Not long ago, I was in a meeting with someone whose husband had passed away less than a year before. In the midst of the meeting someone cracked a joke and the woman of whom I'm speaking laughed. I was startled. "How can you laugh?" I thought. "Your spouse passed away less than a year ago!" And then an alarming thought occurred to me: "Are we all disposable and that easily replaceable? Can our loved ones laugh so quickly after we're gone?"

Right now and before writing another word, I want to clear up any misconceptions: Within seconds of thinking this I knew that that's not what I really think. My wife suggested that perhaps my own condition had something to do with my response. Being in remission from lymphoma does not mean that I believe 100% of the time that I'm out of the woods. Mainly, I'm very optimistic. But I'm not Mr. Bitachon every second of every day. And, whenever I hear of someone who passes away from some version of what I have (or, please G‑d , had), it re-opens unpleasant thoughts and fears. Unfortunately, hearing about such people is all too common these days.

"It was laughter with a broken heart that will never mend in full," my wife assured me.

Are we disposable? Sounds ridiculous doesn't it? And of course we are not. But death is not the only place I find evidence to my fear that our lives are too quickly forgotten and replaced not only by laughter, but by others.

Look at divorce. People marry. People divorce. Their spouse remarries. And there is someone else who comes to take his or her place. In some cases, he or she comes to parent the children. Now you see him, now you don't. There seems to be this space — husband, father, whatever — that can be filled by a variety of candidates. Perhaps not in the same way, but still... filled. What is the message to our children? He was your Daddy. But he can be your Daddy, too.

I'm taking a risk here. I know that what I'm writing is an exaggeration, and certainly not the most rational or wisest train of thought. I'm inviting you on a journey with my darker side. My fearful side. The side that emerges when my worst nightmares and thoughts overpower my higher and better self. Can I trust you to come along without too much judgment? Will you hang in there with me a little while longer as I flush this out?

If Daddies are replaceable, is the same true of the children? In a disposable, replaceable world, do we need ponder too long why kids sometimes wonder if their lives are worth anything? Why we sometimes wonder the same?

But, when we lose someone in our life there is a dilemma. On the one hand we are to mourn. On the other, we are to carry on with our lives. And, in today's modern world, it seems that the faster and fuller we do this, the healthier we are. Rarely, today, do we see a widow or widower whose loss is worn constantly on his sleeve. Whose grief becomes an indelible look in the eyes and tension on the face. And even though someone may have once been the "love of my life," in today's world it seems that after loss we are encouraged to pick ourselves up and begin a new life. But if one creates a new life can't one also then have a new "love of my life"? New life; new love. Disposable life; replaceable love.

I'm traveling further downward. Spinning really. Can you feel it? I've done this before, but it's different having you with me. And not even knowing who you are: faceless, unknown confidants!

Have I come to the point where I trust you all so much? Or is it just the chemo and past months of battle that have left me not even caring what you think?

Perhaps if I thought about my own parents more. Perhaps if they occupied more of my thoughts and speech? Perhaps if I didn't feel that my own life had continued on so easily after they both passed away? Were they disposable? Of course not. Were they replaceable? Impossible. And yet...

No, I don't want anyone to suffer after loss. Not anyone in my family. Not anyone in yours. I want for there to be laughter again. Full lives. Happiness. Joy. Song. A warm, lively Shabbos table filled with children and grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Even the ones I might never meet.

But, oh, how I don't want ever to be forgotten. For life to be as if I never was. Can you understand that? Do you ever feel that? Someone told me recently that they never think about one day not being here, yet for me, not one day passes without that thought.

They say "Jacob lived through the good deeds of his children." But that was Jacob. And look at who his children were. But what about me?

Have you never thought these thoughts? Never felt the fear? Never been caught in the spiral of your own darker self with no escape in view? Never wished you could ascend towards the point of light you know is there, somewhere... but where?

I'm lucky enough to have a person in my life who motivates me to reach a little higher, and helps me get there some of the time. His name is Rav (Rabbi) Gluckowsky. He's the guy in my community who is my teacher and guide. He's someone I learn from not just in a class, but from the way he lives his life.

(A lot of people call him by his first name, but I prefer to always call him "Rav Gluckowsky," even though we're pretty good friends and I'm older by a long shot. Perhaps it's because we're friends that I call him "Rav." I enjoy giving things to my friends. And, in this case, I enjoy giving respect to someone I like very much. The respect and honor I afford him in no way lessens the familiarity and comfort I feel when I'm with him. He is my Rav and we are friends.)

I never met Rav Gluckowsky's father. And yet he accompanies Rav Gluckowsky almost everywhere he goes and certainly in most every meeting I have with him. There is not a talk Rav Gluckowsky gives in which he doesn't quote his father. The other day we were speaking of our sons' singing in the choir and he mentioned what a great voice his father had. Last week I went to a birthday farbrengen and Rav Gluckowsky was asked to tell a story. "Let me tell you a story about the previous Rebbe that my father used to tell..." He not only told the story in his father's name, his father was imbedded throughout the story.

His father's picture hangs prominently in his living room. We are invited to his home several times a year to share in some event commemorating his father. And one has the feeling that Rav Gluckowsky's entire life is dedicated to his father, that he is busily and consciously being the son his father would have wanted him to be.

In shul, we all know that many of the tunes he sings during daavening come from his father. And in our community, we all know we are the beneficiaries of the wonderful man Rav Gluckowsky's father must have been. We, too, are better off because Rav Gluckowsky's father once blessed the earth.

Would Sukkot be Sukkot without the stories of the sukkahs that Rav Gluckowsky built together with his father and brothers? How many times have we heard the one about the last minute car ride with the police chasing behind just minutes before candle lighting time? Would our boys school be the same if it was not filled with the educational adages from Rav Gluckwsky's father, an educator who taught first through eighth grades in Toronto for forty years?

And would we not all love to say to our children as Rav Gluckowsky recently said to his: How proud I would be if you grew up to be a teacher like Zaidy, a man who, through his teaching, improved the lives of so many, many people.

Funny, but when I finally saw a video of Rav Gluckowsky's father, he looked like an ordinary guy. A school teacher. Someone a lot like you and I. But someone who had risen to near mythic stature through the love, respect and devotion of his son.

Listening to Rav Gluckowsky, I, this ordinary father, could imagine one day being lifted to such heights by my own children. And such fantasies fill me with warmth and courage. They ease my fears. They impel me forward to live a life full of actions that will give my children something to talk about one day to their children and to their communities.

If Rav Gluckowsky's father is not disposable, neither am I. Neither are you. We are as irreplaceable as the love we give. Our indelible mark is invisibly carved on the hearts of our children and loved ones. Our mark is contained not only in their laughter, but in the laughter they impart to others. Laughter, as my wife says, that comes from a broken heart. But a heart filled with love breaks and then grows stronger through mending. Its strength comes from its softness, a softness made softer by the love we left behind, perhaps softer, even, through the loss our children feel after we've left.

The woman who laughed came into my office the other day. She stopped by to tell me about the event held in her community the night before to commemorate the first anniversary of her husband's passing. She described the event for a long time and then went on to tell me about the highlight of the evening.

"My daughter read a letter she had written to her Abba," she began. "In the letter she described all the family events of the past year. She described them in detail so that my husband, her father, would be able to take nachas from her piano recital, from her brother's first bike ride, from the first day mommy was able to go back to work after months of feeling too sad to even leave the house..."

As the woman spoke her eyes welled with tears. They never spilled over. It was as if her heart had simply filled with so much love it had to relieve itself through her eyes.

She stood in my doorway for a long time reciting all the events that her daughter had recounted in her letter to her father. She even told me how her daughter had described to her father what she knew her father's reactions would be. "You would have laughed so hard, Abba..." "You would have told us your famous story about the time you..." "Oh, Abba, how you would have enjoyed the music..."

I never grew tired of listening to this woman tell about this evening of remembrance. Long past the time when I should have returned to my work, I listened attentively about her children and their love for their father and for his memory.

And when she finally finished and continued down the hall, I could have continued listening even longer.

But instead I sat down and wrote this article. Perhaps one day my children will read it. Or, better yet, perhaps they'll read to their children one day.

May I live to be 120.

Editor's note: Jay sent us this article two-and-a-half years ago, at a time when — as he writes in its opening paragraphs — he was very optimistic about his prognosis. But shortly thereafter, while we were still working on the article, a blood test result brought the news that his illness had turned once more aggressive. Indeed, such ups-and-downs often occurred during his valiant four-year battle with the disease.

Because of the unfortunate turn of events, Jay felt that the subject of this article was too "close to home" to publish. Now, after the worst has occurred, Jay's family decided that the time has come to share it with our readers. —YT