Marc Hoschander used to sit in the row behind me every morning at the 6:15 a.m. minyan at Congregation Degel Israel. I saw him at shul the morning he died. I don’t even remember if I wished him a good day. Since then, especially last Friday, a week after he passed away, I look at his empty seat and there a sense of sadness. I could talk about Marc but both Shabsie Saphirstein and Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld gave glowing tributes, so I do not believe I could meaningfully add to what they expressed. I also do not need to address the pain and suffering that his family, including his mother, wife, and children, are going through, since it’s something that most people who have lost a loved one can relate to. Instead, I want to address what each one of us can learn from his passing and use for our own lives.
Marc is not the first relatively young person to be niftar in this community. Our community suffered many losses due to COVID. Yet there was a feeling that if the death rate of COVID would drop then everything will be fine. But Marc’s sudden heart attack is a reminder that there are other ways to leave this world. Also, it has had more of an effect on those who knew Marc and/or who had a family member die of a heart attack.
There was a British comedian who used to say, “Live everyday as your last because one day you will be right.” His idea of how to act was to do whatever you desire, which is not a Torah approach. However, in his joke, he made a good point.
There are some who look at every day as possibly their last. This includes people who have conditions that are very serious and could be fatal at any moment, and others who are on such a spiritual level that they can use it as a motivator to use their time wisely.
Most of us do not fall into either group. I believe that there are two reasons why we cannot have that mindset. First, having this belief would cause such anxiety and/or depression that we could not function. We would suffer a nervous breakdown or other mental illness. Also, it would force us to make major life changes in our daily activities, which we are unwilling to do. Nevertheless, if we think about it once in a while, maybe it can motivate us to change - ever so slightly - in how we live our lives.
There are concrete steps we can take. It is important to be prepared just in case it would suddenly happen. You should have a burial plot. It is much more expensive to buy a plot after a person is deceased. The cemetery knows that you have no choice. If you have a plot you need to tell others. Unfortunately, I was at a burial where the family did not know that the deceased had already gotten a plot and the family bought a plot at a different cemetery. Second, put the document that indicates where the plot is in a place where it can easily be found. Do not put it in a safety deposit box. Also tell at least one person where you put the document.
Do some estate planning. Many methods, such as writing a will or establishing a trust, can be used to deal with what happens with your assets when you are gone. If you are an owner of a business or professional practice, make sure that someone can obtain access to the business documents once you are gone. This is a frequent problem for lawyers who are sole practitioners, where family members have no idea as to what cases the lawyer was working on and cannot notify either the client or the court of the attorney’s demise.
Do not let ill feelings and disagreements fester. It is too late to take care of it when the person is gone. How many people have regretted that they let a dispute linger until the other person died? Say something positive to a person or family members. I go to funerals and shiva homes where there are standing-room-only crowds. Clearly, there was a friendship or otherwise respect for the deceased. How many of those people ever said anything about how they viewed the deceased during his/her lifetime? Fortunately, there have been individuals who have stopped me to thank me for my column and that they look forward to reading it.
G-d makes the ultimate decision as to who lives and who dies. However, we must do our part by eating healthy and exercising.
Many of us in the Kew Gardens Hills community are still in shock from Marc’s sudden death. We should not just let it pass and do nothing but use it as a wake-up call to make changes in our lives and prepare for the inevitable, even if we hope it will not occur until we are 120.