What I Fear

I have been playing around with how to write this post for quite some time now. It touches upon many things that I have previously written about.

It is not something that I want to write about. It is not really something that I want to think about, but I don't know how to ignore it because if I do I cannot possibly fix it. And if there is anything that I know about myself and about life it is that if I do not try to fix things I will not be able to live with myself.

Whenever I have a problem I try to boil it down to its most simplistic form and then I attack it. In this case the challenge in front of me is how to help my father and my grandfather.

Two years ago my father had a major illness during which he suffered a major heart attack and underwent a triple bypass. The doctors uniformly agreed that he beat the odds and that they expected him to die. It was a major event and not totally unforeseen.

Part of the reason that they think that he survived is that he is incredibly strongwilled. He spent three weeks on a ventilator. During that time he managed to extubate himself twice, with his tongue. I spent hours flying between Los Angeles and the East Coast worried sick that I would land and find out that my father had died.

With much gratitude I say that he did not. I could not be more thankful, but at the same time I have this fear that he is heading down the wrong path. His eating habits are atrocious and that is what scares me. His weight is an issue. He is not taking good care of himself and the reason that he isn't is because of his own fear of his father's mortality.

My grandfather is almost 92 and in deteriorating condition. During the last six months or so he has been hospitalized twice. Both times we were told that there was a good chance that he wouldn't be coming home. Both times he came home and both times we were told that in large part it was because he is too stubborn to die. Strongwilled men run in the family, do you see a theme here.

Anyway, my own father is hiding his stress and fear for his father in his food. I can't ignore this and I have told my father so, but I can't stop him. I can't take the food away from him. I can't always be there to monitor it and neither can anyone else.

It is making me lose my own hair watching this. A short time ago he and I had what you could term a battle about this. As we fought I kept hearing all of these voices in my head and one of them said Kabed et Evecha, veh et eemecha. (Honor thy father and thy mother).

I struggled with it because part of me felt an obligation to be careful about how I spoke to my father and part of me said that because of the obligation I have to my mother, sisters and all of the grandchildren I had to be tougher. Part of me said that because of the obligation to my father I had to make myself harder and find the key to breaking his will on this.

But if he won't change I am not sure that anything can be done. If he has forgotten the fear he had of dying and how close he came I am not sure that I can illustrate it for him. On the other hand I can't not do anything.

As for my grandfather I can see him winding down and it is killing me. I see the light in his eyes dimming and I am not satisfied. His quality of life is fair and could be better, but only if he decides to make it happen.

In a few months it will be three years since my grandmother died. All of his sisters are gone and he has little contact with his brothers. Most of his friends have died and the few that haven't are in homes. Add his having gone blind and other physical ailments and you have a recipe for depression.

The man is clearly depressed and I understand why. But, if he can find the strength he doesn't have to be. There are still so many good things, but he just cannot seem to feel the heat of the sun on his back. Blue skies don't mean as much and now I fear that he lives in a world of shadows.

So I watch as my father does what he can to try and pull him out. I am not a passive bystander. I interact with him and try hard to get that smile. He has an infectious laugh and so many incredible stories.

During the six months of my father's illness my grandfather leaned on me and told me stories that I had never heard before. I know how he lost his virginity. Who it was, where and when. I know about how he fell in love and how he wished that he would have stayed in the carnival business. I learned more stories about his time hustling pool and two trips through the army.

I know stories that I will forever treasure and never share. They are ours. They are part of a special bond. I am the oldest grandchild. He and I have done so much together and share so many stories. I have tried so damn hard to help, to break through the wall that he has erected but he just won't let it happen.

So you want to know what I fear. I fear that as he dies he is taking my father with him and I can't seem to do a fucking thing to stop it. It reminds me of an experience I had when I was about ten or so.

Some of the neighborhood boys set up a little tug-of-war. I got conned into trying to beat a bunch of the older boys by myself. They let me beat them the first time and then the second they all pulled and I got yanked to the ground. But I couldn't let go of the rope. I tried to stop them, I yelled and screamed but I couldn't stop myself from being dragged and I couldn't let go.

I was so damn angry. I remember the burning tears and the shame. I remember the fear and I remember the pain. But most of all I remember the frustration I felt. In this respect I am no different than my father and my grandfather, we all have those feelings.

And now you have my fear. Now you hear my cry of fright and my admission of vulnerability. Now you know that I am searching for a car bumper to tie that rope to. Now you know that I am trying so very hard to find a way to fix things and that my fear is that I am just not trying hard enough.

One day I am going to have to sit down and tell my children that their grandfathers are gone. There are two questions. When will this conversation happen and will I be able to take comfort that I did all that I could.

Right now I just don't know.


Anonymous said...

Sorry that you have to go through this. You can alo look at it this way: with 92(and the time that remains) your grandfather has been given a long life. Unfortunately you have to reconcile with many things in life, including death.

Your father's depression sounds serious. Maybe you should seek professional help? Sometimes the burden casted on to you by life becomes so excessive that you can't deal with it just by yourself.

I hope things turn out right. Take care.

Tamara said...

Thanks for making me cry.
Seriously though Jack, this is a heartfelt post. You are sincereley honest with yourself and from what I can tell, with your father. We are only human. We can share how we feel with others. We can share our desires, our wants, our needs, our fears. But, we can't change people who don't want to change. You are ONLY a son, a man, with a family, a life. No, I'm not saying you have other more important things, but with life comes balance. I wish your father some peace and comfort. You are blessed to still have living grandparents. I'm not sure how old you are but all my grandparents died between my first birthday and my early teen years.

Can I ask you to, instead of looking at your grandfather's inevitable death as something you fear and something that upsets you, find strength is those amazing stories. Be grateful. I remember my great grandmother, who, baruch hashem lived to be 99. I am lucky to have known her, even if we didn't know each other deeply.

I would also like to share that I really truly most assuredly understand how damn frustrating your father is to you right now. Ironically (and I'm sure I'll blog about this), I'm sitting at the Burbank airport right now, on my way to visit my own mother in ICU. She is at what the doctors are saying is the end stages of COPD. Her lungs simply don't work. No, it wasn't food that is killing her. It was smoking. And, when she found out she was ill, her lungs were damaged, etc. instead of quitting, she kept smoking, pretending she was "cutting back". Soon the oxygen came, and again, she pretended to stop, and she continued smoking. She was killing herself and now, she lays in a hospital bed, on a ventilator, from what I hear not quite concious. Parents can be maddening and for me, I have to reconcile myself knowing that there really is nothing I can do to help her, to get her to quit. You have so much more will than I have and I commend you for it. Perhaps like your grandfather who lost his wife, my mom never recovered in the 11 years it's been since she lost her first son. Of course she won't recover, but she never dealt with it and let the smoking and depression take her life.

Why I shared and rambled I don't know, but maybe you can have some solice in knowing that you are not alone.

I wish you strength, courage and peace.

Topwomen said...

Jack, how interesting that I should stumble upon this post today as my own father just died, suddenly and unexpectedly, this past Tuesday.

Not having the forewarning of prior illness or aging sign posts as you with your father and grandfather, I suppose I was blessed not to suffer the pain of if, when and how as you seem to be suffering.

In the end, the results are the same, so my only advice to you is that you treasure each moment and know that life and death are so intermingled there's nothing we can do to prevent its inevitability. Take it by the hand and walk with it as your companion and try not to fear it. It will come as does each breath we now take by G-d's grace.

Good luck and find joy in what you have today.

Richmond said...

I hope that you find peace with this tug-of-war you are waging.

You (and your family) will be in my thoughts and prayers...

fluentsoul said...

I am sorry to hear about your grandfather and your father, as well as the maddening and heartbreaking position you are in.

I am going to suggest that perhaps your father has not forgotten at all his fear of dying and that perhaps that fear is what is driving him to eat more/worse than usual. I was very ill after my daughter's birth and was devastated when I had to view myself as "unhealthy." The anxiety that came with that altered self-perception sent me comforting myself with food -- which I knew didn't make any logical sense.

If I'm right -- and I may be totally off the mark -- perhaps if you focus on talking to him more about what's bothering him and less about his eating, it might be more likely to help?

I don't know. I just wish you, your father, and your grandfather well. It sounds as if you have a wonderful family.

miriam sawyer said...

When someone is doing something and you see it is wrong, tell him--once. Nagging and repeating yourself makes him tune you out. Tell him once--he'll remember.

Try to spend time with both your grandfather and father in activities which they will enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Keeping you and your in my thoughts and prayers.

The Misanthrope said...

I think there comes a time when one is simply tired. It's not that they don't see the all the joys that still remain, but they can't physically muster the energy anymore. I saw that with my grandfather who was 91.

I wish you all the best through this difficult time.

StepIma said...

I wish I knew what to say.

I know that my own mother lost many people in her life (her own parents among them), and "self-medicated" her pain with food. And that at some point, after losing another dear friend, she told us that she realized that part of what was going on was that she didn't want to be left behind anymore. That she knew she was being self-destructive, because it hurt to always be the one who was being abandoned. And when she realized this, it gave her what she needed to start eating better, and taking better care of herself.

I agree with the poster who said to remember how many years you've had with your grandfather, and to continue to cherish them. And also the person who said that you can tell your father once that he is hurting himself, but to nag him won't do any good. I'm sure he knows exactly how he's mistreating himself. That his doctor will have told him in far more depth. But one thing you can do, is try to let go of the certainty that your grandfather's eventual passing (in however many years - and I hope it's not for a very long time and without any suffering) won't automatically mean a change for the worse for your father. That you don't let that fear control your emotions, when it's not anchored in anything but a hunch. Maybe a solid hunch - and not something completely unfounded - but not something guaranteed. You're hurting yourself, not helping your father - over something that could be years away.

You say yourself that your father is incredibly strongwilled. Try to trust that the next time he needs that strength, he'll find it again.

I'm sorry you have to worry about this. I hope everything goes well with your family for years and years to come.

Anonymous said...


First let me say that I hope your grandfather pulls through this latest crisis and that you and your family get to share him for many happy years.

The reality, though, is that you have fewer years than you want. No one wants to lose a loved one. And that fear is compounded by the possible effects his death will have on your father. And your subsequently losing him as well way too soon.

Seeing approaching death brings out fears in everyone. I'm sure part of your fear, way down deep, perhaps too deep for you to even acknowledge it, is what this means about you and your life. And what guarantees there are for you and your own nuclear family. These are terrifying thoughts and we don't easily admit them to ourselves.

Have you spoken to your mother about your concerns. You mention how devastating your father's loss would be to her and your sisters as well, and that as the oldest sibling you feel a special responsibility to look after your father. But your mother is his wife, his other half. What has she said about your concerns? What has she said to your father about her fears that he is not taking sufficient care of himself?

One thing that is important to remember is that you are not your father's keeper. You are not responsible to make sure he stays alive. Nor your grandfather for that matter. As StepIma wrote, perhaps your grandfather feels left behind. His sisters are all gone; his wife is gone. His brothers are still alive but he has no real connection to them, so they are in a sense gone as well.

For you to want him to stay so that your father will not get worse is not thinking about what is best for your grandfather. Or even your father. It is thinking about what is best for you. There's nothing wrong with that, but you have to face it for what it is. And perhaps in seeing that understand that there comes a time when you have to let go.

I have heard from nurses in ICUs and have seen it myself in my rabbinic life of families surrounding their loved ones in their death throes. Desperately wanting the person to remain alive. And as the realization sets in that the person won't come back the patient stubbornly clings to life. And the nurses tell the family to each go in one at a time and tell the person that it is okay to let go. That they have their permission to die. That life will be difficult without them, but they will move forward. And that after the family does this the patient within hours passes away. It is as if the patient needs to hear from everyone that it is okay to let go. That is how stubborn the will can be, even while totally unconscious.

Your grandfather will not live forever. No one knows when his time will come. The same is true for your father. For everyone. Be prepared to allow them to go when the time comes. It will help you prepare yourself when it is your time too.

As long as your grandfather is alive you feel that your father is "safe". The truth is that his eating habits are already bad, as you wrote. Perhaps your fear is that once your grandfather is gone then your father is next oldest and therefore logically the next to go. And that once a parent dies that means the next generation is vulnerable. And that means facing your own mortality. Which is really, really scary.

I know this is not a warm fuzzy comment and I'm concerned about posting it. I really do sincerely hope that your grandfather pulls through. And that your father sees his behavior as being harmful to himself and to those who love him. Speak to your mother, tell her your fears. She probably has the most influence on your father. And she and your father should live in happiness and health for many years to come.

And you as well :)

Ray Bridges said...

I'm envious of the fact that you have such a close relationship with both your father and your grandfather. My father and both my grandfathers died when I was five, so I never had the kind of bond about which you write.

I won't presume to tell you how to work through these issues. I will share with you a buddhist parable that speaks to this situation.

A rich man goes to an old monk and asks for a special blessing for his family. The old monk thinks for a few minutes and says to the rich man: "Grandfather dies. Father dies. Son dies."

Feeling cheated, the rich man asks "What kind of blessing is that? Why do you wish death on my family?"

The old monk explains to the rich man that blessed is the family that buries its generations in their proper order. Cursed is the father who has to bury a son.

Jack, you're blessed. Your father is blessed. Your grandfather is blessed.

Anonymous said...

When my own grandfather passed away, he was at the end of a long process of loosening himself from the world. He had become quite detached from everyone and while he was mentally still there, his spirit was gone a few months before he died. My father and I are estranged. The best way I can honor him is to let him lead his life as he sees fit. You sound like you have a very close family, and as much as it disturbs you to see your father struggling right now, its good that you still are close to him. That's something that I don't think I will ever have again. Treasure the time you have left- you are incredibly fortunate to have been able to share the memories.

stc said...

May you be blessed, Jack, as you wrestle with this very difficult situation.

In my family, there is a pin that is passed to any individual who is suffering through a trial. It has the prayer of serenity on it:

"God grant me:
the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference."

I'm all for struggling heroically to make a difference where you can affect the outcome.

But sometimes you have to place the situation in God's hands and cultivate serenity in your own heart. To me, this sounds like one of those times.

cruisin-mom said...

Sorry Jack...so hard to see loved ones in pain, and not quite know what to do. You have beautifully expressed what you are feeling. Many people cannot even do that.

Jack Steiner said...


Thanks, I appreciate it.


You are right, I do feel very blessed and lucky to have had this time with them.

You have my sincere thanks and best wishes for your words and your mother's swift recovery.


You are right, it is important to take advantage of the time we have.


I appreciate it, thank you.


You have solid advice. My father eats because it serves as a way to comfort him. I have spoken with him about the underlying issues.


Spending time with them both is what I am trying to do. I do enjoy it and they do too. It is just hard to see them like this.

Hi Seawitch,



I think that you have described my grandfather quite well. He is winding down.


I have always relied on my father's will and strength, but we are all fallible and if he doesn't help himself now the time will come where he cannot later.

For you to want him to stay so that your father will not get worse is not thinking about what is best for your grandfather.


I want my grandfather to change his outlook because he can improve his life now. It is not for my father, but my grandfather that I want this. He can enjoy a higher quality of life if he lets himself.


I really liked that story.


That is good counsel. Thank you.

Hi Q,

I never rely entirely on G-d. I trust that he is there, but I think that if we don't help ourselves we risk trouble.

However you are correct in your sentiment. Sometimes we do have to just try and relax and let things go as they may.

Hi Randi,

Thank you.

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