The Profile That Broke My Heart, and Helped a Father Heal
“Don’t ever diminish the power of words.
Words move hearts and hearts move limbs.” – Hamza Yusuf
As a long time communicator and a writer, I have written many types of personal profiles for individuals ranging from people who have kicked cancer’s butt and grateful patients praising a doctor who changed their lives to corporate bios and executive summaries. But one profile will forever tug at my heart strings – the memorial piece for a young father, husband, friend, brother and son.
I was approached by the late Jonathan Gitelman’s father last year. Mr. Gitelman was looking for a writer to capture the essence of his son who had passed away at the age of 46 from a long battle with cancer. Somehow, Mr. Gitelman found me through LinkedIn. In a way, I believe it was fate that brought us together. But that’s a story for another time.
Mr. Gitelman and I sat together on a sunny fall day outside of Panera. I listened to him talk about his son’s long and courageous battle with cancer, about the family he left behind, about the two young children who lost their father, about his and his wife’s own heartache, and how he had to do something to keep his beloved son’s memory alive. It’s a terrible thing to lose someone you love to something as cruel as cancer. It is absolutely heartbreaking to watch as your loved one fights with all his might to beat the disease that will ultimately defeat him. I heard this father’s pain in every word he spoke.
And then the panic set in.
How would I ever write a piece that would do justice to this man’s life?
I needed to get to know Jonathan. So, I read through pages upon pages on Jonathan’s Caring Bridge site. I smiled at the pictures shared of days spent with his family at Camden Yards. I was immediately struck by his good nature in the posts he shared and by the many, many friends and family members who sent messages of love and encouragement during his battle, and after he passed. I could tell that he had made a great impact on many people in his community and was a true family man. He was just like any man I knew in my own life – a loving husband, a baseball coach to his son, a dad who was always in the audience for his daughter’s dance recitals, and a die hard baseball fan. He could have been my friend, my neighbor, my own son’s coach. I knew I had to knock this memorial “out of the park.”
This was the hardest profile I have ever had the honor to write. There were times I fought back tears for a man I would never know, but felt as if I did. I needed to do justice to this piece for his father. It meant so much to him to memorialize his son and to raise money in his name for a project near and dear to him. Little did I understand that by helping Mr. Gitelman write his son’s memorial, I was also helping in his own grieving and healing process.
Finally, the words were written, rewritten, and read over a hundred times. I held my breath and sent it off to Mr. Gitelman, hoping it had even remotely captured the spirit of his son’s larger than life legacy. And in return, he sent me back an email: “Absolutely magnificent. Not a word needs to be changed. Reading it brought tears to my eyes. I cannot thank you enough.”
Live life and love to the fullest, people. The days are long and the years short…
Jonathan’s memorial webpage has already raised more than $10,000 for the Project Baseball project. In honor of Jonathan, the Jewish National Fund will dedicate a plaque that will go in the soon-to-be-built Israel baseball stadium. View Jonathan’s memorial page here: http://support.jnf.org/site/TR/MemorialTribute/SecurePages/1177712196;jsessionid=AEDAAD8978E27B0B5E0100D2BAE22F05.app253c?px=5871837&pg=personal&fr_id=1870