Is it Still Okay If Your Father Cries?
The phone rang. It’s a call I’d been dreading. “Well? Pick it up
already,” my wife exhorted. Bobbie, my dad’s wife, was calling
as we had agreed she would in the event of a life-threatening
emergency. My father was dying of stage four colon cancer.
“Alan, I’m taking your father to the emergency room. Oh my
God! The paramedics have arrived.” I ran out the door.
As I soon learned, he had been rushed back to the hospital for
several oncological reasons-the most urgent being severe
“Dad’s inside,” Bobbie said, nodding toward the treatment
room. “My God, what am I walking into here?” Bobbie
followed me in. The air was fetid. Dad lay atop a gurney
wearing a loosely-tied hospital gown. He had lost so much
weight that his skin fit him like an over-sized suit.
His skin tone was yellowish like that of the mesim I had seen as
a Chevra Kadisha volunteer. I trembled in fear of my father’s
“Alan?” Dad whispered. He grasped my hand with his
still powerful clench.
“Yes, Dad, I’m right here.” We both managed a little smile.
Sarah, the lead nurse, suggested that Bobbie and I leave but
nodded approvingly when I stayed by my father’s side.
Bobbie stepped out. The door reopened moments later.
“Dr. Busch?” inquired a young resident whose black suede
kippah was affixed atop his head in the manner of yeshivah
bochers.“Shalom Aleichem. I’m Alan Busch, Dr. Busch’s son,”
I responded. “Benjamin Finerman. Aleichem shalom,” he
returned the greeting. “Dr. Busch, we’re just waiting for the
paperwork to admit you. May your father have a refuah
shleyma,” he whispered to me, just as he turned to leave.
Dad’s first two days were exhausting. The incontinence
emergencies were turning my father’s life into a nightmare.
We battled them incessantly for two weeks. The doctors’
treatments were ineffective. “There is nothing more we can do
for him here,” my father’s oncologist concluded. Dad was not
ready to go home, but the hospital was ready to release him the
next day. Time was running out.
at 5:00 a.m. and left a message with his service. He called me
So, in an act of desperation, I called my dad’s gastroenterologist
back within minutes.
“Doctor,” I explained. “The tincture of opium you prescribed
for my father hasn’t worked. The incontinence is destroying him
faster than his cancer.”
“I’ve tried everything I know to do,” he admitted, “but if the
tincture is not working, I do not know how to stop it.” My
heart sank. We requested another consultation with the
oncologist. “The prognosis varies with each person,” he
explained later that morning. “This could go on,” he continued
“for three to six months or even a year,” shrugging his shoulders
and turning up the palms of his hands.
Dad was getting sleepy. We needed a break. Ron, my older
brother, went for a coffee while I wandered over to a
lounge overlooking Lake Michigan. It was one of those
moments, you know, when you just stare out of the
window lost in thought …
“Davening is like dialing long distance to ‘De Aibishter’, the
voice of my rebbe, Reb Isser, ZT’L reminded me.
“Call His number every day, and remember to pray with your heart. You may get a busy signal, lots of folks trying to reach Him, so be patient or leave a message. He returns every call.”
My brother’s voice “awoke” me. We sat down together.
"It's so sad," Ron commented. “Dad and I made it to the
bathroom in time this morning.”
“You did? I welcomed the good news. “That’s great to
“Wait. There’s more,” he cautioned. “Dad told me he needed to
sit for a while and I should lie back down to sleep. He’d let me
know when finished. Shortly thereafter is when I heard him
quietly crying,” Ron said barely above a whisper. “It got worse
from that point on.” That evening, Ron went back to Dad’s
apartment to sleep while I stayed the night.
Is it still okay if your father cries?” I mused while watching Dad
sleep at 3:00 a.m.
“Everything good in here?” whispered Barb, our night nurse,
poking her head in.
“Good morning, Barb. I’m going to step out for a bit, okay?”
“No problem,” she answered, “I’ll look in after him. You go
I returned to the same lounge. No other souls were around-only
me and the whisper of Reb Isser’s voice. “Be patient,” he
counseled. “De Aibishter will pick up. You’ll see.”
“Ribono shel Olam” I began my silent prayer …
“I do not presume any merit of my own. My father, Avrum ben Rose, calmly awaits his end of days. He has taught me this lesson of faith and trust in You by his personal example. Please heal his bowel so that he may live out his last days in dignity and peace.”
And so, I waited to hear from Him “who heals all flesh and
performs wonders.” My cell phone rang the next day.
“Good morning Alan!”
“Dad? You’re still home, right?” I nearly panicked.
“It’s worked!” He shouted excitedly. “The tincture, Son, has
finally kicked in,” blaring so loudly I had to remove the phone
from my ear. “So Dad, tell me how you feel?” I asked, sharing
his excitement. “Sonny Boy, I feel … I feel,” his voice
cracking ever so slightly. “I feel … like I’ve so much to be
My father chose life while he was dying. Cancer was killing
him, an unalterable fact he accepted with majesty and grace. The
incontinence had been vanquished by a combination of my
father’s unyielding determination to emerge the victor and,
b’esrat HaShem, the power of tefilah.
When Dad died on Shabbos morning, October 18, 2008, I held
his hand and watched as he gently departed this world, a man at
peace whose dignity had been restored.
Alan D. Busch