Let Vulnerability Be Your Super Power

Summer is in full swing and next weekend I will be back on my bike, riding Obliteride for the fourth year. Along with over 20 other dedicated friends and dear family, Team Abby’s Army will celebrate Abby and raise money for cancer research – every dollar of which will be used for breakthrough research at Fred Hutch. Thank you to my fellow riders for continuing to ride along side me in this journey.

While great advancements are happening before our eyes, cancer persists. With your support we have the opportunity to help end it sooner.

I can still remember when I naively thought that cancer was a disease that affected other people – not me. I expect many people and families encountering cancer for the first time have a similar experience. “Me? Couldn’t be. How is this happening? Why me?” Abby’s diagnosis was the ultimate lesson in vulnerability. The illusion of being guaranteed a long, happy, perfect life had been shattered. Our humanity was exposed.

This year, an old friend picked up the phone to share their recent cancer diagnosis. As I listened closely those feelings of vulnerability rushed back – hot and intense. Now, as Obliteride comes into full view, I’m noticing those same raw, deep-seated feelings of vulnerability flooding back to the surface and I’m reminded that there are so many beautiful, courageous, vulnerable people fighting for their lives in plain view. They are surrounded by communities of supporters and families. It’s messy and beautiful all at the same time.

Obliteride reminds me that every one of us is vulnerable. And while uncomfortable at times, our ability to be vulnerable helps us embrace our own humanity and accept ourselves and others just as we are. It helps us see the illusions we have created for ourselves and gives us permission to let go of those things that no longer serve our real needs. Our vulnerability compels us to live our lives in our most authentic way.

So today as I embrace my vulnerability and make it my super power I’m asking for your continued support. Let vulnerability be your super power too and DONATE to Team Abby’s Army like your life depends on it. Donate because you love your life and the people in it. Because tomorrow is not a guarantee. Because today is the greatest gift you could ask for.

DONATE to Team Abby’ Army to help us end cancer faster.

Love and healing,

Justin

Shine on and Ride on

Happy 2018! This weekend something magical happened in Seattle. The days got longer and the sun got brighter. Maybe you got out for a walk or bike ride. Maybe you played or listened to music outside. Lucky for me I got to do both! I could feel all the love and good energy swirling around me. Everyone was happy.

As Winter takes a final bow this week, join me in welcoming Spring and getting ready for a festive and celebratory time of year. It’s time to Shine on and Ride on! Join me.

Shine On

Last year on the anniversary of Abby’s death, I released “Love & Healing” an album about love and loss. Many of you leaned into the music and made donations that went on to fund over $2,000 towards cancer research at Fred Hutch. Thank you!

This year, I’m sharing a new song, Heartwood, to mark this second year of healing. You can continue to help others in Abby’s honor by donating here. Net new proceeds will go to the Healing Center, an organization that helped me find my way forward in life. It feels good to give and I hope you’ll enjoy this music and find connection to someone you love, to Abby, to our community and our collective journey.

Ride On

Obliteride is back in 2018 and so is Team Abby’s Army. This year we have the opportunity to close in on and even surpass $200,000 in total team donations. Register today and come ride and walk with us in support of cancer research on August 11th.

Not a cyclist? Don’t have a bike?

New for 2018 is an Obliteride walk. Help Abby’s Army show up at the Obliteride 5k too. Come walk, jog, run, skip, shuffle, frolic, moonwalk – whatever gets you in the right mindset to cure cancer faster.

Out of town? Already booked on August 11th?

Last year our cousin, Julie Berkus, tested a new way to Obliteride with Team Abby’s Army by renting spin bikes at her local SoulCycle spin studio in Los Angeles. Most studios will accommodate this request. Cyclebar’s Cycle giving philanthropic program is designed just for this scenario and the company has studios around the country. If you’d like to set up a satellite ride in your city get in touch with your local Cyclebar or preferred spin studio and be a Team Abby’s Army Captain. You’ll raise money, get your sweat on, and be with your community of supporters. What could feel better?

So there you have it! Spring is here and it’s time to Shine on and Ride on. Wishing you all a wonderful Spring and hope to see you all much more in 2018!

Love & healing,

Justin

 

Happy 40th Birthday Abby

Today is not the day I envisioned when Abby and I were sipping drinks in Hawaii charting out the rest of our post-cancer lives. On that day in late 2015 I was already considering how we would celebrate her 40th birthday…

…Alas, I won’t be throwing her a surprise 40th birthday at her favorite neighborhood spot, nor will we pack up the car and head to our favorite mountain town, Mazama, for a long wintery weekend with the kids. Today will be different.

Today will be different, because it has to be different. Life had other plans I could not have predicted or controlled – the headline of my personal journey these past nearly 20 months. During these many months I’ve thought a lot about today. How different it will be to celebrate a big birthday without her. I’ve had lots of feelings about it in these nearly two years, maybe you have too, and I want to share where I am at today and give you an opportunity to meet me there and celebrate Abby in a most awesome way together – wherever you are.

Nearly two years on from Abby’s death, I feel more than ever that life is profoundly beautiful – a beauty so deep it’s hard to fully comprehend. Every day is a gift. It sounds so cliché, but when you live life with this mindset it’s anything but. Today I’m evermore fortunate I get to be here and with a community that shows up for me through it all.

There are still lots of times I am sad. After losing Abby I was sad for myself, but today my sadness comes from having a moment of joy; realizing that Abby cannot be here to experience it with us. I’m sad she can’t be here to watch her life’s work, Jaren and Miri, grow and thrive. Life will be tragic and heartbreaking, hopeful and heartening all at once. Just as a black frame punctuates the photo or artwork it surrounds, losing someone special makes the love and meaning and joy in everyday so much brighter.

Today, as I reflect on Abby’s 40th birthday, she is popping out of the frame. Her smile is so much bigger, her laugh more vivid and her curls even more perfect. I hope you find a moment today to reflect on Abby and her love for you and those unforgettable moments you shared. Tonight, on the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat), Abby would want her people celebrating life with each other – feeling joy and happiness even amid our sadness.

Please join me, her family, and her vast community of friends tonight in lighting the Shabbat candles, or any candles that may have meaning to you. Feel her light and warmth. Share it with someone you love. Today will be different. It has to be different. But it will still be a gift.

Happy 40th Birthday Abby! You are loved!

Love & healing,

Justin

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