Wednesday, September 3, 2014


A year ago today I had a conversation that still makes me a little sick to think about.

It was the day before Day +8, which was also Erev Rosh HaShanah.
I had a plan, I knew that we wanted to have an opportunity to bring all the kids together, celebrate the holiday in a small way, and give Sam his new Hebrew name.

I had a plan, but I wasn't sure it was the right one.

Sam was 8 days post-transplant. His immune system was incredibly compromised.
Solly had just begun a new preschool. Germs....everywhere. (no matter how much hand sanitizer we used!)

I remember that I didn't even know how to ask the questions.
But I remember pulling Dr. M into the anteroom of Sam's room. A resident tagged along.

I posed the question: Tomorrow is Rosh HaShanah, I said, and it's Day 8. I really want to know if I can bring Solly over here. Sam hasn't seen him in over a week, and I just think it is important to have them all together. But if you think this is a bad idea, I will get over it.

Dr. M cleared his throat, and I could tell he was going to say something that I knew already. "He has a bad leukemia," he said. "That's the biggest threat to his life."

I always appreciated his honesty with me. He knew that I knew what was going on here, perhaps not to the great extent of his experience, but in my own experience, in my sense of what was going on out in the hallways of the HOT unit....I knew. I knew other children with the same story...AML...relapse...BMT...and then the terrible ending that we faced. I knew their names, their stories, their heartbreak. And Dr. M knew that I knew. So he was honest with me and I needed that honesty. I needed one space where I didn't have to sugarcoat or pretend for anyone. We were having this conversation in the anteroom because the very last person who should hear this honesty was Sammy. 

I remember taking a very big deep breath.

"Are you saying that I may never have all of my children together again on a Rosh HaShanah? That this could be our last one together?" The words came out all in a rush, almost defiantly.

I couldn't even believe that those words came out of my mouth. But I was terribly afraid, I was sick with fear. I knew the odds, I knew the statistics. I didn't want to talk about it -- not with my family or my friends, there was no one else with whom I could say this terrible sentence. I think my bluntness startled the resident. I think it may have startled Dr. M too. I've never asked him.

"Yes," he said. "That's what I'm saying."

Fine. Decision made. Solly will come. We all will be there. Together.

Rosh haShanah, the new year. Not celebrated with toasts and late night kisses, but with prayer and supplication. I couldn't read the words...I couldn't even imagine the words. So instead I dipped apples into honey and kissed my sweet children.

A year ago today I had that conversation, and I still get a little sick to my stomach when I think about that moment.

Every time someone sent Sam a note that said "you can beat this!" or "you're so strong!" I would feel a little clench in my belly, a little twist in my heart.

Because I didn't tell anyone, but I wasn't so sure it was all going to work out.

So I brought Solly on Erev Rosh HaShanah.
I imagined that every day was his last.
Just in case.
Today, I'm glad I did that.

First Rosh HaShanah - 2006
The Famous Lice Rosh HaShanah - 2008
Rosh HaShanah 2010
Rosh HaShanah 2011

Solly makes almost this exact face now.
All together, Rosh HaShanah 2013...forever the Sommer Four.


  1. Thank G-d for the doctors honesty. You would have been forever sorry if you hadn't asked the question that was in your heart and missed the last Rosh Hashana. I hold Sam in my heart often.

  2. Oh Phyllis. Crying, crying, crying. So much sadness. So much love.

    <3 <3 <3

  3. An incredibly important message for all of us. All of the time. Every chance we get.

  4. It's good you got them together, living for the now of then.

  5. Slow exhale .... honesty is not always as easy as it's made out to be. Thinking of you, always.

  6. Rosh HaShanah, the New Year, ever new, since the Creation of the world that would wait for Sammy, who makes me more honest every day. Sometimes it hurts, mostly it blesses. Rosh HaSammy.

  7. Reading this post, my heart hurts...and my stomach, too.

    As always, sending xoxo from NYC.

  8. My thoughts are with all of you. Phyllis, I only knew you for a weekend and didn't know your sweet boy at all, but your family has had an immense impact on me. I cry with each post (and smile with many). My heart and thoughts are with you.