Remembering my father

“Today, as I step out on the dewy morning grass, I see my father’s spirit partaking in the dew, the leaves, the birds, the air. I am moved by life continuing, by springtime beginning, by endings and beginnings, loss, grief and praise. In short, by Love everywhere.”
—Maxima Kahn

tulipsJust over a week ago, on Sunday, March 13, shortly after midnight my father, Hilary Putnam, passed away at the age of 89.

I arrived in Boston a week before he passed. Being with him in his final week of life was one of the most profound, beautiful, amazing experiences of my life. Holding his hand, stroking his head, washing his face, giving him sips of water, tending to what he might be needing and watching his unfailing good cheer through it all was a priceless grace.

And it was grace that allowed me and my fiancé Don to be with him as he took his last breaths, an extraordinary experience of peace and of his beautiful spirit filling the room for hours after he passed, so that we had to just sit there with him in a kind of vigil. I feel that my father gave me a huge gift in the time I spent with him and in allowing me to be present for that sacred moment of his dying. It was awe-inspiring to see how conscious, loving and even joyful he was in dying, as he was in living.

Hilary PutnamMy father, Hilary, had been healthy and still writing books and giving lectures up through last October. His sudden illness and even-more-sudden decline came as a big shock and surprise to all of us. But even after receiving the diagnosis of an aggressive form of cancer, his response was, “I have lived a good life. I am not afraid to die.”

In fact, my father lived an extraordinarily blessed, full, wonderful life, doing what he most loved, living his dreams and enjoying life to the fullest. He also had an extraordinary death, full of love, peace, ease and grace. He was smiling and telling jokes up until a couple days before he passed. The last two days he was mostly in a half-asleep state, somewhere between this world and another, though when we brought the shabbat candles into his room and stood around his bed saying the blessings in Hebrew, he astonished us all by mouthing the words along with us.

some of Hilary's booksMy father was an exceptional man. He was a renowned philosopher, winning the highest awards and recognitions in his field and inspiring great admiration, love and devotion in his students and colleagues. He was the author of 24 books, the last of which arrived from the publisher just over a week before he died. (To read the New York Times obituary about him, click here.)

Hilary had a brilliant, open, questing mind that never tired of learning new things and discussing ideas. And he had an extremely warm, generous heart, a huge, bright smile he gave to everyone, a love of jokes and puns, a gusto for life and an undefeatable optimism. He was loving and giving and inspirational to so many people that we were deluged with visitors, calls and emails full of astonishing expressions of love and gratitude in his final week of life. I was deeply moved to see what he meant to so many people, how much he had touched their lives.

Although there were difficult parts of being his daughter, he and I worked to heal them in the last two decades, and I am so glad we did, because I was able to really experience the deep love he had for me.

My father is the one who got me started on my love of poetry, as he used to recite poems (and tell dirty limericks!) around the dinner table, and I was in awe of this ability. Once, when I was eleven and alone in the house, I snuck into my parents’ bedroom and got out a volume of e.e. cummings—a poet my Dad loved and I love to this day—and clandestinely memorized my first poem, so I could be like my father. My father always enthusiastically supported my writing dreams and my poetry. He believed in me and appreciated me.

I feel very blessed and grateful that he was and is my father. I love you, Dad.

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