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Gratitude…for George

February 23, 2012

George loved life and inspired all of us through this difficult time. He was most appreciative of all the support, love and encouragement that all of you showed him. He was a wonderful man.

Yesterday’s news from his wife. This “wonderful man” lived and died valiantly. His gift was two years of living life fully, making memories and reminding me that it is possible to “accept the things we cannot change” – even the worst of it.

We met 17 years ago, and disliked each other immediately. He and his young wife moved to the adjacent house, we shared a back yard. They were expecting their first child and my girls were 12, 8 & 5. When the baby arrived, one of mine announced: “she’ll be going to kindergarten the year Jennie goes to college”. I vividly remember thinking: “that’s ages away”. It wasn’t.

George and I politely warmed to each other over the years. It would have taken less time had we realised we disliked only the reflection of ourselves in each other. Then life happened. Another daughter was born, his girls grew, my girls babysat; the families grew closer and we shared the wisdom gleaned from parenting. Mindfully we were trying to give better than we got as children.

And we shared Joy; no accident her name. Joy blossomed into the kind of mother George knew she’d be when he’d decided to wait the years it took for her to agree marriage. She is a formidable woman, a well-loved child of parents who modeled patient, disciplined, and unmitigated love. She mothered her children and mine. I learned from her and George softened toward me.

They co-parented my children across the yard, through adolescent parties, romances and disappointments the likes of which you don’t share with your own parents. They delivered friendship, qualified by parental concern. They were the safety net that was once natural in extended families a century ago.

They are what I refer to as “family of choice”. Part of my personally appointed extended family. “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family”. Wrong! You can create healthy and supportive families – and while George and I didn’t know it in our prickly phase, we shared a common mission: Healthy and happy daughters, well-armed for anything life throws their way.

It took until 2008 – for us to become friends. When I left for Ireland we shared talks about what was important. He spoke of how he loved my girls and he loved that his girls were loved by them. I admitted how hard it was for me to leave my daughters. How important it was for me to compose a life before going to my grave resentful. I wanted a life not characterised by my roles as daughter, wife and mother. He’d already pursued his PhD in History, remodeling his career and composing a life that allowed him to teach, and to have more time just being a husband and father. We talked about death and dying before it was relevant.

Perhaps it is only the Jews and the Irish who are comfortable in this melancholy place, but we were. The dying talk went from “what if” to “when” as I returned home to the heartbreaking news of his diagnosis.

Thank you George, for the honesty and the process you shared in this long goodbye. I am sorry it wasn’t longer. Thank you for arming your daughters and mine for the worst life has to offer. Thank you for giving our friendship a chance.

Thank you, especially, for the gift of Joy in all our lives.

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