Sunday, August 26, 2012

Of Protecting Cyclers and Making Family When Needed

Friday was the birthday of my dear friend Elena who died five years ago, and yesterday was the annual picnic to celebrate her life. I have written about her before. Today I have some new thoughts to share in a two-direction blog post as the anniversary of this tragedy rolls around again.

The first direction. On Elena’s birthday Friday, in a spine-chilling coincidence, a prominent psychiatrist in our community was struck by a dump truck while biking to work at 8AM and he was killed. He was 56 years old. He has been described as “the heart and soul of mental health services” in our county. For most of his career he spearheaded the county mental health services program and in this capacity helped countless individuals. Just recently he left his county job and took on the role of psychiatric services provider for veterans through our local Veteran’s Administration. His name is Dr. Doug Rosoff. I did not know him, but his death has caused me to have flashbacks to the loss of Elena, also biking to work, also struck down at about 8AM, also by a dump truck, and a few weeks shy of her 56th birthday. I see articles in the newspapers regularly about cyclists struck down by motorists and killed. How long will it take for city planners, traffic planners, public officials, communities to find ways to better protect our bicyclists? My 20-year-old son Sudi cycles all over the Bay Area on his street bike (Elena would be so proud of him for it). I pray for his safety every morning when I take my walk behind the lake.

The second direction. Yesterday I saw Elena’s parents who flew to Berkeley from Chicago to join us at the picnic. Candy and David raised three children and all three died without marrying or producing grandchildren. Elena was the last of the three. They are now in their mid-80s. Since Elena’s death, many of her friends have remained in regular contact with Candy and David and have formed close relationships with them. I call them every week to chat and have become very close to them, especially Candy. I am not the only one. At least half a dozen friends of Elena my age call them weekly and another half a dozen call them at least once a month. Whenever they visit Berkeley, they are kept pretty busy visiting with one after another of Elena’s friends. And when I call them, Candy gives me all the latest news about Elena’s other friends who remain in touch with them. I think this web of relationships that we, Elena’s friends, have formed to embrace her parents is most unusual. They have become like family to us. While Elena lived, we did not know them all that well. But since Elena has died, many of us have become deeply attached to them and an integral part of their lives. It is almost as if we have become their adopted children. And we talk with each other about them the way people our age talk about our own parents. Concerned about their health. Telling funny anecdotes about them. Humoring them. Loving them. We have fallen in love with them. We have made the family we needed in Elena’s absence.

Elena and her godson Sudi (being silly).

Elena showing the love for her godson Sudi.

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