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.
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.
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.
In Death, The Gift of Life is hyperlocal, he says. It features 10 stories from here.
Some of the names are familiar, like community activist Estelle Margolis and musician Charlie Karp.
“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 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.
“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. So he sought writers who knew their subjects, and could tell their stories lovingly and insightfully.
Longtime civic volunteer and political activist Margolis, for example, prepared well for her own death. Her grandson wrote her story.
Author Mary-Lou Weisman wrote about Pamela Parsons Naughton, the wife of actor James Naughton. Karp’s sister Eleanor Duffy writes about him.
Other familiar author names include Sarah Gross, Jarret Liotta, Robin Weinberg and Craig D.B. Patton. I was honored to contribute Peritz Levinson’s story.
The title — In Death, the Gift of Life — comes from something someone told Dan Levinson: “Your father gave you his life. And he gave you his death.”
On October 13, the book launches officially, at the Westport Library. There’s a 6:30 p.m., reception; remarks from Levinson, Liotta, Weisman, Naughton (and me), and music by The Name Droppers, Charlie Karp’s band.
The public is invited. It will be a joyful celebration of this book — and of the joys of good, meaningful deaths.
(For more information on the October 13 event at the Westport Library, click here.)
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