My Uncle Ronnie Berger passed away on September 11, 2012, after a brave battle. He was my godfather, one of the father-figures in my life, and a mensch. His departure leaves a giant hole in my heart and life. His funeral is today, and I was asked to say a few words. Below are some of the memories and feelings I want to share.
This past Tuesday, I was at lunch in Chinatown in DC with a friend when I received a call from my mother. She was in tears and said he had taken a turn for the worse. The next hour as I tried to eat my vegetarian Indian plate, I waited for more information. My sister texted me to let me know it was serious, and my mom called back to say that I needed to come home. I rushed home and threw together some clothes in a bag and took the Metro to the bus to BWI Airport. I spent an hour at the airport bar drinking Sam Adams - the same beer we had at Brielle's bat mitzvah just a few months earlier in Florida over Memorial Day Weekend. On my flight was Auntie Nancy who was connecting out of St. Louis as she was there seeing a friend. We sat piggyback toward the back of the plane, and when we landed, my dad picked us up to rush us to the hospital. There, they were waiting for us, the last family members, to arrive before unhooking him and letting him go. He died at 9:37 P.M. on September 11, 2012.
Ronald Berger was my godfather. He taught me about life, about being a good person, and Jewish values. A few specific times I can remember where I grew closer to Judaism he was involved: my bar mitzvah, his first diagnosis, and my divorce. When I was home for the High Holidays, we'd go to shul together. Uncle Ronnie was a family man. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for his close friends and family. Every Christmas we spent the day at his house eating, drinking, kibitzing - basically having the same party year after year. It was great.
Uncle Ronnie was the kind of man who would cheat at board games to beat a ten year old (aided by his older brother, my Uncle Eddie). He was the kind of man who took me aside at my bar mitzvah and said that now since I was a man, I would do tequilla shots with his uncles (again, Uncle Eddie was present). He was responsible for helping me find my Jewish identity. It was during his first diagnosis in 1995 when I found myself going to Hillel to seek some sort of sense and pray for him to get better. And during my divorce, he was there to remind me that things happen for a reason and to be thankful because I wouldn't have to spend the rest of my life with someone that didn't make me happy.
Last night, I went to the Sox versus Yankees games with my brother Matthew, my brother-in-law Ryan, and my college friend, Greg. (Thank you, Uncle David!) We first went to Boston Beer Works across from Fenway and toasted Uncle Ronnie. Then we watched the game from great seats with a nice view of the park. It would have been nice if they had won, but the Sox aren't doing so well this season. If he were sitting with us, he'd have shared his views on who was a bum, who needed to go, and who was the dirt dogs of the team. He wasn't shy with his love of the Sox. One of my favorite memories of the Sox was the July 24, 2004, game against the Yankees where Varitek shoved his mitt in A-Rod's face and Bill Mueller hit a walk-off home run off Rivera for a dramatic win. I went to the game with my friend Adam (a Yankees fan and visiting Fenway for the first time) and he was at the game with Auntie Maryann. We got a beer across the street before the game and celebrated after. Another time, I went to the game with them and on the way home we ate dinner at the Halfway Cafe. He loved the Sox, and I loved spending time with him bonding over the Olde Towne Team.
Mostly, I'm going to miss the times I visited home and stopped by his house. He was almost always there with Auntie Maryann watching Sox or Pats or Celtics. I'd sit down with them, game on in the background, and catch them up on what was new in my life. Living in DC, I didn't get to come home as often as I'd like, but I averaged about 4-5 times a year. I'd updated them on work, social life, politics, my running, and more. I'm going to miss calling you with exciting news or other events in my life. I'm going to miss our times on the golf course.
I already miss you...