Milestones represent opportunities to reflect. Some are happy events while others can be quite devastating, with many in between. Three years ago my wife of nearly 30 years, Roneet, passed away. It was so unexpected and untimely that it brought me, and so many others who loved her, to our knees. We had a remarkable life together with many happy experiences captured in this blog over the last few years of her life.
Paul Simon wrote in Bookends Theme,
Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, A time of confidences
When we met and eventually married we both had very little in terms of financial resources but what we did share was a similar outlook on life, very similar values, a strong cultural heritage, and complementary traits and skills that resulted in one plus one equaling more than two. We loved discovering and growing together. It makes me think of the Oasis song Acquiesce in which Noel Gallagher sings so passionately during the chorus:
Because we need each other
We believe in one another
And I know we’re going to uncover
What’s sleepin’ in our soul
We did need each other and believed in one another and came to learn more about each other with every passing day.
Roneet was far more intense than I was but her instincts were incredible. I used to call ourselves Smother and Bother in terms of how we would interact with our two kids. She would smother what she feared which means she was very involved in their lives, especially when she had concerns or fears, and I tended to bother them about what they were doing with their lives. When Roneet would get upset and be relentlessly focused on our kids I would sometimes break into the Pink Floyd song Mother and sing:
Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true
Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you
Mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing
She won’t let you fly but she might let you sing
Mama’s gonna keep baby cosy and warm
After initially telling me to shut up she would finally crack a smile and maybe acknowledge that she might be overreacting a bit. Ahh but that’s what I loved about her so much. She was so real and authentic. She wore her heart on her sleeve. I was the cerebral one while she led and lived by her heart and we were better off for her being the family matriarch.
In some ways her passing feels like yesterday and in other ways it does feel like a long time ago. When working on the business at CWS I often like to reflect on what is working well today and where have we fallen short and what are the decisions we made and corresponding actions we took in years past that contributed to our current state. Fortunately, over the last few years, our results have been very satisfying so the seeds we planted have sprouted nicely in the ensuing years.
The third anniversary of Roneet’s passing has had me reflect more personally.
I am really proud of my kids. They were dealt a real blow. Roneet loved them so deeply that it pained her sometimes how much she felt for them and worried about them at times. They lost their mom without any ability to prepare or say goodbye. Roneet micromanaged a lot of Jacob’s life because of his health challenges resulting from him having a stroke at age 2. He is now 28 and lives a very independent life and he has grown tremendously and established much more independence. He is a basketball coach whose players love playing for him and he has definitely found his calling. It’s very gratifying to see how committed he is to coaching and how he has grown as a person. He is a very kind and caring young man for which I am so grateful.
Ariella, who is 25, was particularly devastated by the loss of her mother, as mothers and daughters have their unique bonds and challenges. She has continuously worked on processing the loss and integrating into her life. She lived at home after Covid and, much to her credit, woke up one day and basically said “I need to get out of here and move to New York. I have to be around people my age, the cultural attractions, and I need it to feel more alive.” At that point it occurred to me there can truly be a cost to free rent. She spread her wings and moved to the Big Apple in June and is doing remarkably well. She’s juggling a few jobs, making her own way, and she sounds so alive when we talk. The pain and loss is still ever present but she is living and growing in spite of that, which is a hallmark of a very courageous person. She has grown exponentially in these three years and I couldn’t be more proud of her.
While I can never know how my kids are truly doing, just like we can’t know that with most people, my litmus test regarding our relationship is if they reach out to me when they are struggling with something and want me to know that. And if they want my advice or feedback, great, but if they just want to emote then all the better. It means they trust me and value our relationship. I feel like that has been happening with both of them and nothing is more gratifying than being trusted to be taken into their confidence.
Roneet bequeathed me with a lot of gifts. I saw how she took on the challenges of life head on and took the lead on home improvement projects, vacations, collaborating on financial decisions, taking risks, and always wanting to grow and aspire for excellence. I leaned on her for many things and with her gone I could either curl up in a ball and retreat or take on the challenge of taking charge of these aspects of my life and continuing to build up what we created together. I was at the prime of my life and I would not be honoring her memory or those who needed and depended on me if I went into retreat. I’ve been a believer in that you can’t think your way into better feelings, you must act your way into them. Of course this is a thought so it’s a little contradictory. With that being said, I felt like I needed to get into action. It’s recommended that one not make any major financial decisions when grieving. My experience was to the contrary. I went right into the deep end of the pool with some major philanthropic commitment in Roneet’s honor that I clearly made in a deeply emotional and perhaps vulnerable state. And yet, none of these were pushed on me. I generally sought them out and I have no regrets whatsoever.
In the wake of Roneet’s passing I helped facilitate or contribute to the following:
- Contributed to the purchase of the land to establish the Roneet Kimeldorf Carmell Center for Jewish Life in my hometown in Orange County, California.
- Established an annual commemoration for Roneet during Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem.
- Established the Roneet Carmell Memorial Endowment at UCI Medical Center to support the incredible and pioneering work by the even more incredible Dr. Yama Akbari.
- Contributed to an agricultural training center in Zambia in honor of Roneet.
- In addition, I have made other, smaller donations in Roneet’s honor.
I don’t bring these up to brag or to put me in some kind of advantageous light. I only mention these because having participated in these helped me immensely. To have her be associated with causes and leaders of those organizations who care so deeply about what they are trying to accomplish was incredibly gratifying and healing for me. To have her name be kept in the hearts and minds of people for decades to come will allow others to have some connection, even if it’s small, to a beautiful soul.
The more I go through life the more my goal is to keep playing the game which means putting myself in a position to stay on the field by playing competitively, competently, and successfully for as long as I can. This requires being strong physically, mentally, and spiritually. I have recommenced working out with a trainer two times a week and I took up tennis again about 2.5 years ago such that I now play three to five times a week. It has been a life saver. It has really helped my conditioning and I have found an outlet that enables me to work on continuous improvement that has been so beneficial to me both physically and mentally. Every interaction in life is akin to a point in tennis. Stay focused, anticipate, prepare, watch the other person, be trained for whatever happens, and give it your best shot. Whatever happens, happens, but don’t dwell on it so that it negatively impacts your next moments. The preparation and competition make me feel alive like very few things in life and I’m so glad I reconnected with the sport and have stayed with it. I am also extremely appreciative of the relationships I have formed through the sport.
One issue that I knew I would have to eventually address was my leaky mitral valve in my heart. It got to the point earlier in the year that the time was now. I underwent a long, complicated operation to repair the valve. It entailed a one week hospital stay and 30 day recovery period which included recovering from having lost a lot of blood and corresponding anemia.
I am so pleased that my heart is now in great condition, my hemoglobin is back up to healthy levels, and I can be very active and pursue activities that bring me great joy.
One of the great gifts of my life has been to work with such incredible people at CWS, particularly my partners. I have worked at CWS for over 34 years and, as a result, many of my most important primary relationships outside of my family are with CWS people. They know, accept, and deeply care about me and they have been there for me during some very dark times, particularly in the wake of Roneet’s passing. I can’t express enough how appreciative I am.
On the Carmell side I am so grateful for my siblings and mom. They have been there for me through and through. We have grown closer in the ensuing three years and I am increasingly grateful for the opportunity to spend time together and to stay in communication. Many of my family members spend time in the Palm Springs area during the winter. Being reminded of how important family is, inspired me to purchase a place out there as well and I’m looking forward to spending more time together. It’s also been great to see the family expand with a great nephew being born and a nephew’s wedding taking place recently.
Staying in a strong relationship with Roneet’s parents, sister, and her family has been important to me. To lose a child and sibling is devastating and the reality of the situation is that I was in the prime of my life when it happened and there was a high probability that I would proceed in directions that may be different from theirs. And this has been the case in some ways. First of all, Covid alone has created a disconnect that has been challenging for most people, including me vis-a-vis them. I have also been playing more tennis, which is very time consuming, continuing to work, I’m starting to travel more now, and I have entered into another relationship that understandably could be a challenging situation. With that being said, their love for me is clear, and I love them so very deeply and I am so appreciative of how they have kept me as a welcomed part of their life, along with Heather, the woman I have been with for some time now. My niece recently had her first baby, Ezra, and he is bringing incredible joy to a family that has been devastated by the loss of Roneet, who was the glue of the family.
I met Heather rather spontaneously and unexpectedly. It’s a long story but she had been involved with someone who also passed away and he is buried in the same cemetery as Roneet. This instantly created a connection that was rather unique. She has been a lifeline for me. She inspired me to get back into tennis, she was instrumental in nursing me back to health after my heart surgery, she honors Roneet’s legacy and memory which is so touching, she is so warm to my family as well as Roneet’s, she is very kind to my kids, and she loves being with Jacob’s dog Harry, which cannot be underestimated. She also knows what I need for my smoothie and when my ingredients need to be replenished and makes sure I always have what I need. I can’t tell you how much I value this! The home I purchased in the Palm Springs area is so much more enjoyable having had her be involved in improving it and using it. She traveled with me to Dubai, Zambia, South Africa, and Israel and made those visits that much more enjoyable and meaningful. She always thinks about others first and this shows in how thoughtful she is and how helpful she is to me and others. We play a lot of tennis together which is wonderful. All in all, I have a lot to thank Heather for and without her I would definitely be floundering in rough seas.
Finally, there is Harry. Just look at him. How can he not be a source of incredible joy and healing?
Taking stock has been a very helpful exercise for me. It makes me realize that so much change and growth can occur in a relatively short period of time in spite of experiencing such a profound loss. Or maybe it’s because of it. It’s easy for inertia to take over in life. A body at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. And boy was I hit by an outside force.As Heraclitus said, “You cannot step in the same river twice.”Click To Tweet
After Roneet passed I was no longer the same person and, as I have had to carry on with my life in her absence, I have had to evolve and grow, which has changed me even more than the normal course of life would have on its own.
Whenever people ask how I’m doing I never say that I’m moving on. What I do say is that I’m moving forward and carrying Roneet with me wherever I go. What is different now is that in the wake of her passing I had very little meaningful life experience to share with others or to reflect upon that didn’t include Roneet. It was very difficult to be fully engaged by sharing relatable experiences because Roneet was no longer with me and she wasn’t there for us to feed off of each other. It felt like such a sad void that I couldn’t fill. And yet, life moves forward and has certain demands on us that must be addressed. And since I’m not one to choose stagnation over growth, I have moved forward and as a result many new experiences have been created out of which a whole new body of content has emerged. I have a full, rich life and now I am not just the man who lost his wife but the man who has a full life that included an extraordinary relationship with a beautiful woman that has informed who he is today but is now part of a larger body of experience. I’m continuing to write the book of my life and rather than having writer’s block due to such a terrible void that occurred with Roneet passing, I have now grown and evolved such that very compelling new chapters are being written.
The story is still very much unfolding!