Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | March 27, 2009

Friendship, Life and Loss 2.0

A childhood friend passed away earlier this week following a courageous, five-year battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gehrig‘s Disease, after the American baseball player who died from the disease in 1941. I hadn’t seen her since high school, and even in school we didn’t really run in the same circles. We did, however, belong to the same synagogue, which meant that we were both members of what I liked to refer to as “the Jew crew” – our Jewish peers from our school and other local schools, people with whom we would spend inordinate amounts of time during the high holidays, both inside the synagogue and between prayer services, simply because we all knew one another so well, and often, because, thrown together as we were due to the circumstances, we didn’t have any other choice.

I remember those occasions fondly, all of us huddled together, searching for a place to talk and catch up, where we wouldn’t get yelled at for disturbing disturb the congregants still participating in the service. I can remember the games of three-penny hockey and paper “football” that we would play in the youth lounge. Most of all, though, I can remember how I knew that whenever I managed to sneak out of the service, I would always find my female friends in what was known as the “ladies lounge”, a room off the restroom with stools that spun around and a long counter. To this day, I can’t recall anyone in there but us girls, squashed along the couch, the counter, and the windowsill, gossiping and hoping for a chance to spin on one of those coveted stools. And of course, Debbie plays a prominent role in all of these old memories.

Now she’s gone, and even though I knew she was sick, even though I knew how imminent the end was during these past few weeks, and even though I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in at least twenty years, I feel such sadness and frustration over her death, over the fact that someone whose image is indelibly woven throughout my childhood memories has fallen victim to such a tragic disease at such a young age.

It has been truly amazing to see the way my former classmates have rallied around, keeping one another in the loop via email and Facebook, offering information, updates, and support as we mourn our friend together from far flung corners of the world. Not that I would expect otherwise, but modern technology allows it to happen so quickly, with updates sent and received in real-time, allowing us to comfort and be comforted by others who knew the person we lost. Clearly, more than twenty years on and we are still very much a class, no matter where we are in our lives. It is inspiring to see everyone come together in times of crisis, and when I think of the connections that have been strengthened as an outcome of this tragedy, the friendships that may have been rekindled, it makes me think that maybe, just maybe, a little bit of good has risen up from this senseless, painful loss.


*This post is dedicated to the memory of Deborah Schapiro Horn, a woman who clearly touched the lives of all who knew her, whose courage to fight a battle not of her choosing, will hopefully make us all pause and take stock of our own lives and to appreciate all that we have.

Zichrona livracha – May her memory be a blessing.

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  1. So sorry for your loss, but I agree that there is a gain too…I have connected with many friends from my youth and travels whom I may have never seen/communicated with again before this wave of social networking online. It’s a blessing, even if we are not physically together, to be able to connect and keep in touch. And yes, be there when we need each other. Hope today is a good one for you!

  2. Just Lovely Liza!

    she had a smile that could light up the room. Seeing her photo in the obituary brought back many memories of school. I am so thankful for Facebook – so that we could reconnect with people and come together to remember Debbie with fondness.

  3. That was beautifully written. Although we didn’t go to the same Temple I still felt that connection. It’s sad to know that Debbie is no longer here.

  4. I remember those days in the ladies lounge so clearly, especially the paper football. I went to Hebrew Academy with Debbie and was also in the same synagogue, but didn’t get to know her well until we were both living in Boston. She was a good friend, very funny, always unhealthy (long before the ALS) but always in good spirits. I lost touch with her when I moved to NYC and haven’t talked to her in years. I think it’s sad how people grow apart, not for any reasons of animosity, but more for time and space. We meet people at certain moments in time, they fill our lives with memories, and then we move apart for some unknown reason. Other people stay a part of our lives forever. Is it time, space, chemistry, connections that bond us with some longer than others? I miss Debbie and I cherish my faded memories of her. It makes me appreciate the good, old friends like you who have remained in my life despite the distance and who I reconnect with instantly no matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other.

  5. Beautiful!!! You brought back so many memories of the high holidays and childhood in general. I remember the ladies lounge so clearly. Any excuse to “get out” of the endless service. I remember the paper football games we played FOREVER. I agree that we must find the good that has come out of this tragedy. I believe Debbie is in heaven smiling at all of our facebooking/blogging and reconnecting. She’s loving it.

  6. janflora: You are so right about the social networking. I’m amazed by the number of people I’ve managed to reconnect with. I think it’s even more important to me because I’m so far away from almost everyone I grew up with. Just this week I was speaking with a former schoolmate, and we came to the conclusion that as we’ve gotten older, we’ve become more nostalgic. Natural, I suppose, but still…

    Beth: Thanks so much! I keep having these sudden flashbacks to times spent with Debbie. I totally agree with you about Facebook. The relationships are different now, but when it comes down to it, these are the people who make up some of my oldest memories. I have so many memories of time spent at your home – I still remember Frodo! 🙂

    Adriane: Thank you for your kind words. I think we all have memories like that. I’m sad about Debbie too, but it’s nice to see everyone reconnecting, even over a tragedy.

    Sheri: I love your thoughts about friendship. It is sad how people grow apart, but I think it’s also a normal part of life. People move in and out of our lives, and that’s the way it is. If you’re really lucky, you have a few who remain a part of your lives no matter where you are and what you do, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have several of those, including you, one of my oldest friends.

    Susan: I’m so glad you liked it! I had our recent email exchanges in mind as I wrote a lot of it, as your mails really inspired me.

    I can still make those footballs. Maybe I’ll challenge you to a rematch? 🙂 I wonder what the kids today are doing to keep busy when they manage to “escape”.

  7. So sorry to read that, dear. May she rest in peace, and may her family and friends be accompanied by her spirit always.

  8. Beautifully written, Liza! Still having such a hard time wrapping my head around the news….

    I am always amazed at how potent fond memories are…. and am truly glad for their ability to comfort.

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