On or about 03/09/20, my oldest brother was moved into hospice. He has end-stage Parkinson’s disease, and had stopped eating and drinking. So he is not long for this world.
To sum up his life, what comes to me first and last is that he’s a mensch, and a role model for a mensch.
Before my last phone conversation with him some months ago, his wife had cautioned me that he’s sometimes not lucid for weeks at a time. In the five minutes we talked, he displayed no impairment at all, and was clearly still a mensch.
He discovered his love of teaching in 1964, when he began teaching the third grade Sunday school class at the Methodist church we belonged to. At the time, I was in fourth grade; so this would have been his freshman year of college. He earned his bachelor’s degree in education, and eventually earned his doctorate. While in the Air Force stationed at Da Nang, Viet Nam, he found a Baptist mission school in Da Nang City, and taught English classes there. He served at different times as a classroom teacher, a principal, and several years as the commandant of an Air Force war college. Throughout his career, he alternated between the Air Force reserves and active duty.
Stationed in the Air Force in Sacramento, circa 1968, he was displeased with the libertinism of the “California scene.” Those he met who shared traditional family values seemed all to be Mormons, so he made a thorough study of that movement and eventually joined. Mom and I attended his baptism in Sacramento in 1969.
A Mormon I will never be; but his most profound influences on me have all come from his involvement with that faith.
(1) We are all literally God’s children.
(2) People choose their emotions. This I learned from him, and it can only be a Mormon thought; it was utterly unheard of in the world in which we grew up. One could choose one’s actions, yes; but one’s feelings? He presented, and modeled, the possibility; and I saw, and tried, and became convinced. No concept is more central to my life, now, than this. We choose what to feel; and choosing to be happy is the very best choice of all.
(3) “You’ve just gotta love ‘em.” Several times I was on some outing with him and his young sons, and they would ask him about these people who were just living life the wrong way, and seemed incorrigeable, unlikely to listen or change. He answered, “You’ve just gotta love ‘em.” This is central to my teaching now, and central to my practice as to many of the men I interact with every day.
Only a mensch can walk that talk.
He married a very special woman.
Our mother died under similar circumstances just nine years ago. That means he was the same age then as I am now. It was a this same time that his Parkinson’s symptoms first appeared. There is a special story about Mom’s death, that has played out again in recent weeks.
The news had come that, at age 92 and following a colostomy, Mom had stopped eating. My brother’s wife, a nurse, said this was not unusual. Soon after, at my apartment three states away, I became aware of the presence of my mother’s father. This puzzled me, as I had had no thought of him in years. I came to realize that he had come to wait, on the other side, for my mother to cross over; and he was not alone. Quite a number of people — my father, different aunts and uncles, church members and friends and neighbors who had passed on — were gathered over there, waiting to welcome her into that world.
As to my brother and to today, not long after this last news came about him — and I did have a period of grief — Mom came to visit me in person, and make me aware that, for my brother, a similar group is gathering on the other side, eagerly awaiting his arrival there. The mood is, in fact, festive.
Matthew 5:16: I’m convicted that every one alive can choose to be light, no matter how limited one’s resources. I am sure my brother has chosen that way every day, and will continue to choose that way every day he lives.
9 thoughts on “Mensch”
Thanks for your comments about Dad. We all love him and appreciate hearing your memories as he slips away.
Pls send me an e-mail. I don’t have your current e-address. Thx!
Bill, Hello. I’m glad you’re in a hotel. I’m wondering what is the latest on Herbie. Thank you for any information you can offer. Becky Ward
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Becky, I thought you knew, especially since we took steps to include you. He passed Saturday morning a week ago; funeral was Thursday the 11th. Small, brief graveside service, military, none of my brothers made it. One of his daughters shot a video I can forward you if you like; there are also some snapshots I can forward. Pls advise.
No, I did not know. I’m so sorry. Yes, I’d love to see the video and the photos. I’m going to see if I can find the picture I took of him in 2006 at my moms funeral luncheon. It’s a very nice photo. Thank you, Becky
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Will do, tonight or in the morning.
This is a beautiful story about your brother. I have such vivid memories of Herbie and all of you boys as neighbors growing up in the 50’s through the 70’s. We had a lot of fun together. Herb taught me how to drive a car at the request of my parents! I last saw him at my mother’s funeral service and luncheon in 2006. We had a very nice conversation and I have a great photo of him from that day. It sounds like he had a wonderful life.
I’m sorry to hear that he’s in his final days. I will pass along the news to all of my siblings. I hope that my parents and Jon are among those greeting him in heaven.
Thank you for the beautiful blog and God Bless.
Becky Ward Lawrentz
Very interesting blog, Bill. There was quite a bit of information in there that I was not aware of. I am not sure I agree that we can choose our emotions or our immediate initial response to all situations but I do believe your outward response is completely under your own control. If something happens that triggers a response of anger, sadness, disappointment etc what matters is how you ultimately react to it.Over the years I have learned how to have better control over my emotions. I have also learned to just accept anything that comes at me be it illness, financial loss, relationship problems and realize I have much to be grateful for in my life. No one gets a perfect, stress-free life. So just smile, be happy and go on as best you can.
You may not believe that we can choose our feelings, but that is nonetheless exactly what you’ve done, in your consistent choosing to maintain a positive outlook on life, come what may. You have set an example that many folk could stand to learn from !!!