October 13, 2021
My father passed away on September 13th. He was 94.
His death has hit me differently than my mom’s did. She had health issues and he did not – just “A.G.E. syndrome” as my mother-in-law says. He died naturally at home, my brother and sister-in-law by his side. It was time but I wanted more time.
Until March of this year he lived on his own along with around 1,000 books – approximately one tenth of his total collection (the rest are in storage). They’re all my responsibility now: I’m in charge of his books and his writings. Here’s a poem he wrote around six months after my mom, his wife of 58 years, passed:
A cup of poems A book of tea Helps to solve Complexity. A quiet room With music filled An open book A field well tilled. A memory Of tomorrow Will rid the soul Of future sorrow. If I'm confused I'm not to blame The days are not Nor nights the same.
His apartment was in an old two-story house built in the 1800s. It had high ceilings, wood floors and a beautiful bay window. He loved his seat in the sunny window – even on a cool day it was warm and the perfect place to sit, read, think, nap, repeat.
My father was a thinker with a healthy disregard for authority. He wanted the earth and all her inhabitants to thrive and for everyone to have opportunities to learn and to be creative and fulfilled. He was an artist, an idealist, and a romantic. An optimistic pessimist.
His book collection is all over the place: mostly non-fiction, politics, sociology, psychology, language; oversize books, pop-up books, meditation, poetry; a Lincoln collection and an Einstein collection. Dad also collected multiple copies of some of his favorites like Moby Dick and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. I’m looking forward to the excavation process.
Memories of countless conversations help soothe the loss. As do the 200 emails I saved. So many thoughts and ideas, poems, book recommendations…
What do you need to be content and happy? For some it’s a light-filled window, a cup of tea and a book. You don’t have to be rich to live a charmed life. Robert Rosenstein is proof.
I’ll close with the way he ended most of his emails to me:
So I get the ultimate stack of books from the library and I’m in the middle of a funny, lighthearted romance when Life comes calling. And suddenly I’m not in the mood for lighthearted and haven’t read anything in a week.
Ain’t that the way it goes?
I’ll come back to Take a Hint, Dani Brown at some point but right now the best I can do is flip through a magazine.
The only thing you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.Albert Einstein
My dad taught me to read before I started school. When I was a kid we used to go to the library on Saturday mornings while my mom did the grocery shopping. Both he and mom were avid readers, but he’s the book lover and book collector. My mom died six years ago, and now, at age 94, it looks like my dad is in his final chapter.
There’s no need for details because it’s a common story: a fall, a reckoning. Families go through this every day.
Thankfully he’s still reading – eyesight good and curiosity undiminished. He reads books we bring to him (Einstein, Lincoln, physics, time and poetry are popular subjects) and his magazines, including Harper’s and The Atlantic. I also recently started sending him the Sunday NY Times which has been a big hit. He’s a native New Yorker and I think the physical paper is so comfortable and familiar to him. Not to mention it speaks his language – political, intellectual, opinionated.
In addition to being a reader, my father is a writer and an artist. Short stories and poetry; painting and screen-printing; calligraphy and drawing. He’s a doodler, too. The illustration at the top is his, he used to sign his letters with little doodles like this. Charming. Eccentric. Book-centric.