I’d been anticipating the first anniversary of the death of my childhood friend Jason Polan — for me, the first devastation of 2020 — when I received word from Jason’s mom that his father died.
While I have clear memories of Jane from childhood, I did not meet Jesse until Jason’s funeral. Even in grief, he was full of life — warm and gregarious, wearing the hamburger t-shirt that Jason designed for Uniqlo beneath his suit jacket. He opened his eulogy with this: “It is not right that I am here talking about Jason. I feel very strongly that it should be the other way around.” It is wrong for parents to bury their children: the simplest, clearest distillation of why we were all so gutted, and in this case, a gross understatement. Jane and Jesse weren’t just parents — they were exemplary parents who had enviably close relationships with their kind, altruistic children, and in the countless hours they spent volunteering at their kids’ schools and baseball leagues, they cared for everyone else’s children too. And they did not bury only one child; Jason’s older sister Jennifer died 20 years earlier, when she was 23. It is wrong for any parent to bury a child, but it was extremely wrong for these parents to bury a child more than once.
In the wake of Jesse’s passing, I am overwhelmed by the same feeling of wrongness that he spoke about a year ago. It is wrong that Jesse, this convivial man who loved the community so deeply, spent his final year immersed first in grief and then in isolation. It is wrong that the countless people he impacted through his lifetime of service cannot gather to properly commemorate his passing. It is wrong that Jane, so endlessly generous with her time and labor, has endured the deaths of two children and now her spouse. It is wrong that for her, this year — this historically, universally terrible year — has been bookended by two unspeakable losses. It is wrong. It is all so fucking wrong.
I do not understand why bad things happen to good people, nor why the worst things have befallen the very best people. All I know is this: Jason and Jesse’s lives were a gift. Nothing is promised to us except this moment. And the world is profoundly unfair.
Photo via Uniqlo