May 8, 1919-February 11, 1989
BY STANLEY SCHACHTER
ONE OF THE LAST TIMES Leon Festinger saw his father was in a nursing home in Brooklyn. The old man had been part of that great emigration of East European Jews in the years before the First World War. He left Russia a radical and an atheist and remained faithful to these views throughout his life. He was very sick at the time of Leon's visit, bedridden and virtually helpless. During this visit, he leaned toward his son and said, ''You know Leon, I was wrong. All my life I was wrong—there is life after death.'' Puzzled, Festinger asked him what he meant and, pointing around the room, his father answered, "This—this is life after death."
In 1988 Festinger became ill with a cancer that had metastasized to the liver and the lungs. He dealt with his cancer as a research problem. He read the literature, spoke with the experts, weighed the possible side effects of treatment, calculated the odds, and decided, untreated, to die. And in a few months he was dead. The intervening months were relatively peaceful and, though toward the end he was wasting away, painless. He worked, he wrote, he saw his friends, and, when it became clear that he could no longer go on, he died.
The memorial service at the New School was, as such