My eulogy for both parents who passed away in fall of 2017
Stephen Joseph Lasky December 3, 1941-September 3, 2017
Ronnie Roth Lasky June 14, 1945-October 26, 2017
Thank you all for coming and showing your love and support.
The question I’ve been asking myself for the last few months is: How do I do this?
The inner monologues first began in early August with the prospect of losing my father, as his condition rapidly deteriorated before my eyes.
And just a few short weeks later, the very same inner voice that I hoped not to hear from for decades, was asking it again, as I sat in the waiting room that fateful Wednesday night faced with the possibility of losing my mother, too.
The answer of course is, no one knows how to do this. There is no right way, there is no playbook, and there are no answers.
As I stand here now, after many weeks of reflection, I wonder how can I possibly eulogize and honor 2 people at once, let alone the two most important people throughout my entire life.
Without answers, there’s just endless questions.
How do I make sense of it?
How will I ever come to terms with any of this?
The words we’ve all been using like unimaginable, unreal, horrific, awful, unthinkable—-don’t come close.
The loss, sadness, grief and the emptiness—EVERYTHING is doubled.
There are 3 separate compartments or chambers of pain that have formed in me. I now cycle through them continuously, around the clock.
And then there is my parents.
So for this, I’ll take them one at a time and then together.
Every little boy needs a man to model what being a man is. Some have this model in their father, others do not.
I was very lucky.
Tyler and Madeline—
I want you both to know you had the coolest grandfather anyone could ask for. You never really got to see what he was for most of his life.
Growing up, he was truly the funnest dad around. All my friends were magnetically drawn to his playful, lighthearted and constantly teasing nature.
My best friend in grade school, Roger, recently wrote me that he didnt know they made dad’s as cool as mine.
Many friends will even recall a shared first—the Lasky house was where they saw their first Playboy. He’d always politely leave a pile of recent issues out in the open as bathroom reading for his guests.
He was the most popular teacher in school. Every school has one, and my dad held that crown for more then 40 years at Dewey.
He made everyone around him smile and his office was a magnet for student activity, energy and enthusiasm.
Year after year, prom after prom, yearbook after yearbook, he’d have a direct, personal impact on thousands of students. No one touches more hearts and spirits then teachers in society. He was the shaper of minds and destinies in those students’ most formative years.
As an art teacher, he gave even the least talented students confidence to try and draw what they see.
Never did I realize the sheer impact and effect he had on so many in that aspect of his life, then after his passing and the outpouring of love and remembrance for his lasting legacy in the memories and hearts of so many Dewey students.
I think my father knew all this and got strength and confidence from it. He may have never risen to any great financial prominence or success in the business world—but he taught generations of students that grew up to be pulitzer prize winning playwrights, executive leaders of ad agencies, feature film directors and thousands of others who can trace their own paths back to drawing in Mr. Lasky’s class. Or to the wisdom of his counsel in the Senior Advisor’s office during those terrifying months in a teenager’s life that’s about to graduate high school.
I found an email recently where he wrote to a Pratt classmate: “I spent over forty-five years teaching in the NYC school system….and feel these were the best years of my life….In retrospect the best years of my life were about my teaching…and I loved so much of it because of the impact I MIGHT have had on my students.”
Dad, you had a massive impact.
He taught me perspective—in all meanings of the word.
He’d often brag that as a young kid I was able to draw 2 point perspective better then his high school students…
As a kid, I used to tag along on many drawing field trips he’d take his classes to. There were trips to the bronx zoo, botanical gardens, and museums. On one particular outing, we went to Central Park to draw the Alice in Wonderland statue. I think I was 7 or 8 and I drew the mad hatter and alice. I guess I must’ve impressed him, because he framed the drawings and for years would tell everyone that his son did these at such an early age.
About 2 years ago, I tried to repeat history and brought Tyler to Central Park to draw with his pop.
Sadly, this was after his eyesight had deteriorated so much that he could barely sketch out a drawing.
From the corner of my eye I saw that he tried, but quickly gave up in frustration almost as soon as he started.
He sat on a bench, some distance away from the statue that Tyler was sitting on, focused on impressing pop that he too was a Lasky that could draw.
Pop just put the pad down, drank his coffee and watched us for the rest of the time.
What can be crueler then for an artist to lose his sight?
The only thing I can think of, is a lifelong teacher losing his ability to speak.
And tragically, my father went through both.
<> You 2 don’t fully realize it yet, but you’re very lucky to have been able to paint and draw with him by your side.
Anyone who had that honor would agree.
I have so many videos and photos of the two of you drawing with him, that you will come to treasure.
It was always a magical experience to watch him sketch…
His right arm would begin by circling the page with wide, loose gestures to form concentric circles, activating the entire surface area.
Forms and shapes would start to come into sharper focus, as he continued to work the lines more and more…
He would gradually add more pressure to the strokes, making quick decisions and choices where to lay down darker, more rendered contours. Eventually a hidden image would be revealed that was always there, as his linework would bring everything fully into focus.
It was always astonishing, when that moment of recognition happened for anyone who witnessed this…at first wondering “what is he drawing? where is this going?…and then all of a sudden “OH!! I see it now!”
IT was revelatory!
It was the best and only magic trick he ever did for me.
And to any of his students who have sat frustrated trying unsuccessfully to draw a particular subject—his ability to sit down next to you, take over the drawing for a few minutes and show you how to translate the scene onto the page was an up close and personal demonstration of his raw, preternatural talent.
He made it look so easy.
Painting was his happy place. In the years leading up to and following his retirement he rediscovered his passion, love and furious talent for painting. Not just any painting of course, but one of the most difficult techniques to master–the art and control of water colors.
The volume of paintings completed during those years are staggering.
The love and pride he took in rediscovering this passion he blamed or perhaps credited to me on many occasions…
“It’s your fault,” he’d tell me, for pressuring him for years—”when are you gonna start painting again? you went to college for that right? you havent painted in decades dad!”
Well, he certainly showed me.
But, the most magical subject he ever painted was a perfect watercolor rendering of his grandson—a year before we even knew we were having a baby. True, it really happened.
For four years of high school, he would drop me off each morning at 7am at the train station in Coney Island, where this 14-year old’s epic daily commute originated. I remember those short rides as daily catch-ups we’d have on the day ahead—Id’ ramble on: “I have this test today, and this report due, and tomorrow is a big presentation…”
He’d always do his best to reassure my incessant anxieties and fears.
I’d get out of the car every single morning with a high-five, with him wishing me luck for whatever test I was panicked about on that particular day.
I knew he never had any real concern though, indeed he always had more confidence in me than I did in myself.
I recently found a recommendation letter from a high school english teacher that I needed for my college applications. In it, he describes speaking to my father on open school night.
My father told him that he never worries about me, that I do enough worrying for the entire family.
In my biggest moments of self-doubt, he’d constantly tell me “Jeremy I’m your biggest fan.”
In those days, there were no cell phones of course, and my transportation home always relied on mom or dad to drop me off and pick me up at the train.
I’d either arrange the time to come get me before I got on the train in the city from a pay phone—calculating the exact number of minutes before I would be at the train station in coney island, or I’d call him once I got there and waited for him, usually on cold winter nights for him to pull up. More often then not, he was late.
But despite that, I ALWAYS had this secure feeling that my father would be there to get me—any time, any place. Always.
It’s a feeling I carried through my entire life, even until recent years.
In my 20s, when I lived in Manhattan, he’d often come by to pick me up and take me to Sea Gate for the weekend.
When I got married, he’d drive me and Christina all the way home to Hoboken or to a Path station in Manhattan.
It was an unexplainable, visceral feeling of security that I carried with me all the way to the end and I could feel it rapidly slipping away, as he was fading in the months leading up to the hospital.
He taught me the game of tennis and paddle tennis.
I probably began that journey with kadima in the backyard or on the beach, which eventually evolved into getting on the sea gate paddle tennis courts to face him in battle.
In my teenage years, we traveled up and down the east coast as partners playing in tournaments in South Carolina and Florida, and many local ones in New York City. For decades, paddle tennis was my father’s weekend passion–playing every weekend, rain or shine, in brutal summer heat or frigid winter cold. Didnt matter. He’d wake up early every weekend morning and ‘shoot into the city’ to ‘kill the ball’ and let off some steam. He was a true weekend warrior for these games and this was the perfect outlet for the inner competitor inside him.
More often then not, he’d come home in the afternoon, wring out his sweat bands into a puddle, throw an ice pack across his swollen knees, and proceed to tell me ‘I played GREAT today…’
He always wanted me to join him, and though I did make the rare cameo appearance, I wish I had the chance to have played with him more then I did in those later years.
What’s still incredible to me, is that I never once beat him in a set of paddle tennis or tennis.
We talked about that shortly before he went into the hospital.
He chuckled reflecting on it.
He’d always say before a match “NO MERCY.”
His stamina was on another level.
The man would never get tired, and never quit. I couldn’t come close to matching his drive on the courts–I’d always run out of gas and he’d often tease me for my lack of endurance.
In the seagate pools, his lung capacity was the stuff of legend. I still tell my kids tales of Pop swimming 2 full laps in an olympic pool on a single breath.
He taught me how to ride a bike at a pretty young age and we took bike rides together for years. Mainly back and forth on the boardwalk, but occasionally we’d venture further, all the way to the verrazano bridge and back along the water. I’d always struggle to keep up with him, and marveled at his relentless will to keep going, never slowing down.
He’d bike back and forth to Dewey, all around sea gate, up and down ocean parkway, manhattan beach, everywhere. I can vividly picture him bike riding to the paddle tennis courts in sea gate, coasting down atlantic avenue, hopping off his bike as he takes the turn up the ramp to the courts to play, as I sat on the wall awaiting his arrival for our court date.
The only time in his life that he was ever short of breath was when he laughed really, really hard, and boy was his laugh infectious.
I sat in the hospital most of August thinking about the sad, tragic irony of the man who was NEVER out of breath, was now fighting for every.. single.. breath, struggling through every inhale.
Working so hard just to breathe.
I grew up with his strong ethical and moral model and I have always worn an invisible but powerful bracelet with the letters: WWDD.
What Would Dad Do?
In any situation—personal, business, work or play.
With all different types I might be dealing with, how to handle people differently at all levels of the social scale.
I’d always think to myself “What Would Dad Do?”
He taught me—by example— to raise my voice and write letters when things didn’t quite work out they way they should have.
He was a relentless fighter in this regard.
He’d urge me to always go over someone’s head to get things done.
And write those damn letters!!
And always cc your congressman….
And the district attorney’s office….
And state senator….and on and on.
His beard had mythic qualities.
Like the dos equis man, his organ donor card could’ve included his beard.
As a kid I always asked him why he never shaved it off.
I think he once told me that, like Samson his beard was the source of his strength and power and that’s why he could never shave it off. I believed him.
The day he voluntarily took it off in the hospital the little boy inside me cried knowing this was as symbolic as it was medical, and his life force was gone.
He may have known it too.
One random day sitting in the hospital with him, I looked up the word “BEARD” in the dictionary and didn’t know it was also a verb: meaning to confront and oppose with boldness, and resolution.
And as soon as his beard came off, to the day, everything went to hell.
In the last few years of his life, he told me how much he was haunted by his own mortality on a nightly basis, not sleeping because of it.
It was if he saw something coming.
He’d describe looking in the mirror and wondering who the old guy looking back at him was.
Today would’ve been my father’s 76th Birthday.
Happy Birthday Dad, I know right now you are painting in heaven.
I never realized just how strong she was until my father’s last days.
I never really saw her break down.
She was the rock, the foundation of the entire family and I told her that numerously in the last month of her life. She’d just roll her eyes, not even realizing how strong and steady she’d been for me throughout.
In recent months it became clearer to me how much of her is in me.
She was the social glue of the entire family. I never realized just how much she shaped me and my own inner fire, my thinking, and my relentless work ethic.
However my inherited passions for gardening, fastidious organization, love of letterforms and frilly home décor—I’ve been aware of those my whole life..
My father’s art was always front and center, covering every wall of the house, and I drew with him relentlessly growing up, so his influence was clear and obvious to me. But my mother’s sense of design and order was just as powerful, but in a more subliminal way for me. Growing up, she was a master calligrapher, taking side gigs to handwrite wedding invitations, and even taught some calligraphy classes. I recently found her portfolio of this fading art form, and was blown away by her skills. I also recently found a compendium of her fashion illustrations from Pratt when she was a junior that would give my father’s drawings a serious run for the money.
My mother’s passion with gardening became an obsession. There’s a beautiful nursery near our house called the Farm, and whenever she came to visit in the months between spring and fall, we’d make pilgrimages to this holy place. She’d constantly tell us when she’s gone she wants her ashes sprinkled there.
Her own garden was magnificent, it was HER happy place. Constantly growing and evolving, it was her art. I recently saw a letter the Sea Gate community had sent her in June complimenting her for their front garden was one of the nicest in the entire area. I struggled to keep up with my own back yard jungle when I first got a house, but she showed me how it was done. And every time she’d visit, she’d inspect my flower beds and be very proud.
On the night Tyler was born, she was in the waiting room when I came out to get her and pop.
I asked her if she wanted to “meet her grandson” (we didn’t know what we were having). She beamed so brightly, and charged down the hall, nearly in tears.
From that point forward, I never saw or talked to her more frequently in my entire life. I couldn’t keep her away if i tried! Nearly every weekend she’d have to see those grandkids, as she’d put it, she’d get withdrawal symptoms if it went too long and she didn’t get her fix.
NOTHING made her happier.
She LOVED being a grandma. She loved it I think more then being a mom.
In fact I noticed a book that mysteriously appeared in her library about 8 years ago, Leslie Stahl’s “Becoming Grandma” which I teased her about constantly.
When Tyler was maybe 1-1/2 or 2, he started just calling her Na Na, on his own, and it stuck.
At first she resisted it—after all that was what Josh and I called her mother, “Nana.” She fought against it but eventually she grew to embrace and love the name.
THE saddest part of ALL this for me is what SHE will miss, and won’t be here for.
She was so looking forward to everything in their growth and development, the next chapters in each of their life stories.. so excited for the years and decades to come. She so wanted to be a part of everything in their lives.
She was at every birthday party….recital….game….school event…read them every childrens book…. took them to every new kids movie—she was completely and fully woven in these two young lives.
Every drawing, every halloween costume, every new toy, every lego set, every book—they’d have to call nana on face time to show her and tell her, in real time all about it.
And she LOVED every second of it.
She was a fixture in their lives, and they were the light in hers..
Her home became a shrine to them. It was her own special relationship, unlike anything Christina or I have with them. It was on it’s own level.
She would always say—”those kids, those kids. I love them to death.”
She’d also say she wanted to spend as much time with them now while they still loved and appreciated her, fearing that in their adolescence they’d be disinterested in spending time with their grandma.
They LOVED going to her house. They loved the “magic eggs” she’d make them. They loved the crawlspace clubhouse hideout she made them. They loved the ice cream cones with sprinkles she’d make them as soon as they got there. They loved going to the beach a few blocks away with them. They loved going to Coney Island and the Sea gate playground with them. And just to push some buttons, they loved to make as much of a mess as possible to test Nana’s threshold for her own obsessive organization.
And she didn’t care one bit.
Dad hated that nana spoiled those two, always taking them to toys r us and giving them every part of her soul. She’d do anything for those two and wasn’t ashamed to say it.
Tyler was her movie star, her performer and comedian. Endlessly entertained her and made her laugh uncontrollably. Whether he was sharing his youtube videos with her as soon as new ones were uploaded or his live impressions and performances, she couldn’t get enough of it.
Maddie was the little girl she always wanted. She was her mini-me.
Maddie worshiped her, and aspired to be her. They’d speak every day, multiple times a day. Always reassuring to her, always a calming presence, Maddie would rather call nana to talk then to her own parents.
When she was first born, Nana was counting down the years until she could take her to the ballet, to American girl place, and most importantly to take her shopping… I’m grateful she got to do all of it.
In the middle of her hospital stay, when things were briefly looking up, I asked my mom if she wanted to see Tyler, who I had to bring with me that day.
She slowly, but deliberately nodded yes.
I called down to Josh who was watching him to bring him up.
Tyler walked into the room, cautiously, trepidatiously, seeing her on the bed with all the machines and tubes around her.
He came over to her bedside, with a very nervous smile. I lifted him up where she could see him. And she just lit up. BOY DID SHE LIGHT UP!
He said, anxiously, “Hi Nana….” And as much as you can smile with your eyes alone, she did. He reached out and held her right hand, and she squeezed it tight.
It was a moment I will never forget, and it was the last time they’d ever see each other.
After he left that day, he kept talking about coming back to see her again. The next time would be with his Halloween costume on to show her and make her happy.
When he found out we wouldn’t be going back to see Nana, he sadly said to me: “that wasn’t the plan, Dad.”
How do you explain to a 5 and 8 year old that this isn’t the normal order of events—That this isn’t the way things are supposed to go….
Nana wrote a children’s book for Maddie. Dealing with her extreme shyness issues of not liking to talk in front of adults, my mother had this brilliant idea to write a story, and have my father illustrate it about a girl in a similar situation and how she overcame it. She called it The Story of “Misty.” The story was about a little girl who never spoke up to anyone, but then one day in the playground one of her friends was about to get hurt on the monkey bars, and Misty shouted at the top of her lungs LOOK OUT! and saved his life with her voice.
She was then hailed a hero.
Nana would read this story to Maddie so often, she memorized it.
When Nana first had her stroke and we knew her voice was going to be compromised, throughout the weeks of recovery Maddie started reciting the Story of Misty by heart every single night, as if now this was her chance to help Nana find her voice and talk again. . .just like Nana had done for her.
The last day I spent with her…
We had gone to visit her for the first time at the house about 2 weeks after Pop had passed…my mother was deeply saddened and visibly shaken up. She couldn’t bring herself to even open his hospital suitcase or deal with any of his belongings yet. It was a very emotional day for all of us. We went to lunch in Coney Island to see a restaurant she was contemplating using for his memorial. I wasn’t a fan of it, and though she was disappointed since she was so anxious to just get it done, she completely agreed with my opinion.
And she continued to complain about bad headaches.
It was a picture perfect afternoon.
We walked the boardwalk, and went to the amusement park to get the kids on some rides while the season was winding down. We got a pass for a few rides and we all went around watching them go from one to the next. We walked over to the cyclone but unfortunately they were both too short to ride. Nana said to Tyler “Next summer I’ll take you…”
Growing up in Coney Island, in the shadow of the parachute jump, it was a fitting and poetic last day to spend with her.
MOM & DAD
Josh and I won the genetic lottery to have the parents we did.
They had the two most infectious laughs I’ve ever heard.
If you listen for it, you can hear them both right now.
Throughout the last few months, I would try to channel each of their voices to help me accept what was happening and get through.
It helps me cope to hear them guiding me
Having my mother next to us on my father’s death bed made it all too familiar and recent to be able to hear her talking to me by her own bedside.
I kept hearing her voice whisper to me: “Jem, you’ll get thru it. Do the best you can.”
And when the most unthinkable decisions were faced, I could hear her say:
“You know I wouldn’t want any part of this…enough is enough… horrible, just horrible” with her eyes winced tight.
And I’d hear my father say: “I don’t deal well with these situations….There’s nothing to say, it’s just awful…There is Nothing you CAN do….mmm”
This was a story of 2 lives tragically cut way too short.
They were completely different circumstances, but with frighteningly similar parallels.
It has shaken me to my core and the most life altering event I’ll ever experience.
It has given me a greater appreciation of the fragility of life, the delicacy and inevitability of it all—the importance of time, treasuring each moment and how fast it all goes.
And, still I have this burning need for some sort of closure.
The yearning to tell her everything that had happened was building in me during the weeks following her stroke when hope of some recovery was evident was stolen and pulled away from me, leaving me doubly shattered and empty. There was that brief chance, some semblance of a meaningful recovery and a life. And that was pulled out from under us at the worst possible time.
There are so many narratives we tell ourselves to make sense of things that make no sense. The lines of ‘they’re together now,’ ‘she didn’t want to live without him’ ‘she knew after the stroke that her life would be significantly compromised and require full time assistance and she wanted no part of it’ or ‘she just died of a broken heart.’ Whatever we each need to hold on to, whatever helps us explain the unexplainable is necessary for acceptance.
We’ll never really know, but what I do know is that I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering.
MOM AND DAD:
I have and always will love you with every part of my being, the lessons and wisdom that you have taught me and the love you have shown me are ever lasting.
Rest in Peace.