Penny Goldstein D'Agostino is the CFO/Managing Director of the Jewish Pavilion. She writes a monthly blog that can be found at www.jewishpavilion.org/blog. We thought you might enjoy one of her personal stories below.
We did it his way
By Penny Goldstein D’Agostino
He loved. He loved to sing. An accomplished vocalist before his teens, he sang his whole life. He loved his Sigma Rho brothers at Miami High School. He loved his fellow congregants at the Lindenhurst Hebrew Congregation where he served several presidential terms. He loved the Lindenhurst Fire Department where he served several terms as captain of the Rescue Company. He loved the Town of Lindy where he served several terms on various zoning committees. He loved owning Boltin's Formal Wear and Travel and he loved those that he met and worked with there. He loved Delray Villas Platt 3, where he served on the board & as a committee chair. He loved the Guys & Dolls - the chorus he organized and directed, that at times numbered more than 50 senior singers. But mostly, he loved his family & friends. He loved his parents, aunts uncles cousins. He loved his brother, sister, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, and grand nieces and nephews. He loved his friends, all of you! He loved his daughter (Penny) and son (Walter), daughter-in-law (Helene) son-in-law (David) and certainly his grandson (Bradley), and most of all he loved his wife (Lynn). They would have been married 60 years on October 15. And because of him, we had someone to love back. He will be remembered and missed, because he loved.
His name was Mel (Not Mr. Goldstein – he would say that was his father’s name), and he was much more than just another man who wandered in and out of so many lives, leaving so many hearts touched with smiles and joy.
He was my father, and those are the words I spoke at his funeral following his passing this week (July 30, 2018).
My father truly was a great man.
He had a way of being intimate, (not in a romantic way), with everyone he befriended. He was a big man, but he was also a large presence touching thousands of lives. He saved lives, delivered babies, mentored people, helped them thru difficult times and loved them all.
Understand my family is Jewish and traditional, but often we are much more than the conventional definition of those words. The reason for it was my father, and his infectious zeal for life.
The man would simply never miss a party. Tell him there was a get together of friends and family, or even if he heard about one, he was right there. If there wasn’t one coming up, he’d create one to fit the mood. He loved to cook, eat, entertain, and have people and music around him.
In the end, it was music that gave us what will always remain some of the most cherished and memorable moments of our life with him.
On Friday, July 20, we were told that there was nothing that could be done to prolong his life. Doctors weren’t even sure how or why he was still conscious. As a family, we were prepared for news of this nature, as this wasn’t the first time he’d been told that he had limited time. He was given 6 months to live some 17 years ago, but he was stubborn, strong and resilient enough to answer back every time with a “not me, and not this time because I still have things to do and life to live”.
What made him so unique in the medical world was his status as one of few men who fought diabetes, structural issues, infection and breast cancer and won, time and time again. In 2017, he was in a nursing-center for 7 months, and few of us believed he would ever see his beloved home again. Even then, he proved us wrong and wrung his fist at fate. Three weeks after he went home from the facility, he performed the Heimlich maneuver and saved a woman’s life in a restaurant. That’s the man he was.
However, in 2018, things would be different. In our world, he was everything. He was indestructible, the Superman who could, and would, defeat this foe every time. Although, even those with superhuman traits must reach the end, and we prepared for his final battle.
The traditional Jewish mourning period is known as Shiva. In this generation, it is usually observed after the funeral for 3-7 days. We were all prepared to sit Shiva, but we missed something.
This was Superman. He wasn’t about to fly away so quickly.
When doctors told us he needed hospice immediately, we called in VITAS. They are an amazing team of individuals, who provided palliative care in the most respectful of ways. My father’s oncologist said to call my brother and at least get him on the phone with my father. This despite she didn’t believe he would even be able to recognize his family at this stage. It was out of our hands, and we had no idea if he would last a day, two days, or perhaps much less.
Yep. Superman had something else in mind.
He wanted to go home. “OK", we said, “let’s go home”. We set up a hospital bed in the living room so he would be right where he wanted to be.
He wanted friends and family around. “OK”, we said. Within minutes, there were 30 people bustling in and out of my parents’ small villa.
He wasn’t done, and had one more surprise in store.
He said, “You have no idea what I’d give for my children to sing to me”.
My brother wasted no time. He broke out his computer, attached it, and the thousands of songs he had stored to perform in Elder-care facilities, to the TV in the living room so that we could see the words to sing along, and the music started to flow. We sang for the next 5 hours. We only slept when our eyelids became too heavy and we had to grab a few hours to rejuvenate.
On Saturday, he awoke and flatly stated “Today is not the day. What time does the concert start?”
Again, in and out paraded friends and family, each wanting a moment to personally say to him how much they loved him, and hear him tell them the same.
The music started at 7pm and went non-stop for another 5 hours before we had to rest.
Sunday, he opened his eyes and proclaimed, “Today is not the day. Who’s coming and are we starting music at 7?”. We gladly struck up the band yet again.
Monday started the same. The cousins drove in. The neighbors came by. We could see he was getting weaker, but there was still plenty of fight remaining.
We were singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from “Carousel”. He was dozing on and off, but when it came to the high note at the end, he wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to be part of the show.
Then Tuesday dawned. We all knew something was different.
My brother Walter and his wife Helene had to return to Orlando and fulfill numerous obligations. They reluctantly said their farewells, and hit the road.
Mel was waiting for them to go.
By Tuesday evening, he no longer had the strength for music, or much else. He was fading. By Wednesday, he was becoming agitated, mostly sleeping, and didn’t say much. The incredible hospice nurses helped keep him calm and out of pain. By Thursday he woke with a rally, saying he wanted to ride his motorcycle (a street legal medicare power rider he used to get to the therapeutic pool down the block). He said he felt good.
Sadly, that lasted only about 45 minutes, and he was rarely lucid at all after that.
Friday, we all said our final farewells.
On July 28, 2018, Superman returned to Krypton. Undoubtedly when he arrived, he took a chair set out for him and started playing poker with his family. We’re sure he’s sharing plenty of smiles and plenty of tales that were his hallmark.
He passed around 6am on Saturday morning, quietly, comfortably, and in no pain. My mother was with him.
For many people, all they sadly have are memories of a loved one bidding farewell in a somber and quiet manner. For our family and friends, we experienced the love and joy of a man who simply wasn’t ready to go, and wasn’t ready to leave behind anything but smiles.
This was his week. This was his way of bidding farewell. He got to be at his own Shiva. We spent a week telling stories, remembering him, surrounded by food, love and an outpouring of emotional support.
Mel never missed a party. He certainly didn’t miss this final one.
We, and he, did this his way.
Please make memorial tribute donations to THE JEWISH PAVILION. www.jewishpavilion.org/donate.
August 29, 2018 would have been his 79th birthday. We honored him with a memorial concert from 2pm-3pm at Brookdale Lake Orienta in the Garden Room. Penny Goldstein D’Agostino performed. Unfortunately, Walter Goldstein (Sky Walters) was unable to attend. He was in the hospital and was diagnosed with the same cancer as his Dad. He is currently fighting the fight and remaining as positive as possible.