Two years ago today on the Jewish calendar, my friend Jeff died. He was 53, just a few months older than I am, and one of my closest friends from college. I will never forget the pre-dawn phone call from a mutual friend, crying out the anguished words, "Jeff died." He had died of a sudden massive heart attack.

Having worked in hospitals and hospices, I have long known that everything can change in an instant, that life is fragile and precious, and that our usual assumption that our lives are stable and predictable is illusory. But this was my first experience of losing a close friend who was my contemporary. Death had become a huge, excruciating presence in the midst of our close-knit group of friends. The reminder was stark and shocking: someone of our own age can die. This can happen to any of us, or any of our loved ones, anytime.

But Jeff was far more than a man who died young. Jeff was a loving and devoted friend. With his superb listening skills, he was one of my first and best teachers about relationship. With his gentle, probing questions, he had a great role in helping me become the person I am. With his gentle, loving nature, he held my hand through many life crises over 35 years, and served as my first and most indelible model of what gentleness looks like in a man. As friends gathered from around the country for his funeral, it became clear that a remarkable number of people – his lifelong friends, family members, and the patients he served as a pediatrician – felt the same way about him. The entries in response to his online obituary went on for pages and pages, as an incredible circle of people whose lives he had touched expressed their grief and love.

For months after the funeral, I found it hard to believe that he was dead, hard to absorb that he would not be there next time I needed his special loving wisdom. It was hard to imagine life without Jeff.

Two years have passed. Reminders of Jeff appear regularly, touching the ache of loss and sweet memory. A piece of music that we loved in those years, an author that he loved, a random recollection of a moment in my life brings his memory vividly to mind. I am living without him, and still the void is both enormous and mysterious.

I have dedicated this day to his memory – studying some favorite Israeli poetry with my husband, spending time with a friend from college days, inviting the pain of his death to wash over me. I wonder what I am supposed to learn from this experience: that life is precious? But I knew that already. Still, the words to a song from long ago keep coming to me, "Treasure each day. Teach us to treasure each day."

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