What Would Petey Do?
My dear friend Sarah Weintraub lost her husband, Peter, prematurely. Seventy-five years young and brimming with vitality, he lost his battle with skin cancer leaving many of us devastated, alone and bereft, none more so than Sarah and her children. Sarah found herself in new and seemingly uncharted territory. When the traditional shiva period ended, she still found herself unable to say goodbye and not ready to just move on.
So she created something new and beautiful to honor Peter and celebrate his life and character. Every month she arranged for a different rabbi in the community to give a class in her home (and one rebbetzin whom modesty forbids me from naming!). Each class reflected a character trait that Peter embodied and taught us how to live, using Peter’s life as an example.
Through reviewing Peter’s actions, those known and those just revealed, we appreciated him more and were motivated to become better, kinder, more thoughtful human beings. What could be a more fitting tribute?
My husband acknowledged that he was moved to new action by the classes. Reluctant to insert himself into the joy or pain of past acquaintances, he now asked himself “What would Petey do?” and participated in both moments of sadness and those of happiness as well. Both his life and that of our friends (no longer acquaintances!) were enriched by the experience.
Peter embodied caring for others. He was the one you called if you needed someone to drive you to a doctor’s appointment, listen to your tale of woe or even round up investors for your struggling business. All of Peter's clients loved Peter, not because of how well their stocks did (although there was that too) but because he cared about them, he was invested in their lives. He knew their stories. He took the time to listen, to remember, to check up on them.
Petey and Sarah
And Petey anticipated your needs; he didn’t wait for your call. During some of our darkest hours, he was the one who drove my husband around Los Angeles late at night looking for a pharmacy that was still open. He was the one who invited all of us out to dinner to relieve our burdens and change our focus. He was the one who saw that my husband needed a friend. And those are just our stories. Everyone that knew Peter has similar tales to tell, and many of them were revealed during those monthly sessions.
Peter's acts of kindness were even deeper for his wife and daughters. He was their rock and they all knew they could count on him. Perhaps his greatest gift to them was how he took care of them in his last days, when he realized what was coming. Knowing he wouldn’t be around for them, he worked tirelessly (actually that’s inaccurate; he was exhausted but he pushed himself) to ensure that all the repairs were done around the house, that the alarm and other safety features were in good working condition and that all of his financial affairs were in order. In the midst of his pain, he was still thinking of others. As unbearable as it was to him emotionally, it didn’t stop him from giving, from setting his family up for a life without him.
Petey wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t an angel. He loved the pleasures of this world – a good meal, a good scotch, his Austin Healey… He loved to tell stories and was constantly regaling us with tales of his boat trip as a (much) younger man. And I think that’s a big part of what made him so special. He wasn’t a Rabbi, he wasn’t immersed in learning (although he did enjoy Torah classes and went every Shabbos morning). But he just really cared – and through his caring, during both his life and after his death, he taught the rest of us what kindness really means.
Every month when Sarah opened her home to these classes (pre-COVID), it filled her with energy and emotion. For those brief moments it felt as if Peter was brought back to life. It gave her the strength to keep moving forward.
Sarah didn’t stop there. She created charitable gifts in Peter’s memory and committed to other acts of giving herself. She even created a website where both the classes and the opportunities to donate could be accessed (visit www.whatwouldpeteydo.com).
And there was the bling! – hats that said “what would Petey do?” which my husband donned as we travelled throughout the world, compelling him to match his behavior to the slogan (!), bookmarks that with his picture that were a reminder to be kind every time we marked our place, and perhaps, best of all, matchboxes adorned with his face that urged all of us to keep his light burning as we usher in the Shabbos each week.
Everyone mourns in their own way. Some want to move forward and not look back, some want to compartmentalize their pain and keep it separate from their engagement in the world, some want a very private experience of grief, others very public. What Sarah did isn’t for everyone – but it wasn’t just for her. It helped us to appreciate and learn from Peter, and to recognize and celebrate a life well-lived.