about something, he can still find a smile to put there. So he gave us a big one, but with a wag of his finger to let us know he was serious, and said there had to be a yahrzeit candle for a remembrance. He said it would be a shunda not to have one. Irving got up, told me to find a nurse if any of the residents needed help, and walked to the elevator. It happened so fast I didn’t say anything. But the next day I reminded him a man like me, with a walker, isn’t cut out to be a Boy Scout.
I found out later Irving went straight downstairs to see the social services director. He explained to her why Rubin needed a yahrzeit candle for the next night. She gave him the answer we always get when we ask for something the first time, that it couldn’t be done. It was a fire hazard, she told him. But Irving was ready for a fight. He asked if her parents were alive. Fortunately — and I only mean this for Rubin and the rest of us here — they were not. Did she light a yahrzeit candle for them on the anniversary of their deaths? She said she did. So next he asked her whether she ever had a fire in her house from the candle. The answer was no, but this she felt was different because some resident could accidentally knock the glass over and anything could happen. So that’s when Irving came up with a simple question to win the case. He asked her where she thought the safest place to put the yahrzeit glass would be if she were a resident in the Home and wanted to keep the tradition of honoring her parents every year. She didn’t have to think about it too long and then went with Irving to the main kitchen. There’s an aluminum counter there next to the sink she felt was perfectly safe. She told him we could use that place but she or her assistant would always have to know about it ahead of time. Irving promised to be the one to do it. Once that was decided, your father must have really turned on the charm. Next she agreed the Home would buy yahrzeit candles for every resident who wanted to remember the death of a parent or a child. Irving asked her to put up a notice on the bulletin board so he wouldn’t have to tell everyone himself. She did it right away on Tuesday and you should have been here to see how happy people were when they found out about it.
I told you before how hard your father has been trying to get a regular minyan for the prayers at night and in the morning. So he went around telling all the men they should be there when Rubin read the blessings for his mother. I went both times, figuring it would be easier than to have to listen to Irving telling me every day it was a shunda I didn’t come. There was no minyan either time but there were seven of us at night and six on Wednesday morning. As happy as Rubin was with saying the prayers and lighting a memorial candle, Irving was happier than anyone.
I’m sure he’d love it if you called him and let him know you heard about what he did for Rubin and the rest of us. You don’t have to tell him who told you.
Dear Rhoda and Norman,
Please excuse my handwriting. Instead of sitting at a regular desk, I’m outside in the courtyard and the paper is resting on a magazine on top of a table with a shaky leg.
The main reason I’m writing is because your father told me yesterday both of the sport shirts you brought him on your last visit have disappeared in the laundry. The nurses had put his name on them with the black marking pen so that wasn’t the reason. The fact is it’s not unusual for good clothes, especially new ones, not to come back when you send them to be cleaned. Believe me, everybody here has lost a nice shirt or a sweater or something more than once. We complain to the social services director but it does no good. Irving said he wasn’t going to tell you about the shirts but maybe he figures I’ll mention it. Don’t forget the last time you were here he heard you thank me for letting you know how he was doing. Anyhow, he was more upset about this than anything else since he’s been here. He came to my room to tell me the story and I explained to him our troubles with the laundry. I think he wanted to go in there and teach them the Ten Commandments, especially the one about not stealing. But I had to laugh when he threw up his hands and said, “What have they got in there anyway, antisemites?”
Speaking of teaching, Irving really is a teacher all over again. Now everyone can light a candle and say a yahrzeit blessing for their parents, thanks to him, but it seems very few of the women know how to read Hebrew. So they came to your father and asked him for lessons. What he decided to do first is to go over with them how to say the prayers they need for the yahrzeit. When they learn that, he says, then maybe he’ll start them with the alphabet. But don’t think for a second he has changed his mind about having any of them in a minyan. I asked him that question and he gave me a finger-pointing “shunda” you could hear all over the nursing home.
Two months ago Irving started talking to everyone in the corridors about how we should be doing something for homeless people. He got a girl from the office to cut out newspaper stories about the homeless and pin them up on the bulletin board. His big joke was we’re here in this Home and wished we could be someplace else while the homeless had nothing and would love to be sleeping in our beds. When a nurse was there, he’d say the homeless were so desperate they’d even live here with the nurses. He had an idea how we could raise some money to give them. Your father figured out we all love to show pictures or tell stories about our grandchildren and even our great-grandchildren. So he decided we would have to pay for what he called the bragging rights. There was no vote and no discussion. Irving just suddenly took on the job of collecting the money. Whenever he heard a resident bragging about a little genius in the family, he went over right away and asked for some charity. He’d say something kidding like, “Believe me, the homeless people think your granddaughter will be the world’s greatest piano player when she grows up.” And he always had such a wonderful smile on his face when he said it that getting the residents to give him fifty cents or a dollar wasn’t so difficult.
The last thing I’ll mention is Irving is still having a problem with his roommate. I don’t know whether he told you about it or not. Most of the time his roommate wears a false leg for the one he’s missing and he can walk with a crutch. But when he has to go to the bathroom at night it’s too much trouble to put it on. So instead he gets in his wheelchair and pushes himself to the bathroom. The problem is the room is dark and he bangs into the bed and wakes Irving up from his sleep. When he’s through in the bathroom he hits the bed another time for good luck on his way back. Then he gets into his own bed and is snoring in two minutes. So you can guess what happens. The noise he makes keeps Irving from falling asleep again. He has begged the roommate to change beds with him but the answer is always no. The roommate likes to control the window and besides he can use the wide window ledge for some of his things. I told Irving a hundred times to ask the social services director to put him in with someone else but so far he hasn’t done it. This way he always has a story to tell everyone about the bumping from the night before. And when he tells you all about it with that smile on his face, sometimes you laugh so much you can’t stop the tears from coming. Since that makes him laugh too, maybe it’s all for the best. I’ll have to tell my daughter it’s better than “Candid Camera.”
Everything else with your father is going fine.
Dear Rhoda and Norman,
Your father told me you’ll be coming here Sunday for his birthday and maybe I’ll see you then. But there was a little adventure here yesterday with him you should know about. Someone from the Home may call and give you the story before you hear from me, but in all honesty I know more about it than anyone else.
On Sunday mornings the dining room is open for an extra half-hour, until about nine. They let you sleep a little later in case you stayed up for the Saturday night movie. I never go to see it but I wasn’t feeling good when I woke up so I lay in bed with the radio on. Anyhow, I didn’t see Irving when I went to breakfast but I figured he was already back in his room.
By the time I left the dining room my stomach started up on me again, so I just went back to bed. Before I knew it I had slept away the whole morning and the nurse got me up to go to lunch. This time I was one of the first ones into the dining room. Unfortunately I bumped into a resident named Spector — we call him Columbus because he never stops telling you about the voyages he used to take with his wife — and he insisted I sit with him. From his table in the corner most of the dining room is out of sight so I couldn’t watch for Irving coming in. I listened again to at least half of Spector’s trip to Japan twenty years ago and then excused myself. A few people were still eating but Irving wasn’t there. This time I went straight to his room but no Irving and no roommate. Someone in the corridor remembered the roommate left after breakfast with a niece or a daughter-in-law. But no one had seen Irving in his room or at either meal in the dining room. I walked back to the nurses’ station and asked the nurse if he knew where Irving was or whether someone had taken him out for the day. Manuel — that’s the nurse — said he came on duty at ten o’clock and had been catching up on reports he had to turn in. He hadn’t noticed who was around and who wasn’t. He looked in the checkout book to see if anyone signed Irving out for the day. The answer was no. The problem was the roommate wasn’t signed out either, so what good was the book either way? I told Manuel he had a missing person because no one had seen Irving in the dining room or anywhere else all day. He said it happened all the time, especially on Sundays, and he’d check it out as soon as he finished the report he was working on.
I’ve learned in the time I’ve been here when to keep quiet and not say anything more that might get a nurse upset. When a nurse is angry with you for any reason, you’ll pay the price sooner or later. So I sat down in the corridor not far from Manuel and just watched without saying anything. The phone rang a few times in the next fifteen minutes — by now it was about one-thirty already — and I could tell from what Manuel said when he answered that no one had seen Irving on any of the other floors. Then I heard Manuel call the security guard and tell him to start looking for your father outside the building. He reminded the guard about checking both the front and back seats of all the cars in the parking lot. Manuel told him it was the guy who always wears a yarmulke. But it got me thinking somewhere in the Home there should be a book with all of our pictures in it so anyone who has to try to find a missing resident could first see what the person looks like. Next Manuel called the Worcester police and reported what was going on. I heard him say as far as he knew no one had seen Irving since the night before. He also got hold of the social services director and the administrator, who were at home. By now many of the residents on the floor had heard your father was missing and a bunch of them were sitting near the nurses’ station, just like me, waiting to find out what would happen.
You can see from the blue ink I’m now using a different pen. I had to stop writing and go to therapy for an hour and when I got back the other pen wasn’t where I left it. Anyhow, no one could find Irving all afternoon. The police said they drove down all the streets within five miles of the Home. They called the taxi companies and no one had picked up a passenger here all day. None of the drivers remembered giving a ride to anyone who looked like Irving. The police even walked through the woods next to the Home until they reached the ranch houses on the other side. The security guard said he checked every room in the building. The social services director came in and I’m pretty sure she tried to get you on the phone. She looked very worried and asked several of us if we were sure Irving hadn’t said something about where he was going. She went back to his room at least three times, like she was expecting he would suddenly be there or she would find a clue to the mystery.
We went in for dinner at five o’clock and there was more buzzing in the dining room than I ever heard in there. No one could remember a case like this before where a resident was missing for such a long time. Someone said the police had checked with both hospitals in Worcester and Irving wasn’t there. When I finished eating I went down to the main floor to see what was going on. There were police inside and outside the building, but they were just talking to each other. After ten minutes the flashing lights on their cars began to bother my eyes and give me a headache. So I decided to go into the chapel where I figured it would be quiet and where I could say a prayer that your father should be all right. I was surprised the doors were locked. The receptionist didn’t want to bother the security guard to come and open them — I was interrupting an emergency, she told me — but the guard was walking through the lobby just then and I asked him to open the chapel. The lights were off and it was getting dark in the room. Irving was standing in the front row, chanting some prayers. He had on his good hat and his suit and was also wearing his prayer shawl. When we went over to him he gave us a big grin but put his finger to his lips to show us not to talk. The guard left right away to let everyone know Irving was safe and I sat down on the chair next to him. The words and the melody he was singing sounded familiar. I listened some more and I realized he was doing the prayers from the afternoon service for Yom Kippur.
The people who had been searching all over for your father came into the chapel. Irving was delighted when he turned around and saw them. He must have figured they were all there for the service and he finally had a minyan. Seeing a dozen police in uniform meant nothing to him. His eyes lit up and he again let everyone know with his wagging finger there should be no noise. You can guess the police didn’t feel too comfortable standing there watching your father pray, and they left as soon as they were sure Irving was all right. Everyone wondered later how he could have been in the chapel for so long and no one had the slightest idea he was there. My guess is when the security guard looked in before he locked the doors, it was one of those times your father was face down on the floor in prayer and couldn’t be seen from the doorway.
What can you say to a man who has just spent all day in a chapel celebrating Yom Kippur three weeks early? For my part I decided it was best to say nothing. Irving folded up his prayer shawl in the lobby and asked where we were supposed to go to break the fast. I told him there was food in the dining room and I shook my head a couple of times so the social services director would know to agree with me. Pretty soon they brought a little wine, some bread, and a few snacks they figured would be enough for Irving to get through the night. I walked back to his room with him and waited until he got into bed. The roommate began to tell him what a wonderful time he had with his nephew’s family. I don’t think he knew anything about the fact Irving was missing all day. “You’ll tell me tomorrow,” Irving said, “and try not to bang the bed.” He was sleeping in a few minutes.
This morning I had breakfast with your father and not a word was said about yesterday. I’m sure he doesn’t remember what he did or even the fact he didn’t eat all day. So that’s the whole story in case anything has to be done in this kind of a situation.
Since Irving will be eighty-five on Sunday, the social services director has agreed with me to have a birthday cake for him at dinner that night.
Dear Rhoda and Norman,
I still can’t believe what happened. Maybe I shouldn’t even write this letter so I don’t say anything to add to your grief. But there are a few things I want you to know about, and I also hope writing this down will help me find peace with my own feelings about your father.
Last Sunday was such a wonderful day for both Irving and me. I was honored you asked me to come along when you took him out for his birthday. Who can’t appreciate a drive in the country on a day like that? The leaves starting to change color reminded me of all the times my Dorothy and I used to go riding, either alone or with the kids. I’ve already heard most of Irving’s stories more than once and you probably know some of them word-for-word. Still it’s hard when you’re looking at him not to laugh all over again when he gets to the punch line and his face lights up. And the good feeling from the day stayed right through the delicious dinner you bought us. I will even tell you none of my children has taken me to such a beautiful restaurant in a long time.
Irving was filled with pleasure by what you did. After you left us off he came to my room and bragged about the both of you until I told him I had to get some sleep. The truth is my grandson who goes to college here had brought me a tape of a Yiddish movie. He had to return it on Monday so I wanted to watch at least some of it that night. Why I didn’t ask Irving to stay and see it with me I can’t even answer for myself. Anyhow, before he left, he said he had something to give me and I should pick it up in his room the next night.
On Monday I have therapy twice during the day so I didn’t have a chance to talk to your father. When I didn’t see him in the dining room for dinner, I went straight to his room and found him in bed. He told me he had no energy to do anything, even to get up and eat, so he would just rest. But he said I should go to the bottom drawer in his dresser and take out the box in there. Under the elastic around the box was a paper with my name on it. He wouldn’t tell me what was in it, only to open it on Saturday. “You had a good time yesterday?” he asked me. I told him I did. He smiled and closed his eyes. The nurse on duty couldn’t answer my questions about him. She said they weren’t sure what was wrong and he might have to go to the hospital.
On Tuesday morning I heard in the dining room the ambulance had picked up your father a couple of hours before and had taken him to Saint Elizabeth’s. The rest I don’t have to tell you except what a shock it was to everyone when word got out he had passed away on Wednesday. I know you were here Wednesday night to pick up his good suit and a few things from his room but I didn’t have the heart to go in and tell you how bad I felt. On Thursday someone brought in the newspaper and put the page with the death notices and Irving’s picture up on the bulletin board. I never knew he had been the acting rabbi in your synagogue for seven years. He only told me he was a cantor. Anyhow, we found out from the newspaper the funeral would be on Friday morning in Milford. Later on Thursday some residents were talking, saying maybe we should have our own service for Irving the next day. After all, none of us could go to the funeral. So I went and told the social services director how we felt and soon she had arranged for a rabbi to come in on Friday morning.
You know your father was never able to get enough residents for a minyan either in the morning or at night. Only once in all the time he was here were there at least ten men in the chapel for prayers and for that you have to count the Worcester police. But when the service started on Friday, there were more than thirty residents from our floor, with enough men to make the prayers official for God. The rabbi didn’t know anything about your father to give a eulogy. So he asked whether anyone in the chapel wanted to say a few words in honor of Irving. Six of us — I was the last — spoke about how much spirit Irving had brought to the Home in the short time he was here and how much we’d miss him. We all said about the same thing in different words. I can tell you everybody was blowing their noses before the service was over. And of course we lit a candle for Irving in the kitchen.
Yesterday I opened the box from your father. In an envelope was $88.40 and a note from Irving saying it was the money collected from the residents for the homeless. In the note Irving told me we should send it to a homeless group for Christmas — he probably never thought for a second some of them could be Jewish — and he figured I should have about $125 by then.
There were also forty-four envelopes in there, each one addressed to a resident on our third floor. No one was left out. In every envelope was a New Year’s card your father had signed himself. Tonight, of course, at sundown starts the New Year. This morning I went around like a mailman and delivered Irving’s cards to everyone. So what do you think happened when I did it? Many of the residents went down to the gift shop in the lobby, bought cards, and gave them to their friends. Rosh Hashana is supposed to be a happy time. Thanks to Irving, today became a day filled with a lot of happiness for many of the residents. You could see they felt like someone cared about them. Besides the cards there was some crying, a few handshakes, and even some hugging, mostly among the women.
So, Rhoda and Norman, what did your father know? Did he have a sign that made him go to the chapel that Sunday to atone for his sins and ask God for forgiveness like it was Yom Kippur? Was it a dream that got him to write me the note about the homeless and tell me even before he got sick to pick up the box in his room? Why did he finish up the New Year’s cards a week ahead of time and then give them to me?
I said before I wanted to find peace with my feelings about your father. So I will do my best for Irving to try and reach $125 by Christmas. And next year we should be able to do a lot better.
Best wishes, God bless you both, and my deepest condolences on the death of your father,