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Always Advocating Alan – While I Believed I was well Prepared, I was Totally not Ready for it to Happen

| Opinion | March 26, 2020

It all started to appear possible when my mother asked me to accompany her in 2016 to visit a lawyer in Woodland Hills, with the purpose of updating her living trust. Her husband, my adoptive father, had passed thirteen years prior, and she wanted to be sure all was in order. She also wanted to be fully confident that the trust’s instructions would be carried out, and her three sons would be taken care of. As most of us know, your mother will always be your mother, and no matter how old or successful you may become, your mother will always be looking out for you. So as the eldest son, I was named trustee/executor and I knew I would shoulder the responsibility of making it happen the way she wanted.

In a way, I felt very fortunate. Too many times, I have read about families being torn apart when their parents passed. But, in this case, my two brothers were supportive of me taking on the lead role and they knew all would go as mom had planned. Yet, after our visit to the lawyer, it seemed mom and I had the same conversation over and over. She felt the end was near and wanted to be continually reassured, so after I renewed my commitments to her once again, our conversations always ended with me reminding her to stay healthy, because we were planning her 100th birthday party. Then she would laugh and inform me she would try to figure out who to invite. Plus, there was no reason to expect mom was not going to make the 100-year mark. She was 99 years young this year, living in her own home, and with exception of no longer driving, she was fully capable of taking care of herself.

Then last Thursday, out of the blue, the hammer fell. It was about 3:45 p.m. and I was at city hall waiting for the special city council meeting to start, when I received a cell phone call from my youngest brother Bruce. He made me aware, he had just got to mom’s and she had apparently fallen, plus he could not tell if she was breathing. I told him to call 911 and I would be right there. On the drive across town to Friendly Valley, I was getting a worried feeling that this was not going to turn out good. But my stomach twisted in knots as I drove up to her house. There I saw a fire truck with an ambulance in front of it. Between the two vehicles was the ambulance’s gurney, and it was empty. As I exited my vehicle and approached the front door, my brother was coming toward me and confirmed my fear was real. Mom had passed on.

I’ve got to admit, I was left dumbfounded. First and foremost was the feeling of grief and emptiness, but with it came the realization, I was not well prepared at all. I did not know what to do next, plus I did not even know what questions to ask. Fortunately, the several sheriff’s deputies who responded to the 911 call explained everything I needed to know at that juncture, and they did so in a very respectful and sensitive manner. So, after retrieving the information relating to mom’s chosen mortuary, I called in and they took care of arranging her transportation to their location. The wait was less than an hour, all while Deputy Hernandez waited patiently for them so he could release the body, a requirement of California State law.

Now the family members who had also arrived were really feeling alone, as they were in a quiet empty house, knowing their mother and grandmother, Jean Ferdman, would never return. I, like most sons, thought my mother was an exceptional woman. Born the youngest of three sisters in Brooklyn, New York to Sadie and Morris Gralitzer in 1921, Jean grew up during the depression and married my biological father Ernest Frank in 1941. He, like many other young men at that time, had joined the army to fight for our country and served as a medic in France during the “Battle of the Bulge.” After his return from service, he unexpectedly passed away from a brain aneurysm. I was five at the time and my middle brother was an infant. We moved in with my grandparents, and to make ends meet mom went to work for a New York art dealer as his personal secretary. Six years later, mom married Benjamin Ferdman, and since his family lived on the west coast, we drove Route 66 in a 1953 Chrysler to take up residence in California. Two years later, Ben adopted both Fred and I as his own. Our family moved to Studio City on Sunshine Terrace, Bruce (my youngest brother) was born, and things looked as if all would go well, until the newspaper strike put Ben out of work. Well, my mom took up the challenge by reentering the work force once again, this time with the L.A. Unified School District, and she subsequently retired as Clerk of the Board. In 2000, they sold their Sunshine Terrace abode and moved to Friendly Valley. Dad passed away in 2003 and mom lived on her own afterwards. Jean is survived by her sons, Alan, Fred and Bruce, her grandchildren Ernie and Scott, and her great grandchildren, Alison, Madison, Briona, Cole, and Carson.

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While I know a good deal about my family’s history, I also realize there is a lot I am unaware of, and now that it is too late to learn more, I regret not asking more questions. Please, do not let that happen to you.

For the family, next will come the foreboding task of dealing with end of life issues, starting with burial plans and decisions about what to do with a house full of furniture and appliances. But surprisingly, in some instances the process may bring you smiles and laughter. As an example, if you are old enough to have children who have left home for a life of their own, and have been gone for a fair period of time, they may at some time reveal life secrets from their time at home you are unaware of, and I hope they are the kind of stories which make you smile. In this case, my mother voluntarily ended her driving career over five years ago and subsequently she sold her car. But when I went through some of mom’s effects to find out if there were any credit cards I did not know about, I discovered what I thought indicated she had renewed her driver’s license, and it would be good through 2026. I had to chuckle wondering, what was she thinking? Then I laughed at myself even more, when I realized, it was a senior citizen identification card.

Finally, it appears the mortuary, cemetery and Rabbi Blazer will be very helpful, even though there are new issues related to restrictions caused by the Coronavirus crisis. It seems the Chapel is shut down for services and the actual burial may only be witnessed by 10 people, who will need to view the ceremony from their car. Although it may not seem fair, the family will do whatever we must do. Yet through it all, I took special note, and want to thank all those who left their condolences on my Facebook post about Jean’s passing. You provided the type of comfort which can only be brought on by good friends.

Therefore, I have decided to make up for those new Coronavirus restrictions. The Ferdman family will host a Celebration of Jean Ferdman’s life on March 5, 2021, thereby providing her a 100th Birthday Party as promised. At least I can be fully prepared for that.

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