Thursday, November 7, 2013

SORROW FLOATS: Eulogy for my father – STANLEY P. DARER

delivered at Temple Beth El, Wednesday November 6th, 2013

I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if not for the influence of our father, Stanley Paul Darer – Schmaria Pesach ben Aaron v Malka

A critical part becoming a good writer is learning to be good reader. My father was a voracious reader who modeled to us, his children, that not moment of time that could be devoted to reading should be wasted - not even when sitting on the throne doing one’s business.

We always had a wide range of reading material available everywhere in our house, including the bathroom, which is where I got my start reading Foreign Affairs. Dad’s taste’s ran heavily towards spy novels, for obvious reasons, as well as autobiographies, and historical non-fiction.

Dad taught us the importance of learning from history – something I wish more politicians would learn. As kids, we’d snuggle up in our PJ’s watching the amazing BBC documentary series The World at War with him. He was way before his time with “reality TV” – except there was nothing lighthearted or prurient about this variety.

But Dad wasn’t always serious. He loved the absurd, too and we’d laugh together watching Monty Python and Benny Hill.

Dad was like that – quick to anger, but equally quick to laughter.
He taught us we should observe, and more importantly that we should care about what was going on in the world around us.

He also taught us, by his example, to be good citizens who engaged in public service. But as we got older and started developing our own points of view, we didn’t always agree on the direction of that public service. When my political views started to diverge from Dad’s, the arguments at family get togethers could get loud and quite spectacular, as my children Josh and Amie can attest.

Losing Dad to Alzheimer’s has been a slow, painful grieving process – I compare it to having your heart cut out with a butter knife. I hate the disease for robbing me of conversations I wanted to have with Dad, for robbing Josh and Amie of more time with their beloved Grandpoo, and for stealing the chance for Dylan, Daniel and Hank to get to know Papa and Dad as he really was. But as painful as it’s been for all of us, there have been moments of grace and humor, and even some lessons that living with this for the last ten years has taught me.

I learned that being open and giving to others eases your pain, too. I’d bring our dog Benny to visit Dad, with whom he had a very special relationship. If Dad was having a bad day and I felt sad, taking Benny to visit the other residents and seeing the smiles he brought to their faces made me feel better. Benny and I have made so many friends at Waveny that we’re planning to go for official therapy dog training so we can continue our visits.

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from Dad’s condition is to live more in the present. I’m Jewish, and a Mother, which (funnily enough) makes me a Jewish Mother, and if that weren’t enough qualification for being a total worry wort, I’ve fought depression and anxiety since I was a teenager. When I went to visit Dad I had to learn to go with the flow - to meet him wherever he happened to be that day. Sometimes it was the past, but mostly it was the present. We’d hold hands, listen to music, enjoy walking Benny, and just being together. The last time my father said coherent words to me, he smiled, kissed my hand and said, “You’re wonderful.” He might not have remembered my name, or even that I was specifically his daughter, but he remembered his love all of us up to the very end.

And that’s the other really important thing I’ve learned from this long and painful journey. I’ve been to weddings of Christian friends, and always loved Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I’ve thought of it often these last few years: “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Dad didn’t remember my name, but his face still lit up when he saw me. Love is the greatest of these, and it’s what has supported us all and helped us get through this difficult time.

One vacation when I was home from college, Dad was reading The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving. He drove me crazy because he’d start cracking up while he was reading and then he’d insist on reading the passage that made him laugh aloud. They were mainly about Sorrow, the Labrador, “a fetcher and farter”. I think Sorrow tickled his funny bone because we also had a Labrador – (Winnie, named after Winston Churchill) who could be rather flatulent himself.

I finally begged Dad to stop because I wanted to read the book myself. Like I said, Dad was great at modeling reading – and, pretty good at book talking, too.

But when he finally handed me the book, my father didn’t warn me about the sad bit - the part that made me cry so much when I got to it that I had to put the book down for the rest of the day to recover before I could continue reading.

Dad taught us how to drive, he taught us really inappropriate jokes, he taught us patriotism and the importance of casting our vote, he taught us to respect the office of the President even if you don’t agree with the man in that office. He taught me that I should always drink alcohol more slowly than any guy who took me out on a date. When I was going through my divorce, he came to Chabad every Shabbat to sit next to my son and help him prepare for his Bar Mitzvah.

But here’s the thing - Dad knew that we had to discover for ourselves that Sorrow Floats.

And even though we’ve had so long to prepare for this, even though we thought we were prepared, the shock of turning the page and learning that lesson, that Sorrow Floats, is just as devastating now as it was when I read the Hotel New Hampshire, all those years ago. But this time, I can’t go and talk to Dad about it, which only makes it more so.


This is one of our favorite family pictures of Dad because it is so him - how many people would go for a camel ride in the desert in a coat and tie? But it was so very, very Dad.


  1. This is beautiful and made me cry. I lost my father when I was 11 and I have always wondered what the adult me would say to him and I found many words of comfort in your post.

    I am thinking of you and your family (and, of course, Benny) and I know you will get through this.

    I love the idea of Benny helping others, your little guy is beautiful and a creature of God who was put on this earth to help everyone feel better :) I know every time I see his little face, I get a smile.

    I hated it when people said "my sympathies" all those years ago, so I will simply say: "with time, you will come to find a place to leave with the pain and the good memories will surface and make you smile".

  2. This is moving. Thank you for writing this. My condolences to you and your family.

    In the last years of his life, my own father used as his table blessing some lines from a modern adaptation of St. Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Sun:

    For all Thy gifts of every kind
    We offer praise with quiet mind.
    Be with us, Lord, and guide our ways
    Around the circle of our days.

  3. Even though I am Jewish, I have always loved the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

    Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
    Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
    Where there is injury, pardon;
    Where there is doubt, faith;
    Where there is despair, hope;
    Where there is darkness, light;
    Where there is sadness, joy.
    O Divine Master,
    grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
    to be understood, as to understand;
    to be loved, as to love.
    For it is in giving that we receive.
    It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
    and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

    I visited Assisi on my honeymoon, and felt it was one of the most spiritual and peaceful places I have ever been. As I expressed in my middle grade novel CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC, I truly believe we all pray to the same G-d or Divine Spirit or Eternal Force or whatever we care to call him her or it and it is such a crime that we spend so much time fighting and hating and killing in all the Lord's various names instead of doing good.

    1. Please pardon me for reposting here something that I first put at the NY Times - it was an NYT Pick comment, a first for me. The story was about the effect of the Philippines typhoon on a UN climate change conference:

      Anthropogenic climate change is an unintended consequence of actions taken out of self-interest. It will take an intentionally expanded view of "self-interest" to produce the change of psychosocial "climate" we need to respond effectively. Fortunately, humankind's already existing ethical and religious systems, when understood correctly, can provide the moral guidance we need - if we are willing to listen to them. As Erich Fromm wrote, "It is the purpose of all the true religions to help man overcome his narcissism."

  4. Oh Sarah--my deepest sympathy goes out to you on this rainy Thursday. I saw your post a couple of days ago--I thought to myself, "I hope she keeps all of the good memories fresh". I, too, am going through the same journey, which is almost over. It helps to realize that we came from good parents who loved us dearly. Always remember that.

    1. Sue - I'm so sorry to hear that you, too, are on this painful journey with your parent. ((((hugs)))) One thing that we did was create a slideshow of pictures that we've had playing while people come to visit during the shiva. Seeing the pictures of Dad with us as children, and as a young married man with Mom and then as a doting grandfather, always with that love in his eyes and great smile has been very therapeutic, and it also gives the people who didn't know him so well a great sense of who he was.

  5. How well i understand what you are experiencing - keep those memories in the forefront of your mind and more importantly, your heart - they are so precious!

    1. Thank you - he will always be in my mind and my heart - and hopefully live on in the values I transmit to my own children.

  6. Magnificent, Sarah. I'm truly sorry for your loss. We will all - collectively - remember your name and his. And that is the beauty of life.

  7. I'm sorry for your loss. Both of my maternal grandparents had Alzheimer's; your metaphor of having the heart cut out with a butter knife fits absolutely perfectly.

  8. Thanks, Kerri. I've actually started on my first adult novel, based on our journey with Dad's Alzheimer's. I had a debate with my friend Nora, also a writer, about if it should be a memoir or a novel, but my view is that because I'm not a celebrity, a memoir wouldn't sell, and also fiction gives me more freedom. I think I'm just going to write the first draft, revise, and see what my agent thinks...