It’s said that if you have a couple of great friends, you’re lucky. I am the luckiest man alive. A month ago, one of those great friends sent me an invite to witness her son become a Bar Mitzvah. The festivities were in Chicago, allowing a perfect amalgam of visits to see Ana, my niece Allison, my niece Rachel, my sister-in-law (AKA the Justeeece), my “other” kids Lori and Dan, and my dearest friends since birth. Their kids have become like family to us. I didn’t have many expectations of this weekend apart from packing in more than I can handle. I got more. A. Lot. More.
The past few weeks have hit especially hard. Jackie’s fight ended with two words I knew were coming: “I’m Done”. Her fight will continue through those of us who love her, and are sick watching a medical system built to fail the people entrusting it to help. Lat week, one of the kindest people I know, lost a short battle with cancer. I met Cindy through ice hockey. Later, she was just one of those empirically good people, who loved her family and friends. We didn’t run in the same circles so I will not pretend to know the pain of her close friends who have had little time to process what happened. This week was also post-play depression. After weeks of rehearsal and neglecting the world, I didn’t have anything to distract me. It hit harder than I thought.
So, back to this weekend. I picked up Ana and Allison for a trip up to Evanston to watch Rachel take on Northwestern. Northwestern cheated by scoring more goals than Wisconsin. OK, maybe they didn’t cheat but it makes me feel better to blame others without merit. After the game, Rachel came across the field to greet us and immediately exclaimed, “cousins!” In the 19 years prior to Jacob’s diagnosis, there was little contact between his cousins. After his diagnosis, Becky’s girls grew much closer to Hallie and Ken’s kids. They are cousins in every way possible. As someone who has seen this growth from infancy, it’s perfect. The closeness they feel has had a tremendous positive effect on Ana.
Saturday morning was Max’s service. We are reform Jews, which means our services last about an hour. This was three hours, and I enjoyed every minute. This was my second time in a temple since Jacob’s funeral. I have a loose belief in a higher power. Religion is an interesting concept. I practice the Jewish customs, somewhat, for two reasons. Jacob loved being Jewish and taking a moment to recognize that, is important. Also, of all the major religions, Judaism (and Islam to a degree) make the most sense to me. Judaism promotes questioning everything. Sitting in that temple, and watching two young people, commit themselves to Torah, was inspirational.
As Naomi, Ana, and I sat in the service, a calm set in that hasn’t been with me in a lifetime. For context, a lifetime to me has new meaning. As a child, my grade school progress reports would all read the same verbiage: “restless, irritable, easily distracted.” Max’s service allowed me to slow down and be present in shabbat. I wasn’t thinking about where I needed to be. I took pleasure in my feet’s position. The rabbi, while talking about well known stories like Noah’s Ark, said something relatable. “Whether or not some or any of these stories happened or happened exactly like this, is irrelevant. These stories allow us the ability to learn lessons.” Finally, someone said it!
Saturday night, we partied, and the true miracle happened. Irrelevant to the crux of the story, the food was insanity. One of the appetizers were bite size grilled cheese sandwiches with a little shot of tomato soup. Bananas. The DJ beckoned everyone to the dance floor for the Hora. Naomi, Ana, and I quickly grabbed hands as we made our way around in a circle with the partygoers until my knee gave out. I moved away from the circle and watched in amazement. Naomi and Ana were dancing an exuberant catharsis of pain release. As the night progressed, the music built to 90’s “rave-like” levels. With sanity breaks mixed in, we danced. And danced. And danced.
I saw and felt something that I haven’t seen since April of 2019. I saw PURE JOY in the eyes of Naomi and Ana. We had a picture-perfect moment when the three of us just danced all-together. Ana even made way and let mom and dad show the ole moves on the floor. I was perhaps more reflective that night. The play allowed me to escape the reality of life at times. This was the first time I got to see this joy in the rest of my family. I cried very quietly and deeply, alone. I then looked up and thanked Jacob. This is what he wants. I knew, at that moment, that we can do it. The love between is stronger than grief’s hold on us. I know we will be alright and will thrive in pockets.
I miss Jacob more and more every day. This hasn’t changed. I cry daily. Sometimes openly and sometimes, quietly alone. I have allowed myself this. I also need to allow myself these pockets of beautiful moments.
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