Many customs in the Jewish religion have been practiced since before the recorded word. Some, like the rite of "unveiling," are borrowed from American culture and date back only a century or two.
An unveiling is a graveside ceremony marking the end of the formal grieving period. It is observed by the bereaved, who meet no sooner than the first anniversary of the loved one's death to symbolically set the headstone. The headstone is covered with a cloth, which is removed by the family during the service. Hence, "unveiling." This ritual presents the final opportunity for friends and family to meet as a group and share condolences. It is an important element of the grieving process.
It was with this in mind that I attended the unveiling service to reflect and say farewell to my friend Richard F. Jacobs. Dick Jacobs died in July 2006 at the young age of 62, the victim of a small spot on his midsection diagnosed as malignant melanoma. Surgeons removed the invader and pronounced that the "margins were clear." We hoped Dick was free of his cancer, but it was not to be. The disease returned a year later and, in spite of modern medicine and Dick's will to live, there was no denying this voracious organism. Dick succumbed to it with courage and grace exhibited by no other I have observed.
For over 25 years, Dick and I played racquetball every Saturday morning. We were C+ players, but enjoyed the game. After the match, we relaxed with The New York Times crossword puzzle. The exercise was more than enough, often necessitating an afternoon nap.
In 1999, Dick and I and a few of our friends summitted Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. At 19,340 feet, the altitude is dangerously high. Mount Kilimanjaro is an inhospitable place where more climbers die each year than on any other mountain in the world. Climbing Kilimanjaro is like going to war. Soldiers bond during those experiences. Dick's will and determination carried him to the top. It was a proud moment for both of us, and an already-great friendship was enhanced.
Treatment for Dick's disease was debilitating. When Dick could no longer play racquetball, we walked. At first, 100 yards seemed impossible, but Dick persevered. After a while, we were walking miles. He loved to achieve; no doubt that is what led him to the ranks of Eagle scouting when he was a boy. During his treatment, he continued to work and do his best to maintain relationships with friends. He even published a crossword puzzle of his own creation in The New York Times.
In an effort to perpetuate Dick's memory, some of us have contributed to a cancer fellowship in Dick's honor at the Indiana University Medical Center under the administration of Dr. Larry Einhorn. (Please don't interpret this as a request for funds.) Maybe one day, a doctor who is granted the opportunity to study with Einhorn will solve the disease that killed our friend Dick.
At the funeral, I felt that Dick was an irreplaceable friend, but today, with the perspective of a year, I realize no one is irreplaceable. As the gap in my life begins to fill, I realize we can persevere in spite of the death of loved ones. Nonetheless, I will always remember the manner in which Dick faced his last illness and the ideal and the standard he set for all of us who will inevitability face the same challenges, I hope many years from now.
This rite of unveiling has given me a chance to once again say, "Goodbye, Dick. Your friends will always remember you, miss you and appreciate who you were and the friendships we had."
Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal.To comment on this column, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.com.