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Lone figure at Getty Museum © Robert Sommers 2017

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

David Jonathan Sommers

My younger brother, David Jonathan Sommers, has passed away. David דָּוִד means beloved in Hebrew and he surely was. David, known to all as Buzz, was the closest person on earth to me in this lifetime. The personal void of his passing will never be filled. Our grief is searing.

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.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Robert,
My deepest and heartfelt sympathies for the loss of your brother. No matter how much time you think you may or not have, it's never enough. With a relationship as profound and deep as yours was with him, the loss will always feel fresh, no matter how much time passes because time does not always heal all wounds. But as you say, we go on. Again, my condolences to you, Leslie and family.
Carol

Justin Cooper said...

Robert,

Your presence in Toronto over the past few days, and the personal stories you shared about you and Buzz, provided much comfort.

Justin

Blue Heron said...

Thank you so much, Justin. You are a mensch and I really enjoy your company.

Anonymous said...

MY CONDOLENCES BROTHER-AS ALWAYS THANKS FOR BEARING YOUR SOUL-
IRONICALLY I AM AN ONLY CHILD WITHOUT A KNOWN RELATIVE IN THE WHOLE WORLD-IT ALL ENDS WITH ME.

jh

Linda said...

As another who lost her brother last year, to cancer, I cry for you. It makes me appreciate the love that surrounded him (and your brother) and that which surrounds me (and you). I say, hold your loved ones tight and, in the Jewish tradition, keep our lost ones alive inside of you every day.

Blue Heron said...

Thank you Linda, so much for your kind words.

Anonymous said...

Robert,
I am so sorry to hear about your brother. I realize that there is nothing that I can say that will help you with your loss. We went through that with Merilee’s mother, father, and my mother in the last couple of years.
All the best.

LM

North County Film Club said...

I'm so sorry, Robert. I can't imagine life without my sister- as you probably know. So I can almost feel your pain.
Also, I'm a fan of any fan of Cat Stevens!

Barbara

wcgypsy said...

Most of us have reached the age where we've had our own share of losses, so when you speak of your loss of your brother, Buzz, it mirrors our own pain and I assure you that we are deeply feeling your pain also...from the lady who's crying also while working her garden....
Sherry in Crescent City...Peace Be With You.....

Anonymous said...

i am very sorry for your loss, Robert.

it's obvious Buzz was an exceptional human being.

you and your family and his friends were blessed to have him in your lives.


nelson

Anonymous said...

My heartfelt condolences Robert!
Your Buddy,

Mike

Anonymous said...

Hello Robert, I am so sorry to hear of your brother's passing. It is so hard. I wish I knew what to say. Just know that you are loved in this community and in this neighborhood and we wish you all the best, always. Beth

Anonymous said...

Hi Robert,
When I saw "buzz blast" I knew,and have read every heartfelt word. Knowing you, I kind of feel I would know your brother instantly if I had ever met him along the way. And would realize, he was very special. My mantra in life is "every day counts", and Buzz clearly knew the magic and made them all count ... like you.
How about some great bird photos, in his honor, when you return to California?
A big hug for you,
Robert

Anonymous said...

Robert:

So very sorry to hear about your beloved brother's passing. It is so hard to lose those closest to us. Your eulogy was beautiful, and you should be very proud. Our hearts and thoughts are with you and Leslie during this difficult time.

We would love to see both of you for dinner soon.

All our best,

Mike and Brian

Anonymous said...

Dear Robert,

With great sadness, I read the eulogy that you wrote and delivered for your brother. I know that there are no words I can say that will relieve the pain that you feel from your loss. You will hurt and feel that loss forever. I know, as I have lost a beloved brother, too. For me, it helps to remember that I was so fortunate to have a loving brother in my life for many, many years. I hope this helps in some small way.


Love,

R

Anonymous said...

Dear Robert,
I can't believe it's been a year since we were in Santa Fe and you were so worried about your brother. Dain and I are so sorry to hear about your loss. What a special relationship you had! I hope time will dull your grief and leave you carrying his memory with you always! We are lucky to be Jews! Those memories and your love are the highest form of immortality and the best indication of a life well lived. Hugs to come next month! Love and condolences from,
Dain and Sue

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

So sorry Robert. Buzz would have loved to hear your eulogy I'm sure. Made me
laugh and cry. My deepest sympathy....Helen

Anonymous said...

For all the years I've known you and your brother I never knew Buzz's given name- David. How did Buzz obtain his nickname?
KJ

Jb said...

Very sorry Robert.

Blue Heron said...

Contrary to a myth he was only too delighted to spin, it just happened, immediately.

Anonymous said...

Hi Robert, I read your eulogy and listened to Phoebe Snow. My take is not that he is not supposed to let you down by leaving but that he doesn't want you to let him down by letting his passing darken your pathway.
I'm glad you have such a nice family including your Nephews and niece and their children. I remember seeing images of them before:they look so strong and healthy.
My condolences, Joan

Anonymous said...

We are saddened to hear the news. We send our love to you and your family. I know how close you were. Bless you all!

MICHAEL R. EVANS

Anonymous said...

R,

Cannot begin to imagine the inside out hurt you feel. Must have all those memories hurtling along, can't catch them all. You have them. For you and Buzz now.

One of my favorite earthlings lost a brother and I can't bring him back for him. And I am sorry.

jf

Lena said...

Robert,

Your gift was arriving in time. Buzz "knew" you were there. His family in capable and loving hands in a difficult time. What can you do now but live, and live well, carrying his sacred memory within and onward.

With love...

Anonymous said...

Robert, Very sorry to hear the sad news of your beloved brother's passing. Your buddy, Don

Anonymous said...

Robert,
Those were lovely words you wrote about Buzz. A credit to you both and how close you were. I certainly remember him as a thoroughly lovely man.
This will affect you in ways you do not expect so don't beat yourself up when it does. When you are able to function again don't forget to live your life to the full as you know he would want you to.
You are in my thoughts man
Px

Anonymous said...

Sitting in bed crying reading your beautiful tribute to your beloved brother.
So much more to say but wanted you to know I feel your pain.
Will be by tomorrow or Thursday.

kds

Anonymous said...

Your love for your brother is beautiful and powerful. Thank you for sharing him with us.
Aloha, Wicki

Anonymous said...

I am so intensely sorry for your loss. I know how much you loved him from when you guys were living in the city. Who couldn't love Buzz? He was so special! He had a great sense of humor, a great story teller, an optimist and one of the sweetest hearts I've ever known! True Blue always! You both loved each other so much, wonderful to see siblings get along so well! I am so sorry Robert! I feel your heartache from 3000 miles away! I loved Buzz, he sincerely is watching over you and the family. His heart beats with you, and will be with you forever! With huge hugs and compassion I will be thinking of you guys for a long time.


A

Beth Jester said...

We are saddened to learn of your unimaginable loss. What a beautiful tribute you wrote. You were blessed to have had each other. Please know that you all are in our hearts and thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Hello dearest Robert,
We are so very sad to hear of the loss of your beloved brother Buzz.
Life is so fleeting and mysterious!
I am happy to hear that you were able to be with him! I am sure he felt your presence there.
We hold you in our hearts.
With much love to you and Leslie always,
Nitza and Drew