There are many numbers that describe a person’s life. And their death.
On May 17, my father sat in a small room with my mother laughing at one of their many inside jokes. Twenty-four hours later, he was dead.
Everything about that word sounds brutal.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it.
Make it politically correct.
Fineness the sharp edges into gentle corners.
But my father; he did the unimaginable: his death was gentle.
The last thing he remembered was laughing with my mother. Sixty years of humor they’d written together since they escaped from Hungary where my father was fighting against the Russians during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
It’s hard to imagine a better way to die.
At the age of 22, who would have imagined that he would successfully calculate the depth of snow necessary for both he and my mother to gently walk over two minefields on their way to a new life in America.
They built their new life in Miami, Chicago, and Detroit; an ocean away from where they were born. Who would have imagined that they would live the American dream.
An ongoing challenge that many people face. That’s how my father’s 24 hour clock started ticking.
Upon arriving in New York by ship, one of the first questions that the authorities asked my parents: “…here are your options, where do you want to live?” Tired of the cold rain of Scotland, they boarded a train to Miami and arrived to a warm 90 degree day with 90 percent humidity. Uncle Jerry, my godfather, laughs at the story: “Who would have imagined that two people would arrive in Florida in wool clothes!”
While teaching engineering at the University of Miami, Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology beckoned. For this trip my parents upgraded to a car.
A car! The whole notion unimaginable in Hungary.
Two cities and two children. During this time, my little sister and I were born near the big waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Michigan.
The doctor tried the usual pain medicine.
While waiting for the medicine to work, my parents had a comforting lunch together, and tried to smile their way through the medicine not working.
We commuted in a Ford Cougar Eliminator from Chicago to Detroit in the summers, as my father had a gig with Ford to work on their research projects. The Ph.D. in engineering he had earned in the United Kingdom had come in handy.
Meanwhile, my mother continued to set amazing speed records in the Cougar between Chicago and Detroit.
I’ve read my father’s research many times. Who would have imagined
that water from lakes with abrasives from the ocean could cut through thick steel. And that tiny pieces of wire could detect minute movements in metal–a few scientific areas in which he was a pioneer.
“Let’s try a CT scan to see if you’ve injured your back.”
A logical idea since the medicine wasn’t working. In a small room,
my mother and father laughed at one of their many inside jokes.
Who would have imagined that it would take my parents sailing across the Atlantic Ocean so I could meet my wife Susan and my little sister could meet her husband Tom. Our American family had grown to six.
Ford made my father an offer he couldn’t refuse, so we moved to Michigan. While my parents are Hungarian, our family goes back in history a long time. A time to when we were Italian. And Mongolian. Who would have imagined that our family had been knighted and we had owned towns. Lost it all during World War I. Earned it all back through the hard work of The 4 Uncles, of which my grandfather was one of them. Then lost it all again during World War II.
Beautiful sunshine and 90 degrees.
The feel of Miami.
Two hummingbirds flew to our sixth-floor window, looked inside for a little while before moving along their way.
A perfect spring day in Michigan.
The six of us were together throughout that day, which turned into night, which again turned into day. But really, there were now eight of us in spirit at the hospital. My sister and her husband have two wonderful sons: Andrew and Daniel.
And the further reality was that there were many more of our extended family and friends across the world with us in spirit. Watching over my mother and father.
We were all aware of it and we’re forever thankful.
On May 18, 2017, who would have imagined that Dr. George Zoltan Libertiny would have lived such an extraordinary life and died so gently.
My father’s story:
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