A few days before my dad ended up in the hospital last week I finished a book I literally couldn’t put down. And, oddly enough, it was called “Inheritence.” A memoir written by Dani Shapiro that asks …and I quote…
“What combination of memory, history, imagination, experience, subjectivity, genetic substance, and that ineffable thing called the soul makes us who we are?”
Which got me thinking as I sat down to write this…. about not only what made my dad who he was – his soul — but also how all of us gathered here together — all so different – are connected because we were deeply touched in some way by the wonderful soul of my precious, optimistic and funny dad, Don Ohsman.
And as we are connected by how we were touched by him…we are also connected by the pain and tragedy of losing him. Let’s be honest…him leaving us all so soon is as he would say ‘a shanda – a rip off’ – to put it frankly – in his words – fuck-up’duh So then…what do I take…what do we then choose to take or to learn from this very untimely loss? For me, after much thought and prayer and meditation…I have come to the conclusion that I am taking his leaving as a precious and timely gift to me. It is the gift of clarity. A crystal clear picture of the exact legacy my dad leaves… because of who he was and how he showed up every moment of each day. It is as clear to me now as the feeling of my head as it lay on his chest. How Zayde’s magical combination of genetics and history and experience and his soul have benefited us — his family — and you — his friends. And the opportunity we each have to embody a piece of this legacy he has left so that we might experience him STILL in our every day …..
The first jewel in this treasure chest is not only his love of
Family…..but how we defined it. How he lived it. I was raised in a home in Cedar Rapids at the bottom of a hill in the woods… but this notion of home existed way beyond the small town of Cedar Rapids. For my dad, being a ‘father’ transcended biology and time and location… he became a father figure, mentor and guide to all, almost within minutes. In Don’s world anyone – traveler – friend – even a family member in need of a place to pause for an hour, a day, a week or a year –would find a safe haven to share….be heard…and be loved unconditionally. We were all family. As his dear friend and Rabbi Bob Ourach said in a letter he wrote me this week…. all of us were the beneficiaries of Don’s heart lifting comfort which has eased our pain; Of sacrificial devotion which has enriched our being; and of unfailing guidance which has directed our steps. And to those of us who became family whether by blood or by marriage …. Family became a verb …. We learned from Don to BE family. To DO family. To be in action of creating connections and traditions. With holiday celebrations. Family trips. Shlepping wherever we needed to go to be part of the reunion or the wedding or the bar mitzvah or the party. We all gathered …. delighted in his telling the tales of who we came from….sharing the stories that accompanied each family picture……and as my DAD would speak his voice literally brought to life our family history … our amazing teacher and leader … each person he connected us to from the past becoming characters in the book of our lives.
And then there is the legacy of great import….humour….
In his next to very last day of life he said to me …
I’d be surprised if this kills me…(pause…pause….) but I’ve been surprised. The intonation in his voice absolute perfection, still, even though his breath had been compromised, he had timing. He made me laugh.
The next day…as his body weakened..his soul…his humor… remained stead fast..
He said…outloud as the 25th or 30th person had come to visit his bedside…just after the 7th person had called just to share a memory or a story…so he could hear his voice..he said…. in perfect timing..
“What is this …. This is your life Don Ohsman….?”
My dad was hilarious. He was hilarious in the haha joke telling department — he had his go -to’s — he had Sam Ting of course and the 3 legged pig just to name a couple…. But the thing is this….He couldn’t NOT be funny. His tone. His wit. His every single thing – from an email to a voicemail to the way he said or sang your name — was infused with something that would make you smile.
And then…there is this……Zayde’s has left us with his legacy of curiosity…. and an unquenchable passion for people……With my dad …he met you…he KNEW… you and then he baptized you into his world because he gave you a name…. (tell people to turn to person next to them and tell them the name my dad gave you). He saw you right away — he literally wanted to see YOU –-and became connected to you with that name — and then he would make an impression on you as he set about to find out WHO you were. immediately. He asked questions. Engaged, and present…he wanted to know your soul. He was curious —- and he would listen and listen and listen — and before you know it, you felt like my dad was your best friend. Forever…. Which leads to this other important piece Don leaves us with…the legacy of what I will call, in his vernacular.. the KIT
Which stands for … Keep In Touch…Lifelong connection.
And wow…my dad kept in touch — always — he was a TRUE and dear friend, father, grandfather, colleague… — Jim Hoke said about my dad that last day in the hospital — Donny always called you back… And he did. And what’s amazing is he did it because he CARED…he called. He emailed. He freaking visisted everybody. He called when you were sick, but he also called when you were healthy and all was going well. He remembered the details. With my mom..and then with Georgie he would literally go on tour.. and visit you….not only did he visit with you..he would eat with you…laugh with you..and that experience would make an awesome memory usually marked with something happening…or not happening… that would be a legendary memory that would became a highlight of YOUR life.
And finally….we can not celebrate Zaydes without talking about how he leaves us a legacy of SHTICK – epic SHTICK – for example…. the hospital was a hotel — he was platinum member. The service was amazing. When you take a nap it’s a flat nap or a curl nap. Our house growing up in Iowa wasn’t a house — it was called Chayupitz Acres. I wasn’t pregnant – – I was a baby gamacher. A waitress was “shwermy” not ma’am. When you eat chicken tenders u always ask if they are as good as the ones we would eat in maui at the ‘kau-kau.’ When you sleep you put on eye shades … If you talk to him in the morning he asked how many hours you got — and if u got a m’tenin it was solid. If it rains on vacation it’s a ‘rainy day in the lobby’ . You don’t just a shower, u report on the presshah. … things that were expensive ‘cish me’re a fotzune …. And things that were a deal were a ‘michaeh’. There was the shower hour …. The one armed fiddler .. the list is literally endless.
And so… in this fleeting moment of remembrance it behooves us tothink well of this .. Don’s unforgettable inheritance.. His love that shone brightly in his legacy of family…of laughter… of curiosity…a love of the experience of being human and all that it delivers…. And finally …. A legacy of shtick…
And so Zayde…it is clear that we will all carry with us a piece of your soul…of your heart…of you …. Forever and always…
KIT ZAYDES…..and as Paul Solon said best……see ya another day…in another way….