Prepared But Not Ready – Norbert Reinstein and Neil Rockind

In a previous post, I referred to him as the Energizer bunny.  Tireless.  Powerful.  Charged.  He seemed to run, just like the bunny, when all others stopped.   But he was much more, he was my grandfather . . . Norbert Reinstein and on Wednesday, November 10, 2009 he passed quietly, painlessly in his sleep in the hospice ward of Beaumont Hospital.   For 2 weeks, I spent time with him in the hospital.  In my own way, my very own “Tuesdays with Morrie” but with my grandpa.  I miss him very much.

My grandfather was born in Vienna, Austria.  My grandmother too.  She was a rich aristocratic high society girl.  He, a common villager.  He loved her . . . you can imagine her reaction to him.  Uhh, … no thank you.   When the Nazi’s began taking the property of Jewish families, including their homes, etc., my great-grandfather sold nearly all to pay for my grandmother to come to America.  In New York City, without any survival skills, having never taken care of herself (cooking, etc), she found herself in a foreign place and world x 2.  My grandfather would make it there too but his was a much more harrowing path.

He, like his family, was caught by the Nazi’s.  He was detained in Dachau, a concentration camp.   His parents and other relatives (save his brother, Ernest) were murdered by the Nazi’s.  My grandfather and his brother escaped . . . literally, sneaking out and living in the woods.  Ultimately, he made it to England and through shrewdness and tenacity, found a stranger in Cleveland, Ohio to sponsor them to come to America.  Upon arriving, he too found himself in a foreign city and country but . . . he was placed in a bunk in a “Y” next to someone who was friends with my grandmother.  Within a week or so, he found her . . . 67 years, they were married until he passed.

He was larger than life.  A giant.  A reknowned philanthropist and professional in his field.   He was photographed with senators, governors . . . I used to stare in awe at the awards (I have a wall not dissimilar in my office).  But to me . . . he was just my grandpa.

I eulogized him at his funeral.  My friends were decent and kind enough to come and I hope that they learned something about him.  He outlasted those f*&king Nazi’s, those animals that wanted him dead and more.  He didn’t just outlive them by alot (he died when he was 95) but he defeated them.  He joined the US Army, translated for the Army to get intelligence from the captured Nazi’s, got 2 degrees from the Univ of Minnesota, married, had 2 children who in turn had 5 children (his grandchildren) and one of those children, me, has 3 children (his great-grandchildren).   Where the Nazi’s wanted rootrot and death and termination, he created 3 generations of life!!!!

During the 2 weeks in the hospital, I bounced nervously at every noise he made.  Was he ok?  Nurse?  What’s happening?  My mother and father were there too . . . over his sleeping form, we’d share stories of our life with him.  All funny.  All sad.  I lost it one day.  Crying so hard that my mother had to comfort me.  Something that hadn’t happened since I was a child and I don’t know then even when exactly.  I’m just assuming it did.  My family put him into hospice, ironically the nicest and most well-equipped rooms in the hospital.

It’s time.  We just want him to have a peaceful exit.

People would say this, preparing themselves for his departure.  We tried to prepare ourselves.  Today? Tomorrow?  Soon?  His breathing is slowing.  Doctor, what does that mean??  But when he passed, I returned to the hospital with my parents . . . his body still oddly warm and we stared.  We were kind of waiting for him to start breathing again . . . but such things occur in Hollywood, not on Woodward.  He was gone and I was not ready.  All the preparation did little to make me ready for that moment.

I am blessed to know this.   He died before Hannukah however my 2 boys, his blood, his genes, his legacy were at his house 2 weeks prior playing dreidel with him.  We took a photograph of the 3 of them . . . the 95 year who sacrificed and overcame so much for these 2 boys to be here.  It would be the last photograph he ever took.

Norbert Reinstein.  Neil Rockind.  He wore a ring on his finger with the initials “NR”.  I wear his “NR” ring on my finger as though I had always worn it.  I guess in a way, I always wore his initials and his imprint on me.    The ring is just a reminder.  He is in my heart and mind forever and always.  I wasn’t ready to have to remember him.


2 responses to “Prepared But Not Ready – Norbert Reinstein and Neil Rockind

  1. leonardo reznick

    my grandmother was borned in vienna and her last name is reinstein she was my fathers mother she dies when she was 93 in mexico city .
    the only thing i now is that her sister and her came alone. For wathever reason they were split one to Mexico city and the other one to Lousiana.

  2. Hi Niel
    I read your blog about Norbert with interest..we are distant cousin’s you and I. You also have a bunch in the UK..I am not sure if you are in touch or even care to be. My mother Herta Reinstein was Norbert and Ernst’s Cousin..I believe her older brother Hans was the same age as Norbert and they went to medical school in Vienna together..he was in touch with my mom in the years before she died…in 2005 and in fact sent a brief history of his life which we all read with interest. My brother Gary went to North Carolina to try and meet Ernst, but he had died by doubt your great grandparents and my grandparents (norbert’s uncle) where shipped off together as they all lived in Vienna. I live in Auckland New Zealand and was for a time, a lawyer as well
    Russell Page

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