My Parents Died on the Same Day

Verna Lebow Norman and Dr. Paul A. Kaufman, at a holiday ball at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles, California in 1952.

Sometimes you just know something, and you don’t know why you know it.

My parents died on the same day, August 15, 2007, on the 59th anniversary of my conception.

They hadn’t seen or spoken to one another in over 45 years, and they lived 500 miles apart.

I’d been telling my sister (who was caring for our dad), that I thought they would die on the same day, for the past three years. I was caring for Mom, and a day didn’t pass when she didn’t talk about him. She was still mad at him for things that had happened in 1962. 

Mom was 87, complained of a stomach ache and went to the hospital, was diagnosed with diverticulitis and pneumonia, but died of heart failure. She’d only been acutely ill for a week. Before that, she’d been normal, that is, not particularly sick, just a couch tomato with a passal of minor complaints, for each of which she was taken to the Kaiser Clinic, scanned and blood tested, and sent home with yet another set of allopathic drugs. (She was NOT interested in natural remedies or health food.)

During the two days before she died, I visited her at the hospital and sat holding her hand in both of mine, just sending her love, since she mostly was too sedated with painkillers to speak. (When asked by the nurse, “Who is here with you?”, she managed to mumble, “It’s my daughter.”) Somehow, I did not realize she was about to die, or I would have continued sitting with her all night.

When the attending physician telephoned in the morning and told me her heart had stopped, I instantly imagined her beloved second husband Ralph, who had died 18 months earlier, reaching out his hand and asking her to dance, and she, stepping out of that old body riddled with IVs, catheter, oxygen tube and monitors, and the two of them tangoing off into the starry skies.

Mom met Ralph when she was 22 and he 25; he was her older brother’s best friend. Her parents disapproved of the match, and they each married someone else, had some kids, and afterwards were single for decades. I designed and presided at a wedding for them on Maui fifty years after they first met. They had a ball together for fifteen years. After Ralph died from lung cancer, Mom seemed tired of life.

The first person I called was my sister. I said, “Mom just died of a heart attack,” and she said, “Dad just went into a coma.” And I said, “Wow, looks like my prediction is coming true.”

Dad had wished to die peacefully in his sleep, without illness, at home in his own bed, and that’s what he did, at 96 years and 9 months, with my sister and her best friend, who had worked as one of his caregivers, holding his hands, what we used to call “dying of old age.” An auspicious and perfect death.

Now my sister and I are like mirror images, holding hands over the phone, arranging for cremations, coordinating memorials, executing wills, writing obituaries, sorting personal effects, and occasionally crying, or thinking about them.

We are blessed to have each other’s support and love through this time.

Last week she said, “All those times you used to say they would die on the same day, I just humored you. Now I wonder what else you know.”  “I’ve been wondering myself,” I replied.

Here are the obituaries:

Verna Lebow Norman
Nov. 2, 1919 – Aug. 15, 2007. Verna was an accomplished sculptor, painter and art instructor, and a Los Angeles resident since 1926.
The daughter of C.H. and Ann Lebow, Verna was pre-deceased by her husband Ralph Norman; and is survived by three children from a previous marriage, Alicia Bay Laurel, Roberto Spinoza Alazar and Jessica Anna Mercure.
A memorial is planned for October 7, 2007. Donations to Habitat for Humanity will be gratefully received.

Published in the Los Angeles Times on 8/28/2007.

Paul A. Kaufman, M.D., F.A.C.S. (96) Died peacefully in his sleep. Renowned breast disease specialist, Dean of Breast Surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Paul’s excellence as a surgeon attracted patients and consultation requests nationally and internationally. He authored many professional publications, developed new safety devices for the OR, and took courses in pathology in order to diagnose his surgical patients himself. He made instructional films in his specialty and served as the Medical Attache to the Consulate of Chile. He saved many lives and prevented many children from an early loss of their mothers. Served 19 months in the Pacific during WWII, including seven beach landing battles. Received special commendation as the only surgeon managing 600 casualties after a kamikaze plane hit his ship. After retirement Paul served as an expert medical witness and studied computer technology and mathematics. He was a gifted photographer and an avid reader. In his last years his sense of humor, warmth and vitality in the face of illness made him many lasting friendships. He will be missed. Survivors include daughters Alicia Bay Laurel and Jessica (Wes) Erck, son Roberto (Melanie) Alazar and their daughter Rachel; nephews (including a close relationship with nephew Dr. Saul Sharkis of Johns Hopkins University), nieces and their families: grateful patients: devoted friends, colleagues and caregivers including Alicia Enciso, his housekeeper for 35 years. Goodbyes to be held September 29 in northern California; those who care about Paul may contact us at Donations in his memory may be made to the National Women’s Health Network,

Published in the Los Angeles Times on 9/9/2007.