My mentor's son

My dear friend and mentor Elaine lost her son to swine (H1N1) flu in November. I am posting her tribute to him and backdating this post to the day of his funeral.

I was gutted by Elaine's loss. I, also, have two sons and the thought of losing one of them is crippling. I cannot imagine how Elaine finds the strength to wake up each day and carry on. I still have drawings that little Raymond made for me when I worked for Elaine.

I am so terribly sorry that this funny young man has left this earth.



Elaine's Tribute to Raymond

Posted Nov 16, 2009 8:15am

At every rite of passage in Raymond’s life, his family has been right by his side with a few heartfelt remarks and on this occasion, despite our most profound grief, we want to share our feelings with the rabbi‘s assistance.

As many of you know, Raymond had his share of medical challenges since the age of 10, but over the past two years, he was in nearly perfect health. He even managed to graduate from Westbury High School in the top 14 percent of his class, despite missing most of his junior year of high school. Not only that, but to our knowledge, he was the first senior in his class last Fall to receive acceptance into college. He was accepted to ALL the universities he applied to despite his high school transcript and attendance records.

When it came time to decide which college to attend, all it took was a two day trip with Ronnie to Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico for Raymond to decide that this was where he wanted to be. Raymond, quite literally, fell in love with the university, and the people he met in the engineering department made him feel welcome and wanted. Raymond was a nuclear engineering major and aspired to go into either nuclear power or nuclear medicine. He was so excited to be one of only eighteen incoming freshmen engineering students to be accepted into the UNM Learning, Living community (LLC) for engineering. This meant that he would be living with other engineering students in an upper classman dorm and taking classes with them. As a student from out of state, who had to live on campus, we thought that this would be a great opportunity.

Raymond loved living in the LLC and hit if off, right off the bat with his 3 roommates: Esteban, David and Kyle, all from New Mexico. He would tell us that while others had problems with roommates, his roommates were just great and they got along so well. Each was majoring in another area of engineering, but they all had one class together as members of the engineering living/learning community. Even in the short time he knew Esteban, David and Kyle, the Raymond jokester was in full force. His dry sense of humor and quick comic wit was a joy to those around him. You could always count on Raymond to see the humor in any situation.
Before Raymond went off to UNM, we had the usual parent/college child talk about what his job was at college: to do everything that he could to do well in his studies, to get involved in activities that he enjoyed and to have fun. As parents, we couldn’t have been happier because Raymond did all those things. He took 17 hours his first semester at UNM that consisted of two engineering classes, 2 math classes, chemistry…and his EASY class was economics. He was disappointed that he wasn’t pulling all A’s (he was making As and Bs), but he was working very hard by going to the campus tutorial programs and attending study groups. He was doing all the right things to stay focused on learning and we couldn’t be more proud.

He had also begun to get involved in campus groups, but with Raymond, we have come to expect that this involvement would be not the usual. He called us to let us know that he had joined HESA. What’s HESA we asked? He said HISPANIC Engineering Student Association. He said that this was the largest engineering group on campus and they sponsored the best job fairs. He told the sponsors that their group’s mission was to help minority engineering students and he was a minority--He was Jewish. They took his $20 and he was in. He also was helping to charter s new student engineering group at UMN that dealt with nuclear power. He belonged to ANES, which he would joke that he couldn’t just say the acronym, as it sounded so GI tract, It stood for American Nuclear Engineering Society or something along those lines. And finally, he joined the UNM Hillel, the Jewish student organization on campus.

As for having a good time, Raymond was apparently doing so as well, but in moderation and definitely not to the detriment of his grades. He made a carved jack-0-lantern in the dorm, which he named JEW-backa. He was also thrilled to be in his first snow. He called both Ronnie and I at work just recently to tell us that he took a nap and when he woke up, it was snowing outside. He couldn’t believe it---in fact, when his Auntie Phyllis and Cousin Lisa cleaned out his dorm room for the trip back to Houston, they found 3 snowballs in the refrigerator that Raymond had saved! There are pictures of Raymond out in the snow with his roommate, Esteban, and another where he is making, what he referred to as a “snow Jew“ (snow angel). He looked so happy in those pictures.

Many, many times this college semester, Raymond told us how happy he was at UNM. He was so happy, he said that he wanted to get his masters and possibly his PhD in engineering. We told him….finish your first semester first. One step at a time! Knowing how happy Raymond was in his life and how healthy he was (free of the medical issues that had dogged him since the age of 10), we were also happy. It made our empty nest easier to deal with because we weren’t dealing with a young man who was having any trouble adjusting to college. He loved being independent and responsible for himself and being away from home for the first time in his life. Raymond had embraced this newfound independence and was moving full speed ahead.

Raymond was able to put into almost 19 years, what many cannot accomplish in a lifetime. He was always wise beyond his years because of his brother Jason, 7 1/2 years his senior, who Raymond always felt equal to despite the age difference, and having older first cousins around all the time. Raymond was a force to be reckoned with and was always in the middle or leading the charge quite literally. He was an entrepreneur and had a lucrative underground candy/cookie business in high school that helped fund his college education. He was very trusting and if his customers didn’t have the money, he would allow credit until the debt was paid. He also enjoyed playing poker and just this last year, came in first place at an Hadassah father/son tournament here in Houston. He loved to tell humorous stories, mostly about his mother’s cooking, that would have the relatives crying from laughter. Everyone would say--Raymond’s going to be a comedian, not an engineer. Give him an audience, Raymond would perform. We’d have to warn him to watch what he said many times, but that never held him back. On Raymond’s carepages and on his wall on Facebook, the one thing that resonated over and over in the comments was Raymond’s sense of humor. Everyone saw it and everyone enjoyed it.

What would Raymond say now if he could? He would tell us that he is enjoying all the attention, but that he wouldn’t want us to dwell on sadness when we think of him. He always felt bad whenever he was sick and the impact that it had on those he loved.

That is why Raymond would want us to limit our sadness and remember all the good times, all the laughter, and all the fun we had with him in our lives. Though he is no longer with us in person and we miss him more than words can say, he will never be forgotten for the person he was and the happiness that he gave us to those whose lives he was part of.

He is now with his Grandma Raye Plotkin and Great-Grandma Eva Kleinfeld, for whom he was named, …and all the loved ones who have proceeded him. We are sure that they are taking care of him and enjoying all the love and humor he has to share….. As it has been said before and forevermore, EVERYONE LOVES RAYMOND.

(Read by Rabbi Silk at the graveside ceremony for Raymond, Congregation Emanu El Cemetery, Houston, TX 11/15/09)

Comments

Joy said…
I am so sorry about that. We'll send tons of positive thoughts your way.

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