When my 91-year-old father was in his final weeks, he wanted me to draft his obituary so he could make sure I got it right. He believed he had had a fortunate life. Despite being under hospice care in a good nursing home, we did not know he was heading for an atrocious death.
Eugene had a nearly photographic recall for facts, figures, stories, names, jokes, and personal experiences, right up to what he had had for lunch the week before. Our family liked to say that before we had Google, we had Gene.
Born in Chicago to immigrant parents, he shot up early, to over 6’3” at age 14, a kind of giant in those protein-scarce days. He became captain of his citywide champion high school volleyball team, but left them early when, at age 16, he was admitted to the University of Chicago. While he was doing graduate work in accounting, he met a young Northwestern student. The month after Pearl Harbor was attacked, he signed up, eloped with the young woman — to whom he remained married for 66 years — and after, finishing his service as a second lieutenant in the army, became a successful businessman in the Midwest.
In his later life, he looked a lot like Red Auerbach, though his victory cigars came out mostly for Chicago teams, with a special one waiting for his beloved Chicago Cubs. (Needless to say, it is still waiting.) He and my mother came to Sturbridge to live with my family for last five years of their life. Although patience was never his long suit, he cared for my mother devotedly and patiently as dementia began to overtake her. “Hey,” he said. “It could just as easily have been me.”
After my mother died, his legs stopped working, and when we could no longer care for him at home, he entered a nursing home. One of his legs grew gangrenous; he had to have it amputated at mid-thigh. When he returned from surgery, though, and the reality of his situation sank in, he decided enough was enough.
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