Last Sunday evening, I happened to open Facebook to see what was happening. As I have mentioned before, I am not much of a social media user. The first notice on my newsfeed was from someone I did not know, but spoke of the passing of a woman and sent condolences to her spouse. When I read this, I almost dropped my phone. I was stunned. I asked my wife to come and read the message to make sure I was reading it correctly. David, my childhood best friend, lost his wife, Laurie, to cancer at the age of 45.
I did not know Laurie was ill. I learned that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer three years earlier and seemed to be managing with her treatments. Yet, last Tuesday she went to the ER, by Friday was in hospice, and Sunday afternoon passed away. Her sudden death was a shock to everyone. Laurie was the first person in my peer group to pass away.
David and I first met in BBYO (AZA and BBG) in spring 1984. He was from Sarasota, Florida and I was from Orlando. We were at a weekend convention and hit it off. For the next many years in BBYO we were inseparable. (He even knows several people in Portland from BBYO.) In college, he ended up at the University of Georgia while I was at Emory University. And, each summer, we would work together at B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp in Starlight, PA as counselors. Our friendship flourished.
In fact, even though we each knew my wife Sarah through BBYO, in many ways it was he who got us together. The three of us were traveling from our hometowns on the same day to work at Perlman Camp. We would meet at Port Authority in New York City to take the Short Line Bus to camp. When we got on the bus, for whatever reason, David sat in the first available seat with some stranger and Sarah and I sat together in a row to ourselves. We had not seen each other in a year, had just finished our freshman year of college, and had four hours on the bus to catch up. I guess the rest is history.
Following college, I attended graduate school in Baltimore. David went to work at a newspaper in Dothan, Alabama. I encouraged him to leave his job and attend the same Jewish communal service graduate program I did. We were reunited. David was the best man at my wedding and someone with whom every moment was full of joy and laughter.
David eventually met Laurie in Baltimore (a native Baltimorean through and through). They were perfect for one another. The story goes that after their first date, she told her best friend she was going to marry David. He apparently was “slow on the uptake,” and it took him a month to figure out she was the one for him. Laurie was a ball of energy – vivacious, always smiling, and just loved being social. Together they were raising a 17-year old daughter, a high school senior who is president of her student body and a 13-year old son who just celebrated his bar mitzvah in April. These are two of the smiliest children you will ever meet.
For the past ten years, David has served as the Director of a Jewish day camp in Baltimore with over 1,200 campers. It is an amazing camp – and everyone will tell you it has to do with David -- his energy, humor, love for the children, and the fact he is just a super fun person.
This is certainly not my typical weekly email, so why am I sharing this? Sadly, we lost touch 15 years ago. We had children at different times, our career paths were very different, and eventually my family moved to Atlanta. Our relationship had ended for no good reason.
Episodes like this teach you that life is too short. The opportunity to repair relationships, share one’s thoughts and feelings, or to do life’s “bucket list,” may never happen if you do not act on them. Why wait? What are we afraid of?
I had no hesitation. I had to go to the funeral. Monday night, I flew from Portland overnight to Baltimore. The long flights gave me plenty of time to think. I got to the Jewish funeral home early to be in the receiving line and then saw David for the first time in 13 years. He was stunned! It brought tremendous emotion to each of us. (I am teary-eyed just writing about it.) He could not believe I was there (how could I not attend?), and I could see how much it meant to him (and his family) for me to be there. Selfishly, I think it meant even more to me. First, I wanted to be there to support David at this very difficult time. Moreover, and who knew if this was going to happen, it was an opportunity to rekindle our friendship and bond. Our time together was as if we had never missed a beat. I am sorry it was such tragic circumstances that brought us back together, but sometimes life works that way.
I wish I could have stayed longer. This experience truly sparked a new energy in me. It was cathartic. It was a growth experience. And I know how much this all meant to my wife and I believe Laurie, too, that we were close once again.
May Laurie Schimmel’s (z”l) memory be for a blessing and may the entire Schimmel family be comforted by the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. I know I will always be there for them.