Monday, April 11, 2011

FRANKly Speaking

I've experienced it several times already.  First, my mother.  Then, my aunt.  Then, sister.  Then, father.  Each time was less of a shock than the other.  You see, repetition seems to have a way of lessening emotional pain.  Right now, I feel...well...I feel...numb.  You see, one of my newfound friends passed away last week.  He was darn near 50 yrs older than I.  How we came to be friends is a bit unusual.  Let me explain.

My father passed away in June 2009.  He was 85 yrs old.  He had been living under the expert care of my youngest sister for five years.  Dementia was playing peekaboo with him.  Sometimes his memory was there.  Sometimes it wasn't.  A too-fast-for-indoors electric wheelchair replaced his favorite La-Z-Boy .  He rarely recognized the photographs of my six siblings.  But he always got MY photo right.  ALWAYS!  Anyway, he lived in Indiana and I live here in Los Angeles.  So, I didn't see him as often as my siblings did because they live in Indiana, too.  After his death, I was determined to spend time with people who were just like him so that I would have some of the same experiences my siblings enjoyed.  Or endured, depending on which sibling you talk to.  For several years I've driven past a Senior Living residence in Studio City.  I've always commented to myself about how attractive the building looked from the outside.  I never thought in a million years, though, that I'd actually have a reason to step through its doors.  But, one day, out of the blue, a thought came to me to walk into the residence and inquire about volunteering.  So, I did just that.  Immediately after I exited the residence  I e-mailed the director of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters Los Angeles Camp Max Straus (Whew! That's a long title) and told him I wouldn't be returning to the volunteer work I had been doing with children since 2007.  Instead, I told him I was going to share my volunteer time with the elderly.  And I intentionally say, share, instead of give, because I don't give them anything.  They give to me.  I simply share with them.  When October 2010 rolled around, I began my work at the Sunrise Senior Living Residence.  And it is there that I met my friend.  Frank.

After co-leading Frank and the other residents in a rigorous, hour-long exercise routine, I'd join them for lunch.  Truth be told, I should use the lunch hour to sit with all the various residents so I can become better acquainted with everybody.  But, I'm human.  And being human, that means I gravitate toward those whose spirits inexplicably pull me toward them.  And Frank's spirit did just that!  During lunch, we'd talk about his life prior to California.  I moved to L.A. from Brooklyn, so having lived in Brooklyn was something we had in common.  He talked about his beloved, deceased wife and how much he loved her cooking.  He talked about his love for his big ol' roomy Buick Electra 225 automobile!  "Deuce & a quarter," he'd call it!  He talked about the woman he was seeing before he moved to California.  She didn't want to move west, so he left her back on the east coast and never looked back.  He told me that he had sons, but he never really went into detail about them.  The person he couldn't stop talking about was his daughter.  Boy oh boy was he proud of his daughter.  Every time I joined him for lunch at HIS corner table in the front of the dining room, I heard something about his daughter.  "I've been to the Academy Awards and all sorts of premieres," he told me once; ever so nonchalantly, mind you.  "'Cause my daughter's a bigwig at Universal."  Haaa!  During the past, Oscar season, he quizzed me about the nominated films I'd seen.  Since I'd seen virtually none of 'em, he offered to let me view the screeners his daughter, "the bigwig," let him have.  Lol!  What a character!  Lol!

A little over a month ago, I returned to the residence on my usual Sunday and was told that Frank had been hospitalized.  I was shocked.  Yet, I don't know why, because every week that I return to the residence I hear something new about one of the elderly residents.  And, that "new" thing I hear has actually gotten quite old.  Frank was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Oh, boy, I thought.  This isn't good for anybody!  Especially not a 91-yr-old!  Well, the next time I returned for duty, he was still in the hospital.  When he returned back home, he had been moved into a larger room so that his family could stay with him.  And, less than a week back home, he passed.  Just like that.  I never got a chance to see him after his hospital stay.  I mean, it went like this:  one week I'm talkin' and laughin' with him during lunch.  The next time I'm at his residence he's in the hospital.  The next time I'm there his burial takes place that very same day!  Just like that!

This past Sunday was Frank's burial.  And, sadly, I wasn't able to attend his funeral.  Well, truth be told, I could have, but one of the full-time employees of the residence deeply wanted to attend, and she couldn't unless she found someone to substitute for her in her absence.  I volunteered to be that someone.  So, while she (who adored Frank very much, too) attended his funeral service, I remained at the residence and called the two, Bingo games she would've called for the assisted-living & Alzheimer's residents.  But, the whole while, I wondered what Frank's spirit was doing.  Was it getting gussied up to rekindle a long, lost love affair with his wife?  Was it grabbin' a cocktail in celebration of not having to worry about diabetes any longer???  Or was he just thanking God that his daughter and sons and grandchildren and friends were all in one place?  Safe.  And sound.  No, he wouldn't have wanted any tears.  He was too practical for that.  He would've wanted a celebration!  So, celebrate I shall!

Frankly speaking, I finally understand why God & His Universe gave Frank his surname.  'Cause the Frank I had the distinct privilege of knowing was indeed a GOOD MAN.

MR. FRANK GOODMAN, no matter how many different ways it's spoken or written, the sentiment remains the same:  good-bye, my friend.

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