It's so hard to write these words today. My uncle, Paul Kalish, passed away this morning at home after a valiant 10 months battling glioblastoma. I am missing him tremendously as the memories are piling up and the tears are spilling over.
My Uncle Paul was my rock for the year that I was mourning my father. When I could not voice the words, he read my eulogy to my father at the funeral. Then, completely unsolicited, he volunteered to say Kaddish for his brother-in-law... for the entire year! This was no small undertaking. I know that he did it mainly as a kindness to my father, but having company in my journey made it both more bearable and less stressful, as I could count on him on the few days that I was unable to make it to a minyan. At the same time, knowing there was another person sharing my journey of remembering my father in that way made me feel less alone in a lonely period.
For my whole life, Uncle Paul was my confidant. He was always just a phone call away when I was growing up and I used to talk to him about dating prospects before my parents imagined I was even in a relationship. He listened, gave advice and kept all confidences close to the vest. He had a knack for making everyone laugh in the most positive way, being honest about life's realities and challenges and simply always being there. Always.
Uncle Paul knew just about everyone in the Baltimore Jewish community and his chessed knew no bounds. He used to organize kiddish at his shul and make sure that everything was set up and presented in just the right way. His creative juices flowed in many other areas as well. His jokes were both funny and memorable and his photographs captured all the important occasions. His woodworking skills were second to none - I often heard about how he and my grandfather built the first Aron Kodesh for the Young Israel of North Bellmore when it was founded. I loved to hear him reminisce with my mother about the early days, growing up in Long Island with a houseful of siblings. Uncle Paul's perfect vocal imitations and storytelling skills made the moments come alive for me in my mind!
I hate that this past year he had to suffer through painful treatments and unimaginable stressors. For someone as good, kind, compassionate and generous as he was, death should have come with greater dignity and ease. My grandmother used to say that he'd give the shirt off of his back if someone needed it. It's true, I've seen him do it. It's been very difficult to watch from the sidelines for the last many months and even more difficult now that the end has come.
How I'd hoped he'd be able to meet my baby and participate in a meaningful way in a bris or naming ceremony. How I wanted my baby to meet him and know all the love and joy that he had to give! And how I never imagined being in a position where I could not attend his funeral in person and support my mother and family in their grief and mourning. It's just not fair.
The hardest thing of all is not being able to act. It makes me feel helpless. And like my father before me, all I want to do is try to take away some of the pain that I'm witnessing. Watching from afar and not being able to help... that is the hardest thing.
But I'm not going to stop at bemoaning the circumstances of the situation. I AM going to act - in his honor and in his memory. Tonight, I'm going to bake challah. Tomorrow, I'm going to watch the funeral on zoom. And after that... I am going to be the rock for my friends and family - for anyone who wants or needs a listening ear.
Uncle Paul, from the bottom of my heart - thank you for all you've done and all that you have meant to me throughout the years. Your memory is a blessing to everyone who had the privilege to know you. I'm proud to be your niece and so grateful to have benefitted from your love and kindness. I love you deeply and will miss you SO much.