07 November 2013

The story of a beautiful, beautiful boy and his lasting legacy

(This blog was co-written by Allison Finkelstein and my sister Jeannie Newman. There are some losses that seem insurmountable to me, such as losing a child. That happened to Allison and Mark and they took that horrific tragedy and have used their experience to make it easier for anyone who goes through such a loss after them. They honor David's life every day as his spirit touches everyone they help-Melinda)
Allison and I met almost 30 years ago when we worked at the Bank of Boston and have been close friends ever since. One of my most exciting times was when she called me to let me know that she and her husband, Mark, were going to have twins! I remember one great trip when Mark had to be out of town close to the babies’ due date, so they flew me to Ohio to stay with Allison; we feasted on food delivered by Take-Out Taxi and held a movie marathon. I so loved holding beautiful David and Jennifer when they were born and cuddling them as they grew. They called me Nee-Nee, and all my work colleagues knew about my beloved godbabies.
When he was 2 ½ years old, David died very suddenly and unexpectedly. To say that we were all in profound shock was an understatement.  As Jennifer has grown into an incredible 17 year old (today is their birthday), exhibiting both brains and beauty, I have loved getting to know the wonderful young woman she is becoming. I loved working with her to develop background for her character in mock trial (her team ended up 5th in the state) and rehearsing lines with her for her many school performances. Almost two years after David’s death, Elisabeth was born. She is a delightful, happy little girl who happens to have special needs. To say she enjoys life is an understatement, and I love getting to know my Lissy.  But I confess that I also always wonder what David would have been like through each stage of childhood and adolescence. Would we have stayed close? What activities would he have liked to do?  At which colleges would he be looking?

As awful as losing a child is, I really admire how Allison and Mark used this tragedy to help others. In her own words:
Right after David's death, as people were asking what could they do, where could they donate, should they send flowers, etc., we knew that we wanted to do something that was more permanent and could possibly lead to something positive from this horrible experience.  It could also be a way to honor and memorialize his too-short life.  Because David was so young, we didn't have his special interests as a guide (unless you include touching STOP signs!).  And without a known cause of death, we couldn't even address that.  But we were able to learn about various about children’s' causes, so we created the David Samuel Finkelstein Memorial Foundation with that focus.  For example, we started with simple things like David's Room, a private room in the perinatal area of our local hospital where parents could meet with the doctors and counselors and deal privately with devastating news regarding their pregnancies (until then, they literally had nowhere to go, other than back out into the waiting room, because of a lack of space).  We also supplied car seats to a local church so that they could take their preschoolers on field trips.  As a result of Elisabeth's issues, we have also supported a therapeutic horseback riding center and sponsor scholarships every year to a local camp for children with epilepsy.  
The biggest focus of our foundation has evolved over time as we have changed.  We see the impact that David's death has had on Jennifer (as well as on her sister who never even met him), so we wanted to do something to help those kids who have lost someone (be it a parent, sibling, grandparent, other relative, or close friend).  For the last 7 years, we've been giving out college scholarships to graduating high school students in our school district who have lost a loved one.  The only criterion for this scholarship money is that the students write an essay about the loss of a loved one and its impact on them and on their choices (in terms of school, career, and/or personal choices).  Every year, Mark (and now Jennifer) present the scholarships to the recipients, and we have been overwhelmed by their responses.  Each has an amazing story to tell and shows resilience and the desire to make a difference and to live life to the fullest as a result of what they have gone through.  A number of them have told us how much more personal this scholarship is to them— it is another validation of their experiences and a recognition of how it has changed them and how they intend to live going forward.  They will never be the same, but it is comforting to know that they are not alone in what they have experienced.
-Allison Finkelstein and Jeannie Newman
Nov. 7: The David Samuel Finkelstein Memorial Foundation 
To donate, send checks to: 
Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund
David Samuel Finkelstein Memorial Foundation (in the memo line)
439 Landings Loop West
Westerville, Ohio 43082

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