SHIVA UPDATE: Tonight (Wednesday) Jacqui and I will be sitting the final night of shiva at our home. My mom will be sitting at home in Florida, also this evening, from 4-8pm. Everyone has been so wonderful. Thanks.
All of you have been asking us if there is anything you can do for me and my family. Well, you asked, so there is.
If you knew my father in any way, I would love it if you could write down any nice memory you have of him and send it on to me either electronically or via regular mail. It will be a great way for me to have more memories of my father.
Later this morning, I will delivery my father’s eulogy. For those of you who could not be with us this morning, I wanted to share this with you.
Thank you all for you love and support.
February 25, 2007
I never thought this day would come, at least not now, at least not so soon in your young life and not so soon in your grandfathers. Yesterday your grandfather, Allen Charles Yudell, would have been sixty-eight-years-old and today we celebrate his life and leave him at his rest. And while he didn’t live to be an old man as he deserved, he lived a wonderful life–raised by Sarah and Julius who loved and nurtured him; cared for and loved by his brother Martin; he had dedicated friends from decades past who sit with us here today; he had a wife, companion, friend and lover in my mother; he raised your Aunt Andrea and I with all of his love; and for a brief time he had you. Today I deliver his eulogy as an address to you personally so that you will always know what you meant to him, even in the short time you shared together in this world. I will tuck this eulogy away so that when you are old enough to read and understand it, it will always help you remember your grandpa Allen.
Sophia, it seems no accident that we celebrate your grandfather’s life today on West 76th Street, in the middle of New York’s sturgeon triangle: Barney Greengrass, Zabars, and Murray’s. When you are a little older I will regale you with tales of his eating prowess over plates of some of his favorites: lox, eggs, and onions and toasted bagels with cream cheese and sturgeon all washed down with coffee and fresh orange juice. Your grandfather ate voraciously, both because he loved food—lots of it—and because eating was a way to be with those he loved. When I was a boy, we almost always sat down to dinner together as a family to eat, to talk, and to just be together after a day apart. Later in his life, when I was older, and your Aunt Andrea, your mom, and I would visit him and grandma Jane in Florida, he would begin planning the next meal even before he digested the last, and the process of picking a restaurant was almost as complex as selecting a Pope. He often had a restaurant in mind, and would find a way to get us all there, even if it was against our collective wills. When it came to food he always won. And, we, of course, despite making fun of him about this, were almost always happy to indulge him.
Your grandfather got his love of food, I am pretty sure, from his parents. Your great grandpa Julie was another big eater, so is your Uncle Martin, and, for all those years during his childhood your great grandmother Sarah was there to feed them. It should come as no surprise that so many of your grandfather’s memories about his childhood, and especially about his mother, concern food. Her apple pie. Her banana cake. Her brisket. Her apple sauce. Sophia, your great grandparents, especially your great grandmother Sarah, who is one of your namesakes, raised your grandfather in a household of love, and I am sure that it is from her he inherited his belief in the transformational power of love.
We are a culture obsessed with death in so many ways, yet when it hits personally we are shocked by it, angry at its coming, and surprised by its finality. And while your grandfather was never angry about having cancer, I do think that he was shocked that he could die. He seemed to think that he was immortal, that despite his illness he would live forever. Last week, the final night we were able to speak, he told me that he was upset that among the string of visitors to his bedside, where he had been for almost three months, he was annoyed that some looked at him as if he was dying. Was he joking? Cancer had spread all over his body, a fact he was aware of, and he still had no doubt that he would beat this thing, or at least that is what he pretended to all of us. Maybe that was his way of keeping our spirits up in the face of this nightmare.
This optimism of spirit, this enduring hope, this romantic belief in happy endings was one of your grandfathers most endearing qualities. Yes, it could be a barrier—both emotionally and practically. I do wish that before he died we had had one of those open and honest conversations about his life and mine. But I suppose he knew that despite our differences there was no unfinished business between us. Just a lot of love. In the nine years he had kidney cancer, his spirit of hope gave his struggles meaning and he always believed tomorrow would be better, and that was enough to comfort those around him who could be terrified at each bump on his cancer road. Within weeks or maybe months following a treatment he’d be back out there doing what he loved to do: playing golf, going to dinner and the movies with my mom and their many friends, traveling, talking on the phone, relaxing, and, of course, negotiating a deal.
While real estate was your grandfather’s calling, I think he would have been happy negotiating anything. I once asked him what he loved so much about his work. There were two things that stuck out for him: one was the process of putting all of the pieces of the puzzle of a big deal together and all of the people he’d meet in the course of that; the other was the closing. Every so often when I was a kid there were times when my dad was totally stressed out for a few days and then he’d disappear late into the night, negotiating with lawyers, land sellers, corporations, whomever. He and his brother Martin, he and his old friend the late Bob Levitas, he and his great friend and partner Jerry Kaniuk, they would sit in a room and negotiate. A few years ago over lunch one of his friends told me that he “never met a difficult deal he didn’t love. He always goes for the hard ones.” And while sometimes it would take him years to triumph, he did, and he had his many successes to show for it.
Your grandfather liked his deals like he liked his women: complex, vibrant, passionate, sometimes unpredictable, intense, and beautiful. And that brings us to his woman: my mom, your grandmother, his wife. Your grandma Jane and your grandpa Allen met serendipitously; he had spotted your beautiful grandmother upset while getting a driving lesson from her father, great-grandpa Stanley. Your grandpa Allen, slick as he was back in the day, pulled up alongside her car and said, “you can drive my car anytime.” After that, they saw each other again briefly in a local diner, my mom making sure that she was spotted by my dad. He called her soon after, asking if she was the girl in the yellow dress. If she was, he was the guy in the blue and white jacket. They went on their first date to a Barbra Streisand concert at the Forest Hills tennis stadium. And the rest is history. They eloped in 1965 after a calamitous engagement due to your meddling great grandparents, and have had a rich and vibrant marriage since. Your grandpa Allen loved your grandma Jane so much. And a lifetime of fun they had raising two kids, barbecuing by the pool in Roslyn, traveling, going out with friends, playing golf, just hanging out. His passion for her was always evident; sometimes so much so. He could drive her crazy. Like when he would call her incessantly on his cell phone, a device he just might have loved as much as he loved all of us. Jane, I am 10 minutes from home. Jane, I am on Clint Moore Road. Jane, I am pulling into St. Andrews. Jane, I am in the garage. Jane, I am sitting next to you. And while his schtick could be a bit much, he always meant well, and she was always at the center of his life. Your grandparents were not big into public displays of affection, but we knew how much they loved one another; whether it was the way they held hands when we all sat around, or the way he looked at her, or even the sliding of the latch on their door late at night when we were kids.
Your aunt Andrea and I were lucky enough to have parents who not only loved one another, but who also embraced us with their love. And while grandpa Allen couldn’t tell the difference between a diaper and a burp cloth, he was a nurturing dad who with my mother instilled in us decency and kindness, and believed that these values should be applied not only within our family, but to everyone. That my friends, is how a Republican capitalist raised a social worker and an academic. One of my earliest memories of your grandfather is of him singing to your aunt Andrea when she was a baby:
Do you love me? Well I love you.
I really, really love you, you are my special girl,
Do you love me? Well I love you.
And he’d sing that to her over and over again. It is a simple song that I now sing to you, Sophia, and one I know Andrea will sing to her children. And as aunt Andrea grew up, your grandfather was always a good dad. Never obnoxiously overprotective, but always there if she needed him. He coached her in little league, wanting so badly all season for her to get a hit, which she did the final game of the season, a feat that brought a gigantic smile to his face. Later on, when Andrea graduated from college, we all had lunch in Boston after the ceremony. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he gave a toast to her that knocked all of our socks off. He spoke of what a wonderful daughter she had been, about how well she had done in college, and about the limitless possibilities that lay ahead for her. He was her proud father that day and every day. And I know that in his final days he was comforted by her presence as she and your grandmother nursed him and loved him. Your aunt was extraordinary, barely leaving his side for the final two weeks of his life, playing him music, showing him photos, relaying messages from me when he was unable to get on the phone anymore. There was a moment, just weeks before he died, that was vintage grandpa. He was in his bed and your grandma, your aunt and her boyfriend Rommell were there, as were a few of grandpa’s friends. Suddenly he said, gesturing to his friends, “do you mind leaving us now, we have an important family matter to attend to.” After they left the room, and having raised concern among my mom and sister who had thought something must be wrong, he said without missing a beat “so, what are we ordering for dinner?”
I have been preparing for this day since your grandfather was diagnosed almost 9 years ago. One of the downsides of your grandfather’s sometimes inflated optimism, was the belief that neither illness nor death were part of our orbit, and, as such, I never really considered his mortality. And when he first got sick all those years ago, it hit like a ton of bricks. Even after his initial surgery and the good news that followed, I had terrible nightmares for months, I was depressed, and I even offered my life to God to save his.
Your grandfather was a great dad to me. Growing up we always had fun together and he had a way about him that made me smile—from the way he called me “pal” even as recently as last week to watching from the upper deck in Yankee Stadium as Reggie Jackson hit three home runs to win the 1977 World Series to taking trips just he and I alone when I was in college. He was not perfect, to be sure. He could be stubborn to the point where it defied logic, he became a conservative Republican late in life, and I’m embarrassed to say, voted for George W. Bush not one, but two times, and as much as he loved to talk to me about his next deal, he had a difficult time relating to my life as an intellectual and his eyes could sometimes gloss over when I spoke about my next book. But in the last few years, once he saw that intellectuals can make good money too, he relaxed a bit on this, and I know that he was incredibly proud of me. Ultimately none of this nonsense mattered because his intense love for me always made me feel safe and secure in the world and left me with the confidence that I could accomplish anything. I only wish that he lived to see all that is to come in my life and yours.
Sophia, I remember the first day I introduced your mother to your grandpa Allen and grandma Jane. We were out for dinner in New York, having a nice time, your mother looking beautiful and sassy like she always does, and then there was that moment in every meal when the boyfriend or girlfriend goes to the bathroom mid-way through, both to get some relief from meeting the parents, and to give the parents a chance, like the Emperor in the Coliseum, to give thumbs up or thumbs down. What a big thumbs up it was. They loved your mother from that first night, and still do today. I especially remember your grandfather, his eyes large with a big smile on his face, saying something in his outdated 1950s-ish way, “what an incredible lady and what a great smile.” And he loved your mother as if she were his own, and told me at ever opportunity how lucky I was to have her in my life.
Sophia, you came into the world at such a crazy time. Your father in the middle of chemotherapy. Your grandfather in the middle of radiation. Both of us battling different cancers at the same time. But in the midst of such tribulation, you came along, and with your arrival came two miracles. The day after you were born I found out that I was lymphoma free, so while I stand before you here today looking like a skinny, bald Frankenstein, I will be OK. I get to see you grow up, and to dance at your wedding. The other miracle, of course, is that on November 30th 2006, your birthday, your grandfather became a grandfather, a role he was born to play and something he had longed for for so long, yet so sadly, a role that was tragically cut short. Your grandfather died too young, and we will all miss him greatly. But, for me, the tragedy comes when I look at you and know that you were robbed. For almost three months he was a wonderful grandpa to you. He held you. He sang to you. He liked to sing to you to the tune of Maria from West Side Story, substituting Sophia for Maria. He whistled at you in his silly way. And he even chirped at you like you were a bird. It breaks my heart that you will have no memory of any of this. But I promise you that through us you will always know that in his three short months with you he loved you a lifetimes worth of love, and that his love and his warmth, his strength of spirit and his optimism will always be a part of you.
I will spend many years to trying to make sense of this crazy time and the fact that your grandfather died in the middle of it. But I have learned, as will you, that there are no easy answers in life, and that even when life is crazy and upsetting and horrible it is still life.
The Greek poet Aeschylus once wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
through the awful grace of God.
It is when I look at you, Sophia, that I know this pain we all feel will heal, that the smile on your face, your laughter, you big cheeks, your nose (that you hopefully have not inherited from me) and your pretty little eyes will take us together into a bright future. That is the grace of God, and I see it every time I look at you. And I know that your grandfather in his final weeks saw that too, and I can be sure that you were on his mind at his passing.
Your Aunt Andrea and I were driving with your grandfather a few years ago and an obscure Nat King Cole song called “Nature Boy” began playing on the radio. “This is my favorite song,” your grandfather said as he began singing along, as he often would to tunes of that era.
There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he
And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return”
And that was your grandfather. A man who when it came to his friends, his family, his wife and children and parents and brother and daughter-in-law and in-laws and grandchild knew that the greatest thing was to love and be loved in return. And as we take him to his rest here today, we can say with confidence that that was the essence of your grandfather, and that will be his legacy to you and to all of us always.