The Absentminded Professor
Closing ThoughtsOpinion

The Absentminded Professor

It was a beautiful day in March. Sun shining, birds singing, my husband, Gene, sleeping peacefully.

Shaindle Schmuckler
Shaindle Schmuckler

The date: Friday, March 25.

The scene: the Schmuckler home.

The lead: the absentminded professor.

It was a beautiful day in March. Sun shining, birds singing, my husband, Gene, sleeping peacefully.

Before I left to run my errands, I said good morning to Gene, who, at this point, was bedridden with Alzheimer’s. I told him I would see him later, kissed his forehead, patted his chest, wiggled his big toe and told him I had errands to run; I’d see him later. Margie (his aide) was here if he needed anything.

There was nothing, no secret messages and no winks from the universe indicating trouble ahead. This was on Friday, March 25.

Gene fell asleep on Tuesday, March 22 and was never fully awake again. Given that I reside in the city of denial, in the hamlet of hope, fulfilling my lot in life as a true Pollyanna, I fully expected him to wake up from this episode. He’s woken up from these same long naps before, so I had no reason not to think that at any minute he would open his eyes and smile. I was so sure (maybe more hopeful than sure) the sleep was a symptom of another urinary tract infection.

Unbeknownst to me, my family was preparing for the worst. Well, perhaps I did know, but was nowhere near ready.

All during this particular week, my girls, my sons-in-love and the grandest of all grandchildren were spending evenings with me; bringing their dad, their Zeyde and me their powerful yet gentle energy. I actually complained that it felt as if we were sitting shiva. Prophetic!

I was completely unaware that my girls were quietly telling their dad it was OK to go. One of my daughters was saying the Shema every evening with her dad. Her private, beautiful gift to him.

I, on the other hand, chose to keep reminding him not to make any important, life-changing decisions before our grandson’s bar mitzvah was to be celebrated the last weekend in April.

Gene and I met at Camp Kinder Ring in upstate New York. We were so very young when we met. Only the universe knew what was coming. He was in charge of the waterfront, I was co-counselor to a bunk of fifteen girls, all thirteen and fourteen years of age.

Ah, I remember it well, that very first day I met him. He was wearing his little lifeguard bathing suit while directing the swim tests for the counselors and campers. I asked one of the lifeguards his name. Armed with this information, I proceeded to shimmy over to him to ask some inane question in an attempt to get his attention. Sixty years later, I was reintroducing myself to the man I fell in love with, praying to keep his Alzheimer’s at bay.

We traveled many highways and byways until we chose “Hotlanta” as our forever home. Working for the AJCC for forty years afforded me the opportunity to witness our Jewish community in action. We did good when we chose this diverse, welcoming community. For our first sixteen years we lived in a beautiful area in Stone Mountain.

When we decided to leave “the mountain,” one of my colleagues at the Center suggested I look at Martin’s Landing in Roswell. And here we are, twenty-five years later, surrounded by our children and grandchildren, living the good life in our sweet and welcoming barn-red home.

Then, without warning, our lives slowly began to change. In the beginning — and we were never sure when the beginning was — the changes were subtle. We became aware that Gene was using his favorite description of himself much more often — the absentminded professor excuse for forgetting or repeating himself.

When he and I realized these lapses in memory were beginning to affect his work, the absent-minded professor retired. A few years later, he had a minor car accident. Time to stop driving. And so it went for the next few years.

When we realized that he needed more help than I could offer, we found the perfect aide, now known as the fifth daughter. (I must acknowledge that she joins two other spectacular women in the Shaindle sisterhood of fifth daughters.)

On that infamous day of Friday, March 25, just a few hours before the start of Shabbat, we felt as if a tsunami had hit and we were drowning. The Zeyde, the absentminded professor, the runner, the photographer, the collector of all sorts of things, the biker, the avid reader, the friend, the developer of programs that would forever impact the lives of folks lucky enough to have worked with him; the sound of his voice telling us ridiculous jokes, which we respectfully always laughed at; or hear his talent at whistling, or as a banjo and piano player and, most impactful of all, the dad, the husband and partner, had left us.

We very quickly understood that he had heard his daughters giving him the OK to go, had heard our son-in-love, the Rabbi, give him blessings and he had heard me beseech him to not make any life-altering decisions without considering his grandson’s bar mitzvah.

Shloshim ended with two days to spare before the bar mitzvah. So, the absentminded professor wasn’t so absentminded after all.

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