Jodie was my sister-in-law and we were polar opposites. She was always well put together, and I am a “ponytail and go” kind of person. Jodie was a staunch republican, and I am a diehard liberal. I generally choose my words carefully, and Jodie was very blunt and off the cuff.
Jodie was extremely successful in her career. Maybe it’s because of her strong personality. She could negotiate a severance package like it’s nobody’s business. She could get out of a speeding ticket after flashing her brights at a cop. Seriously… He pulled her over and asked what her deal was and her response? “You were going too slow!”
She was a real firecracker, assertive, persistent, strong-willed, a nudge. She’d say things to get a rise out of people, like at Thanksgiving, in a room full of democrats, she raised her wine glass and proposed a toast to Donald Trump. It seemed as though at every Passover seder, or over latkes at Chanukah, we’d get into a big political debate, and Jodie would never back down, and we’d never see eye-to-eye, but at the end of the night, we’d still hug good-bye, and look forward to the next debate, where we’d try to present our defense of Barack Obama, and she would just tear us all down.
Jodie and I were pregnant at the same time, and I remember sitting around the table eating dinner, talking about how in the coming months, there would be three more boys eating with us. And Jodie, being Jodie, turns to Caleb and says, “You know, Caleb, I’m having 2 babies. I don’t need you to buy me a push present. You should buy me TWO push presents.” Caleb’s response? “You think you have to suffer? I have to watch TWO boys have a bris! You should be buying ME a bris gift!” Now to make this story even more hysterical, we all misheard Caleb, and instead of saying “bris gift” we all thought he said, “brisket.” I’ll never forget sitting around the table laughing at that. Even better, Jodie’s parents, my in-laws, gave Jodie and Caleb two briskets when the twins were born. We got one for our son and then 4 years later, were blessed with another brisket. And now, every time I eat brisket, I think of that hilarious encounter.
Now I told you that Jodie was a nudge, but here’s something you might not know about Jodie. She was truly, the most generous nudge I ever met. As a wedding gift, Jodie paid for our honeymoon, and she didn’t skimp on anything. She put us up in the finest hotel, we ate the finest meals, and if it weren’t for her, we would not have gone on a honeymoon. Then there were little things, liken when we sat down to dinner at her house and there were little personalized plates that she ordered for each of the kids. Or she would hand me a hair straightener or a container of lotion that she ordered and didn’t care for. I’d go home and look at it online to see that her bottle of lotion cost the same as my monthly phone bill. Or she’d order matching shirts for the kids so we could surprise Toni with a photo shoot. Before Jodie, I didn’t even know that Ralph Lauren made infant clothing. When my little one was in the NICU, she gave me all of her books on dealing with preemies. When he was diagnosed with autism, she held my hands, answered my questions, and showed nothing but support. And another thing about Jodie – she was truly the most loving mother I have ever met. In almost ten years, I never saw her once lose her cool around those boys.
Here’s something else you might not know about Jodie: After 9-11, Jodie volunteered on the bucket brigade in downtown Manhattan. I can just picture her – the only one there in a hard hat and a pair of Manolo Bhahniks.
Now I have been married into the family for almost 14 years, and in that time, Jodie didn’t always bring out the best in me, and I know I didn’t always bring out the best in her. But I am at peace with the way we left things. I already told you about our fierce political debates at every holiday – well this year at Thanksgiving, as we sat around the table debating, something truly weird and magical happened – we actually found common ground. It was on the debate about gun control. In fact, I asked her to repeat her position several times because I couldn’t believe that we actually agreed on anything political. Maybe we had more in common than I realized.
I saw Jodie 3 weeks before she died. She was at our house for my 6 year old’s birthday. My older son pulled out his new chess set that she bought him for Chanukah and said, “Look Aunt Jodie – I’ve been learning chess on the set that you bought me!” They sat down and instead of playing with him, she started playing with her dad. I walked by and snapped a picture, because again, I saw it as a magical kind of moment – dad and daughter playing chess together – a close moment that I don’t remember the two of them sharing often. That night, after the cake had been put away and the presents were opened, I went through my camera roll and started looking back at the photos. I came across the picture of the chess game. No one was looking at the camera, so I deleted it. I didn’t know that would be the last picture I would ever take of her.
At my wedding, Jodie gave us a speech in her rendition of “All I need to know I learned in kindergarten” but changed it to “All I really need to know about love, I learned from you two.” Here are three pieces of advice that Jodie gave us, that we could all benefit from:
1. Let the little things go.
2. Always make time for good friends, family, each other and yourselves.
3. Take time to look at the stars above.
I’m going to add one:
4. Take pictures. Take every picture like it’s the last picture you will take of that person.
Boys – You two were the smallest babies I have ever met. You had a rocky start in life, but you are both feisty fighters, just like your mom. When you were newborns in the hospital, I marveled at how strong your mom was. We will always be here to help you on your journey through life.
Caleb – When you and Jodie started dating, I didn’t think you were her type. But clearly I was wrong because I never saw her happier than when she was with you. You truly got her. Please know that we love you and we will be there for you. You are our brother.
Jodie – You are the sister I always wanted. Like sisters, we argued over silly things, but we still loved each other. Your lack of presence will definitely be noticed, and the dinner table is going to be much quieter without you. I’ll miss you. You were my favorite nudge.