We walked in silence on the long, winding path to the covered gravesite. Despite the unseasonably warm day, a blustery wind whipped the trees, triggering a lone wind chime that sent its gentle tune along the breeze. Gravestones festooned with flags and faux flower arrangements dotted the landscape as we slowly made our way to the tented ground that would be our friend’s final resting place.
Funerals are never easy, but paying respects to a childhood friend who died unexpectedly is especially hard to grasp. I’m 47 years old, and while I’m well aware that death is inevitable, it did not occur to me that I would attend a memorial service for a friend, David Rosenberg, at this age.
While I’m thankful he did not suffer long, I have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that he was taken so quickly and seemingly without warning.
Though I had seen David only occasionally in recent years, I spent many summers with him at Camp Judaea and Camp Tel Yehudah, and that collective experience still resonates with all of us who were fortunate enough to have lived it. My daughter will soon spend her sixth summer at Camp Judaea, and I am thrilled beyond belief that she too now knows what a special time and place camp can be.
I heard about his passing the way most breaking news is shared these days: on Facebook. At first, posted photos and cryptic comments referencing the heartbreak associated with his circumstances were puzzling to me. But it soon became apparent that something was very, very wrong.
I called a friend from CJ, who confirmed my suspicions, and soon enough those same Facebook posts were overflowing with comments from camp friends also grappling with this sudden, horrible turn of events. One of our own had been taken.
Childhood ended for me many decades ago, but somehow my memories of camp have remained suspended in time. Perhaps I’m fortunate that I’m still in touch with many who shared those days with me, and several of us reconnect each year as we watch our children unpack in the same bunks we shared as kids back in the ’70s and ’80s.
The friendships formed at camp seemed impervious to time or distance, and it never dawned on me that those indelible bonds we were creating would one day be severed by our eventual deaths.
As a child, I looked forward to camp in a way that can only be explained to others who also longed for that home away from home. These were friends I connected with primarily once a year, on another level, in a way that was incredibly intense and meaningful. I remember coming home each year in tears and desperately counting the days until the following summer.
In a time before social media, I would run up the phone bill keeping in touch with my closest camp friends, and I know my parents paid a small fortune developing dozens of tiny film canisters carefully tucked away in the depths of my enormous trunk. I still have some of those post-camp letters, handwritten and flooded with emotion and teen angst, stuffed in an old shoebox in my basement.
Now, as I watched, grief-stricken, as we said our final goodbyes to our friend, I couldn’t help but think of how fitting it was that David’s death brought us together again. How fortunate we were to have shared those special times and to recall them, even as we mourned the loss of one of our own.
In Jewish tradition, funerals are typically held within a day or two of a death, and I always marvel at the ability of loved ones and friends to mobilize so quickly to pay their respects. Judging by the crowd that day, David was much beloved throughout his life, but it was the presence of so many of us who lived together all those years ago at Camp Judaea that resonated with me. Despite the different directions our lives had taken, that camp connection remained and brought us together again for a very different kind of meaningful, shared experience.
My own parents met at summer camp, and I know they too have said their final goodbyes to camp friends over the years. I do not look forward to this inevitable circle of life, but I will forever be grateful for the camp ties that bind, and I know that even death cannot erase those cherished memories.