Last Days

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Monday, day of the moon.

My father is mostly asleep, but there is an uneasiness about him as the sun rises. Last night the nurse showed me how to stream classical music from the foot of his hospital bed to the two speakers on either side of his head. Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” was on endless loop. He reached for my hands, nodding in the affirmative at the chord changes and wistful progression of the tune, a reflex. We know it well. It is one of the few songs he taught himself to play with gusto on the piano, and it is part of the soundtrack of his life. For now he has lost his words. I am not so sure he knows who I am anymore. He seems not to know he has lived a long life devoted to art, to education, to civic duty, to quiet contemplation of the mysteries of life. But he feels the melancholy in the music, and his instinct is right; this moment — sad and beautiful — is as familiar as it is out of sync.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.58.36 PMTuesday (day of Mars), rain continues to fall outside my father’s hospital room window. I summon the spirit of the mythological god of war on his day to bring some fight to this battle. The past 24 hours have been quiet.

Frustration conquers persistence. The exception: a sing-a-long before bedtime. Dad found the melody and parroted sounds, humming along in familiar places. Jean made it in time to collaborate on “The Littlest Worm,” in stereo, which earned us a smile, before his slumber. Today blood pressure is uncharacteristically high. I will take it as a sign that his blood is boiling over his predicament, despite his countenance, placid, like a puddle after the storm. Today must be rally day, a day to press forward against the enemy of time.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.58.52 PMWednesday, (day of Mercury). Also related to Odin (or Wodanaz) the highest of the Norse gods, presiding over art, war, wisdom and death. Odin lived in Valhalla, where warriors went after they were slain. I am preoccupied less with Viking lore and more with the words that trickle from my father’s mouth as he sleeps. Aphasia from the stroke means his language, when it comes, is a jumble of syllables strung into nonsense.

I prefer to think of it as primal language his brain is reverting to, sounds absorbed in utero that he extracted from his mother’s German vocabulary. It is bubbling up now, part instinct, part reflex.

Odin, by way of description, is like Gandalf from the “Lord of the Rings” — wise, all-knowing, artistic, inspirational, flawed. Literally, an old man with a white beard and one good eye, which precisely describes my dad. Today he is Odin in repose, translating the wisdom of the ancients in his mother tongue, on a dream quest for renewed strength – mind, body, spirit. Still, I now know why Wednesday’s child is full of woe; some days unfold before us in such a way that all we can do is follow its lead. Breakfast waits for hunger. Breathing happens as long as our lungs seek oxygen. Wisdom comes slowly, a gift of experience and time, to those who wait. It can’t be given, only received. Sleep is an escape hatch, where our dreams come true. We drift away on a lullaby that loops between our hearts and somewhere deep in our brains, in a language we have yet to decipher, only when we feel safe enough to let go.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.59.05 PMThursday, (Thor’s Day), and the god of thunder arrives, crash-boom-discharge. No time left for finding the next best place to deposit your loved one, they say. Then, the sturm und drang of diagnosis, prognosis, limitations, probabilities. The business of healing and recuperation quickly ties our hands and leaves us in knots. Time heals no wounds when time is removed from the equation, as long as Medicare is calling the shots and picking up tabs. The only thing left to do is to wield Thor’s mighty hammer, summon the power of its lightning. Crash-boom-behold, an unexpected bed in an acute rehab is open and waiting. A little more time to heal, granted. A little more room to breath. A little more grace for the man who has never cut a corner or taken the easy road; the man who has always paid his dues. On his behalf, Thor’s Day is hammer time, a day of conquest, as we forge ahead avoiding the path of least resistance.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.59.19 PMFriday, day of Frigga, (aka Venus.) One man’s setback is another man’s victory lap. Detained at the hospital for tests and treatment, Dad has been covered completely in vibrant prayer for the past 6 days, tangible intercessions swirling around him, just like the rainbow peace sign love blanket that warms him now. Love is here, and because it is her day to rule, I suspect tonight my father will rendezvous with Venus, his long-time muse, and in his dream-sleep they will dance their familiar dance, as she leads him to paradise.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.59.31 PMSaturday (for Saturn’s day, god of liberation and time.) On the seventh day the skies celebrated the return of the sun and dad’s liberation from hospital care. Today’s medical mambo began with another potential setback, and ended with a reminder that human resilience cannot be calculated or quantified. Against all odds he is settled in at Chandler Hall where tabula rasa means his future begins now. From this day forward my prayer is that vivid sunsets never cease to unfurl before him like a stairway to heaven, and that until he is ready to levitate, he enjoys the view, for all its worth.

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.59.37 PMSunday, (day of the Sun). Forever more, Starday, as the Sun is a star and everything on Earth, including us, is made from stardust. Just like the sun, we burn brightly, miraculously, powered by some life force in the core of our being. Not our brains or our hearts or our lungs – rather, the conductor that orchestrates all of it, powering our human-shaped star machines. Spirit. Spark of life. The original God particle. Today my father’s spirit shines like the sun, even if the parts of the whole are out of sync, his soul burns furiously, brightly, it warms the room and melts my heart, for all of its courage, undimmed by the machinations of mere muscle and blood.

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light. – Dylan Thomas

I am going to miss this guy. Thank you to all of you who have lifted our family in your prayers. He promised to paint me a beautiful sunset. Can’t wait to see it!

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In loving memory of Herbert Mandel,

who arrived with a crash on Thors Day, Oct. 29, 1925,

and died battle weary, on Day of Mars, May 10, 2016.


Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 3.15.53 PMHerbert Mandel, prolific artist, author and educator, died May 10, 2016 at Chandler Hall hospice following a brief illness. He was 90.

Herb was born on October 29, 1925 in Philadelphia, PA, third son of Wilhelm and Josefa (Kohler) Mandel, who emigrated from Germany with their two older sons, Wilhelm and Heinrich Mandel.

Herb was a gifted artist and his talents opened many doors for him over the years.

He attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, the Barnes Foundation, and Temple University/Tyler School of Art. He was drafted into the Army Air Force and served during WWII and was assigned to special services as an artist.

He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a master’s degree in education, which led him to teach commercial art at the newly opened Bucks County Vocational Technical School. Herb’s passion for education and strong belief in the vocational education system led him to move from the classroom to Supervisor of Instruction, where he remained until his retirement after 41 years of service.

Highlights of his life included a road trip to Mexico with a college buddy during which he was pick-pocketed of his wallet and passport during a bullfight. He also attended a garden party at the home of artist Diego Rivera. Later in life, Herb toured Europe twice while in his 70s, and took his family on an epic trip to Germany in 2014, to visit the village where his father was born.

Over the past 50 years, Herb’s art was mainly focused on creating a collection of oil paintings, linoleum block prints and wood carvings depicting stories from the Bible. His work was included in many juried exhibitions over the years, and he produced a small collection of self-published books of his artwork and original verse.

Herb met his future wife, Ann Mary Allen, while he was a ceramics instructor at the Philadelphia YMCA. They fell in love over their mutual appreciation of music, art and literature, married and moved to Levittown where they raised two daughters. They were married for 50 years until Ann’s death in 2004.

He is survived by his daughters and sons-in-law, Jean and Mark McBryar, of Levittown, and Carol and Jim Robidoux, of New Hampshire; five grandchildren: Aimee Robidoux, of Levittown; Neil Robidoux, of New York City; Heather McBryar, of Levittown; William Robidoux of New Hampshire and Julianna Robidoux of Oregon; nephews Chuck and Arn Everman, of New Jersey; Fred Kukral of Indiana; and a niece, Denise Buechele, of Arizona; cousins Norbert and Rainer Vögele and Karin Müller of Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Calling hours will take place on Friday May 13 at Beck Givnish Funeral Home, 7400 New Falls Road, Levittown, from 6-7-30 p.m. with a time of sharing and remembrance from 7:30-8 p.m.

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