Every year on my birthday, my father would always tell me about his grammar school friend, Harry Cohn, who celebrated the same birthday as mine. There was always some story with this recollection. My dad loved Harry because, from what I could tell, they were both pranksters and enjoyed a good laugh, but underneath that goofiness, they were simply good friends.
My dad passed away three years ago this April. When we knew that he was moving into hospice, I called my dad’s longtime friend, Harry, who I only knew because we shared a birthday. I had never met or spoken to Harry in my 37 years.
Several months ago, I received an email from Harry. My father and his 50-year high school reunion was taking place in May, and there was a website that shared my father had passed where former classmates wrote reflections about him.
I sent an email to the host of the reunion that extended my appreciation for the reflections on my father. She asked me to send in an email about my father’s life with some photos, which I happily did.
A few weeks later, I received an invitation to attend his 50-year reunion to meet his old friends. I accepted.
Last night, I walked into my dad’s 50-year high school reunion. There I stood, connecting with his friends who shared stories about his kindness, practical jokes and eclectic hobbies.
My favorite was learning about the school bully who everyone was afraid of, including my dad. One afternoon he had pushed my father to the limit and my dad punched this bully. My dad became the class hero because he did what everyone else was afraid to do and stuck up for those being picked on. (I am not advocating that’s the answer to solve conflict. This was in the 1960s.) It wasn’t the fight these grown men remembered, but what it stood for.
I came home late from the reunion last night, and my son and husband were having an intense conversation about a boy in school who is having a hard time with friends. My son is confused and doesn’t know what to do. It’s complicated. My son and I got into a heated disagreement. We were both defending our stances. I was advocating for kindness and forgiveness and he was still upset for being blamed.
This morning, I woke up and my heart ached the same way it did when I said my last goodbye to my father. It hit me like a crashing wave. Last night was one more night with my dad. It was an unexpected gift out of nowhere. When I said goodbye to my father’s grammar and high school friends, I said goodbye to my father one more time.
Tears streamed down my face this morning as I explained to my son that what I was reminded of last night was that kindness was the one thing people consistently remembered about my father. Sometimes, we have to dig a little deeper to be kind. It’s not always easy.
“Start thinking with your heart, not your head so much,” I said to him. In my son’s way, he got what I meant.
There are gifts in even the hardest losses and challenges in life. A gift that I have been blessed with in my father’s death, is that my dad’s dear friend Harry has now become one of my most beloved friends.
There is a sweet word in Jewish tradition, kvell which means beaming with pleasure. My father was kvelling last night.