The Mind and the Body

August 4th, 2012

My Grandpa Irving’s body will turn 94 at the end of the month. But his mind is no longer with us. He suffers from some form of Alzheimers, and in the last month he has degraded so, so quickly. My parents visited him in the beginning of July, and he was still able to walk (with help), talk (scattered words among gibberish), and recognize his loved ones. I arrived in Florida today, and he could do none of these things. He did not recognize me. In fact, the only discernible words I could make out all day were “Who is he?”

This experience was very difficult for me. Though is he here, he is not really here.¬†Though his body is strong–he is in excellent health for a 94-year-old–his mind is not. And this pains me, immeasurably.

I recorded this video of Grandpa on March 29, 2010 (the first night of Passover). Two-and-a-half years ago. This, is how I will remember my grandpa.

The conversation began benign enough. Grandpa never liked John Roberts. President Bush, Grandpa said, picked the “youngest guy around,” who has a “complete lack of integrity.” Roberts has “learned more now, but he didn’t have that intelligence” when he was nominated. If he was “very respected, he would not be doing some of the things he is doing.”

Coincidentally (ironically?), Grandpa made these comments a few days after the President signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Grandpa is wise beyond his years.

Regarding President Ford’s nomination of Justice Stevens, he said “the Republicans got a hold of Ford, and said don’t ever make that mistake again.” Ford picked “a guy he thought was a good guy.” Stevens turned out to be “fair guy, but not for the Republicans.”

(If you look closely, you can see a picture of me from my Bar Mitzvah on the wall in the living room.)

But then the video gets really, really sad (for me at least).

Around 5:10, he begins to say “how he got interested in a subject like the Supreme Court.” My dad cuts him off, but what he was getting at is that he took an interest in the Court because of me. “I have hidden things in my mind that I didn’t know about,” he said.

For years, we would talk about the court and politics and the law. We never, ever agreed. I remember having a one-hour discussion with him about Connick v. Thompson. He couldn’t fathom how the prosecutor was not liable. He was livid on the phone, absolutely livid. He once clipped out some article a Rabbi wrote in the local Boca Raton paper about then-nominee Elena Kagan, mailed it to me, and asked what I thought about her. Once we got into this lengthy discussion about the Great Depression and the New Deal. He said it was good economic policy to hire people to build roads, even if no one needed the roads. I tried to explain to him about about Keynsian economics, and Amity Shales’s The Forgotten Man. He wasn’t interested. He said he lived through the Depression (his father lost his life savings), and putting people to work made him feel good, so it was the right policy.

We would have these conversations until some point in late 2010 or early 2011. I wish I had recorded more of them.

From about 5:30-6:10, he kvells. I’ll spare you the transcription of all the nachas.

Then, at 6:10, he said something he often says. “I want more energy so I can hang around for a while.” I told him, “Stick around, I’ll make it worth it.” Truthfully, one of my many motivators in life is to make him proud. I tried to do things to make him hang around more. I’m convinced he is the only person to ever actually read my law review articles (I threw out extra reprints after I mailed him a copy). He didn’t quite understand them, but he always asked good questions. I remember when I told him about FantasySCOTUS, and the Harlan Institute. He was beaming with pride. Every single person that came by, he would say, “My grandson is doing something no one else is doing.” He knew that I was clerking, and would always ask how the Judge is. By the time I got the job at South Texas in Fall 2011, his mind was no longer able to accept new facts. I told him many times that I would be a Professor in Texas, but he could not remember that.

He said, “I’m going to hang around for a while” at 6:25.

Next, Grandpa talks about his two older sisters, now-deceased, both of whom died in their mid-90s after suffering from advanced Alzheimers (like their younger brother Irving). “I would be happy if I hit 95,” he said at 6:29.

Then, the part that makes me cry.

Around 6:38, he says, “The only thing that concerns me is here,” and he points to his head. He was so cognizant of his own infirmities. “I’ll just have to sit, and write things up to keep my memory afloat.” Funny that he used the term afloat, as he was one of the few to survive the sinking of his ship in the Pacific, the USS Luce. For this he is a decorated veteran.

Then he goes off about asking people in the pharmacy division to create some drug to help him.

I stop recording then (not sure why).

Grandpa, during his final months of lucidity, had come to terms with his mortality. He said his good byes to me in the past. I wasn’t ready to receive it. Now, I recognize that while his body is firm, his mind is not.

I will always remember calling him, every weekend. I will always remember our passionate debates, though we never agreed. And, it seems, I will always remember how he nailed John Roberts on the head. Very wise Grandpa is.


I apologize for the overly-personal post. I suspect this will be of more interest to my family members than my regular readers. Thank you for indulging.