In Memory of Eric and Christine Rothschild

On Tuesday October 30, 2018, my Dad woke, had breakfast, cleaned up, shaved and fell asleep. He then passed away. He was home and in his bed. Just the way he wanted it.  Not a bad way to go. But the journey to this peaceful end was tough.

It’s impossible for me to talk about my Dad without also talking about my Mom.  They were my Mom and Dad. Inseparable. Always have been, always will be.

Six and a half years ago I also lost my Mom. She passed away 10 months after being diagnosed with ALS.  I spoke at her memorial service, and I repeated over and over again that I simply wanted more time. I wanted more time with my Mom. I wanted her to have more time with me and her grandchildren.  I wanted my kids to get to know her as adults. In my heart, I felt it wasn’t her time.

When my Mom told me she had ALS, I cried and then I did what I do when first faced with a challenge, I got informed. I was horrified by the disease but comforted by the fact that the doctors said the disease was in the early stages and, based on the averages, we would have three to five years together.  I conveniently ignored the extremes.

I took a deep breath. I focused. I tried to spend as much time with my Mom as possible.  She found this incredibly annoying. For instance, I wanted to take her out for her birthday, but she blew me off. My Mom wanted to go see a tacky movie with a neighbor.  She was living her life as she always had. That’s my Mom.

Weekends were frequently spent having lunch or watching TV at my parents’ home. While I know my Mom loved me and enjoyed my company, she found the amount of time I was spending away from wife and the kids concerning.  “Don’t you have a family?  You should go home and kiss your wife,” she would say. Again, she was living her life as she always had. That’s my Mom.

My Mom had never been average. I don’t know why I expected her to conveniently fall in the statistical three to five year norm. Given a choice between a long, lingering decline and a quick end, I know my mom preferred the quick end. Again, she lived her life on her terms.

My Mom was a Red Sox fan. If you probed, you would learn that she was a Boston Braves fan and simply a YANKEES HATER.  ALS is also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  The sports fans reading this can see where I am going. Not too long after her diagnosis, my Mom said something to me that I will never forget, “Adam, don’t you think it’s kind of funny that I have Lou Gehrig’s disease?  I have been plagued by the Yankees my entire life.”

Yes, my Mom never lost her incredibly dry sense of humor. Shortly after her diagnosis, we got her an iPad.  This was a good idea for a number of reasons, but primarily, to help her communicate.  There is an app for everything. I found a “speech generator” app. It’s simple. You type and then hit play. A selected voice then speaks what was typed.  I was showing my Mom how to use the app. We got to the point where you select the voice. There was a range of male and female voices to select from. For obvious reasons, I began to guide my Mom through the female voice options. Suddenly she knocked my hand away and began to explore herself, very quickly moving past the female voice options and into the male options. She picked Robo Cop!

And for what I say next, I am sorry. I know I might sound cold, but it was my Dad’s time to go.  He was very sick.

My Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease over 13 years ago. When he shared the news with me, he jokingly said, “Don’t worry, my heart will get me before Parkinson’s does.” My Dad had his first of many heart attacks when he was 46 years old, but he changed his diet, became a regular at the Scarsdale pool, and dropped weight. He fought.

Initially, my Dad successfully hid the Parkinson’s diagnosis from his mother (he didn’t want her to worry) and others (he didn’t want pity), but he couldn’t hide it for long. He had good days and bad, but the progression was clear.

His physical struggles were obvious, but the cognitive challenges scared him the most. Before my Dad’s diagnosis, I did not understand that about 50% of Parkinson’s patients suffer from a torturous set of cognitive effects, including varying degrees of confusion, paranoia, hallucinations and delusions. The physical impacts were clearly visible but the other side of Parkinson’s was much darker.

Watching his favorite sports teams usually helped. But it did lead to some odd discussions. They would be funny if they weren’t so sad, such as the fact that my Dad was frequently frustrated by the “New York Football Giants.”  Not unique in and of itself, but his issues resulted from more than the play on the field. My Dad would frequently tell me or one of his aides, “The coaches are not listening to me. Let’s go. Take me down to the field so I can talk to them.”  As the losses added up, he stopped watching as he was too frustrated. He focused on his Yankees instead.

My Dad and I had several, I guess you would call them touch stones—things I could say or do to calm him.  For instance, my Dad worried a lot, both real and imaginary, so I would say, “Dad, there’s only one thing you need to worry about. Aaron Boone.” At the end of last season, the Yankees did not re-sign their beloved Manager Joe Giradi who had managed the team for a decade, and instead, they signed Aaron Boone, a former player and TV commentator.  It really bothered my Dad. But focusing on baseball calmed him.  Yes, he loved the Yankees, but occasionally, he wore a Red Sox cap to honor my Mom.

As I write this, I am emotionally torn between feeling relief and guilt. I am relieved that that my Dad is no longer suffering and that he passed quietly at home. But the idea that I could experience any type of relief at my father’s death makes me feel guilty. In addition, I am surprised by how my Dad’s death made me think so much about my Mom. Intellectually, I understand that I have no reason to feel guilty, but I still do. And I shouldn’t be surprised that I am now thinking about my Mom, but I am. It’s all still very raw, but I know the memories and love will help me through this period and that I am prepared for life without my Mom and Dad.

A dear friend recently wrote on the anniversary of her Dad’s passing something we believe came from an Irish Headstone: “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal.  Love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

Note: For more, check out ALS and Parkinson’s resources from our partner nonprofits.

Adam has an extensive background in domestic and international research, analytics, marketing, business development, and strategic planning.  After a 30-year career at American Express, Adam has held a series of C-suite positions and is now the Chief Marketing Officer of a startup, Blue Owl AI Software. Blue Owl offers real-time, AI-driven marketing decision software driving faster, smarter business decisions.   Blue Owl integrates historical, real-time, and forward-looking data resulting in the most comprehensive view of consumer behavior. Adam holds an A.B. in economics from Harvard University.

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