Thanksgiving Guest Columnist Karen Steinfeld: Grandpa Stanley’s Brave Goodbye

Karen Steinfeld lives in Hillsdale, New Jersey with her husband Jeffrey and daughters Gabrielle, 18, and Serena, 14. She works as a financial aid clerk at Lincoln Technical Institute, a career training school. She also volunteers for the Sisterhood of Temple Emanuel of Woodcliff Lake and is a supporter of Girl Scouts. Grandpa Stanley passed away after fighting kidney cancer in April, 2011. He was a playful and loving father to his two daughters, a respected father-in-law, and a doting Grandpa to his four grandchildren. Last year Karen collected more than $1,600.00 towards the American Cancer Society’s regional “Relay for Life” efforts to help find a cure for cancer and give hope to others in the future.

Dear Gabrielle and Serena,

Strange as it may seem, I am grateful I was there at the moment Grandpa took his last breath. Strange it may seem because it was a moment neither planned nor sought out. In fact, I had dreaded it.

Because Grandpa was in his last days of life, his death was expected. Despite his brave fight, kidney cancer had overcome his body. He had reminded us day in and day out during his illness that this day would come. His warnings were never intended to alarm us but, rather, to prepare us for his death. And our whole family was indeed prepared. But however prepared you may be, it’s hard to know how you will react at the moment it happens.

Grandpa had accepted his fate like no one I have ever known. He was a writer and vividly expressed his thoughts about his dire illness on paper. At first, I thought the poems he wrote represented an odd reaction to his impending death, but I soon realized that it was natural for him. That’s how he communicated his feelings. That’s how he coped with his situation. And he did it well. One day his poems will help others cope with death.

Grandpa constantly preached that “one’s death is a part of life.” It’s something that no one really wants to face head-on. But he tried to help us accept this eventuality.

Why was I grateful to be there when he took his last breath? It meant an end to his suffering. He had gone through enough. It was time for him to go. And it happened right before my eyes, his peaceful letting go of life. Only because of the hospice nurse, who had closely monitored his condition all along, did I even realize it was happening. But I witnessed it nonetheless.

I’m grateful I was there for his last breath, too, because it ended our suffering as well. It enabled us to bid Grandpa a peaceful good-bye. It gave his brother (Uncle) Philip an opportunity to chant aloud at his bedside the Jewish prayer of Kaddish.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m thankful to Grandpa for his extraordinary efforts in preparing us all for his death. In facing terminal cancer, he was a brave patient. To the end he remained true to himself and his convictions, steadfast in his quest to be independent and self-sufficient. He was grateful to all who helped him in his final days. He was a heroic fighter, a role model. He also accepted his death as inevitable and, in so doing, made a difficult situation easier for us.

As it happened, Grandpa left behind a note for my sister (Aunt) Susan and me to read after his death. The note instructed us to go to his bookcase. There on a shelf we would find a particular book. We were to open the book to a certain page. Printed there was William Shakespeare’s sonnet #71.

In death, your Grandpa the poet sought nothing less than to console us with the power of great poetry.

No longer mourn for me when I am dead

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Then you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse.
But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world should look into your moan
And mock you with me after I am gone.


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