My dad died peacefully around 6 PM, February 18, 2009, after struggling for more than a year with ALS Disease. The whole family had been to visit with him the night before and although he couldn't speak any longer, he let us know that he knew we were all there for him. My mom, my younger sister Liz and I were with him when he transitioned.
My name is Sasha Roberts-Levi and I am the eldest daughter of Lionel and Hazel. And this is my Dad’s boot. I have many happy childhood memories and one of them is remembering how it felt to sneak into my mom and dad’s bedroom and slide my feet into his boots and clomp around the room in them. They smelled of leather and shoe polish and they were so big … I imagined so many adventures he must have had in them. My feet were so small … I didn’t fill them then ... and in spite of the fact that my feet are bigger now, I still can’t fill them … no one can … and I think any one of you who knew my dad well — knows just what I mean.
I am my dad’s daughter. I am a lot like him in many ways and very very different in other ways. And I cherish each of them. My dad has taught me directly and indirectly many things about growing up and becoming an exemplary person, and each year I grow older I get a little closer to filling his boots. Isn’t that the dream of every daughter or son?
I thought I would share with you today some of the gifts he gave me. To talk about them all would take the whole day, and the luncheon would get cold (and my mom would get mad at me); so, I will share just a little.
My dad was a police officer for 30 years. He told me that he became a police officer because he wanted to help people. I think he believed that each day, afternoon, or evening that he got up and went to work — he was making a contribution to making the world a better place. He would take my sister and me to the station and proudly show us around. I loved seeing where he worked and meeting the other police officers. He fingerprinted us, locked us in the holding cell, let us sit at the front desk, and to my extreme pleasure. One time , he let me fill out an accident report. I loved using his Flaire Marker and plastic templates. He showed us the dark room where he first fell in love with taking and developing photos, a love he passed on to me. My first 35 mm camera was his first Nicomatt FT2, which I used in art school. I thought I might like to be a police officer too, but he told me that he would never let the Township hire me. That, in his mind, wasn’t my “right work.”
He saw something in me that I didn’t see yet. He was shaping me, day by day, year by year, showing me how he walked through life, how he worked, what was important, what was despicable, how to stand up for what you felt to be right and true, and how he relaxed. He always encouraged and supported my sister and me in growing up and unfolding into who we were to become. Our childhood experiences are part of who we both are today.
My dad was a hard worker, on the job, in the house, in the garden, in the community; whereever he put his nose to the grindstone … it was with gusto. My sister and I learned the importance of always doing your best for yourself, your family and your community.
He also relaxed with gusto. When he “left the city,” he left his work behind and took our family “away” — to a cottage “Up North,” or three days through Canada and down into the back roads of Maine, or “out west” to the National Parks (Coleman stove and all). I can vividly remember watching the stress leak out of him with each mile. And it was on those trips that I learned how to appreciate nature. My mom and he shared a deep love of nature and an appreciation of all God’s creatures big and small. My sister and I were blessed with family vacations, out in the woods away from the city — reading, hiking, swimming, exploring back roads, visiting historic places, picking wild blueberries, drinking milk with root beer, learning to chop wood, spending time together as a family.
My dad taught me how to draw cartoons, how to write my name when I was four, how to mow a lawn, provide for my family, be a good friend, stand up for people who were marginalized in any way, and to love my cats.
My dad loved animals. He had a soft spot in his heart for all animals. I remember one time a few years back, talking on the telephone with my mom when she suddenly said, “Hon, I have to go. Your dad is going to be home soon, and there are two dead bunnies in the backyard. You know how he is, that will make him cry — I have to go bury them before he gets here.”
My dad once gave me money to take a sick homeless cat, who had found its way to my front porch, to the vet. He loved feeding the birds and the squirrels and, to some extent, the groundhog who lived in their lawn. And of course he loved his cat Rascal. Up to his very last hours — long after he could respond with words, when I dutifully gave my report that she had been fed and petted, and described her antics and her whereabouts — he would raise an eyebrow of approval, ever so slightly. He wanted to know these things.
My dad was brave. He bore this terrible illness with courage and dignity. He worried about my mom and we talked often what a beautiful darling my mom is. My sister and I have promised to support my mom in her unfolding into who she is — in this next chapter of her life.
I am going to miss my dad. I can hardly imagine life without him physically being here. It feels at times unbearable. But there are so many good things to remember, and each of us here, have in our hearts a small piece of who he was kept safe in our memories of good times spent with him. I doubt that any of us will fill his boots … because in truth, we have our own boots to fill.
Life will go on, season by season, as it always has, but not without him … time will pass sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly but will be eternally tinted with many colorful and sometimes sad reminders of who he was to us — loving husband, devoted father, caring father-in-law, brother, uncle, grandparent, great grandparent and friend.
He is my twinkling star on the horizon, now — and that is such a gift.
My mom came into the office this morning, while I was writing these words about my dad — with her palm outstretched. “Look what I found,” she said. She held out a small apple seed with a small white root shooting out of it. “I think it is a sign of new life,” she said sighing.” I agreed. I had woken with the exact same thought this morning. The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was a brilliant sunrise shining through bare black branches of their tallest tree in the backyard. I woke with the feeling that today was a new day … and that tomorrow will bring another one — each one inspired my sweet and lovely memories of my dad.
The last few days my dad was only able to blink and in the last hours raise his eyebrows ever so slightly. I will cherish the memory of me frequently asking him twenty questions in order to figure out what he was thinking, needing, trying to say and the sense of relief we both felt when I finally asked the right question. Once when I was quietly peeking in his door to see if he was sleeping, he began to blink wildly to call me to him. My friend LaTrelle told me he was my twinkling star. It is true! He is my twinkling star and I told him so.
My dad was a Police officer for over 30 years, a veteran of the Korean War, an avid gardener, a talented photographer, a devoted husband of almost 60 years, and very sweet, wise, generous, and protective father to my sister and me. We will all miss him dearly, but we have found comfort that he is now out of pain and not suffering. Please remember my mom in your prayers, and pray that we will very soon find a cure for ALS.
My dad told me that his favorite part of the day was at bedtime when he was with my mom and they said their prayers together, and he said that he felt filled with peace. My dad’s terrible struggle with ALS is over now … and he is finally at peace. Blessed be.