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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Life, interrupted

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth - though my absence from blogging for the past three weeks might suggest otherwise. I merely fell out of Kingston, for both planned and unplanned reasons.

The game plan was to take off from work the weeks of Aug. 8 and 15, spending part of the first week at my parents' house in Rochester and all of the second week on Cape Cod with my wife and teenage son.

But it didn't work out that way.

I could hear in my mother's voice, when she called the morning of Aug. 3, that it was bad this time; that my dad's health, which had been declining for several years, had taken a serious turn for the worse. He was in the hospital, she said, not eating and losing his ability to communicate.

I stayed in Kingston just long enough to throw some clothes and personal items into a knapsack and stop by the Freeman office to tell our managing editor that I had to go out of town indefinitely. And then I was off. I hit the road about 11:30 a.m. and arrived at Highland Hospital in Rochester about 4 p.m.

By the time I got to his room, my father - who, though fighting Parkinson's disease for years, was lucid until the day before he was hospitalized - was more or less uncommunicative. His heart was failing, the doctors told us, and he didn't have long to live.

My mother and sister, who had been at the hospital all day, finally went back to my parents' house around 10 p.m. Not wanting my father to die alone, I stayed in his hospital room, but by about 3:30 a.m. (even with the benefit of a turkey sandwich a nurse brought me in the near darkness of the cardiac ward about an hour earlier), I barely could keep my eyes open anymore, and I figured I'd be better off sleeping in a bed than in a hospital chair, so I, too, went back to my parents' house.

My sister returned to the hospital about 8 a.m., with our father still hanging on, and my mom and I followed around 10 a.m.

It was clear, though, that the end was very near, and, in compliance with my father's wishes that no artificial measures be employed to keep him alive, we told the hospital staff to discontinue the intravenous fluids he was being given and to begin hospice care.

Around 3:30 p.m., with a hospice nurse in the room explaining to us how my father would be looked after in the little time he had left, his breathing stopped, then briefly restarted, and then - with my mother, my sister and myself standing at his bedside - stopped for the final time. Peacefully, and without any notable pain or suffering, his life quietly came to an end after 80 years, one month and 25 days.

The hours and days that followed are a blur, but everything went as well as they can in these situations. Funeral arrangements were completed within three hours of my father's death - Judaism, our religion, dictates burial be held as quickly as possible - the service was two days later, and we then sat shiva (the Jewish rite of mourning) for several days at my mother's house, welcoming numerous friends, relatives and colleagues who came to pay their respects.

Before long, though, duty called. There was work to be done, and it couldn't be ignored.

I left Rochester about 6 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 11 - a week after my father's death - got back to Kingston before 11 a.m. and went straight to the Freeman office to quickly edit and assemble our annual "Back to School" section, which was appearing in the next day's paper and which I had planned to put out the previous week. I then worked the next evening, at my regular task of putting out the morning paper, and worked a day shift on Friday, Aug. 13, to catch up on numerous non-deadline tasks that had to be shelved when I left to be with my father.

Saturday, Aug. 14, was a long-awaited day off, occupied, in part, by a visit to Kingston by a longtime dear friend who lives in Albany and was unable to attend my dad's funeral. And then, amazingly, we left for Cape Cod, as planned, the morning of Sunday, Aug. 15. (I must have spent part of the previous day packing, but I really don't remember.)

Our week on the Cape was exactly what I needed it to be: relaxing and uneventful - a chance to unwind, reflect and recharge (and celebrate my 47th birthday) before getting back to the rigors of real life. And though unsure I should take a pleasure trip so soon after losing my father, I was urged by mother to do just that. She noted the trip already was paid for and that I already had arranged for the time off from work. "What are you gonna do - sit around your house for a week?" she said. Right as always, Mom.

We got back from the Cape on Sunday (three days ago). Monday was spent unpacking, doing laundry and catching up on things that needed to be taken care of around the house. Tuesday was my first day back at work, and today, finally, I've found the time to write about what's been going on in my life these past few weeks and why I've been absent from blogging.

Life gets in the way sometimes. Death, too. I trust you understand.



Blogger Ron said...

Sorry to hear about your loss.

Ron Kustek,

August 25, 2010 at 3:09 PM 

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