January 16th will mark a year since we began learning to live without Jacob. At times, we’ve been able to focus and live fully. At other times, we have been able to do very little. It’s been quite a year.
To us, Jacob’s still very much alive. We often toast him at meals, recount funny stories about him and debate what he’d order for dessert. Ben likes to think of him hovering above us, jamming with John Lennon and Jimmy Hendrix or playing tricks on the Greek gods. We like to make him part of our daily lives, imagine he’s with us and look frequently at his photos and videos and read his essays.
Ben’s loss is the greatest, and he is the bravest. Losing Jacob was, for Ben, losing his role as a little brother. It is not just that he lost his primary playmate. He also lost his guide into the next steps of childhood, someone to tell him which cool bands to listen to, how to survive homework or what the second grade overnight to the Farm is like. And finally, we must admit, as the ratio of children to adults in our family changed, there’s less wrestling and raw silliness in our family. Ben has had to think about death and grieve in a way that most of us do not have to until much later in our lives.
Still, Ben lives life with a vengeance. He’s generally funny, talkative, imaginative, passionate and witty. Of course, he can also be irritable, angry and sad, leaving us at time at a loss of what to do. Ben’s passion for mythology, which led us to Athens and Rome this summer, has given way to an even deeper passion for rock-and-roll, both interests of Jacob’s. He has thrown himself into learning keyboard and electric guitar, spends a good part of his time improvising and composing his own songs and is developing an almost encyclopedic understanding of the history of rock-and-roll, with a particular focus on the discography of the Beatles. Highlights have included meeting Bono, visiting the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame Annex and going to perfrmances of bands ranging from Green Day to U2, Jeff Beck to Metallica.
We find that Ben prefers to remember Jacob in happy ways rather than to think about his loss. He loves going to Collegiate basketball games, where we feel close to Jacob. He likes telling funny stories about Jacob and asking how Jacob fared with his teachers, or when Jacob almost got into trouble. Ben enjoys organizing bake sales and gift wrapping events for Kids v Cancer which he can be a part of. This past Spring, Ben participated in a bereavement group for children who lost siblings to cancer. Ben loved the group and made a great friend in it. Together they’ve gone to rock concerts, swam with sharks, run in a one-mile race for childhood cancer and eaten a lot of candy.
Ben has also been thrilled that Jacob’s friends and his older cousins continue to reach out to him. They’ve attended his recitals, invited him to Collegiate sporting events, visited, taken him on outings, run around the park and jammed on musical instruments with him. Ben treasures the opportunity to feel like a little brother again. A growing target of attention is his little cousin, Sophie, who at age two is increasingly interesting. Ben plans to enroll her as his first student in “Tunes for Tots,” a music school he plans to launch to teach rock-and-roll to kids ages two to five.
For Nancy and Mike, productivity has been a great distraction. Two weeks after Jacob passed away, Mike took up a position at the White House as Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs. While the timing was not ideal, it has been in many respects the perfect job for him. He has had a terrific professional experience this year working on issues ranging from the international financial crisis to climate change, from the G8 to the G20 and most recently to the Copenhagen climate change conference. And, while being apart from Nancy and Ben has been difficult, Mike has been fortunate to have a crew of supportive colleagues.
In the meantime, Nancy launched Kids v Cancer (www.kidsvcancer.org) to focus on developing needed infrastructure for pediatric cancer research. She is developing a range of initiatives, from mobilizing greater resources for pediatric-focused research to creating incentives for drug companies to develop treatments for pediatric cancers, to establishing a national tissue bank. In the process, she is pulling together a network of major hospitals, researchers, advocacy organizations and individuals whose lives have been touched by pediatric cancer. We are grateful to all those friends who have helped her develop these relationships or offered to partner with Kids v Cancer to raise money and awareness. Indeed, if anything, we have insufficiently appreciated how so many people who knew Jacob have wanted to get involved in Kids v Cancer, whether by organizing a fundraiser, introducing Nancy to helpful contacts or simply helping her think through her plans.
Whether it’s the holidays or the upcoming anniversary of Jacob’s passing, this is a time of much reflection. We miss Jacob terribly and always will. Our friends who have gone through similar experiences say you never really get over it. It just affects you in different ways over time. We can’t imagine just “moving on” or just getting used to our new, downsized family, even as we understand at one level that life goes on and that we have to make the most of it.
We are grateful for the support of a community of families we have become a part of — families who have children with cancer or who’ve lost children. We are grateful to Jacob’s cousins and friends who have taken Ben under their wing as surrogate big brothers (and sisters). We are grateful to those friends who, notwithstanding our somewhat anti-social behavior this year, have continued to reach out. And, we are grateful to our families for their constant support and for grieving so actively with us. Thank you, all.
It is in that spirit that we wish everyone a very good year, one of health and happiness and of peace.