There’s a constant push and pull inside of me. There is knowing the inevitability of death and there is the denial of that reality. If we don’t think about it or read about it or talk about it, then it’s as if it’s not really there.
When Oren Miller passed away on Saturday, it was a shock to me. But then it wasn’t. He was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer last May and we were all devastated for him. But maybe there’s a chance I thought to myself. Maybe there’s a miracle waiting in the wings. Maybe he will get to live to see his children grow up.
And I went about my daily life thinking of Oren (whom I had met only once) primarily when he would share his latest blog post in our Facebook group of Maryland bloggers. We experienced his cancer in snippets. The ups and downs and the good days and the hopes that maybe there was a chance. I hadn’t thought about Oren in several weeks and it didn’t occur to me that while I was busy living my life, his cancer was still growing. He called it the cloud.
See, there’s a cloud above me, and no matter what I do what I say where I am and who I’m with, there’s a cancer and mortality and an end, and I’m almost constantly aware. By the way, I assume that if I have a cloud of impending mortality, you have one too, since give or take a few years, we’re all doomed. But if you’re not aware of the cloud, are you at some kind of a disadvantage? – Zen and the Art of Simply Breathing, A Blogger and a Father
That describes me. Just quietly ignoring that cloud because if I think about it too much, I won’t be able to go on. And that was pretty much my response to his post.
Admittedly, I’ve been keeping a comfortable distance. We all must face mortality. We just don’t really want to think about it. But now I’m thinking about it. And I want you to stick around.
Unfortunately, Oren didn’t stick around. His body gave out within that one year life expectancy that he was given.
Given that I usually ignore that cloud over my head, I reluctantly decided to attend his service today.
I met a friend for lunch before the service and we discussed what to expect at a Jewish funeral. The only thing I knew is that Jewish funerals usually happen pretty quickly as embalming is not an option and that the dead are usually buried in simple pine caskets (coming from the earth and returning to the earth). We talked about the appropriate dress, the type of service, whether or not it might be orthodox, and wondering what the overall tone of the service would be.
As we made our way into the chapel from the parking lot, I looked over at my friend and said, “I wonder if, in some way, it’s a relief to his wife.” I imagined treatments and sickness and suffering and how difficult it must be to watch a loved one go through it all.
Sometimes I can be a real idiot.
As his wife walked into the chapel, I could see it on her face. There was no relief. In fact, I’m quite certain she would have given anything to have him back for one more day if not one more minute, or even one more moment. And I had to watch her as she consoled her young crying daughter who must in some way understand that her daddy has gone on a one way journey.
Even though it was difficult for me to see the pain on so many other faces, I’m so glad I went. It was one of the most beautiful services I’ve ever attended. Fellow dad blogger Brent Almond shared some of the online love and support that Oren has given and received (dad bloggers apparently rock).
And when the rabbi (I’m assuming he was a rabbi) spoke about Oren, he painted a picture of his life from birth until death. While I’d only met him once, I felt like I knew him and loved him and missed him as much as everyone else in the room.
The rabbi also read this poem which you may already know if you’re Jewish. I had to find it online because it’s worth sharing.
Birth is a beginning
And death a destination.
And life is a journey:
From childhood to maturity
And youth to age;
From innocence to awareness
And ignorance to knowing;
From foolishness to discretion
And then, perhaps, to wisdom;
From weakness to strength
Or strength to weakness –
And, often, back again;
From health to sickness
And back, we pray, to health again;
From offense to forgiveness,
From loneliness to love,
From joy to gratitude,
From pain to compassion,
And grief to understanding –
From fear to faith;
From defeat to defeat to defeat –
Until, looking backward or ahead,
We see that victory lies
Not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey, stage by stage,
A sacred pilgrimage.
Birth is a beginning
And death a destination.
And life is a journey,
A sacred pilgrimage –
To life everlasting.
Oren led a life well-lived and well-loved. What a legacy to leave for your family and especially for your children.
Thank you for this, Fadra. I never met Oren but we exchanged a few emails and tweets here and there. I saw how beloved he was among so many of my online friends and the few exchanges I did have with him were full of a genuine person with a great soul. He will be greatly missed by many -including those who never met him in person.
Indeed, Lauren. Talking with Brent at the service today, we weren’t sure if other people would get it – the online community. But I’m hoping they do and they see the impact he has had.
I had never heard that song, but a friend from college sent it to me in an email a few weeks after my husband died. I played it for hours and hours. My prayers remain for his widow and their children. Knowing that he lived well and was liked/loved takes away just a teeny teeny fraction of the pain.
The whole way home I couldn’t get the song out of my head. I kept hearing “I love you but goodbye.” One of the saddest and most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. I’m glad I was able to find it. And you are living proof that a life well-lived and well-loved leaves its mark on those left behind.
This is a really beautiful tribute, Fadra. I only knew Oren by reputation, but his loss is enormous to this community of bloggers.
I only hope his wife and children really the impact he had from behind his computer (I think they do).
Thank you for this, Fadra. I never met Oren and yet living in the same social media space I feel as if somehow I had known him all along. That poem is my favorite verse, and I am glad that you had the opportunity to appreciate it’s depth and meaning. His family has been, and will remain, in my thoughts.
I think that’s how we share happiness and grief in this space. We share it together. It was the warmest, most personal service I’ve ever attended and I’m so glad to have heard those words.
While I never met Oren (of blessed memory), the entire Jewish community mourns the loss of one of its members. Know that your presence was felt and appreciated and attending the service is am important part of acknowledging the importance he had on this world. Thank you for the lovely tribute. Years from now his wife or children may come across it and be reminded of what a wonderful husband or father he was. And imagine how much he must have loved them if the love, kindness, and generosity he shared with those online was just a glimpse into who Oren was.
It was very clear that he was a soft-spoken, kind-hearted, generous man who loved his family as much as his life. I’m glad I went.
This is just beautiful. Thank you for sharing and for taking the time out of your day to honor one who sounds like a truly inspiring man.
Too bad we don’t gain perspective before a person passes.
I always find our funerals (I guess I just appointed myself spokesperson for the Jews) really comforting and warm and almost celebratory of the life that just ended…. I hope you found some of that. Also, please feel free to ask me questions…. And just beyond that, I am so sorry for Oren’s family and all the lives he touched. I know there’s a hole in all our hearts for this.
Well, I’ll be the token shiksa and tell you that what you described “really comforting and warm and almost celebratory of the life that just ended” was exactly what I experienced and why it was one of the most beautiful services I’ve been to.
Happy to hear that. (Well, happy is a weird word to use in this sitch but you know what I mean.)
I didn’t know Oren, but after reading your post I would have loved him I am sure. I am so sorry. I am Jewish and sometimes yes, the person buried is in a pine casket, but that is not always the case. I am so, so sorry for your loss. (((hugs))))
just listened to the song….so powerful and so beautiful