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Our dad's passing (Long, sorry...)


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I apologize that it has taken so long for us to post again. We had almost 300 people at his funeral last Monday and then the week was filled with people coming by. Although I am Jewish, I have never been particularly moved by Jewish rituals. Through this experience though, I have come to see their value. In particular, the tradition of sitting "Shiva" for 7 days--where every night people come for a short evening service and to eat together--has been a wonderful thing for us. Now that people have stopped coming by--it feels like the hard part is starting and we are facing each day anew without my dad.

Adrian and I have wanted to share a little bit of detail about my dad's passing. It was like nothing we ever imagined---and others may find it helpful.

On Sunday night, my dad said that he felt like he didn't have much time left. I asked him if he had a sense of how much time he had--and he said he didn't know...and that he wasn't sure how he would know when it was time to go. I asked if he felt like he needed a "guide" through this experience---and he said that he did. I had no idea where I would find this type of "guide".

On Monday evening, after my dad was too weak to get out of bed for the second or third day in a row, our oncologist paid a house call to check on him. The onc thought we needed to have him admitted to the hospital for IV hydration and a transfusion. He was admitted Monday night and after he arrived it soon became clear that he wasn't leaving. His breathing had gotten quite bad in a short period of time.

On Tuesday, a social worker from the UCLA Cancer Center that I had worked with during this period came by to see us. I asked him if he knew of a guide that would help give my dad a "framework" for thinking about his death, and what to anticipate...he said that he thought he knew of someone that could help and he called this nurse ("Katherine") who is the co-chair of the hospital's ethics center and specializes in end of life issues.

On Friday evening, Katherine unexpectedly showed up at my dad's room. My dad had really begun to decline--his breathing was very labored, per our trusted onc's advice (+ a confirmatory x ray) we had decided to halt treatment, and we were very scared.

Katherine began by taking steps to make dad more comfortable---taking the blanket off his chest and stripping his gown to his waist. She checked his pain meds and after telling us that he was really on too light a pain control regimen (even though beyond bad chest aches when he coughed, he had little bone mets pain, thankfully). It appeared that she did not think that she had come to preside over my dad's passing.

She asked us about my dad. My mom, brother, and I told her that he was a professor of Sociology, that he was interested in altered states of consciousness, that he was not religious but he was spiritual, and that he had meditated in the '70s and still had true body awareness.

Katherine began by sitting by my dad and talking to him in a very soothing voice. The first thing she said was "Mel, look how hard you're working right now, you don't need to be working this hard. Just as the waves know when to come--your breath knows when to come." She continued with this relaxation exercise for a few minutes. His labored breath began to gradually slow. Katherine looked up and asked us whether we also thought that my dad's breathing had become somewhat less labored---as if it had "shifted gears."

Then, she began going down a path that I knew my dad wouldn't appreciate--explaining how he was going to see his loved ones on the other side. We stopped her and explained that what my dad WOULD appreciate was knowing that he was going to be part of the red rocks in Sedona, and the waves in Gabriola, and that he would always be part of us, and that he would be part of UCLA. Again my dad took a deep breath--and almost like downshifting a car--his breathing became less labored again.

Then, Katherine continued that train of thought--explaining to my dad that these were all natural processes--just like the sun rising and the moon knowing when to come. My dad took another deep breath, and his breathing downshifted again.

Then, my brother took over. In a similar tone, he began repating to my dad that it was time for him to go, we loved him, we would be okay and he would be okay, but that he had to go. It was almost like a chant or a meditation. My dad's breathing stopped being labored and he just began taking sporadic deep breaths. We started thanking him, all of us, mom included.

We suddenly realized that he was on the verge of death. My mom, moved over to the head of the bed and gave him the deepest kiss. It was his last breath. And then, my dad died.

Afterwards, we washed the body together and we each laid in bed with him by ourselves and told him how much we loved him.

Finally, we had a chaplain come and she improvised a secular prayer for my dad...which was so moving that she was crying when it ended.

And then we left.

There were over 300 people at the funeral last Monday. And while, today is the first day that we are really, really feeling the loss---his amazing death and his incredible funeral has helped carry us through this difficult week.

Just thought you all might appreciate our story.

All our best to all of you,

Leslie and Adrian

P.S. One of his graduate students constructed a webpage in his honor: www.melpollner.com

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Adrian and Leslie,

I'm so glad for your family that the last hours were spent in a good way with your Dad and someone was able to help him in the way he wished. My SIL and I were just talking last night about the traditions of sitting shiva, the six month memorial, and other Jewish traditions. She and I both agreed that they have it right -- the emphasis is on the family and no expectations are placed on them and their grief timeline. I'm glad you had the opportunity to prepare your Dad, as this is a multi-cultural tradition that has been lost by the funeral home industry taking over "our" grief. Bless you all as you remain in my thoughts and prayers.



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Leslie and Adrian:

We stopped her and explained that what my dad WOULD appreciate was knowing that he was going to be part of the red rocks in Sedona, and the waves in Gabriola, and that he would always be part of us, and that he would be part of UCLA.

Beautiful thoughts, beautifully said. And there were these remarkable comments from the website:

Mel was, I think, a kind of magic looking glass for our better selves. —Judith Richlin-Klonsky

I hope, in time, that I will be able to deal with the loss I feel by becoming a little more like Mel. —Jeff Prager

Although I never met your dad, I feel I know him and have been enriched by his presence. I'm so grateful that you allowed that to unfold in these recent, difficult days. My Aloha,


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Leslie and Adrian,

Thank you for sharing your father's final journey. I already knew he was an amazing man from your love and devotion to him--reading his tribute page only strengthened that knowledge.

I hope you can take comfort in knowing that he will live not only in you, but in the cntinued work of his students, and their students, etc. It's a magnificant legacy.


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Thank you for sharing this story about your father with us. I feel so much in connection with you. I lost my Dad on October 6th and he was 69. He was also an amazing father! My heart truly goes out to you and your family. I understand this process and how the ache is in your heart. Please know that you were blessed to have such a wonderful man in your life and that you will always, always carry this with you. Take care of yourself!

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Dear Leslie and Adrian,

I read that with tears streaming down my face. What a beautiful passing he had.

He was so honored not only by his beautiful immediate family but by all his family and friends and thee certainly were many. To have so many people show up at his funeral at his age was surely a blessing and showed what kind of character he had.

He was surely blessed and you were blessed by having him as a dad.

I know he was at his funeral or shall we say the celebration of his life, with a big smile on his face.

You really had a long shiva, I don't know if we could have made it through 7 days, we only did it for my mom and dad for 3

Peace be with you, I know how you feel... I am so sorry he is no longer physically with you. But he will live on in your hearts of hearts until one day you will meet again.

Your graduate student is very talented and did a wonderful job in your dad's honor.


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