Celebrate with me

Saturday marked a new year for me – another year passed, another rung climbed, another notch… notched.

I spent the day in my favorite place surrounded by dearest friends old and new, singing  songs, playing with my kids and reflecting on all the love you’ve showered me and my family this past year. 36 was a year of transition. In Jewish numerology, 18 or ‘chai’ is the number for life. Just as my first 18 years marked a stage of my life, so too did the next 18 years. And as I turn 37 and begin to burn down a new set, I’m optimistic and excited about what new opportunities and possibilities await me.

It is with this hope that I invite you to celebrate this new chapter with me as Abby’s Army gears up for our third Obliteride campaign.

Obliteride Pop-Up Dinner

Join me and the Abby’s Army community for a Obliteride Pop-up dinner courtesy of the amazing Venessa Goldberg.  Last year’s dinner was beyond amazing.  This year’s pop-up dinner – on Sunday, August 6th @ 7pm – will be even better with five courses + pairings, special guest speaker, and an up-and-coming Seattle mixologist. You don’t want to miss out. Sign up here.

Ride Obliteride

I’m thrilled at the team we’ve assembled this year with riders again flying in from all over the country and many first-timers. Register to Ride. There’s still lots of time. Take it from Lauren Bernstein, last year’s “Better Late Than Never” award recipient, who signed up two days before the ride and ride with us on Sunday, August 13th. Rides range from 10, 25, 50 miles and more. You can do it!

Donate Today to Team Abby’s Army

Take 2 minutes now and Donate to Team Abby’s Army – it could be a “couple of dollars” as Jaren famously asked for last year, $18 (chai), $37, $100 or whatever makes your heart feel connected to Abby, our family, and your community here. You can donate to the team or find one of our amazing riders and help them achieve their goal.

Thanks for your support and your continued love. I look forward to celebrating more together in my 37th year on earth.

Love & healing,

Justin

 

 

 

 

Unveiling Ceremony Speech

Below are words shared at Abby’s Unveiling Ceremony on April 30, 2017.


Justin:

Words. Abby loved words. I’m told that when Abby was Miri’s age she was a little girl with big hair and big words. Words were the paintbrushes she used in her profession; the trails she cleared to make way for stories that would make a writer take notice enough to write an article and ultimately make a reader take action. As a public relations professional, Abby’s job was not to write a singular story, but to influence as many writers and journalists to tell her story. For Abby, words were a means to an end.

A year ago I couldn’t find the words or the strength to define Abby. Today I’m still at a loss. How can words strung together into sentences and paragraphs possibly contain or define this little girl with big hair and big words who grew up to become a loving daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend to so many?  A lamplighter and a beam of light in this dark and broken world.

Fortunately for me, Abby, the patient and committed teacher she was, taught me that words are just one means to tell a story.

In fact, love and connection, were the real tools Abby wielded in her day to day. Love and connection was her purpose and meaning and Abby’s true gift to the world. And Abby was masterful at it.

Abby’s love and connection created beautiful friendships and unbreakable bonds. It wasn’t just the way Abby laughed that was so memorable, but how we felt when we were laughing with her. It wasn’t just how she would roll her eyes and say “totally” when she agreed with something you said, but how we felt when she validated something we had shared, no matter how trivial. It wasn’t what she would cook for a meal with friends, but the way she made it feel effortless and yet so meaningful.

Abby’s immense and deep seated love and connection also created dearly cherished memories. When you think about your best memories with Abby, I’ll bet they weren’t postcard memories about fancy trips or exotic places or checkmarks on a bucket list or any kind of memory that could be bought or easily manufactured. If your memories are like mine, they are much deeper – embellished and enveloped in love and connection.

Perhaps your memory was a moment of shared joy – the way she smiled when she opened the door for you or approached you for a hug; the way she would bite the tip of her tongue when she smiled in photos – a sure tale sign that a laugh was nearby. Perhaps your memory was a conversation; how she could listen and create a space for you to share something personal. How she would skip beyond ‘how are you?’ pleasantries and jump straight into where you left off in your last encounter – did you get a follow-up job interview? Is your baby finally sleeping through the night? Did your dad’s medical operation go smoothly? And when you left that conversation, remember how you felt? Loved. Supported. Validated. That you mattered. Because Abby believed in each of us and saw the brilliant light within everyone one of us. That radiant love and that authentic connection was something Abby shared generously, consistently and equally with each of us. It gave her tremendous meaning, and it meant something deep and rich to each of us.

The evening Abby passed, a woman in UWMC scrubs approached me. Her face was unfamiliar to me. Her eyes were red and her cheeks wet. It was apparent she had been crying too. Unable to hold back her tears, she told me how much she loved Abby. That her family had moved to Seattle a few years ago and her son was having a hard time adjusting. She told me that Abby was the only patient that ever asked her how she was doing and checked in on how things were going with her son. “I will miss her so much.” she said as she said good bye. As she hugged me, I searched for her name tag to remember which doctor or nurse Abby had built this unique connection with that I had somehow missed all this time. When I asked the floor receptionist who this person was and described the woman, the receptionist told me, “She’s not a doctor or nurse, she’s the floor janitor.” It seemed Abby had enough love and connection for everyone. Everyone mattered.

This year we’ve grieved the loss of Abby’s presence. We’ve grieved the loss of a friend, a mother, a wife, a sister and a daughter. The loss of a niece, a cousin, a daughter-in-law and a sister-in-law. The loss of a patient, a co-worker, a business owner, an athlete, a teacher, an artist, a writer, a designer and a storyteller. The loss of a visionary, a dreamer, a builder, a community organizer, a servant leader, and a dedicated supporter. Abby was a woman with so many dimensions and our loss has as many dimensions as Abby – as many dimensions as a beautifully cut gemstone. And just like a beautiful gem, I envision Abby’s love and connection beaming through, refracting, and spreading her light and warmth and spirit and healing across all those who knew her. Her memory, her blessings, her wisdom and her connection stays with us. We feel it. We know it. And we cherish it.

For me, I feel Abby everywhere. I see her brilliant imagination at work in Miri. I see her compassion in Jaren’s warm, comforting brown eyes. I recognize her wisdom when I listen to her best friend in life, her brother, Lucas. And I see her most heartfelt joys and deepest pains in the eyes of her Dad, Lee. I see Abby’s style and sense of fashion in Jessica, and I hear her infectious laugh and see her radiant smile whenever I’m with her girlfriends. I smell her presence when I sit down for a meal in the homes of our aunts and uncles. I feel her warmth when I light the Shabbat candles with our friends and sense her gratitude when our eyes meet during Shalom Aleichem. I feel her generosity, her consistency and her promise to take care of my family in my dad’s steady and helping hand. I feel her everywhere.

It is remarkable that while Abby is no longer here, she has not left us. That love and that connection that Abby shared with us all is still very much alive and at work.

On the anniversary of Abby’s death, Jaren, Miri and I found ourselves sitting on the banks of the Deschutes River. We admired the stretch of river before us – looking as far up and down the river as we could. We could only see but a small glimpse of it – several hundred yards of its over 250 miles – just a moment in time.

Abby is further downstream from us now. We feel her love and her connection and we experience it through our relationships together. As we turn the page on a year of loss, challenge and struggle, let’s swim together as the river takes us closer to Abby and those who left before us. Like time itself, let’s allow the rush of water to carry away and heal our collective grief. With this healing and with Abby’s eternal love and connection we can return to living life the way Abby would want us to – with passion, with meaning, with joy and with connection.

As I reflect in wonderment at Abby’s beautiful spirit, it strikes me that Abby’s love of words and her chosen profession to write stories for writers and journalists to pass forward and create far reaching impressions and impact was just practice. It was practice for her life’s most important work – To create radiant love and meaningful connection with her family, friends and the world around her and to teach and to inspire each of us, in turn, to create and amplify that love and connection in our lives.

Abby did the work. What a beautiful gift she gave each one of us. What a profound gift she gave ALL of us. Now it’s our turn to pay it forward and write the story.

May Abby’s soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

Gratitude & Marking 1 Year

Sometimes there are no words left to say but Thank You. Jaren, Miri and I could not have gotten through a single day, let alone an entire year without each of you. Thank You.

To mark one year, and turn my grief into action, today I am releasing a collection of songs and stories, written and recorded in the past 6 months. These songs helped me heal and are intended to help others heal and to continue my pursuit to raise money for cancer research. I would be honored for you to listen, share, and consider supporting.

While we make our mark with music and memories on this first anniversary of life after death, this year has also made its own indelible mark on each of us. Here’s a little bit about my family. Please share whatever way you choose how the year has left you if you’d like.

Jaren continues to be a sweet and sensitive boy with incredible focus and determination. He learned that hard work and practice pays off this year when he played his second season of soccer and became a true team leader. When Jaren has mastery in something he is a force and this summer, after attending a weeklong rock climbing camp, he scaled impressive cliff walls in Mazama. Jaren is really shining in school where he is drawn to math and science and is starting to read chapter books on his own.

If Jaren is a force, Miri is unstoppable. Tenacious, cunning, and pushing 30 pounds, Miri is a pint-sized 4 year old dynamo with a larger than life personality and imagination. Miri is still in a committed relationship with her stuffed animal, Duck, but her best friend in life is her brother, Jaren, for whom she frequently states at random, “Jaren, I love you.” Miri is incredibly expressive for her age and is often singing, drawing and doing art projects. This winter, Miri and I spent nearly every weekend skiing and I’m excited to start some new winter family traditions in the mountains with my kids.

As for me, I continue to get the incredible opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds in technology at Avanade, where I lead our global Digital Marketing Platform, Services and Offerings business. This August will mark 14 years! I’m fortunate to have an amazing team and group of peers that helped me take a big step forward this year when I was promoted to an Executive in the company.

While work keeps me engaged and focused, the favorite part of my day is driving the kids to school in the mornings. The backseat conversations are priceless and watching the kids express their love for each other warms my heart.

Jaren, Miri and I think about Abby every day and feel her presence with us all the time – hearing morning birds sing, waking up to a brilliant sunrise, seeing Mount Rainier on a bright sunny day, feeling snowflakes kiss our faces in the mountains, laughing at our own jokes in the way only Abby could, sitting around the table telling stories of our day over a meal. We take great comfort in knowing we are living the way Abby would want us to – celebrating each day. Wherever you are today take a moment to celebrate your day and your life.

Thank you on this anniversary for everything you do for our family and we look forward to finding happiness and joy and celebration with each of you.

Love & Healing,

Justin

When Despair turns to Hope and Hope turns to Change

Today marks one year from my most despairing moment…

On February 17th at 4am in a Melbourne hotel room I joined Abby via FaceTime for her three month post-cancer check-up. We were certain we had left cancer in our wake and were shaken to our core when Abby’s doctor described her cancer’s rapid recurrence. Alone, halfway around the world, unable to comfort Abby, I felt completely helpless as I scrambled to unwind my first business trip of 2016 and board the next flight home.

A year beyond that most despairing moment and 10 months after Abby’s death, my grief still comes in waves. But the waves are calmer and kinder. I’m finding my old self again but also recognizing a new me emerging – stronger, wiser, more compassionate. I am thankful for all that I’ve learned; for these terrible unintended gifts that I can’t return, but that I can use for good. It’s with this learning that I have great hope and I’d like to ask once again for your support and love to create change.

Here is my hope and dream for 2017. Imagine with me… On August 13th, 6 months from now, you will be riding Obliteride 2017 with more than 75 Abby’s Army riders. We will celebrate life and friendships and raise over $110,000 for cancer research in 2017 – tallying our total progress over three years to $200,000! Our story will be played out on local news, through social media and through our individual communities and friendships inspiring hope in all those who have felt hopeless at times in their journey with cancer. It will be serious fun.

You’ve already helped turn despair into hope. Now join me to ride, recruit and raise money and turn hope into action and create the change that Abby taught us to embrace every day, even when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Cherish that gift for good. Here’s how:

Ride:

  • Register for Team Abby’s Army today – set an ambitious goal for yourself in terms of recruiting and fundraising
  • Second guessing yourself right about now? STOP! Just sign up. You won’t regret it for a minute. If you do, call me and I’ll personally send you a refund for your entrance fee. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Recruit:

Raise:

  • We’ll have lots of opportunity to raise money and do all sorts of creative ways to engage our community. Last year we had pop-up dinners, charity concerts, and more. 2017 will be bigger and better and oranger!
  • For now, give yourself a pat on the back by donating to your own ride once you’ve signed up.

Here’s to leaning into those hard, despairing moments, finding hope and inspiration from those you love, and creating meaningful change together. Join me and Abby’s Army for Obliteride 2017.

Love and healing,

Justin, Jaren and Miri

A New Year Ahead

Last December Abby and I sat on a Kona beach to celebrate her 38th birthday. We couldn’t believe after the year of treatment she had endured we would be enjoying sunshine and fruity drinks. We were so grateful of the love and support our community showered on us.

In 2016 you helped our family get through our most challenging year yet.  From playdates and school shuttles, to sleepovers and meals, walks and bike rides, to fundraising and supporting my musical aspirations and plans, you’ve done so much for us and we want you to know you are loved and appreciated.

In lieu of printing and mailing holiday cards, I have made a donation to Fred Hutch in honor of Abby and her amazing army of family, friends and supporters.

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We wish you all a very happy holiday season filled with happiness and joy and look forward to spending more time together in 2017.

Love and healing,

Justin, Jaren and Miri

 

Exploring the 6 Month Mark with Music

Time heals. The thick fog of loss has given way to a more manageable haze. Sometimes the sun even peaks through revealing its glory – reminding me of a day spent exploring Tel Aviv, a walk around Green lake, the University of Washington quad on a spring day, the day Abby and I married, the day she left us. The fog comes and goes with these memories. New ones have now been created now. Singular memories.

It’s hard to believe today marked 6 months. More than 180 days have come and gone and the great challenge of each new day has become finding ways to hold on and finding ways to move on – reminding myself I am right where I am.

I started writing music again this summer. I’m not sure where music will take me in this journey, but it is helping me heal. I want to explore it and I’m curious if my music has the power to help others heal too. So over the next six months I plan to produce a series of songs and stories that I can share about these experiences of love and loss. To make a mark for Jaren and Miri and many others, half of the proceeds will go to support cancer research.

If you want to be a part of this musical journey and would like to hear what I’ve got to share, please make a donation via my GoFundMe campaign and you’ll get access to whatever songs and stories find their way to me.

Many of you are musicians and artists, so if you’d like to participate in some way towards my effort, please reach out. While I don’t exactly know where this journey will take me, maybe you have some ideas we can explore together.

To celebrate making it to this 6 month milestone, here’s one song I wrote recently about transformation and discovery. It’s called “Driftwood Fire.”

Abby loved you all so much and I hope this song helps you reflect and heal too.

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Love and healing,

Justin

Complete Wonder

I’m still in awe of what happened at Obliteride this weekend (see video); The bluest of skies, endless love, personal connections, Abby’s enduring spirit. I rode in complete wonder of Abby’s magnificence.

Turning grief into action in such a public way has been an incredibly powerful and emotional process for me and my family. Thank you for coming together to hold this space for me and help make our family’s healing process such a rewarding one for all of us.

Our work is far from over. Just last night I learned of a Bellingham family similar to ours who has moved to Seattle to fight Ewing Sarcoma. As you reflect on what we’ve accomplished together in the past few months, please look into your heart and ask yourself if you have the capacity to give more. It truly is our turn to be the change this world needs. My promise to you, to myself and to Abby is to continue giving our community the opportunity to make this change possible. I hope you’ll continue to join in and ride onwards with me.

Love and healing,

Justin