Sunday, March 30, 2014

Days until Shorn

A piece of me is crumbled inside like a building gutted in a fire. I can almost smell the charred scent of the ruins. I find myself walking around the wreckage looking for pieces of what was. In the charred ruins, like new growth after a forest fire, I find images and memories of days of laughter and revelry. I then turn around and see all the rest of my existence whole and intact, children that need to be dressed, fed and prepared for school in the morning, games that need to be played, piano to be practiced, movies to watch. All the pieces of a life that Sam's death left intact. All these pieces of life remind me why I keep breathing, why I carry on and am capable of doing what needs to be done.

But the smoke still fills my nostrils as memories waft around my mind, making it hard to breathe. Pictures, memories, reading Phyllis's writings brings tears streaming down my cheeks and I let them fall. I allow myself to feel all the reality of my pain because I know how unhealthy the alternative is for me mentally and physically. So I walk through the hole in my soul and look at all the memories and pictures. I look at all the things that currently make me cry knowing someday they will make me cry less. Someday I will just cherish them for what they are, the precious gems Sammy left me to remind me how good life was and how good it can be.

Now I prepare to spend a week with all my rabbis. A week with all the rabbis I call friend-family, who have known me since my youth, since graduate school, since Sammy was born, since Sammy got sick, since Sammy died. I'm prepared to have my head shaved with nearly a Sanhedrin of rabbis (Great Rabbinic court of 71 of the wisest rabbis during the Second Temple Period). My work raising funds for pediatric cancer research stands completed for the moment before I begin fundraising for next week, next month, next year. We scratched the surface so well this time. Maybe next time we aim for a million dollars or even a daring $1.8 million. We have the will, we have the way, we have communities who believe in what we believe that no child or family should ever experience what we and so many like us have experienced. 

It is time for my hair to be gone. It is time to become invisible again, my new "normal" self, a fitting moment to remove the visible sign of my grief in such a public manner. 

People ask how I will handle it. I respond that my walls are strong when I need them to be. They are always close and at hand when I need something to press against to keep myself standing. I will also be surrounded by a wall of love and a sea of open arms and hearts. As a couple we will be embraced beyond our expectations. As a community we will embrace each other, pray together and heal together towards a future where pain such as this is but a historical memory. May Sammy's memory strengthen the glue that binds us as one and fuel our determination to eradicate Pediatric Cancer in our lifetimes of mending the world and making it a better place. 

March 30, 2014
Summer 2012
Even bald, Sammy kept his sense of joy and humor as many days as he could. 
A true inspiration.


  1. Michael, my heart breaks for you . Anything I can do for you , either fundraising or otherwise I will do. Please let me know. I have the will and the time.
    For the memory of your beautiful boy and for all the children.
    Much love,

  2. So beautifully written, Michael, and obviously so heartbreaking...although it doesn't change anything, I hope that you know your friend-family folks extend beyond "your rabbis," and I hope you can feel all of us with you.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing such beautiful and painful feelings that you have about Superman Sam. It's 4:15am in Louisville. I slept most of the weekend as a reaction to my new chemo, so I am wide awake now. Reading your thoughts reminds me that I have to dig in and fight my stinking stage 4 colon cancer. Your courage feeds my strength.
    Thank you so much Rabbi Michael,
    Grandma Joan

  4. as I have written before, I do not know your family personally, yet I await each day to see if you or your wife will be writting a memory about sammy. I have learned so much from both of you and my hope for you and your wife and family is to stay strong together and fill your lives with love, warmth and kindness, to continue to help others as you have been doing. and I love to see the pics of sammy, and his smile. thank you for sharing.

  5. What a way with words to express something I wish none of us had to go through. And what a great honor to Sammy's memory that you and Phyllis have raised so much.

    I love this picture of Sammy - like all the pictures of Sammy I've seen, it just bursts off the screen with such spirit.

  6. The blackest Psalm in the Bible (88) ends: "My only friend is darkness." It's followed by one flooded with light: "Forever will I sing the mercies of the Lord, announce God's faithfulness for all ages." The darker our heart, the brighter shines even the littlest light. Shorn of our self-regard, we show a beautiful face to those longing for a sign of hope. You are Sammy's light now.