Tuesday, July 11, 2017
David Jonathan Sommers
When I last saw him, a little over a month ago, I thought we had many months left, perhaps even a year. Buzz had a multitude of physical ailments that would have long ago crushed a weaker or lesser man, but he bore them all with strength and dignity.
The last words that he said to me on the phone were "come soon." It is quite possible that he knew that the last round of chemotherapy would kill him.
Still we had no inkling that the end was going to arrive so quickly. I merely wanted to spend all the time I possibly could with him and to tell him how much I loved him, not knowing that it would be the very last time.
I flew in to Toronto on Thursday, reaching the hospital sometime after eleven at night. It was supposed to be a "routine" visit. But it had been a bad day for him. The family joked that I was bad luck, that the last time I flew in he was in the hospital too.
He was non responsive when I entered the room but I announced my presence in a loud voice and his eyes fluttered. I would like to think that I somehow penetrated his consciousness and that he had heard me. I can't be sure. His wonderful and loyal wife Julia stayed at his bedside the whole night. I went to their home with my niece Rachel. We talked about the sudden turn but both thought that it was something he had a very good chance of popping out of, since its advent was so quick.
Instead I woke up to a dreadful ring of the phone sometime before six the next morning, three my California time. He had left us.
I quickly got a cab to the hospital and sat next to him, for several hours, his body finally relieved from the long and painful torment of cancer and kidney disease. I kissed his hand and his forehead as the attendants performed the ritual tasks and cleaning. Later we had a ceremony and buried him according to Jewish law on Sunday. His family could not have been more loving and steadfast, throughout the long ordeal. And I have to thank my brother and the universe for waiting for me, for letting me say goodbye. My tears flow like a river.
With all respect to my brother, the entire family, and all of Buzz's many friends, I am printing a copy of the eulogy I delivered for my brother on Sunday, the hardest thing I have ever had to write, and read. It was followed by a wonderful eulogy by Zachary, Buzz and Julia's eldest son.
I’m Buzz’s brother, Robert. I would like to acknowledge my other siblings, Barbara, John and Laurie as well as my wife Leslie and sister Liz who were not able to be here with us today.
I didn’t fly to Canada on Thursday with any inclination that I would be delivering my brother’s eulogy a mere three days later. Not that any of us can ever be prepared for the timing of such an event. We were all lulled to sleep, he certainly had months, maybe even a year left, right? Buzz fought the beast as hard as he could, valiantly, but in the end there was no escape.
David Jonathan Sommers was not only my younger brother, he was also my best friend. Sounds trite but it is true. Although he lived across the continent, rarely a week went by, let alone a day, where we did not speak. His voice was always one of comfort for me, never condemnation, never a note of anything but total support. I can only hope that mine was the same for him.
Buzz was 16 months younger than I and we grew up joined at the hip. I loved my kid brother and remember a beautiful blond haired baby, blessed with a lovely voice, a great giggle and a big birthmark on his chest. He was charming, from the start he was universally liked.
The neighbor girl, Tina Mary Pasarelli, fell in love with him when he was three. It made everybody in the cul de sac in La Mesa laugh when she would loudly pretend that they were married and bossily instruct him to fix one thing or another when they were playing house.
We had a tumultuous childhood, with a slightly crazy mother and the two of us protected each other, there were times it felt like we had to be back to back against the whole world in order to survive. This entailed the two of us making multiple trips back and forth from New York to California with a single suitcase, trying to find a safe branch that we could land on with a modicum of normalcy.
You either are crushed or become very strong when confronted with these sorts of obstacles at a young age, we survived. Buzz developed a cynical wit and a strong degree of skepticism. His street smarts, coupled with his high intelligence, later made him a fine lawyer.
We moved around a lot, I think I counted 12 different schools, but we could always count on each other, for friendship and occasional protection. We grew up in a time when we often had to solve neighborhood disputes with our fists, and we did.
We did a lot of things kids do, or did, played baseball and basketball, swam, built forts, shot slingshots, collected tadpoles. We once accidentally lit a golf course on fire. Buzz loved certain music and it will be very tough in the future for me to hear Cat Stevens, Phoebe Snow or Genesis without shedding a tear for him. Many tears in fact.
There are so many stories between two close brothers that it is impossible to whittle them down. Some must be held tight for the sake of decorum and decency. We had legendary trips to Las Vegas as young men. On one such excursion our promise was to win big or go home penniless and we did just that. After getting our asses kicked at 500 dollar a hand blackjack, we split a hot dog with our last buck and somehow managed to find a fleabag hotel that would give us a free ride to the airport. Buzz loved telling the story of me “borrowing” a newspaper from a bum while we waited, whipped, tail between our collective legs, for the flight back home. Laughing the whole way.
We had a natural and unrehearsed comedy routine between us; once we were sitting at a McDonalds and decided to play a joke on the old couple across from us. Wordlessly, we dropped the food in the trash and ate the wrapping paper while the couple looked on in horror.
Buzz’s life took its best turn when he moved to the land of our father and tribe’s birth, Israel. Because it was there on the kibbutz that he met the love of his life and his future wife Julia. A woman who saw through his flaws and did not care, the first person who loved him totally and unconditionally. He was blessed. They had three fine children, he was exceedingly proud of each and everyone of them, and he had a family structure and a normalcy that we lacked in our own upbringing.
We had a very successful career working in our family business together, for many years. I handled the construction, Buzz the law and my father the financing. It was an amazing team. The three of us could do what other companies required fifty people to accomplish. We made a ton of money. Unfortunately, my trusting father was fleeced by a predator and we never recovered.
Buzz eventually went into law and he and my dad pioneered mobilehome park conversion. He had a much easier relationship with my dad than I did, at least at that time, and they both had a mutual love for golf, a sport I always abhorred.
You all know the Buzz story, law became second fiddle to his love of cooking and Poway and San Diego County morphed into Canada, a place where he created a new career from scratch and where he quickly rose to the top of culinary game. And as everybody who really knew him found out, under the flinty exterior lived a real softy. He inherited one of my mother’s better traits, he picked up stray people and tried to make their lives better.
Buzz loved his wife and family and dogs above all. An amazing family who never wavered from his side while he fought some of the worst long term medical problems anyone could ever dream of, problems that would have crushed an average person years ago. I never had children of my own but I would be so proud to have kids like Rachel, Zachary and Jake and a wife like Julia, all possessed with the most extraordinary love, support and devotion. He took such incredible pleasure had such tremendous love for his grandchildren Rozzy and Matilda, their father Justin as well as Julia’s extended family.
I have been having a real tough time for months thinking about what the loss of my brother would mean to my life. Now I get to find out and the prospect terrifies me. I know that he had the same impact and importance in many of your own lives and that many of you are also grappling with the thought of living in a post Buzz world.
I wish I had some profound thought to share but I don’t. He simply can not be replaced in my life. I am going to miss the hell out of him. We all move forward.
Many people talk about a loved one going to a better place. I think that Buzz would flash a wry smile at such a proposition, not sure that he envisioned a hereafter. But I am happy knowing that he is now freed from pain and agony. Peace, brother.
Here is a copy of an obituary for Buzz. Please consider donating to a charity he greatly admired, Covenant House, a shelter for homeless youth, and help us honor his memory.