Saturday, August 3, 2013

My Grandfather

Many of my previous posts have either been somewhat provocative or funny (or at least an attempt to be funny... by the way, I think the last post should be renamed The Night of Three Avocados...).  But this post is going to be very different, very meaningful to me, and at the same time, it will still relate to the subject of this blog: science.

On the morning of August 2nd, 2013, my grandfather passed away after a long and difficult struggle with Parkinson's disease and related complications.  In his last hours, he was surrounded by his loved ones and was in the comfort of his own home.  I was told that right before he passed, he seemed to hold on until his son (my uncle) arrived at his home and then, at that point, it was time for him to let go.  While he had suffered in the later years of his life, I am so very happy that he was able to pass in such a peaceful way and in a room surely filled with love and warmth.

I was not there, as I currently live about 900 miles away.  However, I wanted to take this opportunity to write about my grandfather because not only was he a wonderful grandfather, with incredible strength, patience, compassion, and love, but he was also a mentor to me for much of my early life, especially with respect to my passion for science.

Grandpa was always an extremely intelligent man.  As I've been told, if it weren't for the fact that he had to survive and escape World War II Germany so many years ago and rebuild his life here in the U.S., he probably would have gone on to become a scientist.   He loved to tinker with things and figure out how things worked.  My grandmother always said "If you ask him what time it is, he'll teach you how to build a clock."

He never got the chance to pursue science or engineering as a career path, but he definitely passed his curiosity and love for science on to me.  In particular, I remember many nights when I was a little boy, my grandpa and I would talk about the wonders of science for hours on end.  I would ask him questions about the Universe: "how big is the Universe? what are black holes?" We would spend hours  and hours talking about this stuff, completely engrossed in scientific wonder.  These conversations have always stuck with me, and I believe that they truly inspired me to pursue my dreams and become a scientist.  To let him know how much he meant to me in this way, I dedicated my PhD thesis to him and gave him a copy for Christmas a couple of years ago:

"To my grandfather, who inspired me to become a scientist through our many conversations about the Universe"  

Beyond science, Grandpa also encouraged me to pursue another passion of mine: music.  Grandpa loved music and would spend hours downstairs in his basement fiddling around on his old accordion or his keyboard. He would come to every one of my band concerts (and those of my brothers') and would often times tear up a bit at the end of concerts. While I didn't pursue music as a career, my brother Zach has done so (very successfully I might add), and I like to think that Grandpa's passion for playing music lives on in my brother and his career.

My grandfather's legacy does not end there, however.  Among many fond memories that he will leave us, he has left the world with one last powerful contribution.  His struggle with Parkinson's left him and my grandma with a strong will to help others with this horrible, insidious disease.  So, upon his death, his brain was donated for scientific research into the study of Parkinson's disease.  Once again, my grandfather showed his extreme compassion for others and contributed one final time to scientific progress.

In closing, I just want to say that I will miss him greatly.  He was the kindest, strongest, most patient man I have ever known, and I shared a lot with him.  I loved him and still love him very much.

Me and my grandparents at my undergraduate graduation in 2004.
I love this picture - the look on my grandpa's face is that of utter joy and pride.


  1. Priceless....Now those are proud grandparents and should be!