Tag Archives: heart attack

Thirty Years Gone – My Old Man

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Eddie Ladd with his bestie, Fred DiBiase

Thirty years ago today my father suffered his fourth, and final, heart attack. It happened while he was undergoing the insertion of a Swan-Ganz catheter to monitor the functioning of his heart subsequent to his third heart attack. He did not survive the procedure. While I don’t have a truly eidetic memory, I am cursed with a reasonably healthy ability to picture things in my head. My memory of that night haunts me to this day.

The last time I saw him, he was being wheeled out of his hospital room toward the catheterization laboratory at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Panorama City, CA. The man who had brought me into the world, who had carried me in his arms into my bed when I’d fallen asleep in the car,  who protected me, and who had — despite his disappointment and distress over many a choice I made in my crazy-ass life — stood beside me and sacrificed much for me, was scared. I didn’t like seeing it then and I don’t like remembering him that way now.

My old man was old school. Born in 1924, he would have been ninety on November 7th of this year.  He was the fourth child in his family; the first born in the United States after his mother and three older siblings were finally able to flee from the Ukraine and join my zeyda (grandfather in Yiddish), who had emigrated eight years earlier and finally saved enough money to bring them to Chicago. His name at birth was Isadore Edward Wladovsky and he was raised on the South side of Chicago, where he attended Washington High School.

He did not graduate, choosing instead to join the U.S. Navy when he was in his senior year. He had turned seventeen on November 7, 1941, one month before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He completed boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. I don’t know a lot about his service, other than he was on at least one Murmansk run; a very dangerous voyage through the North Atlantic bringing supplies to the Russians via the port of Murmansk. He also wrote and drew cartoons for the ship’s news bulletin. I used to have faded, crumbling copies of some of them, but they have either disappeared or are in a box somewhere in my garage. The highest rank he achieved was Radioman 3rd Class. I remember a short vacation in San Diego when I was in my early teens and we went down to the docks to view one of the ships where they were providing tours. We were standing alongside the ship and he was able to use his knowledge of Morse Code to read what one of the Naval vessels was signaling to another.

Arctic Circle Crossing Certificate

This certificate was given to each man aboard the William H. Webb upon crossing the Arctic Circle

Every father has a chance to be a superhero for a while and mine was no exception. When he carried me in his arms as a toddler, I was invincible, and when he tucked me into bed I was safe and secure. He was the strongest man alive as far as I was concerned and he could do just about anything. Once he even convinced me, after demonstrating the fine art of blowing smoke rings (he was a Pall Mall man at the time), that he could create a smoke piano. To this day I swear I saw all 88 keys on that grand piano!

Unfortunately, time burnishes off the luster of perfection and, more likely than not, children realize their parents are — much to their horror and consternation — merely human beings; flawed, imperfect, and capable of making mistakes.

Such was my experience. I’m not sure when it happened, and I’m reasonably certain it had as much to do with my rebelliousness as anything else, but the day inevitably came when I suddenly realized how “stupid” he had grown. After that, we didn’t get along all that well for a long time. Part of the problem, no doubt, was my father’s very conservative upbringing and his propensity to criticize and seldom praise. I was expected to excel and when I didn’t, there was hell to pay.

He had a quick temper and, in today’s world, I’m reasonably certain he would be, at best, a candidate for anger management. He was quick to strike and, when he did, it was frequently with the back of his hand. If I fell to the ground to avoid the blows he wouldn’t actually kick me, but he’d push me around on the floor in frustration. To be fair, it didn’t happen often and I never suffered more than bright red hand marks on my back or – sometimes – my face. My mother often came to my rescue, screaming at him to leave me alone. He once took a swing at by brother, who ducked, and ended up hitting the youngest son of a neighbor of ours. That didn’t go over too well and I think he was so mortified he decided it was time to stop with the corporal punishment.

I also think he was haunted by the many fitful nights he spent aboard ship in the North Atlantic, knowing they were being shadowed by a German Wolf Pack and could be torpedoed and sunk at any time, a fact made evident by the ships around his that suffered such a fate. Survival in those waters was very unlikely and I can’t imagine it was easy to get any real deep sleep. On those occasions my mother would ask me to wake him, I learned very quickly not to be within striking distance, as he came out of his sleep as though General Quarters was sounding.

Despite our troubled, angry, and frustrating relationship we loved each other and, thankfully, in the two or three years prior to his death we were enjoying a growing closeness — even a budding friendship. We had worked together in the business he started, which transformed from Ladd Meats to Edward Ladd & Sons, my brother having joined it years earlier.

He took up golf late in life and became a scratch golfer. He wanted me to golf as well, but the grief he gave me over being left-handed (I tried to learn right-handed, but just couldn’t get comfortable with it) and the proximity of the ocean, where I had learned to surf, doomed that venture to failure. I didn’t come back to golf until I was 46, nearly a decade after his death. I have few regrets in my life, but one of them is never having played a round of golf with the old man. I drove him around in a golf cart many times, but never played back then. Shortly after I started playing, I went to Porter Valley Country Club, where he had been President of the Men’s Club one year, and had played there a couple times a week for many years. They still had his picture on the wall and gave me a cart to drive around the course, which I did, trying to imagine him playing each hole.

We buried him in his favorite golf clothes, clutching his favorite putter, which we believe he would have liked. I’ve been told the groundskeeper at Porter Valley lowered the flag at the Club to half staff when he learned my father  had died. I think it choked me up more than any reaction I heard about.

Eddie Ladd

The Old Man at About 50

After he died, I can’t recall how many times something good would happen to me and I wanted to let him know, sure he would be proud or excited for me. Anyone who has smoked and quit knows the feeling of absentmindedly reaching in one’s pocket for a pack of cigarettes, only to discover there’s nothing there; then remembering you’d stopped smoking. That’s how it felt – only worse – when I wanted to share something with my dad, and the realization he was gone would hit me. The hole in my heart dropped down to my stomach and it took a few minutes to shake off the hollow feeling it brought.

About two or three years after his death, I dreamed I ran into him on a cliff overlooking a beach. I don’t know where the beach was, but in the dream we spent the entire day together, exploring caves, sharing a meal, and talking. We talked about my life and he assured me he was fine and happy to see I was doing well. I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t believe I was really talking to my father. However, I do believe I was putting a few “ghosts” to rest by dealing with some of the unfinished business from my perspective; some of the things we never got to do together. It was the best dream I’ve ever had and I remember it to this day. Not in great detail, but definitely in terms of how it made me feel.

He left little of material value, save a moderate life insurance payment that went to sustain the family business, which provided for our mother and our sister who was, I believe, just entering her last year of High School or who had just graduated and was still living at home. I got a piece of jewelry and some clothing, some of which I kept for many years afterward. I still have the pendant, which was custom made for him by an old friend of mine. One of the non-material things he left me was an ability to recognize absurdity and the willingness to comment on or satirize it. He also had lots of silly sayings the family still refers to as “Eddieisms”.

He was a hard worker who was able to move from behind the counter of a small deli in the Grand Central Market, to owning a small truck with which he would purchase and transport distressed merchandise to some of the poorer markets and butcher shops in and around L.A. He was a peddler, once the “broken hot dog king” of the City. He had a wonderful singing voice and many times, during the shows our temple, Valley Beth Israel, would put on for the congregation, people swore he was lip-syncing to Sinatra. He wasn’t. Most everybody he knew loved him and, true to the stormy nature of our relationship, I many times referred to hm as a “lovable asshole”.

To say I miss him would be both an exaggeration and an understatement. I don’t think about him every day. It serves no good purpose and I have a life, a wife, and two young children who still depend on me being with them every day in many ways. Nevertheless, he will always be a part of my life and there are numerous times when I think of him. I would give anything to be able to tell him how much I love him and how much he remains a big part of my life and who I’ve become.


It’s OK, Beth. We’ll Carry On From Here

Beth Thompson

Farewell, Beth. You touched a lot of lives and will be sorely missed

I posted the following on Facebook two days ago and I want to share it here as a tribute to my friend and former colleague:

I am beside myself with grief. A couple hours ago I received a message from a friend who wanted to confirm what he had heard – that our former colleague and good friend, Beth Thompson, had passed away. I started frantically contacting as many people as I could think of, all the while hoping it was just some stupid Internet screwup. It was not to be. Apparently, while preparing to leave for work this morning, Beth suffered a heart attack and passed.

Beth was one of my first friends when I joined the Program Office on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program at Rocketdyne. Her good humor and iconoclastic attitude helped me ease into the corporate world, a world I didn’t join until I was 40 years old, and was ill-suited for. Along with many others I’m proud and happy to still call good friends, Beth was family. I still have the card she picked out for me and had everyone sign when I left for what turned out to be a short stint back in my family’s business. That was about 17 or 18 years ago.

She moved up to the Seattle area with her husband, Paul, and their three children, where she continued to work for Boeing, one of several major players that passed Rocketdyne around like a financial hot potato. This is tough to digest. My kids have seen me cry for the first time in their memory. People who are younger than you aren’t supposed to die before you do. It’s just not right.

We hardly saw each other in the past few years, but we liked and commented on each other’s FB posts now and again. At least I knew she was there and I got to see a little bit of her life and happiness. That is now gone and my world is poorer for it. Goodbye, Beth. I love you and will always remember how you brightened my world and the world of so many others.


Sometimes It Feels Like Borrowed Time

Today marks, if not a special day on my calendar, at the very least an interesting one in my mind. Today is the fifth anniversary of the day I became older than my father was when he died. Does that seem like a strange thing to be commemorating? I suppose it is. Maybe a little context will make it more intelligible, if not less silly.

For most of my life, up until his somewhat untimely, if not surprising, death I had been told “You’re exactly like your father!” Frequently as an admonition for some behavioral trait I had exhibited. All-too-frequently it was something my mother found neither amusing nor endearing. I also looked like and was built like my father, adding to my perception that I was somewhat predestined to follow in his footsteps. This was exacerbated by our culture, which is based on and continues to exhibit vestiges of primogeniture. Being the first-born son of a Conservative Jewish family, I know I was doted upon and received far more attention than I’m sure I deserved. It also added to the perception of inevitability I both relished and rebelled against.

When my father died in 1984 I had just turned 37. My metabolism, which is now obviously quite unlike my father’s, had yet to change and I was still pretty thin; still physically similar to my father when he died. He was less than two months shy of his 60th birthday and you can bet there were lots of conversations with my mother and my brother over what that turn of events might mean for my and my brother’s future health.

These conversations continued occasionally throughout the years and, as I grew older, it became more and more apparent I was not really “exactly” like my father. Not the least of these revelations was when I reached the age he was at his first heart attack (around 50) and not having one myself! I’m sure that moment was made more important by the memories I had of being the one to recognize the symptoms and driving him to the hospital late at night at over 80 miles an hour, running lots of red lights in the process.

The Last Supper by Arum

Friday the 13th Can Be Very Scary For Some Folks!

So, what anxiety I felt slowly dissipated over the years. However, I had done one thing that set a landmark and, having done so, it was  impossible for me to ignore or deny it. I had entered my father’s birthday into an electronic spreadsheet and subtracted it from the day of his death. By formatting the result as a number I had the exact number of days (give or take ~ 24 hrs) he was here and alive on this planet. I then added that number to my birthday and converted the result into a date. Ironically, the day on which I would match the total time my father had lived occurred on a Friday the 13th. Though not superstitious, I have to admit the date had a little extra “spice” attached to it.

As it turned out, that date – April 13, 2007 – coincided with the first night of the In2:InThinking Conference I was attending. Since the weekend’s classes, seminars, etc. were to take place in the Woodland Hills Hilton’s conference rooms, many of the out-of-town speakers and leaders, as well as all the people who were working on the conference and its many ancillary activities, would stay at the Hilton beginning on Friday night. In addition to being an attendee, I was a co-presenter that year for one of those ancillary activities, but that’s another story.

As part of the package the In2:InThinking Network had negotiated with the hotel, we occupied the Presidential Suite where there was traditionally a big party. The suite was open to all the participants and there was food and drink; a merry time to be had by anyone who wished to show up and be a part of it. Fortunately, partying has always been one of the things I do quite well, thank you very much, and I spent the evening until well past midnight. I was gratified, as were my friends, I didn’t drop dead at the stroke of midnight and, since that day passed, I haven’t thought much about it.

I spent the evening (after which I would be older than my father when he died) drinking and eating and enjoying myself immensely. It was, for me, a two-fold celebration. I was happy to get what was a bit of a monkey off my back and I was happy to have known my father as long as I did. I was happy he and I had squared away our mostly rocky relationship and were well on the road to being friends when he died. I was happy he was my father and I celebrated his life, knowing that he would have wanted me to have a good, long one. I intended then, and continue to expect, to do just that.

Today is five years to the day and, as a special treat – a lagniappe, if you will – it’s also Friday the 13th; just like it was on that day. Even though it became obvious long ago I wasn’t “exactly” like my father, the realities of genetics and the similarities in our personalities always kept the limit of my father’s time on Earth in the back of my mind. It was never an obsession, but it was a bit of a pastime for a while :) I do, occasionally, feel like I’m living on borrowed time which, in many ways, makes every day just that much sweeter.

ADDENDUM: I have long known of the word triskaidekaphobia, which means “fear of the number 13″, but just discovered the existence of a word for “fear of Friday the 13th”, paraskevidekatriaphobia, which is far more specific.


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