A Death Too Soon
I'm middle aged, and a doctor, so I know all too well that death is a part of life.
I have lost patients--mostly elderly people or those who had led very unhealthy lifestyles--as well as both of my parents, and a few years ago, my beloved dog, Winston. My mother died of ovarian cancer when she was my age, and my dad finally succumbed to heart disease well into his 90's. Neither death surprised me, as sad as I was.
This time the shadow of death shocked us and took the life a family member who was much too young and too essential, that of my cousin Charlie's eldest son, Matthew Rauch.
Matt was 36 or 37, married to Natalia, and a few days away from celebrating his baby daughter's first birthday, when he died instantly in a car crash near his home in New Jersey on Friday. I had only gotten to know Matt in the last few years. His father, my cousin Charlie Rauch, had died in his mid-50's, also unexpectedly, and Matt and his sister, Samantha, and younger brother, Max, grieved but carried on by remaining extremely close and by expanding their families. The last time I saw Matt was in late August, when we stopped in New Jersey for the night on the way to drop our daughter, Natalie, off at college in New York City. All three of my cousin's kids were getting married, having babies, and creating expanding family lives near each other, and together with their mother, Karen, we all had a really nice time together.. Matt, funny and warm, and truly a mensch, reminded me of his father.
For reasons I don't truly understand, I rarely saw Charlie and Karen when I was growing up. I attribute the lack of contact to my father, a challenging and distant person, and his inability to connect with our extended family. As I got married and created my own family, I had started to reach out to Karen, and to Samantha, and now my family was connecting with their whole family for the first time. As our daughter was starting college far from home, I felt so reassured that these warm and welcoming young family members lived nearby, and they soon invited her to celebrate holidays with them.
So much of that came crashing in on all of us this weekend. For a close-knit family to lose another family member at a young age is almost more than any of us can stand.
Samantha contacted me yesterday morning with the terrible news. I spent the day shocked and mostly numb, and concerned about how to tell Natalie. Social media took care of informing Natalie before I had a chance to tell her, and I walked around Whole Foods with her on the other end of my cell phone yesterday afternoon, as she, realizing the enormity of the loss, started crying. We were able to discuss funeral arrangements and when I hung up the phone, I felt certain that her college friends would comfort her.
Unlike my daughter, I am not much of a cryer. The last time I remember crying intensely is the morning we put a very sick and old Winston down. I sobbed in the veterinarian's office, and then later into my husband's shoulder as we sat on a park bench at the lake front. I have felt saddened by the deaths of my patients and even that of my father, but I have mostly held back my tears. Things played out differently this time.
Yesterday, I was spending a quiet evening with David, reading "Becoming," Michelle Obama's memoir. The world already knows so much about Michelle and Barack Obama that her memoir is not too surprising, but her writing is detailed and authentic, and she draws readers in to her story. I was reading about her father's ultimate health demise, and the last week of his life, and then I got to this passage: "We were alone in the house now, just me and my mom and whatever future we were now meant to have. Because by the time the sun came up, he'd be gone. My father--Fraser Robinson III--had a heart attack and passed away that night, having given us absolutely everything." And I lost it. I sobbed into David's shoulder again, this time on the sofa in our living room.
I cried for all of those precious parents who died too soon, and missed out on how the lives of their own children would grow and develop. Fraser Robinson III. Lenore Pressman. And now, Matthew Rauch, a loving and sweet son, brother, husband, and father. A mensch for all times.