Friday, April 11, 2014

The Littlest Bumps

The littlest things trigger memories. Today I walked a friend's daughter into afternoon kindergarten at Oak Terrace. We walked in, she stepped in line to walk down to her class, and as I was ready to leave her, I reached out and gave her a fist bump goodbye. And my breath caught as tears welled up when the image of five-year-old Sam in his blue winter coat flashed in my head as our knuckles touched.

Almost every day when I would drop Sammy off I would say goodbye with a fist bump. He rarely would want a hug from me in front of his friends. It was an easier, casual goodbye. It has been three years since I dropped off five-year-old Sam at afternoon kindergarten. It has only been four months since I kissed Sam's forehead and said my goodbyes. Everyday I see his pictures and remind him that I love him. I am not sure if I am saying it for him or for me, but I say it in my head.

This isn't the first time I've walked into school. For weeks after we returned from Milwaukee, after Sam's bone marrow transplant, Yael requested that I walk her in to school. The return transition was hardest on her. No, this was by far not my first time back at school, it was just the first time I had truly reenacted something I used to do all the time with Sammy at school. It felt familiar, it felt normal and the images reminded me why it was so familiar followed by the hints of tears of longing, sadness, and loss of a child lost way too soon.

I do my best to remember the good times and not castigate myself for the difficult times when Sammy and I were reduced to screaming at each other, both of us irrational, me more so than him since clearly he was just a three-year or four-year-old at those times and I was an adult worn all the way down. I look back at the intelligent, funny, playful young man he became as a five-, six- and seven-year-old. I look at how mature he seemed as he came to terms with his illness from six-and-a-half to eight years old. He just lived with it the best ways he knew how. I do my best never to ponder all that potential extinguished forever. I look back with gratitude at all the moments we did have, all the times filled with laughter, happiness and celebration.

Sammy is the child I truly spent the most time with of all my children so far. I was home full time with him from the time he was born until he was old enough for kindergarten. While he was in pre-school for some of that time, there were moments after Yael was born where it was easier to keep them both out of preschool. The three of us would run around with our own personalized schedule. The Children's Museum followed by Costco on Mondays, Pump It Up on Wednesdays, erev Shabbat dinner or services on Fridays, lazing about the house together most Shabbats. We played and grew and learned about each other as best we could.

Sammy is the child who inspired us to live where we've lived for the past eight years (since he would scream for 45 minutes each way when we drove to get David from pre-school from our old house). Sammy is one of the reasons we have so many friends and connections in Highwood and at Oak Terrace. Sammy is pretty much the reason Yael and Solly exist, because he was such an incredibly easy baby.

And even in death Sammy is such an inspiration to us all. He inspired over 60 rabbis in North America to shave their heads, raising over $600,000 for pediatric cancer research. He inspires sermons, articles, lectures, and awareness in hopes that his death was not in vain. He inspires me to be grateful every day for the blessings in my life and for the people who surround me with love and support. He inspires me to be a better person (although Solly works hard on spoiling that sometimes in our battles of who can be more irrational).

I am grateful each day for having had Sammy as such an important part of my life. I am sad each day for what I have lost. I grow stronger each day knowing he would expect it of me. But some days all it takes is a little bump for the tears to fall.

First Day of Kindergarten
Sam & Me at Green Lake, WI
(What you can't see me? I would be the drowning father being towed behind Sam for safety.)


  1. Rabbi, so touching, so healing. I would have honored to meet your Sammy - your whole family.

  2. Thank you for every memory, every shared moment, every "bump" in the road, as it were, to remind me to walk this way with lovingkindness, Sammy in my heart.

  3. Michael, I'm so sorry for all your pain. You were such a good dad to Sammy.
    My heart is with you, as always.