I am not a boxing fan. We have enough ways to beat up our fellow men and women without needing to jump into a ring to do it literally. All that said, I think I’m beginning to understand how a boxer feels after taking punch after punch after punch. Even a strong fighter might be able to still stand there in his corner, but what does his reality look like?
I feel like every time I start to get up from a left hook, I take a punch to the gut. Micah, Paul, various other people who have had some impact on my life, and now my Uncle Phil–all now in their final resting places. I’m sore, battered and bleeding…but somehow I’m still able to stand in my corner and survey my reality.
Death has surrounded me in 2016. As much as I battle to make it through, every time I think I can see sunlight on the horizon, another dark cloud overtakes me. I had no plans to fly to Chicago this week. I’ve been to Chicago four times this year–all for happy occasions. As much as I love my hometown (or, as Cynthia would say, my hometown AREA, since I only really lived in Chicago for a small part of my Illinois existence), this fifth trip was neither necessary nor desired, certainly not into the waiting arms of Chicago’s first snowstorm of the season.
Before I could even arrive at the synagogue for the funeral this morning, memories played games with me. I knew it would be a long day, and I had a sneaking suspicion that Shiva being held in the synagogue likely meant a dairy/fish spread for food–ie: poor outlook for a filling meal (I’m a particularly picky eater–and fish and hard-boiled eggs are not in the food comfort zone)…so I stopped at the local Einstein Brothers Bagels for breakfast. As I pulled into the parking lot, it dawned on me: I had been here before–in the July 2013 with Micah. Back in 2013, Micah was asked to play in the State Wars “Midwest Wars” summer roller hockey tournament in Darien, Illinois. We wound up staying at the Hilton in Lisle–right across the street from the hotel where I’m presently staying. That Einstein’s? Where Micah and I had our daily breakfast. I froze for a moment, consumed by the memory of Micah asking for his bagels and chocolate milk. I pictured us eating dinner at the local Red Robin one night. I thought about the last time I attended a funeral: Micah’s funeral.
This day was not about Micah–it was about my uncle, Dr. Phillip Jacobson. My uncle was a kind, generous man and an incredible, caring pediatrician. I’ve heard the stories for years about how my uncle would go out of his way to help his patients–and even those that were not directly his patients–to heal and thrive. The late night and early morning phone calls, the home visits, the extra research, the after-hours follow-up calls… it didn’t matter what the finances of the child’s parents were. It didn’t matter what race, skin color or religion the family was. All that mattered was that Dr. Jacobson was going to do everything in his power to help the child in need and his or her family.
Uncle Phil was my mother’s oldest brother. As strong-willed, outspoken and passionate as he was about his medical practice, he was even moreso when it came to his family–and his extended family like my mother, brother and sister. I remember the Thanksgiving dinners…the Hanukkah get-togethers…and the Passover Seders at my grandparents house in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, where I was undoubtedly going to get bear-hugged by my uncle, as he did his best Boris Badenov impression to try and get me–and anyone else around me–to laugh. In later life, he would do that to Micah and Avi, but far more Micah–who, not really knowing The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, always thought his Great Uncle Phil was trying to be Gru from Despicable Me.
I loved my Uncle Phil dearly. He helped me get through my mother, grandmother and father’s deaths. He was always there to help us try and get the best care for Micah and Aviela and their special needs. Now, instead of telling us how to help Micah, he can spend eternity trying to chase him down for a bear hug in Heaven.
And yet, as much as I loved my uncle and miss him–the entire scene at the cemetery was a flashback to Micah’s ceremony. I pictured Micah’s coffin. I pictured sitting in my Aunt Judy’s seat in front of the coffin. I wept.
I wept for my Uncle Phil, who would help young children no longer.
I wept for my Aunt Judy, who after celebrating her 50th anniversary with my uncle, now finds herself without her longtime soulmate.
I wept for my cousins Elyse and Kevin, who now had to move forward without the father that was always by their side to support them in anything they had to do.
I wept for my Uncle Arnold, who is now the last member of his immediate family, with his parents, sister (my mother) and brother passed on.
I wept for Cynthia and Avi who were not able to be with me at the funeral to remember Uncle Phil, and to help support our family in need.
I wept for Micah–because even almost eleven months later, I still cannot believe I have to go on without my son.
Today was also my 46th birthday. How do you celebrate something as inconsequential as your birthday when so many around you are in pain and mourning? How do I even begin to think about my first birthday without my son?
I don’t. I just do what I’ve learned to do since January. I grit my teeth, wince, and move on–punch-drunk but alive, standing in my corner preparing for the next punch.