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

 

 

Obliteride Speech

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Good morning Obliteride! I’m Justin Calvo.

I’m humbled and honored to ride with you today.

Like so many of you, my wife Abby and I love to ride bicycles.

Abby and I began racing for the local Seattle Cancer Care Alliance / Starbucks cycling team when we lost Abby’s mom to an 18-year battle with breast and ovarian cancer.

So we started spinning our pedals to create a world where children wouldn’t have to worry about cancer taking their parents too.

Second only to spending time with our 6 year old son, Jaren, and 3 year old daughter, Miri, Abby’s favorite thing in the world has been to ride and race her bike.

Abby was a young, athletic, 37-year-old mom when she found herself at the starting line of a very different endurance event.

Instead of wearing her Seattle Cancer Care Alliance racing kit, Abby found herself in a Seattle Cancer Care Alliance patient room listening to a team of doctors explain the treatment plan for her Ewing Sarcoma diagnosis.

Immediately, taking a note from her cycling days, Abby’s doctors and nurses became her coaches. Her treatment plan was her training plan. And her family and friends became her army of teammates and fan club.

We were swept away in an entirely new peloton, and our vocabulary changed overnight…

…From ‘how’s your day’ to ‘how’s your white blood cell counts?’

From ‘just a minute dear’ to ‘every minute dear.’

From ‘I want or I need’ to ‘I’m thankful for.’

As I stand here today, like so many types of cancer, there is no cure for Ewing Sarcoma. In spite of this, thanks to Fred Hutch and the many breakthroughs pioneered right here, our vocabulary also changed…

…From ‘I don’t know’ to ‘I believe’.

The work happening at Fred Hutch gave us such hope, optimism and focus. It gave Abby the focus she needed for a very challenging nine-month treatment plan.

Sometimes I’d walk into a chemo treatment and Abby would smile as if on her bike trainer at home saying “I’m doing the work.” Other days weren’t so easy and I’d find Abby focused deeply on her breathing, eyes closed – “I’m on a hillclimb” she’d exhale.

Eight months ago, after spending 50 days and nights at UWMC and countless more with her SCCA team, Abby tightly clamped her eyes shut and blew out birthday candles celebrating her new post-cancer life.

Today fifty of Abby’s domestiques and all three of her bicycles will cross this starting line.

Abby won’t.

Cancer takes and takes and takes.

A few months after that birthday celebration, Abby’s Ewing Sarcoma returned. Since Abby died in April, I’ve lost a beloved uncle, a business mentor, a community leader.  Last week the aunt of a close friend.

Linda, Abby, Harry, Alan, Pauline, Marylin and so many more beautiful names.

Too many. Too soon.

When I look into the eyes of my children, those who have lost so much, those who survive, those who fight on, and those who do the heartening work here at Fred Hutch, I know we’re all in this together. And it’s our turn to be the change the world, to build a new vocabulary.

From ‘chaos’ to ‘cure.’

From ‘fear’ to ‘love’

From ‘someday’ to ‘today.’

So as you turn your pedals, as you zero-in on your breathing, as the wind glides through your helmet and you feel completely alive, find your word for change, hold on to it, and ride onwards!

View Abby’s Army Team Video

Birthday Love

The love just keeps coming. Over the past few month so many miracles have happened. We celebrated Jaren and Miri as they completed their year of Kindergarten and pre-school with a trip to Disneyland. I’ve returned to work.  This week Jaren, Miri and I spent time in Mazama, one of Abby’s favorite spots, reflecting on these past three months. And in my case, I spent the day today hiking to the summit of Goat Mountain reflecting on what will come in the next year as tomorrow, July 22nd, is my 36th birthday (double chai!)

As I look towards a new year, I hope you’ll help me celebrate at one of the below events that our community has organized.

  • Dine out for Abby’s Army – Sunday, July 31st @ 7:30pm – Our dear friend and James Beard Foundation Women in Culinary Leadership chef, Venessa Goldberg, will host a multi-course pop-up dinner. Tickets range from $100-175. Limited to 50 seats. RSVP here.
  • Obliterock! –Sunday, August 7th @ 10am-noon – Obliteride Team Abby’s Army will be host a benefit rock concert featuring kid favorites, Recess Monkeys. The event, designed for kids and families, can accommodate up to 350 attendees. RSVP here.

There’s still time to register and ride Obliteride with me and over 40 Team Abby’s Army riders.  With your help we’re already well on our way to raising $50,000! As an extra bonus, you’ll get to cheer me on at the starting line, as I’ve recently been asked to address the riders before they depart. I’m humbled by this opportunity and am looking forward to honoring Abby, our community, and the many lives touched and still at stake as a result of our inability to cure cancer today.

Finally, there’s another project I’ve been dreaming up for the past three months that I’m calling Project Yearbook.  It’s an audacious idea that will rely on Abby’s extensive network to curate stories about Abby from many vantage points in each year of her life and develop a series of yearbooks.  The culmination of this effort will transpire on each new birthday when Jaren and Miri each get to unwrap a new yearbook of Abby’s life and spend the year learning about Abby when she was that very same age. Right now we’re recruiting for some key roles to help get organized. More details here.

On behalf of the Abby’s Army community, I hope you’ll join us for an upcoming event in the next few weeks, and I look forward to sharing an update as we get to Obliteride.

Love and healing,

Justin, Jaren and Miri

30 Days After

Wednesday marked the end of sheloshim, the 30 days since we said goodbye to our beloved Abby.  Over the past month you’ve all played an instrumental role in helping our family begin our healing process. Thank you!

In our healing process there are so many “what next” questions – and fortunately we have lots of time to unpack, examine and work through these. But one cause has been ringing in my ears every day since Abby’s diagnosis – We must cure cancer faster!

In these past 30 days, I’ve taken the time to look deeply into the eyes of family members and close friends currently waging their own personal battle with cancer and into the eyes of their hopeful, loving spouses and supporters. In each of these moments my heart cries out Rabbi Hillel’s eternal words – “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” It is with this resolve and clear sense of purpose that I’d like to ask for your individual support and the support of Abby’s Army.

Please ride Obliteride on August 14th and join me and Team Abby’s Army today.

We’ll raise money together to advance breakthrough cancer research through Fred Hutch, celebrate our community together, and show that even in the face of uncertainty and loss that love is much, much bigger than cancer.  We will also be riding with Abby – completing her work in a way as she courageously pledged to ride Obliteride at her last birthday. If you haven’t seen her appeal yet, here it is (full speech here). Let her beautiful voice speak to you. No problem if you don’t have a bicycle, don’t ride frequently, or don’t live in Seattle. Just sign up and we’ll work out everything.

Beyond riding, you can help in a number of ways.

  1. Donate to the team. Just click here and find a rider on Team Abby’s Army that you want to support. Give generously. These incredible people are ambassadors for our community of supporters.
  1. Use your communities to share Abby’s story and help raise funds.  Sadly cancer’s impact is far reaching, but this also means your friends want to do their part and support you. Now is the time to turn up the heat on your social sites.  Consider adding the Abby’s Army Crest to your Facebook profile picture between now and August 14th.Love+Healing-Icon

 

  1. Join Abby’s Army at an upcoming fundraiser leading up to the event – more details to come.

 

To make this fun, build community and meet our goal of curing cancer faster, Team Abby’s Army team members will each get a 2016 Abby’s Army water bottle for themselves and to share with their top three supporting donors. Thank you to all of you who have already made contributions.  I’m proud to ride with you and for you!

As we put our focus on the future, I want to recognize that the nature of these e-mails and of www.abbysarmy.org will naturally shift focus from fighting to healing.  Obliteride is one example (If I am only for myself, what am I?), but there will be others, including asking for help and support for Jaren, Miri and me (If I am not for myself, who will be for me?)

We’re honored you’re part of our lives and hope you’ll stay on this journey with us.  If others would like to join us in these next chapters, they can continue to register at www.abbysarmy.org

Love and healing,

Justin, Jaren and Miri

Eulogies

Here is a collection of the beautiful eulogies shared at Abby’s service.

Lucas Michels, Abby’s brother

I want to first thank you all for coming here. It means a lot to our family to have this ground swell of support in this difficult time.

In thinking about what to say about my relationship with Abby, so many things came to mind. I thought about recounting stories. Including some of the great times we spent together, like going to the University of Oregon summer sports camp as kids, or the fun summer we spent together in Washington D.C. in college. I also thought about talking about some of the not so great times, like how we dealt with our my mother’s illness—and grew up beyond our years to deal with such challenges. More light-heartedly, I could also recount the time in high school where she conned me into coming up to Seattle from Eugene, with the promise of going to college parties with her friends, but instead was a covert effort to have me help her move her stuff out of her sorority house.

But what was really special about my relationship with my sister was the special bond we had. Abby and I were different in a lot of ways. Abby was a generally glass half-full type of person person, while I am often a glass half empty person. Abby was messy, while I am a neat freak. But despite these differences, we had a special connection that made us very close. Whether it was the shared history of growing up together or not, we understood each other better than anyone, and we knew what made each other tic. Abby and I knew when the other was happy or sad by just looking at each other, and knew what we were feeling without saying a word. While some of our external facing traits may have differed, we did share instrinsic internal traits—like a similar sense of humor that bordered on telepathy. Abby and I could laugh hard at the same corny joke, that while moderately funny to an outside person—was not as funny as it was to Abby and I. While I always thought siblings had such intrinsic connections, it is not until recently that I realize how special that type of connection is.

But Our bond went beyond merely understanding each other as we were always there for each other during good times and bad. When I’ll always joked that I was fortunate to have two mothers growing up, Abby was always there for me when I was young and in our adult lives. She could be protective, to the point of annoyance, but I always knew it came from a good place. She always checked up on me, and wanted to know how I was doing. In good times, she was my loudest and most positive supporter. In bad times, she was my cheerleader, who I could call when I was stressed or had problems and no matter the situation, I always felt better after talking to her. While this kind of bond is the kind you typically consider as being related to families, I realize that she gave herself to her friends and family in much the same way and for that I feel sorry for all of you here today for your loss as well.

Our bond also transcended our differences to the thing that mattered most to Abby-family. Regardless of our differences, we were both identical when it came to the importance of family. We both loved spending time with our family and Abby drew a lot of energy and happiness from our immediate and external family. This was evident at our family events. Whether it was our annual Thanksgiving traditions with my mother’s family, Jewish holidays with Justin’s family, and newer holiday traditions with my father and Mary Jean’s family, Abby always seemed at her happiest and I know that it was some of our best times together. Like my mother, Abby turned hosting such family events as she got older into an art form, continuing to make our Thanksgiving family events a wonderful experience, and making the Calvos Jewish events truly special.

While Abby’s 16 month battle with cancer challenged our family to its core, the bond between Abby and I never waivered. Even as she was fighting the battle for her life, Abby’s positivity and strength allowed us to share laughs over the same corny jokes, it allowed her to be there for me when I was stressed or feeling bad even when Abby has little to no strength for herself, and it allowed her to enjoy spending time with her family that she relished.

While I stand here heartbroken having lost Abby, I feel comforted, and consider it a privilege to have had such a wonderful sister, and to have shared the special bond we had. As many of you here also had a special bond with Abby, I hope you are able to find solace in the time you spent with her. Thank you.

 

Reed Vertelney, Abby’s maternal uncle

Hello, my name is Reed Vertelney. I’ve known Abby since she was born. Her mother Linda was my sister and I am Abby’s uncle.

As shocking and sad as Abby’s passing away is, I choose to remember only great things about Abby and our times together.

Linda, her mother was so happy when Abby was born, and always proud of her throughout her life.  I think the 2 of them were like 2 peas in a pod. Both were extremely strong, and positive women. Both were encouraging and generous, outgoing and selfless and of course, loving women. Fiercely devoted to their children and marriages, both women were just fun to be around, with their infectious laugh and sense of humor. Meal times were always a treat too, since both Linda and Abby were wonderful cooks who were not afraid to experiment with new ideas.

My sister used to say “don’t sweat the small stuff” and I saw that same way of approaching life in Abby. Even when she was sick, Abby would rather ask what was new with us instead of talking about herself. It was as if she was trying to shield her friends and family from her own health struggles. I think, as we get older, it becomes easier to define the term hero and what it really means and who is deserving of the title. Justin and Abby just like her mother and father before them rightfully deserve that title. Fighting through life threating disease but somehow making us feel like we are more important. It takes a special kind of person to do that.

You know, the thing is, sometimes in life you meet someone who is a light. There is nothing negative about them. They make you feel better when you around them, and when it’s over you find yourself looking forward to the next time you get to see them. It makes you want to plan events just so you can have the chance to get that light in your life. As heartbreaking as this is, if we could only have Abby for a short time, then I am forever grateful and thankful for those moments that Abby has brightened our lives.

We love you Abby.

 

Rachel Brotherton, Abby’s sorority sister and dear friend

I met Abby at the beginning of her freshman year at UW.  She was my sorority sister, but she was so much more than that.

She was my friend. I have a million memories of Abby. Some of them from college and many totally inappropriate for this venue.  Most of them from our lives beyond school.  Weddings stand out to me: She was my bridesmaid and I made her wear this hideous dress.  It was awful and she was so sweet about it. I was hers and she of course, because she was Abby, chose something tasteful and classy. I looked great. I remember dancing and celebrating at her wedding reception with many of you here today.  It remains to this day, the best wedding I have ever attended.  I hava nagila (ed) my butt off.

Last night I called on some of Abby’s friends, some of you who are here today and some who couldn’t make it, to share with me some of the things they loved most about her. Thank you to everyone who shared with me their love, their thoughts and their memories.

I would like to share some of them with you, in hopes that it brings you the same comfort that collecting them has brought me:

One friend said: Abby was authentic.  In college, when so many people are trying to figure themselves out, Abby knew just who she was and lived her truth with confidence. She looked for the good and worked to build up those around her. (Alissa Maxwell)

Another simply and eloquently said: I loved her laugh…it was perfectly her. (Erin Chiarelli)

One friend, emailing me from London, said about Abby and Justin:  I remember the beginning of their courtship well and Abby seemed to disappear socially because in Justin she seemed to have found everything. (Erin Hallock)

Another wrote: I loved and was inspired by her ability to seemingly effortlessly give of her time to community and causes…I will forever be inspired to do the same because of the example that she showed me.

One friend talked to me about how much Abby always cared for others, was always interested in what others were doing.  (Alex Rosenstein)

A life long friend said, “That girl packed more incredible moments into her life than most any of us could even dream of matching.” (Brad Fenstermacher)

Several of you mentioned her optimism.  That one came up a lot. (Pretty much everyone I talked to)

Another friend wrote me, “She was grounded, she was a great listener, and she was never judgmental.  What I admired most about Abby was her strength and her confidence.” (Diella)

One person, who credits Abby with introducing her to her husband said, “She had a wonderful way with words…she had a true and beautiful soul, one that will be greatly missed.”  She also mentioned that even if she hadn’t seen Abby in a while, it didn’t matter – whenever they saw each other they could pick up right where they left off.  (Elysa Piha)

My favorite quotes were from Jessica who said, “I loved how she always made me feel like family. Even when we weren’t and especially when we practically were”

And that she had this sophistication about her – then she would surprise you by laughing at the cheesiest joke.

There are so many things I loved about Abby.

I loved how she was a perfect collection of grace, compassion, intelligence, and humor.

I loved her eyes. I loved how she seemed to always have a secret when she laughed.

I loved the enthusiastic way she would look up and say “totally” when we were agreeing on something.

I loved her sense of style and her photographs. How she was always creating.

I loved how even when she was having a terrible day, she would still find something to be happy about.  Even if it was just free chocolate pudding at chemo.

I loved how hard she worked and how masterful she was at whatever she set out to do.

I loved how self pity was not a part of her vocabulary.

I loved her enthusiasm for nature tempered by her desire to “sleep inside”.

I love how she pushed me to be a better person simply by being herself.

I loved to watch her face when she talked about her kids.

I loved how she and Justin were always holding hands, their love contagious and palpable.

I loved Abby.

Abby and I shared a multitude of wonderful memories.  At the end of our friendship, she was just as she was at the beginning: courageous, graceful, thoughtfully concerned about others over herself, and fierce.

 

Melodie Schneider (Aunty Mel), Abby’s friend and dear friend of the Calvo family

Wow—what a crowd!

It’s Abby Style.

I have been honored to day to speak.

How to begin?

I find my mind a blank because I don’t want to admit the truth,

This can’t be true,

I saw you in pain.

I saw your hurt.

I saw your disbelief and fear.

That such a sweet, smart, gracious soul so young is gone.

Abby valiantly fought for her life, we saw her in pain, we saw her in sorrow, saw her in laughter, we saw her last December when she felt “Victory” we did it but the cancer had another idea.

There are so many words that describe Abby.

Beautiful, bright, kind, light; her intrinsic value as a human being is immeasurable.

She has the gift of listening to others, gift of leading, always doing it with the most trending cutest clothes, best hair do, best restaurants, coolest places to go, best web sites to read. Invaluable friend to all.

Treasure forever.

She loved her family, father, brother dearly.

Through out her struggle with cancer-Abby was never the cancer-she was always herself. Ready to talk, listen, and incredibly co-chair the Jewish Federation’s Connections event. Never complained….sometimes I would say to her “Abby don’t you want to get angry?” She would say, “No, its okay, let’s stay positive. I don’t want to hear anything that is not positive.”

Sweet and gracious to the very end.

We can never say goodbye to such an unforgettable radiant spirit, she will live with us, her husband and children through our memories and deep love for her.

Hold hands so the circle is unbroken, honor Abby.

Take a breath, let in the truth.

We are all gathered here in our belief in Judaism, God, and Spirit

Send love and strength to Justin, Jaren, Miri, Lee, Lucas, Jon, Jessica that Abby would have wanted us to extend, let’s feel her soul and spirit and let us say amen.

 

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum, Kavana

Thank you to all of you for these beautiful words of tribute and memory.  Abby’s years were far too short, but there are so many words to say about her because she lived so big.

As you all know, we are just days away on the Jewish calendar from celebrating the holiday of Passover.  Pesach was Abby’s favorite holiday – the perfect nexus of all of the things that you’ve already heard were so important to her: people – with family and friends gathered around the table; intergenerational connection; tradition; food, food and more food; a sense of style and flair, a celebration of life and renewal.

The Passover story is the paradigmatic story of optimism, of a slave people yearning for a better future, a celebration of the promise of redemption.  How can we possibly be hopeful today, when the world feels broken and dimmer without Abby in it?

The haggadah gives us a path.  Seder junkies among us will recognize the story of five rabbis: Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Tarfon who were gathered in B’nai B’rak.  These five stay up all night, reclining and discussing the story of the Exodus, a story which you’d think these five rabbis would know pretty well, but they get lost in conversation and the entire night goes by.  In the morning, their students have to come and tell them that the sun is rising, that it’s time to say the shema.  This story took place during the Bar Kokhba revolt… a major war for the Jews of Judaea only a generation after the last stinging defeat and the destruction of the Temple, a time when the Romans were closing in on the Jews, and it seemed that perhaps the end was near.  In the famous text, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says: I was like a man of seventy and I never understood why the Exodus story should be recited at night, until Ben Zoma interpreted the following verse for me:

L’ma’an tizkor et yom tzeit’cha mei’eretz mitzrayim kol y’mei chayeicha.

“That you may remember the day of your going out from the land of Egypt all the days of your life.” If the Torah had only taught “the days of your life” it would have meant only the days, but it says “all the days of your life” to teach that this includes the nights as well.

There’s a practical element to this explanation – the rabbis are drashing, expounding on a story and deriving the custom of gathering to tell the Exodus story at night.  But encoded in Ben Zoma’s explanation is something else deeper: we don’t only think about redemption, freedom, optimism during “days”, when the world seems sunny and bright and things are going well.  The gathering of the five rabbis in B’nai Brak is there in the Passover seder to instruct us that even at the darkest, most bleak, times, it is our obligation to tell this story of hope and to focus on the positive trajectory of both our history and also our future.

I’ve never met anyone who embodied this message of optimism and positivity more than Abby Michels Calvo.  Abby was sunny, radiant, graceful, passionate, beautiful, spirited, warm, able to be present in the moment… and optimistic and focused on the positive.  Justin calls this Abby’s quality of “magical thinking” – and it fully characterizes her approach to life, always, but especially during this last year and change as she has battled cancer.

To understand all of this, we have to go back to the beginning, to Abby’s parents Linda and Lee, who learned that Linda was pregnant with Abby as Lee was finishing up his time at UCLA. They wanted to choose a great place in which to start a family; their plan was to be somewhere between Santa Barbara and the Canadian border. They ended up choosing Eugene, Oregon in 1977 and to everyone’s delight, even Abby’s LA grandparents, George and Betty (Linda’s parents) loved it.  Linda and Lee bought the house that Abby grew up in.

Anyone who has spent time with Jaren and Miri won’t be surprised to hear that as a young girl, Abby was into everything.  She would sequentially pull out the drawers of the dresser to make steps and climb up to the top.  Early on, Lee recalls, there was no furniture in the dining room of their house in Eugene – which meant that it was a perfect place for Abby to ride a trike around in circles.  Personality-wise, she was a lot like Linda – a people person, who knew very intuitively how to connect with people and foster relationships.  She was verbal early.  There was never a doubt about whether she could express herself. And she was strong-willed and opinionated (a quality that many of us knew and loved in Abby more recently as well).  With some solid parenting advice from Lee’s uncle Joe, Linda and Lee approached this little but forceful human being with an understanding that they weren’t going to change who she was – they celebrated her, they called this fierce spirit “personality,” and they encouraged her to blossom into who she really was – optimistic and strong-willed.  Our lives are all the richer for their great parenting.

Many of Abby’s passions developed early.  In the 80’s of Abby’s childhood, the world was changing and girls were playing sports.  Abby was naturally athletic and liked teamwork, so playing basketball and soccer naturally followed.  She liked to read and be read to – and this quality of being a big reader came with a natural curiosity to explore the world and understand everything.  Abby spent lots of time with her brother Lucas – 3 years apart, they really grew up side by side.  She also learned the love of cooking from her mom, although Lucas says that she definitely figured out ways to take these skills to the next level, preparing and hosting meals that were delicious and beautiful “to the nth degree” in their presentation.

During their teenage years, Abby and Lucas became closer and closer as their mom battled cancer.  While personality-wise they are a little different – Lucas is a self-proclaimed neat freak, and according to Lee, Abby never mastered the idea that wet towels don’t belong on the floor! – when it came to the important things, they had very similar outlooks.  Abby was a committed big sister, sometimes erring slightly on the bossy side, but always caring.

Fast forwarding a bit to 1999, Abby met Justin when she was a junior at UW.  She had just returned from study abroad in France.  Justin was in the spring quarter of his freshman year, and all year he had been going to Hillel for Friday night services, to make friends and also to check out the girls there.  On this Friday night, a beautiful spring day like today, Rabbi Dan was leading Friday night services outside.  Justin remembers looking at her – this beautiful woman he had never seen there before.  Sun reflected off of her beautiful big curls.  He wanted to know who she was.  Like I said, Abby was a junior, and once Justin found out that, plus the fact that she like skiing, the same music he did – Dave Matthews and Phish – and that she was cool enough to live in a fraternity, Justin knew that she was out of his league.  Magical thinking apparently worked in both directions.  Jeff Piha and Megan Pinch helped get them together.  Their first date was a walk around Green Lake – and they found a bench and sat there talking for 2 hours until it started to get too chilly.  Justin remembers being spellbound by her describing her family and experiences.  Held every person and every thing with such grace and compassion.  They were so hungry after their walk that they went to Duke’s for marionberry cobbler – which Abby took great personal pride in because marionberries are from Oregon.

During fall quarter of the next year, Abby and Justin started spending more time together and dating more seriously.  But that was Abby’s senior year, and after graduation she took a job at national Hillel in DC.  Justin was supposed to study abroad.  Is this relationship going to last, they wondered?  Abby came to visit Justin in Israel, and it became clear just how much their worlds were intertwined.  She came to Israel not knowing anyone, but people just loved her.  By the time she left, Justin had the feeling that his friends would much rather spend time with Abby than with him.

I got to know Abby and Justin once they were settled back in Seattle.  I was teaching a class for engaged couples at Hillel called “My Big Fat Jewish Wedding.”  Abby approached the planning of her wedding with the same passion and energy she always had, and I remember that she was like a sponge, asking great questions and soaking up the Jewish tradition and then twisting it just a little bit to give it a taste of her own colorful flair.

Professional, Abby wanted most to use her incredible communications and marketing skills to work with start-ups that really had no money.  This frustrated Justin at times, as it made no business sense at all.  But for Abby, it made perfect sense.  It was all about relationships, and she felt like she was doing something good in the world.

I don’t have to tell anyone here that Abby was also an amazing mother; being a mom was just the most important thing in Abby’s world!  She was so excited when she learned that she was pregnant with Jaren, although the experience was also bittersweet, because by the time he was born, Abby’s mom Linda had passed away and she wasn’t there to share the experience.  But, Abby took to parenting like a fish to water – comfortable and in love and totally in her element.

I had the privilege of officiating at the bris and baby naming ceremonies for both Jaren and Miri.  I looked back at my notes this week, and what I found there was such a perfect encapsulation of many of Abby’s most deeply held values and aspirations.  Let’s be in the backyard, she had said, where it will feel homey and comfortable.  We want to have lots of friends gathered around us.  We’ll use the tallit from Abby’s grandfather and the Kiddush cup from Justin’s uncle to signify the importance of family and tradition and generational transmission. Jaren Moseley’s name honored music, rejoicing, and positivity (Yaron means he will sing/rejoice), and also Justin’s father Jon whose Hebrew name is Moshe and Abby’s father Lee (Moshe + Lee = Moseley).  Miri was named again in a blend of Ashkenazic and Sephardic tradition, in memory of Abby’s mom Linda whose Hebrew name was Miral and Justin’s mother Naomi, thus Miral Noa.  And, looping back to our timing on the Jewish calendar this week, Abby also thought that it was incredibly meaningful and sweet to have kids named after Moses and Miriam, forever tying this family to the holiday of Passover and the themes of liberation and redemption.

As Jaren and Miri grew, they remained Abby’s #1 priority.  Abby tried, first and foremost, to be an intentional parent.  When she was first diagnosed last year, she was worried about whether it would be hard to be around the kids, but over time, they brought her so much joy and gave her the strength to get through each day.  Just a few days ago, Abby’s friend Meghan spent Saturday evening in the hospital.  Abby was in and out of consciousness, but suddenly in a burst of clear language, Meghan heard Abby say: “Jaren, I saw that, you can take a five-minute time out…”  In other words, she was parenting even in her sleep and in her final hours.

I don’t need to say much about Abby as a friend, because so much has already been said.  Mary Jean yesterday described Abby’s energy as an “exuberant charisma,” and I thought that phrase said it all.  Abby was absolutely there for her friends.  Even during chemo and in the hospital, she didn’t want to be the focus of attention – she wanted to know what was happening in everyone else’s life, and during her illness, she became even more of a confidant and sounding board for so many friends and relatives that it’s almost hard to believe that one person could maintain so many close relationships.  But Abby could.  It was part of her magic.  And family came to refer to so much more than her relatives by blood.  When her dad first remarried, it was hard for Abby to accept Mary Jean… after all nobody could replace her own mother.  But ultimately, this relationship settled into a good and very close place.  Similarly with Jon, Justin’s dad, who said that he and Abby forged a new closeness once he became the grandfather, Papoo Jon, to her kids.  And with countless other relatives – Mary Jean’s children who looked at Abby as family, Jon’s sisters Vicci, Candy and Melody who were planning to take Abby on a trip to celebrate the end of chemo.  Abby’s world was so big and so rich in love.

Abby was bat mitzvahed in Eugene, and she began then a journey that continued for decades, of Jewish curiosity, learning, and a deepening engagement with Jewish life.  As many of you know, one of the reasons that there are so many people here today is that Abby stood at the intersection of many different communities, and particularly many different Jewish communities. In 2011, when the Wexner Heritage Foundation announced that they were looking to build a class of future Jewish leaders from across the Seattle Jewish community, I nominated Abby because in my mind, she was precisely the right candidate – thirsty to soak up all she could about Judaism, open to learning from anyone and everyone, ripe to build community and just crazy enough to take big ideas and put them into action.  Abby loved the Wexner program and I can see that most of her Wexner classmates are here today.  Beth Balkany shared with me some of the answers Abby wrote to a follow-up questionnaire about the Wexner experience.  The question was: How did your personal connections in this group change you?  And Abby wrote: During our two years, I’ve joined the Hillel board, decided to send my son to Seattle Hebrew Academy, and began putting together a new model for a Jewish after school program called Shorashim.  When Abby was diagnosed with cancer last year and made the decision to step back from working, she declared it her “year of learning” and threw herself into Torah study classes with Rivy and discussions about Judaism and spirituality with many others.  And with a whole year of chemo under her belt, when Abby and her close friend Tamar Benzikry Stern were asked this year to co-chair the Connections event for the Jewish Federation, Abby didn’t hesitate to say yes.  That was her optimism, her Jewish passion, her community-building impulse at work.

Over the last few days, I’ve heard from many of you that although you knew that Abby was battling a nasty cancer, you were surprised by the news of the quick downturn in Abby’s health.  I think that this has a lot to do with Abby’s attitude and, in Justin’s words, her magical thinking.  Abby was simply not willing to consider the possibility that the end might be in sight.  As Lucas reflected yesterday, she didn’t have a vision that had anything other than a happy ending.  While the net result is that many of us found ourselves reeling from sudden tragic news this week, up until the very final hours of her life, Abby’s positive outlook and fervent belief that a cure was just around the corner meant that she was able to focus fully on enjoying every moment that she could and being fully present in life.

The number of people whose lives were touched by Abby is almost countless.  I understand that Abby’s nurses and even the woman who cleaned her room at UW hospital were tearful about saying goodbyes.  Abby’s circle of friends is huge.  Our very deepest condolences go out to Justin, Jaren and Miri, Lee and Mary Jean, and Lucas, and also to the families who were Abby’s family:

Families we honor

  • Calvo
  • Michels
  • Vertelney
  • Jacobson
  • Clague
  • Berkus
  • Milstein
  • Braufman
  • Siegel
  • Kane
  • Marinelli
  • Schneider
  • Raff
  • Walsh

Returning, finally, to Passover.  Even at the darkest of times, Abby did exactly what the rabbis of the haggadah did in B’nai Barak: she enveloped herself in relationships and expounded upon stories, she made the story of Passover – an optimistic narrative – her own, she looked forward to a world that was redeemed, and better than the one that we have today – always fighting for a cure, building organizations, weaving new relationships, parenting, caring and loving — with no acknowledgement that there would be an end.

At Passover, we read Shir Ha-Shirim, the beautiful love poetry of springtime.

Simeini ca-chotam al libecha, ka-chotam al z’roecha, ki azah cha-mavet ahava.

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is stronger than death.

May Abby’s memory be a blessing to all of us.  She will always be sealed in our hearts, as love is stronger than death.  May she forever be bound up in the bonds of life.  And let us say: Amen