Our beloved Smartmom — Louise Crawford — lost her father, Monte Ghertler, on Sunday. The Brooklyn Paper staff offers its full condolences — and, in fact, was so moved by our columnist’s writings about her father’s death on her Web site, Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, that we have compiled these excerpts:
Dad, we love you
My dad died yesterday at 4:15. I was with him when it happened. He was in hospice in the sunny living room of his Brooklyn Heights apartment on the 27th floor with its view of the Manhattan skyline he adored.
For most of the day he moaned softly. At 3:45 or so, my sister played one of his favorite records, scratches and all, on the phonograph: “Kinderszenen or Scenes from Childhood,” by Robert Schumann.
Just before he died he had three labored breaths. But there was no fear, no panic in his eyes.
Writing the Eulogy
Last week at the hospital, Hillary, my stepmother, told me that my father wanted me to speak at his funeral. That was an honor like no other, but also a huge pressure.
How could I write something — anything — that would compare to what my father would say on such an occasion?
His wanting me to do this was his way of showing his faith in me about this most important thing that we share: the ability to turn experience into words, to find the right way to say that which is so hard to express.
Hillary also said that my father wanted me to read a poem and that I’d know which one.
Hmm. I was stumped. Was it something by Yeats, Shakespeare or Frank O’Hara? I really didn’t know what poem he was talking about. And I was stressed. But then it came to me: he probably meant the last two pages of “The House at Pooh Corner,” by A.A. Milne, a book he cherished. I read this section at my high school graduation and my father was moved to tears.
So I am putting all my grief, shock, and numbness into the writing of this eulogy. At my computer is the only place I want to be right now tinkering with it, making it better, adding things, trying to write something worthy of the man.
Planning The Funeral
Sitting in the funeral directors plush office at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel was surreal; one of those situations you dread your whole life but is much more normal than you expect.
We had to choose the coffin and discuss my father’s entombment in the family mausoleum. We even looked at a layout of the mausoleum. We want my father next to his dad, Dewey.
“Flowers or no flowers?”
My sister wanted flowers, my stepmother did not. No real stalemate. We decided against them, because we couldn’t really think of a flower that represented my father.
The secretary typed up the New York Times death announcement and we proofread it.
“It needs a comma here,” I said reaching for a pen.
It all felt so ordinary.
Meeting The Rabbi
This morning, my sister and I met with Rabbi Andy Bachman at Congregation Beth Elohim. He asked a lot of questions and we got a chance to tell him much about my father’s life.
Rabbi Bachman seemed to enjoy the story about the time my father went to work at a shoe store. My father, then 19 or 20, assured the store’s owner that he had plenty of experience in the shoe business, but when he was caught inexpertly trying to force a shoe onto a large woman’s foot, the owner replied: “You’re no shoe man, Ghertler.”
My sister told Rabbi Bachman what a funny storyteller my father was. It felt sad to have to describe it knowing that we’d never again see my father rub his hands the way he did when he was warming up for a great punchline.
Afterwards, we waited under the scaffolding at Beth Elohim for a fierce downpour to die down.
I walked toward Seventh Avenue, but the sudden feeling of wet and cold made me rethink my plan. Then I saw a black car and I hopped in the back.
“You got lucky,” said a man who was standing on the corner of Eighth Avenue as I got into the car.
Today, the grief was a fog around my forehead. I had the sense that the world was moving on and I wasn’t part of it. I wanted to say, “Don’t these people know that Monte Ghertler is gone?”
Friends called all day. One helpfully stopped by my apartment to pick up an envelope that needed to be driven over to my stepmother’s apartment in Brooklyn Heights.
I feel overwhelmed at the thought of seeing a lot of people today. I feel so inside myself and I don’t know if I will be able to connect with anyone. I’m nervous about my eulogy and keep thinking of all the things I didn’t say in it.
Monte Ghertler, legendary advertising copywriter and creative director, author, songwriter, connoisseur of art, literature, music, philosophy, birdwatching, opera, and thoroughbred horse racing, died peacefully in his Brooklyn Heights home on September 7, 2008, surrounded by loving family members.
Monte, who had a successful career in advertising, had a way with words, a sharp intellect, a hilarious sense of humor, and a love of books, music and his family.
He is survived by his wife, Hillary; his daugheters, Louise and Caroline; his sons-in-law, Hugh Crawford and Jeffrey Jacobson; and three grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to the Crandall Library, 251 Glen St., Glens Falls, NY 12801.