I'm thinking about my brother all the time, which is nothing unusual but for some reason with all the talk of Father's Day I feel more urgently than ever that I must tell Rocky, my brother's son, everything I know about his Dad. I have to write it all down, to remember his lion's-roar laugh and the extraordinary way he saw the absolute best in you, even when – no, especially when – all you saw was the worst of yourself. I want that little boy to know the great man his father is. I can't write 'was.' I just can't.
The other trigger, far deeper than Father's Hallmarked Day, is that we're entering the two weeks (two years ago) between the time my brother's thunderous headache started and his death from a blood clot misdiagnosed as a migraine until it was too late.
So as we burrow into that 'anniversary' tunnel of hell again, I get stuck in the pain of remembering and everything shuts down. I am fighting that by trying to write my way out of the blackness, writing my way to my beautiful nephew who deserves to know everything.
In yesterday's post, A Father's Day Gift To My Nephew: Your Dad Healed Everyone He Met, I shared the impromptu words I spoke at my brother's memorial service. Today, for the first time, I went back and looked at the obituary I wrote for my brother, Josh. I'm a reporter, a writer. I've written hundreds of obits, as we call them: lived-a-good-life obits, taken-too-soon obits; I put to rest retired elementary school principals, judges gone awry, poets and podiatrists. But my own baby brother? Just days after we lost him? Not possible, I thought. Too painful. I have no words left, I thought.
And then I thought, but I need his son, Rocky, to know how much his Dad mattered to so many people. I need to tell the story of his miraculous, generous life. Who else will do it? That is what I tell my students when I assign obituaries. I tell them, remarkably, if approached gently and genuinely, people want to talk about the lives of their loved ones. I could not bear to talk about my brother, but somehow I could write about him. And so I did.
This is what I wrote:
The obituary I couldn't, but had to write, about my beloved baby brother, the keeper of my secrets, my life witness, my best friend.
Joe, "Josh" Cytrynbaum, of Evanston, an extraordinary Chicago teacher, student advocate and deeply adored father, son, brother and friend, died Saturday at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, after suffering an incredibly rare intra - cerebral hemorrhage. He was 37.
He was an assistant professor and Coordinator of Field Education in Northeastern Illinois University's Social Work Program, a job he started just one year ago. He came to Northeastern from his position as program director for Umoja Student Development Corporation, a not-for-profit organization that works with Chicago's most challenged high schools to keep students in school, see them successfully graduate high school and prepare them to go on to college.
Joe's impact on students is reflected in the hundreds of messages and pictures on Facebook from students whose lives were deeply touched and changed by his contagious faith in everyone, his unfathomable enthusiasm, his transcendent empathy and compassion, his unmatched energy and love, his roaring laugh, and his relentless sense of humor."Joe made every single person - especially all of his students - feel that no matter what, he had all the time in the world for them, their lives, their stories," said Lila Leff, Founder and Executive Director of UMOJA, where Joe worked for four and a half years. "We are remembering his laser-beam focus and passion, and his generosity of spirit that allowed him to connect with EVERYBODY, crossing all differences and obstacles. No matter the stress, Joe moved through this world with grace and kindness," Leff said.
The fast-growing Facebook messages on hundreds of students' Facebook pages are a testament to Joe's spirit, impact, and the extraordinary power of his kindness, Leff said. "They're multiplying by the minute, kids are posting photos with Joe, writing 'Joe was my guide,' 'Joe was my mentor'; 'Joe was my father figure'...Joe was a moral and creative compass for us, and the world."
One of his favorite parts of his work at UMOJA was serving as coach and mentor to the students on the "Louder Than A Bomb" team, a group of students who created, wrote and performed spoken-word poetry out of the Young Chicago Authors program. Joe was also on the board of Young Chicago authors. Joe also adored taking groups of high school students to visit colleges and universities all around the country. One of his greatest joys was helping to open the world to students.
He is a 1995 graduate of Northwestern University. He received a master's degree in social work from Columbia University in New York, and a PhD from the School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.
Joe's greatest joy was being with his wife, Erin, and their astonishing son, Rocky Seeger, who turned 1 just days before we lost his dad.
"He was the best person I ever knew. He had the biggest heart, the sharpest mind, the most encompassing soul ever lent to this earth. He was my baby brother, but I wanted to grow up to be just like him," said his older sister, Pamela Cytrynbaum, a former Chicago Tribune writer.
His memory is a blessing to us all.
Peace and Blessings
Here is the column written by my friend, Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich:
Brother's Death Hits Harder Than Most: Older sister reflects on loss of her best friend
Mary Schmich July 15 2009
Pam Cytrynbaum witnessed her brother Joe's life from start to finish.
And here is the official obituary that ran in The Chicago Tribune, announcing to the community that so loved him, that he was gone.
DR. JOSEPH CYTRYNBAUM 1972-2009
Dr. Joseph Cytrynbaum, 1972-2009; helped guide lives of urban youth in Chicago, taught at Northeastern Illinois University
Remained active in Umoja at Manley after joining university's staff
Here are more of my thoughts on Grief and Healing: