Monday, February 22, 2010

Abe Michaels, 1919-2008

Ahb and me in Paris, October 2000

I was up in Cape Cod this weekend for my grandfather's unveiling. This is a traditional Jewish ceremony – one year, roughly, after someone is buried, people gather at the gravesite, to 'unveil' the gravestone. Jews don't really embalm – it's against traditions. As a result, funerals happen days after death, and a lot of people can't be there. This serves as both commemoration and second chance for people who couldn't make it the first time.

Admittedly, this blog isn't the best place to commemorate my grandfather. But right now, it's the only blog I've got, so I'm going to say a few words.

I don't come from a family of athletes. Ahb, though, was a pretty active guy. He was a runner in high school. I wish now that I knew more about it. Back when he told me that he'd run track, it was before I knew what any of the times or distances meant. All I know is that it would have been sometime in the 30s. Back in the day. In Brooklyn, no less. He went to NC State for college. I want to say that he ran track at NC State, but I really have no idea if that's the case or not.

What I can say is that he was an active guy in his later years. His mind went out well before his body did. He was always fit, kept his weight steady, and kept moving.

Sometime early on in his life, he started doing 50 push-ups a day when he woke up in the morning. (Push-ups; he was old-skool like that). As he got older, he started doing less. It wasn't because he couldn't handle it anymore, though. He just decided it was unseemly for a man his age to be doing so many. So he started ramping it down, doing one less per year, starting (I believe) when he was 75.

He moved up to Cape Cod in the mid-70s. For most of that time, he had an office around a half-mile from his house. He'd walk there in the morning to start working, walk home for lunch, and then go through the whole thing again in the afternoon. When Melissa and I would visit, he'd go walking with us along the Cape. We'd tire as quickly as he would. His walking developed a bit of a limp towards the end, because of an arthritic knee. It didn’t slow much, though, even with the limp.

I'm not sure when he stopped doing the push-ups. At some point, he'd have forgotten how old he was. He forgot most stuff. That's how it goes.

When we first put him in an assisted living facility it was hard on him. He was 87 when we put him in, but even then, the facility just wasn't meant for someone as active and energetic as he was. It didn't have room for him to roam like he was used to. There was a door to an outside courtyard that they kept locked; somehow, he knew that. He didn’t remember much, but he remembered that they kept that door locked.

I don't know if being cooped up hastened his death or not. He died of pneumonia, which wasn't what any of us were expecting. But his system was weak enough by that point that anything could be fatal. That part’s true for most people in their late 80s, though, dementia or not.

There aren’t a lot of happy endings with Alzheimer stories, and there isn’t one here, either. The last time I saw him before he died, he didn’t know who I was. It’s funny, though - he still managed to be as cheerful and charming as he’d ever been.

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