Uncle” Louie Schlifstein, one of my guiding lights in life

About my Uncle Louie. He is not a blood relative, but my sisters and I grew up calling him “Uncle Louie.” Louie was an NYPD sergeant and he retired in 1961. My father, a 71 Precinct cop from 1943 to 1966, often had his other cop friends over on weekends. When they were in the house usually the football game would be on, and their conversations and celebrations really did not include us. But almost every Saturday and Sunday,  early in the morning, “Uncle Louie” sat in our kitchen. He brought things into my house that my father’s other friends never did – bagels and bialys, lox and the New York Times. But more important to my three sisters and I, Uncle Louie was another adult in our lives who we could look up to.

Sitting in our kitchen, he and our father would share life wisdom and experiences with my sisters and I. Louie would chat with us about school, our friends, our jobs, politics, world affairs, and life. I had those mornings since as long as I remember growing up.

After I was out on my own, and “on the job,” I still visited my parent’s house when Louie was there, until he moved to Florida. When I called him on his 97th birthday he said to me, “I’m doing well. I’m slowing down a bit though – I can’t drive at night anymore.”

On his 100th birthday my sister Irene and I were able to get down to Florida to celebrate it. During the gathering Louie said that he believed that his longevity was due in part to him singing songs every night. One highlight that day was when he sang “It’s a Wonderful Life,” written by Louie Armstrong. His favorite line is “When people say, ‘How do you do?’ they’re really saying, ‘I love you.” There is some lessons from Uncle Louie that I will never forget.

A few days ago I was really looking forward to celebrating my “Uncle” Louie’s 107th birthday, but sadly he passed away,On Tuesday, January 21, 2020. Here is what I wrote while I sat with him in the hospital the night before he passed away:

Monday evening, January 20, with Uncle Louie. Transfixed, sitting here watching him, my memories going back so many years, my emotions so strong. . Tears flow. He has been there for me my entire life – when I was a baby, a toddler, a little boy, a teenager, and an adult. He was a big presence in the lives of my family even before I was born – my father, my mother, and each of my sisters. I’m watching him, knowing that he’s probably not leaving this hospital. I’m thinking of all of my visits to the nursing home, and how proud he was of all of the fuss all of the other residents used to make about me. I used to love sitting at the dinner table chatting with him and his assisted living friends.

The nurse Nancy was here, and she just stepped out. Part of me wished she had left sooner so I could be alone with him, but because she was here I was sharing Uncle Louie stories with her, and that felt really nice, especially seeing her reaction to seeing the photos I showed her and hearing me talk of the memories. I had to speak slowly, to keep from crying, so my accounts were quite detailed.

I am feeling strong emotions about my mother and my father. Every single time I visited Uncle Louie he would share such heartfelt sentiments about how much he loved them both.  When I hugged him on his last birthday through tears he said, “When I hold you I feel like I am holding your father.”

On his one hundredth birthday he said that the secret to his longevity is singing, even if you’re by yourself, and often saying “I love you.” Most people think of their own mortality and their own lives and their own passing at times like this, but I usually don’t. However, now I am. I often joke about living to be 110 years old. I know it’s not my decision, but I’m not thinking that is something that I want right now.

There were a couple of times that I know he knew I was here, and that means the world to me. And I’m sure that a tear or two rolled from his right eye.

Goodbye my Dear Uncle, my sweet friend. I love you. And I promise I will sing tonight.

Welcome to humanity Joe Fox, and the pain that comes with it sometimes.

And as I slowly walk through this hospital, possibly seeing Uncle Louie for the last time, I can’t get the song by Bruce Springsteen out of my head, “Waiting on a Sunny Day.”

The next evening I got the call that he passed away.  Thank you Uncle Louie, for the amazing impact you have made, and continue to make in my life. During his 106th birthday celebration he said, “Maybe the good Lord left me alive so long because of all the people here who love me.” I think you were correct Louie, but there is another reason. Our world can be a very dark and challenging place. You, are a bright light, the essence of true humanity, loving, giving and always supporting others.  Maybe this world needed that light for all of those years? I will never forget you and like so many who have been touched by you, I will try to carry that light with me in my life.

Bless you Uncle Louie.

Read more about “Uncle Louie” in The Daily News

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