The first funeral in my memory is that of my pediatrician, that white haired man who came calling when I was sick, who had a fluroscope in his office, who was a neighborhood doc setting the pattern for my expectations throughout my life.  We didn’t go to the cemetery.  I don’t recall my first such trip.

The family cemetery is Rodeph Sholom’s Union Fields.  The plot number is 1001 purchased in 1910 to bury my father’s mother who died in childbirth.  I’ve been there to bury my father and bury my mother.  I’ve visited numerous times and learned how little I know about much of the family. 

There is one place left.  It’s for me, next to my parents.

Dad died when I was not quite 21, mom, more than twenty years later.  I know I went to other funerals, at least one in the same cemetery. I’m not sure where my graveyard sensitivity comes from but I do have one.

When I worked in Kings Park, I was employed at a state hospital with a long history.  Opened in 1885 as an extension of the Brooklyn Asylum, the Kings Park State Hospital was big, spread over 100s of acres, became a working farm and had it’s own railroad spur.  It also had cemeteries.

In  my time, the ‘90s, a rumor persisted that there were three cemeteries and that one had been disturbed/destroyed with the digging for the high school handball court.  This only made sense because the high school was built directly across the main road from the hospital. (It had probably always been the main road.)

The large cemetery, a very sad place, was on a hill in the middle of town.  The reckoning was that it held five thousand unmarked graves of hospital patients who died and were unclaimed by family.  The fenced in field was marked at the end far from the entrance by a large white cross.  I was told that this end was where the Catholics were buried.  

There were straight rows of depressions in the earth on either side of the path up the middle; a path made with power plant ash.

The next section, not actually marked contained the Protestants and the area nearest the front gate was for Jews.  The cemetery was closed in 1969, as full.  

When I was the public affairs and community education director at Kings Park I was often given unusual things to manage.  Regarding the cemeteries this included overseeing the visit of a woman who wanted to visit the grave of her mother who had been hospitalized and passed away there.  Of course, her passing dated back to the large cemetery of unmarked graves with no specific grave identifiable.  She had brought her daughter who carried a plant.  I led them to the general area in which the grounds department had estimated she would have been buried.

The daughter, looking for her grandmother, walked out among the depressions, stopped and placed the plant down and stood silently for a moment while her mother and I watched.  When she rejoined us we asked how she knew that was grandma’s grave?  She answered, “I know.”

The big burial ground was succeeded by a cemetery on the hospital property, opposite the ash dump.  These graves were marked with small numbered concrete blocks made in the hospital shop.  Each had a number and a religious symbol denoting the religion of the patient there interred.

Before my time at the hospital the Jewish chaplain arranged for the Jews to be disinterred and moved to a Jewish cemetery.  They had rested in a low lying corner down and to the left when you entered the gate.  When I explored the cemetery the concrete blocks with the Star of David were broken and scattered in this corner.

The on-campus cemetery was infrequently used right up to the closure of the hospital.  Before I left, the then Catholic chaplain asked me to accompany him to a burial there.  I had never attended hospital funeral before this. the deceased had only one possible family attendee and I was being asked by someone I respected.  As it turns out, He wanted me there for a specific reason.  He pointed to the pickup truck with tools and suggested I keep an obvious eye on the boxes in it.  You see, the hospital laboratory had recently been cleaned out and the boxes contained the specimen jars of a previous time: brains, limbs, fetus’, etc.  The grounds department wanted to bury them with the deceased.  This was not to be permitted and my presence was to block such activity along with the chaplain. Needless to say, the patient was buried alone as we stayed until the grave had been filled in.

These cemeteries hold the memory of one of the most important things I did in my professional life.


In the gateway of each of the two there sits a stone marking the ground as a cemetery. These were placed at my request, with my inscription, at the hospital’s expense, in the presence of my children, to mark these places in perpetuity.

I return when I can to see if the cemeteries are being maintained. At each visit chills and sadness run through my body, along, I admit, with pride for remembering them.

Comments are always welcome


Like any self-respecting adolescent I went through my teenage years on 83rd Street making sure I was not my father. At the time, the sentiment meant that I was not a writer, could not be a writer, did not want to be a writer.  After all, Dad made his living as a writer (25 years with ABC after the Blue Network and so much more.)  But this was untrue for me, even then.

The earliest writing I can recall was my report on the U-2 in sixth grade.  It was lengthy and quite complete.  I later wrote typical adolescent love poetry. There was the Jewish poetry period and the college columnist period.  There was the report writing for work and the essay writing in Newsday and the Op-Ed pieces in Newsday and The New York Times. Some of this was paid. Some of this was about things that happened on West 83rdStreet. Later, it was policy writing, a guide to doing the work honestly and a booklet on health care compliance for a national accrediting body.

I was, in fact, prolific.  Just like my Dad.

Csabi Elter via Unsplash

The one effort I have not yet found concrete evidence of was the column that appeared in the CCNY House Plan Association newspaper.  It was called, I believe, just “Thoughts”. One day I hope to be able to find this work in the Morris Raphael Cohen Library at City College. I do remember helping to put the paper to bed at the printers but I have no real recollection of my contribution to content.

For years my family turned to me to write letters of complaint to government and business.  And I was often called upon to consult about resumes and cover letters; even outside the family.  I seem to have written for a lot of different things for a lot of different reasons.

In the Jewish period I wrote this acrostic:


Taught and cherished for centuries.

Overrun but not destroyed.

Reborn with every generation,

Against all manner of hatred

Have you survived and will you continue.


In the adolescent period, I wrote this:



always be aware

be aware of others

their needs

their desires

be aware of how they act

but importantly

be aware of how you act…….

And of course, love.  Here’s a piece of one:

What do you mean?

What is it that you symbolize?

Why do you stand out from amongst the rest?

You are a light, bright and shining,

A beacon, pointing the way,

A neon sign, flashing a message,

A reminder that life is to be lived.

You are yesterday and tomorrow,

But and most of all,

You Are Today.


I remember for whom I wrote that.  Maybe this is why she wasn’t interested?

I think I’ve progressed.  

And, I don’t write poetry any more.