Ned Stutman died with grace on September 17 in Washington D.C. Two days before, he had told his family he was ready, closed his eyes and slipped into the coma that would carry him to his final moment on Shabbat morning. He was 60 years old, and celebrating that birthday last April surrounded by close friends and his beloved family was an accomplishment.
When the diagnosis of his deadly lymphoma reached him four and a half years ago, the doctors gave Ned no assurance that he would reach this birthday, or that he would return to work productively at the US Justice Department where for 16 years he had prosecuted Nazis and fought to enlarge the rights of people in institutions, or that he would experience with his cherished wife, Suzanne, the joyous birth of his second grandchild, Maya, sister to Caleb, or that this past August he would travel to South Carolina to son Gabe's baseball tournament and see him drive in the winning run.
But he did all these things and relished them.
Let others tell about Ned's career accomplishments. You can Google him as Edward Stutman and learn about his dogged prosecution of the brutal Nazi concentration-camp guard, John Demjanjuk, who Ned lived to see stripped of US citizenship and deported.
I WANT to hold up to the light the friend who was Ned, who taught everyone who came in his orbit about life and laughter.
Ned's essence crystallized during his illness. Living in Jerusalem, I saw him only a couple times a year. Each time I returned to DC, I would know - often from his long e-mails that I opened with happy expectation - where he was in his treatment cycles of chemo and stem-cell transplants.
I'd make a date for lunch worrying how he would look, would his hair have fallen out, would he have lost weight, what could we talk about that wasn't burdened by death and illness. But there was Ned - sometimes bald under his baseball cap, sometimes lacking appetite wearing loose clothes from better times, sometimes pleased about his surprising head of thicker, blacker new hair growth. But always funny and grateful for life.
Ned's huge talent was seeing the absurd in the ordinary. He probed foolishness without meanness. We were all his targets and we cherished him the more for it. Twice Ned beat out the stand-up comic competition for the title "Funniest Lawyer in Washington."
His off-the-wall captions on Moment magazine's Spice Box page became readers' first destination. During his battle against lymphoma, Ned discovered new ways to make us laugh. "I take humor very seriously," he wrote. "It's an integral and, if you ask me, the best part of my personality. Whereas FDA-approved drugs have to be proven both safe and effective, it's enough for me that laughter is safe."
"I just flunked out of the Hutch Autologous Stem Cell Transplant Program," he writes from Seattleâ€¦ "This is the second treatment program I have flunked ... My photo must be on the hematologists' website with the notation 'DON'T TREAT THIS MAN.'â€¦ In the future I intend to apply for treatment under an assumed name."
Musing about his stem-cell donor, a 50-year-old woman who, he later wrote hopefully, "might have saved my life" Ned worries that "once engrafted I would slowly morph into a womanâ€¦.To be on the safe side, if anyone out there has a pair of blue and white spectator pumps (two inch heels) save them for me."
In a typical mix of serious and zany Ned asks friends and family, days before his first stem-cell transplant, to send him "a blessing of thanksgiving for receiving someone else's stem cells or blood.... I will entertain blessings from any religious tradition, my only preference is that it invoke the universal deity. Sorry, but I must draw the line at idol worship, wicca, consorting with spirits, or anything having to do with the Osbornes."
NED WROTE just before Rosh Hashana 2003, in the context of the tradition of counting the Omer, the 49 days from Pessah until the arrival of Shavuot. Faced with the requirement after his stem-cell transplant of remaining near Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City for 100 days, Ned begins counting "my personal Omer. Tonight, using the ancient formula I will say: 'Today is 43 days, which are six weeks and one day of my Omer.' And what a beautiful day it wasâ€¦. I don't think about tomorrow. For me right now, it doesn't matter."
He explains that the traditional Rosh Hashana greeting, "May you be inscribed for a sweet New Year" no longer works for him. Ned writes: "Life is full of ups and downs, some quite consuming and serious. We would be better served to wish that another recognize and count each day and the loving moments it has brought."
Our son Alex died in battle in Lebanon 18 years ago on September 15, almost the same day as Ned died. Ned and Suzanne honored Alex by naming their third child Gabriel Alexander, and for Gabe's bar-mitzva invitation Ned chose a drawing Alex made in Jerusalem. Ned lived 35 years longer than Alex, but both measured life by the quality not the number of days. And both left behind gratitude, love, laughter and courage. Zichronam livracha.
The writer is a contributing editor at Moment magazine.