This weekend, my friend Tammy lost her husband.
Her children lost their father.
Her in-laws lost their brother.
Her parents lost their son-in-law.
Her siblings lost their brother-in-law.
So many of us lost a friend.
And countless readers mourned a man they never actually met.
I first met Alan Braverman the summer both our families made aliyah. We had daughters the same age and they became fast friends as did Tammy and I. My relationship with Alan developed more slowly. Alan had a sharp sense of humor and I very much related to his cynical view of the world, but, to be honest, his intelligence and keen wit sometimes intimidated me. I hid that by trying to match his quips, but truth be told, I never really could keep up with him.
On the eve of his son’s bar mitzvah, more than five years ago, Alan was diagnosed with the cancer that eventually took his life.
“If this is the new normal, I can certainly handle it.” (26/12/11)
Over the course of the next five years, Alan chronicled his illness at his blog It’s all about the Parking. The blog started off detailing the process, as he liked to call it, of his illness. Alan described the tests he was undergoing and the treatments. He outlined the preparations that he made before undergoing several surgeries and he talked about recovery. He was never shy about the traumas his body was undergoing. Through it all, he maintained a sense of humor and managed to convey a life of coping and acceptance of the situation he found himself in.
“This gets weirder everytime.” (21/02/12)
Alan was wise enough to understand that while the cancer was his, and his alone, he had many around him that he could count on to help him get through those really rough times. He constantly expressed gratitude for the doctors, the nurses, the volunteers and other medical personnel, whom he credited with saving his life on more than one occasion. And he recognized that it was Tammy’s advocacy that got things done along with his family’s unfailing support and love.
“For now, I can only continue to do what I can do, and graciously accept the support and goodwill they tirelessly provide.” (10/11/15)
“The truth is, it was not only my battle…..never was I alone.” (31/10/16)
In all the time he wrote of his illness, not once did Alan question why this was happening to him. That is not to say he wasn’t pissed off that it was happening;he cheerfully handed out F#$% Cancer bracelets to anyone who wanted one. But I think he knew he could never understand why things are the way they are, and just gave in to the faith that it was for a reason greater than himself.
“G-d doesn’t owe you anything.” (08/05/15)
As time went on, the blog evolved. I believe it started to become clearer to Alan where this was headed, and I think he wanted to convey that in a realistic, gentle way. And indeed, Alan started to think of himself as a writer; others were reading his blog, not only family and friends, but others who were enduring struggles similar to his or supporting loved ones going through serious, chronic and terminal illnesses. Alan felt a sense of responsibility because of this and one sensed his writings becoming more honest, reflective and philosophical.
“I’m tired. Yes, physically, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean emotionally. Psychologically. I’ve been doing this for four years two months and one week, and I’m tired.” (27/12/15)
“I like to think that cancer has made me a better husband, father and friend. And, quite frankly, I like the guy I am today.” (7/10/16)
I sensed that things were changing the last few months. By this time, Alan’s sense of humor was still razor-like, but a softer side had emerged. His writing became even more engaging.
“And, when I inherited my mother’s candlesticks, more than 30 years ago, to be used when I established my own home, I had no way of knowing…anything…None of this “teaches” us a thing. It is just a reminder that we simply don’t know what tomorrow brings. So, for now, let’s enjoy today’s shiny silver.” (25/08/16)
Alan who had been a Baal Tefilah (leader of prayer service) all his adult life, missed that part of his life that he could rarely do after his diagnosis. But this past Yom Kippur, on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, he was thrilled and grateful to feel strong enough to lead the congregation in Kol Nidre, one of the most important Jewish prayers of the year. In the blog, he talked about the gratitude and hope he still had, in spite of everything.
“On the one hand, I thought about everything that has happened, not only in the past 12 months, but really over the past five years since I was last able to participate in leading services. The gratitude I had was overwhelming. Five years is a milestone when it comes to cancer. In no way am I cured or close to it. But, I was able to do something I haven’t done in years.
On the other hand, I thought about the coming 12 months. In the best of circumstances, we have no way of knowing what will happen in the future, near or far. But I couldn’t help but feel hopeful as I stood in representation of the congregation, strong enough at least for the moment, to lead them in prayer.
Gratitude and hope are two emotions that, I think, play off one another quite nicely. You certainly don’t need one to have the other, but experienced together the result is exponentially sweet and a wonderful way to start off the New Year.” (10/13/16)
It was my honor and privilege to have known Alan personally and for my family to have been a part of his life. He was a man who exuded humor, love, grace and friendship until the very end. He never set out to inspire, but through his words, which will live on forever and through his actions he could do nothing else but.
“It’s all about the Love”. (24/12/14)
May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.