May Their Memory Be a Blessing

In the summer after my sophomore year in college, I was working on the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market for my mom. Early one morning, this guy came by with a group of Japanese visitors. He told me that he had a tour set up of the market, but the tour guide never showed up. So, he decided to direct the tour himself! When he came to our stall, I didn’t know who he was, so I tried to sell him some kiwifruit!

It turns out that guy, David, was a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, in the Agricultural and Resource Economics department. That was the same college I was attending in the same major.

That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between David and me. When he graduated from UCD, it was I who drove him to the train station so he could ride the train across the country to catch a ship in New York and sail across the Atlantic to England for his post-graduation trip through Europe.

David ended up moving to Seal Beach, California, a few miles from where my parents lived, and we would occasionally have dinner together. Then he started an insurance agency and over time, he became our company’s insurance broker.

When he got married, I was at his wedding. (His wife’s name is Karen, so I would always be known as “the other Karen.”)

As we had children, our families spent Memorial Day together each year. And whenever David came to my office for our annual insurance renewal, we always went to the local Original Fish Company restaurant, often discussing politics. He was the only person I ever openly talked politics with.

A little over two years ago, David called to let me know he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Ever the optimist, he told me his prognosis was good. Over the months, we checked in via phone or email for updates on his treatment.

Eight months after his diagnosis, he was ecstatic that he and his youngest son were able to attend my daughter Alex’s wedding. It seems like David was always at our family’s life-cycle events, bat mitzvahs, a wedding, fundraising dinners, birthday parties, and more.

About 10 days ago, David and I spoke on the phone. He told me “he was running out of runway” and we reminisced about our fun conversations over the years. I could tell he was in a lot of pain. When we hung up, I had tears streaming down my cheeks, as I knew that was our last conversation. And this past Saturday evening, I received a message from his family that he had passed away at age 65.

I have never experienced the death of a close friend before. So many of us will experience this more and more, so I wanted to share a few of my revelations and learnings:

  • Don’t be afraid to call, text, or email people when they are ill. David told me that my regular phone calls meant so much to him, that even though we were not able to see each other a lot, hearing my voice or even receiving a text or email let him know that I was thinking of him.
  • Share information you have with those who are ill. I was able to tell David about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which a friend worked for. It allowed him to have a support group that knew exactly what he was going through.
  • Short visits or calls are as good as big outings. One time I stopped by David’s house and we were able to sit together and talk for about 15 minutes. It didn’t concern me at all that my drive each way was more than an hour. When someone is important to you, it really helps them to see you. Even if they tell you they don’t want to be a bother, go ahead and make that drive, or flight. It will create an amazing memory that they and you can treasure your entire life.
  • Write a note to the friend’s family and let them know about some of your great memories together. That note will become a treasure for the family.

I know each person reading this will experience the passing of a dear loved one in the future. We all experience death in our own way. My memories are filled with happy thoughts of our first meeting back on the Los Angeles Produce Market and our silly conversations over the years. Although tears may be running down my cheeks, my heart is happy knowing that I made the time to have that last conversation and nothing was left unsaid.

As a Jewish saying goes, may his memory be a blessing.