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Abner Ganet's Final Gift of Love

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2012-04-15-AbnberandJanGanet2011.jpg

Abner Ganet and his wife Jan in the summer of 2011.

Although of course we never know how much time we have to live, it's pretty safe to say that Dunreith and I are in the middle of life.

In this season, we no longer see our friends and fellow parents at sports games or school events. Instead, when we get together, we ask about how college is going for our child and either what empty-nester life is like or how the other kid(s) are doing without the one who's left home.

The word "still" is a firmly established word of our vocabulary.

And, sadly, we're in the time of life to bury our parents.

Dunreith has had to do that with both her mother and father in the past two years.

Even as a full-fledged adult, the loss of one parent, let alone both, is a profound wound. We're still feeling Helen and Marty's absence acutely on holidays we all used to spend together as well as in the quiet moments when our defenses are down and the pain floods in like a wave over sand castle.

Dear friend Eddie Ganet just entered this zone about two weeks ago, when his father Abner Ganet, an 86-year-old Word War II veteran, liberator, former two-term Mayor of Elmhurst and board member at Elmhurst Hospital, died while being prepped for surgery to repair his perforated colon.

Dunreith and I attended Abner's memorial service in Lombard on the Friday morning before Passover began.

It was a powerfully moving experience.

I never met Abner while he was alive, but got a strong feeling for him during the course of the 90 minutes we were in the synagogue.

Speaker after speaker rose to pay tribute to the man who, in addition to being a loving patriarch, haberdasher, and Elmhurst College trustee for more than 30 years, spent the last two decades of his life sharing with schoolchildren his wartime experiences of witnessing the Holocaust's atrocities and participating in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Eddie called this his the final chapter of greatness in Abner's great life.

It was a chapter with an unusual beginning.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel met Abner in the early '90s.

As he often does with people he sense are his contemporaries, Wiesel asked Abner where he had been during the war.

Abner told him about his service in Normandy and his time in Buchenwald.

"You saved my life," Wiesel said. "You have to speak."

So he did.

Speaking in public is a very difficult thing to do.

Talking about one's recently deceased father is that much hard, and you could see the toll the address took. Unsuccessfully fighting against the sobs that convulsed his lean body, Eddie spoke about how his father, year after year, would cold call schools throughout the city, state and country to share with the children what he had witnessed and done in Europe those many years ago.

Abner did not care whether the students were wealthy or poor, or whether they were Asian, black, white or Latino, his son said.

He did not seek glory, but rather was driven to share his hard-earned message of tolerance.

Eddie's sister Marcey spoke after him.

She spoke about the many types of love he showed to those around him.

This included always remembering her birthday and attending high holy day services together.

It also included his final moments.

Marcey spoke about how, true to form, Abner was waiting impatiently with his family for the doctor to come and perform the surgery so that he could begin to heal.

Before he went in, though, he turned around to the family members gathered around him and said, in essence, "In case I don't make it, know that I love all of you very much."

Marcey explained that Abner truly meant his entire family.

In less than an hour, he had died.

But Abner's final gift, his declaration of unconditional love, remained behind.

While it cannot erase the searing pain caused by his death, it can help be a cushion, however slight, to Eddie and the other members of his family as they continue through the long and eternally incomplete journey to healing from one of life's biggest blows.

This post was first published on Jeff Kelly Lowenstein's blog