And now, a touching, tender story about an oft-forgotten L&O character...Adam Schiff.
The old man paced the floor of his kitchen. He passed the pantry. Stopped. Turned. Walked back toward the sink. Stopped again. Looked at the phone on the wall. Willed it to ring. Started pacing again. Stopped. Pulled out a chair and sat, exhausted. Looked back toward the phone.
Adam Schiff finally rested his elbow on the edge of the kitchen table and propped his forehead in the palm of his hand. It was not a good time for him. He was having a good deal of difficulty at work. He had pitted himself against the Governor and the State's Attorney General in his decision not to seek the death penalty in a highly controversial case. The big brass were seeking to usurp his authority as the New York County District Attorney. As frustrating and as humiliating as that was his work related troubles paled in comparison to the heart-break he was facing in his personal life.
His wife Rachel had recently suffered a major stroke and the doctors were pessimistic about her recovery. Rachel was on life-support and with the Doctor's opinion that she might never recover, he needed to seriously consider her future. It had been suggested that he be prepared to withdraw life support and let nature take its course. It was decision he didn't want to make alone. Adam had called his son but Joshua wasn't in and Adam was impatiently waiting for the man to call him back.
He thought back to the day he had first met her. She was only twenty years old. He had just recently graduated from Law School. She was a library assistant and he had gone to the public library to pick up some recreational reading material. She made some suggestions that he found intriguing and he had noticed that aside from an interesting taste in reading, Rachel Rosenwietz was a pretty, vivacious young woman with deep set dark eyes that he couldn't seem to help looking into.
He felt it was as close to love at first sight as it got, if such a thing actually existed. Adam made it a point to seek out Rachel's opinion whenever he found the time to visit the library. She always seemed happy to assist him and never failed to offer him a bashful smile. He found it endearing but his own excruciating shyness precluded him from asking her out for several months. Though he deduced from her name tag that, like him she was Jewish, he had no idea of how devout she was and so avoided asking her to dinner. Finally, he took a chance and asked her if she would like to go to a movie. She must have seen something in the aspiring young attorney because she agreed to accompany him.
It had been a fast and happy courtship from that moment on. Rachel had fallen quickly and deeply in love with him and he, for his part, had continued to fall even deeper in love with her. Adam jerked his head up. He'd started to doze off. Surprised, he noticed his cheeks were damp and realized he'd been dreaming of Rachel. The phone jangled and though he was now awake, it still startled him.
"Dad?" The voice on the other end sounded trepidatious, almost wary and Adam knew his son was probably thinking the worst about his mother.
"She's still here, son." Unexpectedly his voice gave out and his words came out in a strangled squeak.
"I'll come right over Dad." Joshua Schiff didn't wait to be told that his father needed him. He turned to his wife, his father's unspoken explanation slowly sinking in, "Mom's no better, I can hear it in his voice. In fact, I think she may be worse. Dad may appear strong in public but he's a mess. I'm not sure how much more of this he can take. Can't those damn idiots upstate lay off?"
Joshua got his jacket and shoved his cigarettes into his shirt pocket. Political office had its perils, Joshua knew that but the ironic juxtaposition of the two problems his father was being faced with hadn't escaped him.
The District Attorney's office was in the process of prosecuting a man for murder. The upper echelon thought the circumstances warranted a charge of first degree murder. A charge that now carried the penalty of death. Adam felt there was insufficient evidence to support such a charge. He refused their directive and was now embroiled in a legal challenge to retain jurisdiction of his own office. He was fighting to prolong the life of a man he didn't know and certainly didn't care about while he was struggling with the decision of whether or not end the life of a woman he loved more than life itself.
"Josh?" His wife gently embraced him, "Do you want me to go with you?"
"Honestly? Yes, but... we can't leave Danny alone and Dad's in no shape for a visit from his grandson."
"I could call... "
"Tomorrow. Get a sitter for him tomorrow night. Don't wait up, I don't know how long I'll be."
"Give Dad a hug for me, huh. And for Danny, too. And Joshua? If you go to see your Mom? Give her a kiss for us as well. I'll say another prayer while you're gone." She gave her husband a quick squeeze.
Josh gave his wife a kiss and checked on his eleven year old son before he left. Then he was out the door and silently driving to his old house.
Adam looked at the clock. The more things change, the more they stay the same. How many times had he heard that old cliche? Or said it. Watching the clock and waiting for his son to come home. It had been many years since he'd felt the need to do that. In fact he seldom had done it. Rachel had been the one to wait up for their son to come home at night, after dates, after sports, and later after work. Now Joshua was a married man himself, with a wife and an eleven-year-old son of his own. Adam took note of the time and closed his eyes.
One o'clock in the morning. Sleep shattered by Rachel nudging him awake. Those words, straight out of Hollywood, 'Adam, its time.' The interminable drive through pouring rain. An admissions clerk who had likely been fired by the CIA. Then the wait until another Hollywood moment. A nurse beckoning to him. White starched uniform, stiff-winged cap and smiling eyes above her mask. He remembered her words that morning.
'Mr. Schiff?' She had looked around the room, trying to guess which of the three tired men pacing there might answer her. He'd stopped dead in his tracks and when he caught her eye she had said, 'You have a fine son. Congratulations. If you'll follow me... ' And she'd led him down a bright corridor to a glassed in room. Cot after cot filled the room. She went to the door and said something, then one of the cots was wheeled to the window and he got the first look at his child.
Joshua Bernard Schiff.
He remembered entering Rachel's room shortly afterward. She had a smile for him, as usual. She thanked him. Thanked him! She was the one who had just performed a miracle but she had been the one thanking him! He smiled a little at the thought and opened his eyes. Joshua would be there soon.
Adam stood up and shuffled to the stove to turn on the kettle so he could make coffee. He saw his distorted reflection in the smooth polished aluminum of the kettle and thought to himself that he was starting to look as old as he felt. He commented to himself that soon he'd be as stooped and gnarled as Rabbi Birnbaum. Rabbi Birnbaum. He'd performed the marriage ceremony for them. He'd conducted the Bris for Joshua and the boy's Bar Mitzvah, as well. Rachel had insisted on it.
'My family has known him for years. He did all my brothers and both of my nephews. He married us, you had no objection to that.' It was this last qualification that swayed Adam, in the end. For the man who joined him in marriage to Rachel, he would have nothing but the highest regard. Oh, Rachel...
He groaned audibly and sat down again. How on earth was he going to face life without Rachel? If it came to that. He took a breath. Of course it would come to that. The doctors had all but admitted they could do no more. The nurses all looked glum. Rachel just lay there, machines doing everything for her. There was no smile for him. He knew it was a foregone conclusion. He was going to loose her. How that was going to hurt. He was glad it was him that was facing this challenge and not her. He would never want her to feel this much sorrow.
He had only ever seen her truly hurt once. That was when Joshua had fallen in love and left home. It wasn't that Rachel hadn't liked the pretty, red-haired girl he had chosen for a wife. Not at all. In fact, Rachel thought Beryl was a charming, well-mannered young woman. And Beryl had been polite and respectful to her as well but while there was nothing wrong with Beryl, there as everything wrong with her family. The McFadyen's were Catholic. Rachel could not understand why her son was insisting on marrying outside his religion. She had raised him very strictly, they had kept a kosher house for many years. He had attended Hebrew school until high school. He was a cantor at the synagogue.
'Adam! Reason with him. What have I done wrong?' She had broken down and cried the night Joshua had informed them that with or without their blessing, he was going to marry Beryl. Eventually they had arranged a lopsided compromise. Adam knew Beryl's parents weren't exactly ecstatic at the notion that their youngest daughter was marrying a Jew. The couple were married in a civil service and then both sets of parents chipped in and hosted a reception extraordinaire! Both a Rabbi and a Priest were present for the blessings and the Irish-American McFadyen's were introduced to such delicacies as blintzes and latke while the Schiff's tasted hearty lamb stew and soda bread. It was a smorgasbord to remember. It was a good thing Rachel had quit enforcing their kosher lifestyle.
Later Adam had thrown his hat into the political ring, something he had been contemplating since Joshua was a child. Rachel had backed him completely, glad he had finally decided to take on a challenge he was worthy of. His law career was lucrative, he enjoyed the position he held in the Law firm of Devine, Schirnov and Lietzenberg but his work as a defense attorney sometimes caused Rachel worry. She didn't like some of the truly shady characters Adam had been assigned to defend. She wanted him to try and get on in the D.A's office. Adam did her one better. He ran for election and was elected to the office of District Attorney, New York county. With very little effort on his part but enormous support from Rachel.
There was another reason that year stuck out so vividly in his mind.
He and Rachel had finally become grandparents after close to a ten year wait. For reasons known only to God himself, Beryl and Joshua had been unable to have a child of their own.
Adam felt himself beginning to smile again at some of the memories of that time. 'Heartbreak. This adopting will lead to heartbreak. Better they should pray harder for a child of their own. Adam. Adam! Are you listening to me... ' Initially Rachel had had no faith in social services. They themselves had looked into the possibility of adopting when nature had failed to provide Josh with a younger brother or sister but by the time they had decided to go ahead, they were deemed to be old.
'A boy. Adam! Joshua and Beryl have a chance at a boy! Oy, g'vey. Prayer. Didn't I say they needed prayer? I've been praying.' There had been no point in reminding her that she had said 'pray for one of their own.' She had heard Joshua say she was going to be a Grandmother and that was all she needed to hear. After two and a half years of waiting for nature to kick in and then an agonizing seven year ride on the adoption roller coaster Joshua and Beryl were finally blessed with the arrival of six month old Daniel Jacob McFadyen-Schiff. Rachel was never the same. She had taken to the role of Grandmother with the same natural ease of ducklings taking to water.
Adam saw the headlights of Josh's car as they reflected eerily through the kitchen window. He got up and let the man in. Father and son embraced.
"How is she Dad? Any change from this afternoon?"
"No. The doctors think it may be best to terminate her life support."
"Oh, Dad." Joshua sounded defeated. For the inevitable loss of his mother and the irony of the situation his father was being forced to live through. Joshua reached behind his father's back and shut off the kettle. He poured steaming water into the mugs his father had prepared earlier and deposited their coffee on the table. Adam was looking away, what he'd just said had been the hardest thing he'd ever had to say to his son. Now there was nothing left for him to say. He simply sat down and wrapped his tired old hands around the searing cup of coffee. Josh sat across the corner of the table from him just as uninterested in his own coffee.
"How soon do you have to make a decision Dad?"
"They haven't said."
"Have you talked to the Rabbi?"
"No. I'm not going to. This decision is ours to make. No one else's." Adam sounded defensive, angry. Josh was surprised for a moment but soon realized it was the pain his father was in that was making him surly. That and the mess with his bosses.
"Do you want to go to the hospital and see her?"
"I know but you can go anytime... "
"I know. I'm tired. There will be no one there to ask."
"Dad, is there a chance?"
"They don't think so."
"Mom wouldn't give up."
Adam looked directly at his son. Was that what he was doing? Giving up? On Rachel? He asked him.
"No, Dad. I didn't mean that... " Josh looked away, embarrassed. He couldn't believe his own ears when he'd heard himself say that, yet... He knew his mother. She was fiesty. She wouldn't want 'the plug pulled', she'd want to fight.
"Her heart is weak now as well. Her kidneys are shutting down. There's not much left for her to fight with." Adam said it sadly, hurting to his soul.
"Is she still unconscious?"
"Yes." Adam took a sip of his coffee. It scalded his throat and gave excuse for the tears welling behind his eyes.
Why was Josh grilling him? He'd been with his mother all afternoon. As soon as his court appearance was over he had gone directly to the hospital himself. He had passed the chapel and stopped in to see if his daughter-in-law was there. She had been. She was kneeling in prayer, rosary clutched in her hands. He watched her kiss the beads. His grandson Danny was at her side, he too had a rosary in his hands. Adam had quietly signalled them and they joined him. Then they had gone together to see Rachel. She'd have appreciated their prayers.
There had been no change. Monitors blipped and hissed. Her hands were cool, though not cold and her eyes were closed. One machine was breathing for her, another keeping her heart beating. There were tubes going into her and tubes coming out of her. The woman in the bed looked vaguely like Rachel but Rachel was gone. He sensed it. Danny did too. Adam had heard him whisper good-bye as he had softly patted his grandmother's hand. Beryl had led the boy quietly from the room after that. Joshua left after another moment or two and Adam and Rachel were alone. Adam realized now that he had accepted her death as inevitable at that moment. Hearing Danny say good-bye had done it. He was ready. As hard as was going to be to do, he was ready. When the doctors finally told him there was no hope, he'd be able to do it. He'd be able to let her go. Now he had to convince Joshua that he was making the right decision.
"Dad? I'm going to see Mom. Maybe Horowitz will be there." He said to his father, referring to the doctor in charge of the ICU.
"Josh. It's two-thirty in the morning. No one will be there except the nurses and the shadows."
"You're going to do it, aren't you?" Joshua's tone was accusitory, incredulous.
"It will be for the best."
Now Josh was in a panic, "There's a man in court... You're fighting for his life."
"It goes beyond that, Joshua... "
"Dad, Mom deserves to have you fight for her life."
"Son. You were there today. Your Mother has no life left."
"Tomorrow? Next week? When?" Tears were beginning to slide down Josh's cheeks. And Adam's, his son noticed in a blur.
Adam had no answer. He'd wait as long as he could. A day, a week. No. He wouldn't prolong it for his own comfort. Or anyone else's. The doctors were probably going to tell him soon. All the verdicts would be in soon. Two people would either live or die, dependent on the swipe of someone else's pen. One, a man whose life he had fought for merely on principle, the other his wife.
"Dad? When you have to do it I won't be there. I won't be able to watch. Let me know when you decide. I'll pray for her but I won't be able to be there."
And so it was. In the end Josh had refused to go to the hospital. In his stead, for support, one of Adam's Executive Assistants had accompanied him.
Jack McCoy had thought himself a poor substitute for family but he had thought Adam didn't deserve to be alone. He had offered to meet him at the hospital, an offer Adam had gratefully accepted. There was nothing, physically, for Jack to do once he was there but his presence alone gave Adam some comfort. And strength.
Adam was met by Rachel's doctor and handed a chart with some papers on it. They were explained to him. A legal requirement, and he signed them. Then he resolutely handed the chart back to the man in the white coat. He watched through the window of the door to Rachel's room as the instructions on the papers were relayed to the nursing staff at Rachel's side. Then he steeled himself, took a breath and went in.
A nurse quietly, efficiently went about her business. The respirator was shut off first and Adam stood impassively, watching, resigned to the finality of the situation, yet inwardly hoping for a miracle. The heart monitor continued to blip rhythmically for a few beats then the blip grew erratic and finally, it stopped. A mournful whine filled the air as the jagged lines of the monitor were replaced by a flat one.
And she was gone.
Adam forced himself to take a breath and bit down on his lip, trying not to cry in public and not succeeding. For a long minute he just stood there, then he bent over her still body and kissed her tenderly good-bye.
"Shalom my love."