Like many others, Dan Levinson moved from New York to Westport when his children were young. He thought it would be a great place to raise kids.
He was right. He grew to love the town, and has been active in many non-profit organizations here and in Bridgeport.
Like some others, his father — Peritz Levinson — moved in with the Levinsons late in life. He too learned to love the beach, Longshore, the library and Senior Center.
Peritz died a year later. Unlike many others, however, his death was not frightening, painful or brutal.
Instead, it was powerful. It was meaningful.
And now it’s become the impetus for an intriguing, important book project.
Peritz Levinson spent his life in Cincinnati. That’s where he took care of his own parents, until they died.
Peritz Levinson, with a very young Dan.
A psychiatrist, he came to Westport when he was 90. His wife had died, and he was ailing. He did not want to impose on his son.
Peritz need not have worried. He had prepared to die. During the last year of his life, he “became transcendent,” Dan says. “He was less present, but more brilliant.”
As they heard Dan talk about his father’s death, people who befriended Peritz during his last year — Sue Pfister at the Senior Center, Bill Harmer of the Westport Library, Sharon Bradley at Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County — encouraged Dan to write about the experience.
Peritz and Dan Levinson take a selfie.
He realized there were other stories out there, of “good deaths.” He decided to find them, find writers to tell them, and collect them in a book.
“Beautiful Exits: Sparking Local Conversation on Dying Well” will be “hyperlocal,” he says, featuring 10 stories from Westport.
“It’s not a book for the world. But I think it can influence a lot of people.”
For much of history, Dan notes, death was seen as a natural part of life. People died at home, surrounded by loved ones. But advances in technology and medicine have made us think we need to “fight and scrap,” to put off the inevitable end of our days.
Peritz Levinson, enjoying his son Dan’s back yard.
Peritz Levinson had thought for years about death. He was a founding member of Exit International. The non-profit organization wants to ensure that all rational adults have access to the best available information, so they can make informed decisions about when and how they die.
“My father wanted to be present as he died,” Dan says. “He was calm. He had clarity.”
The final 3 months in particular were “spectacular.”
Dan took his father to meaningful places. Peritz loved the beach. At Elvira’s, Stacy gave him rice pudding. When they drove through the golf course, people waved. Dan’s son Jesse — Peritz’s grandson — was around for much of the time too.
Peritz Levinson, surrounded by (clockwise from lower left), his grandchildren Andie, Adam and Jesse, plus Andie’s fiance Steve and Adam’s girlfriend Hayley.
“It was beautiful,” Dan says. “We had quality time, and closure. There was acceptance and peace.”
Dan is fully aware that his family’s experience is rare. Part of the reason for the book is to spark conversations about dying.
He’s identified many of the 10 stories — and 10 writers — for the book. He only needs a couple of both.
Estelle Margolis, longtime activitst and a Westporter who prepared well for her own death.
Longtime civic volunteer and political activist Estelle Margolis, for example, prepared well for her own death. Her grandson will write her story. Rev. Alison Patton and her husband Craig would like to tell the story of someone still living, now making preparations before death.
“Beautiful Exits” will also include a short piece by assistant town attorney Eileen Lavigne Flug framing the history and legal issues, and another by State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, a proponent of a proposed law that would allow a terminally ill patient with 6 months to live to take his or her own life.
Retired Unitarian Universalist minister Frank Hall may also contribute a piece about death and dying.
Artist Miggs Burroughs might create some of his young-and-old lenticular images for the book.
Someone told Dan, “Your father gave you his life. And he gave you his death.”
Now Dan Levinson is passing on that gift, just as his dad did: with honesty, clarity, grace and love.