Remarks- Allan Stern
Allan is son #3
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Although I love to swim now, when I first started taking swimming lessons, I was scared of the water. Not scared ... petrified. Mom and Dad wanted me to learn to swim, though, and signed me up for lessons at New Trier High School, a factory for turning out swimmers. The first lesson was so uncomfortable that the next week when Mom dropped me off, I hid outside the entrance after she left. When she returned, I doused my head under the drinking fountain to look as if I had just come out of the pool (laughter).
Somehow I survived those few weeks of lessons. But the following year when the local press announced the deadline for registration for swimming classes, I knew I had to take action. I carefully took a pair of scissors and cut out the article so Mom and Dad would not notice.
That evening, Mom looked at the paper with the hole in the middle of the page and asked me if I knew anything about it. "Nope!" I replied. Clearly I had overestimated my powers of subterfuge. Mom walked ten feet next door, asked Ruth Whitney for her copy of the Winnetka Talk, saw the offending article, and quickly put two and two together.
I got my first and only spanking that night when Dad got home. I remember him saying that classic parental line, "This hurts me more than it hurts you!" (laughter) which I vehemently disagreed with at the time (laughter), but later when I became a parent, it made perfect sense.
Honesty was clearly a trait not to be taken lightly.
There's a tendency in these kinds of occasions to make out the departed one as kind of saint. Dad was no saint. He certainly had his faults.
His experience at Harvard Law School was so wonderful that he couldn't bring himself to appreciate as much those who went to "lesser" institututions. He considered Harvard to be the pinnacle of education and felt other instituitions did not measure up.
He was a man of his generation which meant, besides barely being able to boil water, that he was not very communicative on things which didn't interest him. If you had problems, you went to talk to Mom, not to Dad.
In things which interested him, he was passionate about, (as you've heard this morning) -- the law, golf, American history. Things which didn't interest him -- well, they didn't interest him, even if they were important to you. As a kid, I didn't always understand that, and sometimes it hurt, but as an adult, I grew to understand that that's what made him tick and to appreciate him for that.
Sometimes we got tired of hearing the same old law stories. But when Alzheimer's first started to take its toll, little did we realize how much of the conversation we would eventually have to carry. And how we would soon quote some of those oft-told stories back to him, in hopes that they would jog his memory.
During the last week in Tucson, Dad was asleep the whole time. His body just shut down with no food or drink. He was in no apparent pain or discomfort that we could tell, and the hospice people assured us that he was quite peaceful. However, there was no chance for meaningful conversation -- not any conversation at all. Indeed during the last four years, as Alzheimer's took its terrible toll, the opportunity for substantive conversations became less and less. So in one sense we had been saying good-bye to Dad for quite a while.
Still even up to the very end he retained his sense of humor and the twinkle in his eye. His most common response to some remark I made was "For goodness sake!" I knew he didn't really comprehend what I had said but it was his way of acknowledging my point, and retaining some dignity, something that's hard to do in a nursing home.
And last summer, after a minor stroke, he was stuck in the house all the time. One day I determined to get him some fresh air and wheeled him out on the balcony even though it was about 95 degrees outside at the time. As soon as we left the air conditioned living room, he looked around and exclaimed "Hey, it's hot as hell out here!" I quickly wheeled him back inside. (laughter)
Even golf lost interest for him.
Having lost all of his short-term memory and much of his long-term memory, he became trapped in the present. For somebody with a prodiguous legal mind like his, it was hard to believe that all he could really talk about was the time and temperature sign outside the condo in Glenview. Eventually, even that became difficult for him.
Part of me did not want to share this with you, as we all like to remember people in their prime, but it was part of the process of his leaving us, and one that is shared increasingly by many families.
My fondest image of him in the nursing home before his final stroke, when as he sat in his wheelchair most conversation had failed him, was of him reaching for Helen's hand. His devotion to her was an example to us all.
Thanks for everything, Dad. We'll miss you.
Story not told by Allan (but one he wished he had)
I was always struck by Dad's devotion to Helen. Here is one more story:
Dad had to go to Tucson from Chicago one August for a medical checkup for his Alzheimer's. This was in 1997 or 1998. Although I didn't relish enduring the 100-degree heat of Tucson in August, I agreed to accompany Dad on the trip.
Helen decided to take advantage of this and go visit her daughter Louise in Portland, Oregon. To make logistics as simple as possible, the airline reservations were made so that on the return trip, Dad's plane from Tucson and Helen's plane from Portland would arrive at O'Hare Airport in Chicago within minutes of each other.
We stayed in Tucson a few days, during which the increase of Dad's Alzheimer's was confirmed. After a few days without Helen, however, it was clear that Dad missed her very much and was very eager to see her. When we got on the plane to return to Chicago, he kept asking me, "Are you sure Helen's plane is on time?" By this time, his short-term memory was not very good, so he would ask me the same question every 15 minutes.
I would tell him something to placate him, like, "I'm sure her plane is on time, Dad, don't worry about it."
This did not satisfy him. He said he wanted to check with the flight attendants, as they might have a better idea.
"Don't be bothering those people, Dad," I said. "They've got a lot to do."
"OK," he replied.
But five minutes later, he said he had to go use the bathroom. I told him, "The bathroom's in the back, Dad."
He got up but went FORWARD, towards the First Class section and the cockpit. I cringed. I remember him going through the cloth divider between Coach and First Class. Then there was nothing.
I waited. And waited.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the cloth divider parted and I saw him slowly coming back down the aisle. I sank down in my seat as low as I could, pretending I had no knowledge of who this man was. He sat down with a satisfied smirk on his face, and said nothing to me. I was too mortified to find out what may have occurred.
After we had touched down at O'Hare in Chicago, all the passengers filed out of the plane. The pilot, co-pilot and flight attendants were standing by the cockpit door as usual. As we inched up towards the exit, I remember saying to myself, "Oh, God, please don't let them say anything embarrassing."
When we got to the door, however, the pilot said to Dad, "Well, Mr. Stern, we hope you enjoyed your flight and that you find Helen soon. Her Portland flight was right on time so you shouldn't have much of a wait. We can tell you must miss her an awful lot."
Dad looked at me with that mischievous grin of his and then said to them, "You're right, I do."
PS. We found Helen right away
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