My nose is in the reflection!

Last week, I went to meet the rabbi who would officiate at my father’s funeral service. I had not been back in many years to the temple where I was married and had gone to Hebrew School.


My parents had purchased for a significant amount of money a memorial plaque to honor my dead son, Jason. I had never seen it and had no idea where it might be located.


After our meeting, I saw a long hallway lined on either side with memorial plaques. It seemed tedious and unlikely that I would find Jason’s plaque easily. Jason’s twenty-fifth birthday was the day before. I felt peaceful as I remembered him. Once again, I was aware that my healing was real because the sadness was gone. I told my brother and sister-in-law that it wasn’t necessary to look for it.


My sister-in-law gasped and proclaimed, “There it is!”


I took pictures and reveled in how that was a sign that Jason was with me.



My days have begun to go from blurry into some semblance of focus. I was back recording vocals and audio for my book two nights ago. There was no question that it was healing for me to be doing that.


A month ago, I had finalized the vocal line for my song “You Were There.” But with my father’s death, I ended up deciding to do a lyric rewrite. Here was the original lyric line:


“Although I try, I just can’t say goodbye to someone whose loved me all of my life.”


First, I changed the tense to “someone who loved me.” And then I revised it further:

“Although I try, it’s hard to say goodbye . . .”

The main reason for that change was that I was saying goodbye to the best of my ability.


When I wrote the original line of “I just can’t,” it was an expression of fear about impending loss and my inability to deal with it.


I also say “it’s hard to let go,” in my song “Set You Free.” I am honest because when you deeply love someone, there is no doubt that letting go and saying goodbye is very difficult!


The musical of my life fascinates me. My songs are like an emotional fabric of my life. They are all subtly connected and sewn together in a myriad of ways.


It also occurred to me that in my song “Saying Goodbye,” I say “But I should have known how hard it is just saying goodbye.” So now, I use the description of hard in three of my songs.


All of my songs continue to help me. I listened to my song “So Real” this morning and appreciated how my lyrics expressed disbelief. Although I have not felt anguished, I sure have missed being able to call my dad.


I gave his cellphone to my youngest son. Such an oversight – my youngest son called his older brother with it and almost caused my oldest son to keel over with a heart attack. His caller ID showed “Grandpa” was calling!


I have written that with Jason’s death, an opera played over and over in my mind. It is interesting how that has been happening with my father’s death. Although Jason’s opera had no melody or music, my song “Set You Free” continues to play over and over as I see the moment of my father’s death replayed throughout my day.


I accept it and I understand that it is my mind’s way of trying to grasp the concept that my dad is physically gone forever. But in so many other ways, he is still with me. Hearing how much he touched other people has been very meaningful for me.


A family friend wrote a beautiful tribute. I want to share that message below: 

I was six when we moved to Oxnard Street into a tri-plex. Lee and Shirley, Norman (3-years-old), and Howard (2-years-old), lived downstairs in the front unit. My brother Stuart and I soon became “pseudo” family to Lee and Shirley.

Lee saw to it that every crisis we faced, we faced as one extended family. My father’s health and eyesight were deteriorating slowly from diabetes. Lee taught my mother to drive so she could be part of a carpool to Madison Jr. High. Then in latter years my mother drove my father to downtown L.A. every morning at 5 a.m. and they continued his sales business together there for almost 20 years. 

Our father could not “fix” anything. Lee could fix everything! He came upstairs at in-human hours, to rescue us from an exploding garbage disposal, a gurgling overflowing toilet, a flat tire, Stuart’s pants caught in his bicycle key chain, and numerous lost keys and broken windows. My father kept his Tallas in the trunk of his car and on Yom Kippur would walk alone to Chandler and go alone to the Orthodox Shul. My only connection with the joys of being Jewish took place in Lee and Shirley’s home. We were invited to Passover and Chanukah’s celebrations. Their home became my model for raising my own family. Today, my daughter has a kosher home and her father-in law is a well-known Modern Orthodox Cantor.

Shirley and Lee treated my brother and I like their own children. Our birthdays were always remembered with gifts Shirley wrapped just for us. Events in our lives were shared and cherished together.  When my father passed, Lee and Shirley continued to care for my mother. They never allowed my mom to feel left out or forgotten. Most Jews spend a lifetime waiting for the coming of the Messiah. That was not the case in my family; the “Messiah” was just a telephone call away. His name was Lee Goodman.

One more note: While driving I thought back to my childhood to the happiest day I could recall.  My mother met me in the kitchen as I came home from school and she was gasping in anticipation of telling me all our prayers had been answered. My mom’s eyes were glazed as she screamed, “Guess what? Shirley is having a girl!”

I can’t remember my mom ever being more excited! 

Love, Elaine 

I love this picture of my parents. They both look radiant and happy.

As I close, I want to write about a special lunch from yesterday. I went with my oldest son, my brother, Norm, and sister-in-law, Jo, my mother and her caregiver, Miriam to IHOP (The International House of Pancakes). It was my father’s favorite restaurant.


Our family went there almost every week, and the manager and staff always welcomed us and saved a special area in the restaurant, which my dad loved. The manager, Jean, hugged me as a walked in and wiped tears away from her eyes when she heard the news. I shared with her what my brother had said at the funeral.


My brother, Norm’s eulogy ended with the line, “Dad, I hope there’s an IHOP in heaven!”


My mother was in excellent spirits. She seemed a little more alert than usual and definitely enjoyed seeing all of us around her. In many ways, the obvious things about my father’s death were in front of her eyes. Aspects of my father dying and funeral arrangements were openly discussed in front of her. When she was at my home after his funeral, she looked at his slide show and posters carefully. Nothing seemed to register, because there was no apparent sadness.


Her caregiver, Miriam, did tell me that occasionally she still asked where my father was. She also told a grandchild a week before he died, that my father was already in heaven with her brother and sister.


A good friend said to me, “Did you ever tell your mother straight out that your father died?”


That had me thinking. Honestly, she was right because everyone went around it. I had even told my mom to say goodbye to my father while he was dying. She said, “Goodbye, honey!” but it was clear she didn’t realize her goodbye was forever. It appeared he was only sleeping and snoring on that day we visited.


During our lunch, I mentioned this to my brother. He wiped his brow and told me maybe it was better she wasn’t aware. Although I understood on some level, I told him I was going to go for it.


The table became quiet as I said, “Mom, that big party on Thursday at my house was for dad. He died last week. And do you remember when I took you to his bedside so you could say goodbye?”


My mother’s face lit up. She became animated as she clasped her hands together and giggled. “Thank you, I am so glad you told me!”


It was obvious that she was delighted to have been included with the information.


My brother added, “Mom, he’s with Jason now!” Then he also mentioned her brother and sister.


My mother grinned happily as she said, “And mamma, too!”


I wondered what she meant by that. But it wasn’t hard to figure out.


Our lunch continued and my mother’s face shone. We all told my mom how our father told us she was the best part of his life.


Clicking on the blue link below will play an 11-second audio recording of my father’s voice:


My father’s words about the best part of his life


I learned many things I did not know about my father when I made a 28-minute recording with him a year before he died. I was very open when I told him that it would be difficult writing his eulogy some day without knowing more details.


So I asked him to share with me more information about his life. I wished we had made more recordings than just that day, because he was tired from his illness. He wasn’t able to finish telling me as much as I knew he could. My father was a history teacher and loved embellishing everything about his life by including historical facts. When I tried to redirect him on the tape he became upset and said, “You cannot expedite me!”


I encourage all people to try to have such open dialogs and make recordings before their parents’ die.


It is wonderful to have this form of legacy. It is already too late for me to do this with my mother because of her dementia.


There were time constraints at my father’s funeral. I had planned for more to be shared about my father’s life, but it wasn’t possible for everything to be included. I realize that I indulged myself by singing and sharing my joy.

When my mom received her AA degree, my father was beaming with pride. My mother was a few credits short of getting a BA; she gave up in order to help me with Jason when he was sick.

My older brother and I, gleaned some facts from that recording and together wrote out a list of relevant facts about my father’s life. I am glad that I now have an opportunity to share them here:




Lee’s mother escaped from Cossacks in the Ukraine by jumping a fence, which was taller than she was. Her brother, (Lee’s uncle), was brutally murdered as she ran. She came to the United States (Brooklyn) on a ship.


Lee was born in Brooklyn, delivered by a midwife who couldn’t spell. She made 9 mistakes on his birth certificate. She decided to put his name as Leo Pold (instead of Lee), because there was a king by that name in Belgium.


His mother put the wrong age when he entered school so he skipped Kindergarten completely. He also skipped seventh grade because he was so smart.


He grew up in the town of Brownsville, which he said was considered the “dregs” of New York.


His parents took him to Pickens Avenue for outings, which he loved. He could get a yam for 3 cents and an ear of corn for 1 or 2 cents.


He was an only child. My mother once confided to me that he told her for the first time after Jason died, that he had a sibling who had died. I asked my father about that and he said his mother told him once that “he was not her first and only.” When I asked him more about it, he told me that he knew nothing else. He said he did not question his mother about it.


His parents owned a grocery store. They were one of the very few places that extended credit during the depression. It was a hard life and they worked all the time. When an A & P Market opened up down the street, it put them out of business.


Lee enlisted in the army during WWII so he wouldn’t be drafted and could then finish his last year of high school without interruption.


After the war, he went to training camp in Texas. He took a test and was accepted to dental school in San Francisco. He said he opted to skip it because “he wasn’t built to be a dentist.”


While in New York, he took dancing lessons and became an excellent ballroom dancer.


He moved with his parents to California because his father had progressive MS and the weather was better. His father died at the age of 44, when he was dating my mother, Shirley.


He met my mother at a dance at Temple Aliyah in Hollywood. He saw her across the room and said, “She was the one for me.”


My mother had a boyfriend at the time, but he was a hypochondriac. My father won her over. He asked her mother and brother if he could marry her. When I asked him why he didn’t ask her father, he said that my mother’s father was extremely religious and busy praying.


My mom’s brother, David paid for their wedding. There were 25 people.


My father taught my mother how to drive. He chuckled as he told me that one day he surprised her and took her for her driving test. That way, she wouldn’t have anticipated it and been nervous. He was delighted to share that she passed the first time.


My parents were married 61 years and had three children: Norman, Howard, and Judy.


My father worked for the L.A. Unified School District as a math and history teacher for 15 years. He worked at Grant High School, which was across the street from our house. Grant opened in 1959, the year I was born. My father always told me that I was the first baby born to faculty there.


My father was promoted to work as a supervisor at the Board Of Education in downtown Los Angeles. His department was Career Education. For many years, my father taught Algebra at night at L.A. City College.


My father earned his PhD over a twenty-year period under the mentorship of Dr. Peter, who was the creator of the term “the Peter Principle.”


My parents lived in the same co-op for over 50 years in North Hollywood. My father was a pack rat and filled every inch he could find with his treasures.


My father said that the best thing in his life was his wife, Shirley and his three children and numerous grandchildren.


When my mother became ill and my father could not cope, they moved in with me for a year until there was an opening at The Jewish Home for The Aging. They lived there in assisted living until my mother fell and broke her shoulder. She had complications and was on a respirator for seven weeks.


My father was devoted to my mother and always worried about her. He made sure she was cared for until the very end.

My cousin, Dorothy, gave a beautiful eulogy at my father’s funeral. In this picture, I was not yet born. She spent the summers with my parents and brothers.

My father at age 13 on his Bar Mitzvah. He looks like an angel to me.

I never saw my father as this fit. Wow!

This does not look like my dad. I find it amazing.

This is a picture taken from when my dad taught at Grant High School.

I think he overdid the gel a bit. My father had his hair until the very end. He always had a high forehead, and I think that was because he had an enormous brain in there.

I still feel like that little girl inside.

This is the last picture taken of my father. He is opening a card for his birthday from Norm. He is not happy because we ate at Coco’s instead of IHOP. I am sad about that, but certainly could not have anticipated that it would be his last outing.

© Judy Unger and 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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  1. Amélie Frank says:

    You and I are part of a very fortunate generation, the children of the people who fought “The Good War.” Our parents carried with them values that they wove into us through example, consistency, and character. In turn, we have strong, bright children of our own (at least I have the niece and nephew), and their devotion to family is as tightly bonded. Given the familial wreckage we see around us in this country, we are lucky indeed to have had parents like yours, Judy.


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