Monday, May 12, 2014

My friends, my mentors, my loves

As April was about to make its exit, my very close friend Cheryl Baraty, a woman of enormous charm and wit and a brilliant attorney, also made her exit from this earthly plane. Almost as if to not bring attention to herself, Cheryl's departure was quiet and as dignified as possible. She had made peace with the inevitable some time ago, even as relatives, friends, clients and associates hoped a miracle might be found to save her.

The last week of Cheryl's life was hardly anything that could be remotely considered as quality. From reports I received, she was so heavily medicated that the best she could do was sleep and feebly attempt to communicate through those still sparkling eyes.

While I was not there at the end, I had seen her several months ago in December, just as the ravages of the inoperable and terminal cancer began to take its toll on her frail frame. I talked to her over the phone in smidgens and jots of time. She was brave. She was courageous. She was never bitter, but kept a stiff upper lip as she began to deal with excruciating pain. The medication brought her relief, but the cost was to descend into a cloudy existence that dulled her and deadened her mind.

She stopped eating several days before her final passage. She had dropped a tremendous amount of weight and had no strength left in her. I had seen the same thing happen only a few months before in October when my other close Scouting friend, Gene von Rosenberg, went from being mobile and using a walker to having so little strength in his emaciated body that he was confined to a bed for the remainder of his few days. Gene, like Cheryl, was only 57.

Cheryl was old enough to have been a mother and raised a son, yet never would enjoy the plaintive sound of her grandchildren's laughter.

Gene never heard the sound of his own children, but reveled in hearing the sound of others' children, including my own son David. Like his father Dale, Gene was both an Eagle Scout and a Scoutmaster, a position he held for 30 years. All the Von Rosenberg men: Dale, Gene and his two other brothers, were Eagle Scouts.

Because she was a woman, Cheryl never had a youth spent in Boy Scouting, but enjoyed a long period as an established Cubmaster in Milwaukee and later became the local chair of the Jewish Committee on Scouting and the Central Region chair of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. She considered being a Cubmaster as among the most satisfying of her pursuits. In her own way, she thought that connecting the local Jewish Scouts to their own religion might stem the tide of those who saw no relevance to their faith and practice and were tempted towards intermarriage and, possibly, divorce. Through her clients, Cheryl had seen what becomes of divorce and she wanted to alleviate their distress.

As a family lawyer, it was ironic to her that she and her husband had one of the most acrimonious of divorces and that she was unable to prevent years of abusive behavior and disrespect. Even while dealing with her own recalcitrant son, Cheryl reached out to others to push the Jewish Scouting program and help others.

She was a tireless fighter and possessed an indomitable spirit. As she sunk deeper and deeper into a drug-induced fog, she began to lose her most precious of gifts: her ability to communicate. She found she couldn't speak well and eventually used her eyes to indicate her approval or disapproval. Her ability to even hold small objects became a challenge. Yet, there she was hanging tough and persevering, holding on with every ounce of strength within her.

Her colleagues in the northern region at Market America and, a firm for which she had been working for the past four years in her spare time, presented her with a special award they established in her honor last April. They named it the Cheryl Baraty Perseverance Award and have made it an annual honor.

Perseverance was a trait both Cheryl and Gene shared. They both fought as best they could before they gave themselves over to God. As always after death, we remember not how they died, but how they lived. The world is a little less interesting without Cheryl and Gene in it. Scouting has lost two of its best illustrations of selfless leaders. While they are gone now, the reasons they became involved with Scouting remain as true today as they were when they first began their associations.

I honor their name by continuing my work to the advancement of Scouting and to improve its image as best I can. They showed me the way to do it correctly and proudly and I salute them and thank the Great Scoutmaster that I had the opportunity to learn from them and work side by side with them. They were among my truest friends, my greatest of mentors and my deepest of pure loves.

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