Stanley Ruby

Remembering Stan's last days

Joanne writes:

Standing by his gravesite, I was flooded with my still very vivid memory of Stan's last week. It started on my 50th birthday (Monday) -- not being able to take him home as was the discharge plan, but instead to the hospital. I drove him -- my very, very sick father with a failing heart and failed kidneys sleeping next to me. I remember it feeling a bit surreal; like this could be it, he could go out on me right there rolling up 280, his all time favorite highway, past SLAC, to the exit for Stanford Hospital.

He rallied and made it: a ‘rolling admission” (hospital variety not college) – an in-and- out stay for the very sick elderly who come in from a nursing home and are discharged quickly back to the nursing facility. The dialysis was keeping him going, but not for much longer they predicted. We gathered family and friends.

I invited Peggy, of the Good Death Institute, to meet Stan. He had been so quiet and withdrawn. I just had this sense that if he could become aware of his imminent death, he might choose to use the time he had. He had struggled so desperately his last months with his want to have time, to be awake, not to be asleep when he had so much to write, read, say, share. It had been driving him crazy; how his bio-ryhthms were so out of whack. How the kidney failure affected his cognitive process. As a child with my own sleep issues, he had so stressed the joy of being awake. It just seemed right to bring him this woman who helps the dying person die a good death.

Peggy met him on Saturday afternoon 4ish. Stan had been quiet all day, closed eyes, not responded to anyone including cousins Sandy & Mel, Joe, Gene, Helga, me. Peggy held his hand, rubbed it, told him I'd invited her, and that she came to talk about his heart. He opened his eyes. Looked straight at her and said, “My heart? I can tell you a lot about my heart, but you should hear about my kidneys.” Within minutes Stan was alert, upright, and fully engaged, as we all know he can be, and then asked, 'Who are you?" In finding out she was not a doctor, or nurse, but rather a person who talks with people before they die, Stan looked genuinely puzzled, and said, “die”. “Do you think I’m going to die?”

Peggy later told me she’d never in 20 years of hospice work met a person like Stan, so unaware of dying, and found him absolutely remarkable, brilliant, funny, witty and loveable all at once. They talked about the ways of death, of rituals, of the middle ages, of the big bang and the origins of the universe. Stan, said repeatedly, “I am so enjoying this. Thank you so much, Jo, for bringing her to me. But what do I call you? I need a name for you. I know, I’ll call you the ‘warner’”. He pleaded with Peggy to come back as soon as possible.

She said she’d be there Monday after his dialysis and could stay for a few hours. It was stunning. To have Stan back, his brain woken up, his intellectual curiosity aroused. Most incredible was that Stan was bright on the phone in the morning, and when I arrived Sunday afternoon, he wanted to talk more about the Einstein article in Scientific American. He watched football with Zach and Bill and Dan. He talked to Twyla and Lani. He stayed engaged. He was present. He was looking forward to the next day: Walter was due to arrive at noon, he would go with Stan would go to dialysis, Peggy was coming after that.

October anniversaries

Gopal's letter and Dan's posting have moved me to add my thoughts. Just read pieces that I hadn’t seen before, and learned there’s yet another family member to add to the important October dates: Walter Ruby (my grandfather’s) birthday, Oct. 15. So that sits right between mine, the 11th and Helga’s, the 20th. And right in there we also have Stan’s death day, the 18th. And most years we get Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur thrown in there too (as we did this year).

Last week, on my birthday, I took my dear Carly to the cemetery. I gathered a few photos, our combined collection of seashells, and a journal. There at the Oakmont Cemetery in Lafayette, in the Jewish section, called “compassion” I do find true comfort. It does surprise me. Who would have known? It’s not just that it is so incredibly beautiful, being in the open hills and looking down on what I call “Hodel’s Farm” (reference to our backyard neighbor in Pittsburgh). It's that it all seems right; the decision of which plot/s, our carefully crafted words on the stone (“Stanley and Helga Ruby, generous spirits and forces of life, the important thing is to not stop questioning”); that you pass Green Valley Drive and Stanley Boulevards on your way; and that Carly is free to roam. So, it only seems fitting to post this photo of the site and their grave - our official unveiling on the blog.

Stan's science legacy

We received a wonderful email today from Gopal Chenoy, a long-time colleague of Stan's from Argonne days who we Ruby kids remember well from his many meals and overnight visits at our home. His message said that the physics journal Hyperfine Interactions would be publishing a tribute to Stan's work in physics written by himself, John Arthur, and Gennaddi Smirnov, two other colleagues. He attached pdfs of the author's proofs of the article, which are reproduced here.

The article puts Stan's legacy as a physicist as clearly as anything we have seen. Here are some excerpts:

His most recognized work from this period [early 1960s] was on the acoustic modulation of the wavelength of resonant gamma radiation, detected using the Mössbauer effect. During a visit to the Weizmann Institute in 1962, he observed the 9.3keV Mössbauer resonance in Kr83.

Stan wil lbe best remembered for his proposal in 1974 to excite the 14.4keV Mössbauer resonance in Fe57 using synchrotron radiationrather than a radioactive source to populate the nuclear excited state. Although it was the group of Erich Gerdau that first achieved this goal in 1985 at DESY, Stan and the SSRL group followed in 1987 and proceeded to make important contributions to this new field.

Fundamental physics was central to Stan’s life, though his interests ranged from cosmology to biology. While he allowed that quantum mechanics was useful for calculations, he found it very unsatisfactory on a philosophical level. During his later career, and especially after his retirement, he worked hard to find simple, alternative explanations for quantum phenomena.

As well as reviewing Stan's scientific accomplishments, the article gives an appreciation of him as a co-worker and man in the world. After the article appears in the journal, I'll put up a link to it or reprint the text. Gopal says he has also submitted a proposal for a longer article on Stan's science legacy that has not yet been accepted for publication.

All of this was wonderfully timely, since we're observing Stan's Jahrzeit this week. Joanne has lately visited with several of Stan and Helga's close friends. She and I will go to synagogue to say kaddish tomorrow. I'll ask Joanne if she wants to post some of her thoughts.

In the meantime, thanks so much to Gopal for this unexpected gift today.

Family resemblance

By the way, I think Rabbi Spektor looks a hell of a lot like Stan, especially in the photo on the right.


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