Memorial Day 2017: The Loss of A Personal Hero

It has been quite a while since I last wrote in this space, as I discontinued my short-lived blog for lack of time. My family has experienced a significant loss, though, about which I feel utterly compelled to write. 

It is Memorial Day 2017, and a few days ago, we also commemorated Yom Yerushalaim. These two Independence Days, for the U.S. and for Israel, respectively, are the days in which we remember all the brave souls who gave their lives in the battles to free their nations from hostile enemies. It is fitting that on this same day of commemoration of fallen heroes, then, that I remember one of my personal heroes, who unfortunately just passed away this weekend; my Uncle Albert.

Of course, my Uncle Albert was not a soldier, and the battles he fought were not for the liberation of a country.  That is not to say that he did not fight his own personal battles, though, and do so valiantly, at that.

For the last several years of his life, my Uncle was afflicted with a variety of serious ailments, and was in and out of the hospital constantly, undergoing countless surgeries, procedures, therapies, and more. He went through all of these difficult proceedings  with a brave face and without complaints, and no matter how dire the situation, he never lost hope, and never lost his optimism. Others in his place might have lost faith, given up on life, or fallen into deep depression and despair. Not Uncle Albert. If anything, he was the one cheering us up when we’d visit him, and entertaining us with his j’oir de vive.

If that type of bravery and steadfastness in the face of grave danger doesn’t define a hero, I’m not sure what does.

It was not only Uncle Albert’s optimism in the midst of all his medical travails in his final years that defined him, though, or that made me admire him so much. Rather, it was the type of man he was from our earliest years and on that made him one of my primary role models throughout my life; he was the definition of a gentleman.

Uncle Albert was everything a gentleman should be. He was kind, caring, warm, patient, respectful, and generous. He was a fixture in our home in my younger years, and always came bearing gifts. I remember that he always brought the best things, and then spent the extra time with us setting the toys up, teaching us how to use them, and sitting and playing with us for hours on end. One of my all time favorite toys as a child was a train set he got me, which I played with for years, and which my own son now plays with today.

My uncle was also very even tempered, and rarely ever got mad or upset. I remember one time when I was little, and Uncle Albert had just got an expensive new car that he was really excited about. I was in the back seat of this fancy new car, and suddenly got motion sickness and projectile vomitted all over the fine leather seats. He took one look back, and stopped to get a tissue and wipe my face, leather seats be damned.

In all our years, and through all his subsequent trials and tribulations, I don’t think I ever saw him lose his temper. No matter how bad the situation, he was always the calmest one in the room, and was always the voice of reason. 

He always had a great perspective on things, and even when he needed to be stern or to reprimand us, he would do so calmly and sincerely. And his reproofs were all ways followed by a bit of humor, to soften the blow, and make the proverbial medicine go down easier. His temperament was a model of which I would always try to emulate.  

In addition to all that, Uncle Albert always carried himself with a certain grace and elegance that was uncommon and unique. This gracefulness was heightened by the fact that he was so humble, and was combined with a keen sense of humor. He was approachable at all times, and would listen to what you had to say, and reply with both empathy, compassion, and humor.

Uncle Albert was also a real family man. His greatest joys were his wife and daughters, and in more recent years, also his son-in-law and two grandchildren. He doted on his daughters and grandchildren, and they were his pride and joy, and largely what motivated him to stay so positive in spite of his many maladies in his final years.

My wife and I had the privilege of having our first child just hours before Uncle Albert’s first grandchild was born, with the visiting family members going back and forth between our hospital room and theirs. I’m honored by this connection that I was able to share with Uncle Albert and his family.

Another connection between us that was less apparent to me until recently was the physical similarities between Uncle Albert and me. I always thought I was a copy of my dad, but have now started to see a lot of physical commonality between my uncle and me. And for that, I am very proud. I hope that I can in some small way also live up to the high standard he set as being the true model of a gentleman.

I offer my sincerest condolences to his family, and wish them comfort and peace after his untimely loss at the relatively young age of 65. Despite its untimeliness, though, I think that if Uncle Albert had to leave us, the timing of it has additional resonance, being overlayed with Memorial Day, and running into the holiday of Shavout, which is one of the most celebratory and joyous holidays of the year. My family and I will celebrate with Uncle Albert in mind. May his memory be a blessing. Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet.


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