Sarabeth Levine - Goddess of Bakedom
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MY BROTHER JAY (1947-2010)




This is a photo of my beloved brother Jay Shapiro who was suddenly taken from my life on August 30, 2010. I can remember the phone call as if it were yesterday. The shocking unexpected news was such a bullet to my heart. If I hadn't been sitting I probably would have collapsed at the news. It was shortly after his death, that I received a phone call from Annick La Farge, a client of Jay's. Jay was her dogs veterinarian and she had not heard of his passing. When I told her she cried out and burst into tears. How could this be?" We wept together and then we talked for a while and said our goodbyes, agreeing to stay in touch. A few months later she called to tell me she wanted to write an article about Jay for Bark magazine, a tribute to the amazing person she knew him to be. Jay was born on Father's Day, June 17, 1947, and this is one of those years that his birthday lands on Father's Day. This article says it all. Please do read it and when you have finished, send him a wave in the sky. He was truly one fantastic guy.


Of Dogs and Men by Annick La Farge
Since the day Duncan arrived, I began to dread his death. He was a seven-week-old puppy and I was 36; we were both young, but I knew I would outlive him. It’s a fact that every dog person conjures with, and each of us wonders at one time or another why we put ourselves through this guarantee of grief. But for all the time I spent worrying about Duncan’s well-being, the one thing I never contemplated was the possibility that his vet would die.
Jay Shapiro had practiced in Manhattan for decades before becoming an “at home” vet. He made the rounds like an old-fashioned country doctor, and by the time we met him, we had two patients for his care: Bucky, a guileless puppy who was afraid of children and skateboards, and Duncan, a ,10-year-old who was afraid of nothing except the shadows that were creeping across his field of vision, signaling the end of his ball-playing days.
Duncan rebelled madly, futilely, against the aging process. He was a field dog who was designed to work; by living in New York City, we had deprived him of his main calling—fetching fallen birds in the marsh—but we provided a worthy substitute: a tennis ball in perpetual flight, which he caught again and again with acrobatic grace and pure joy. He was the Derek Jeter of dogs, and when his eyesight dimmed, he suffered in a place we couldn’t reach. He snarled, he bit, he withdrew.
Jay would come over, stand patiently in the brightest patch of light he could find and let the old dog come to him. He seemed to understand in his bones the particular mix of physical and emotional pain Duncan was experiencing. He referred us to an animal behaviorist and eventually, with medication and special care, Duncan passed through the bad patch. He was creaky, yes, but he was present. We and our little team of medics had enabled Duncan to re-engage, and it was perhaps our greatest gift to him.
A few years ago, while on vacation with his young son, Jordan, Jay had an accident on an ATV. He managed to throw the boy off the machine before it rolled on him, but he wound up spending several weeks in the hospital and almost lost his foot. A year later, he was hospitalized again, and this time, all 10 of his toes were amputated. It took him months to become fully mobile, but he was determined to walk on his own steam. He ordered a special pair of sneakers—two sizes smaller than his previous shoe size—and at first, he hobbled, then he limped, then he walked. He dragged his little hospital-on-wheels behind him and seemingly could do anything, including getting to his knees on a cement floor to examine a dog who was in too much pain to be hoisted up on a table.
At the very end, a week shy of his 16th birthday, Duncan couldn’t stand up for his evening walk. That morning in the country, he had trotted around the yard. Just a few strides, really, but he was himself, smelling the air, even managing to find and pick up an old tennis ball. But by 8:30, we were back in the city and he was ailing. We called Jay.
“I’m getting in the car and I’ll be there in an hour,” he said. “We’ll see what we need to do. You just hang on, I’ll be there soon.”
It was the last night of the July 4th weekend and Jay lived on Long Island; the traffic was bad, and it took him more like two hours. He arrived with another man, a young technician in hospital scrubs. What I remember from that night is Jay talking to us, helping us make the decision. Making it clear that it was a decision. He would get in his car and return to Long Island, he said, then come back in a few days and see how Duncan was doing. We could wait.
But it was clear it was time, and the peace of Duncan’s passing was punctuated only by the fireworks that simultaneously erupted along the Hudson River. I asked the tech to carry him downstairs in a blanket because I didn’t want to upset anyone in the elevator. This fellow—alas, I never learned his name—had probably been settled in front of the television with a baseball game and a beer when Jay called and asked him to drive to Manhattan in holiday beach traffic to help out an old dog. Obviously, he didn’t think twice; Jay was going to work and so would he. All the way down five long flights with a heavy load in his arms, this young man spoke about how Jay inspired him—of his dedication, his kindness, his intelligence.
The next morning, Jay called; he had done a late-night necropsy and found pervasive cancer. “I just wanted you to know for sure that you made the right decision,” he said. “You saved him from suffering.”
Six weeks later, Jay was back to remove a strange growth from Bucky’s paw. I wrestled the dog onto a table and held on for dear life as Jay anesthetized the spot and cut it away. I was terrified. Also, it was August in Manhattan; it was over 100 degrees and I was embracing 60 pounds of writhing fur. Jay had brought Jordan, now eight, who was playing a video game on the couch; they were leaving for a week’s vacation the next day. “You’re doing great,” he smiled. “Are you okay?” There he was, more than six feet tall and teetering on too-small feet, doing the most precise surgical maneuver I’ve ever seen on a jittery animal in mediocre light on a kitchen table, and he was checking on me.
Then in the background: “Dad, can I download an app on your iPhone?”
Four days later, Jay was dead. His last email to me, written the day before he died, assured us that Bucky’s growth, while a tumor, was benign, and his surgery was curative. “The leaves are starting to change color in New Hampshire,” he wrote. “Hope all is well, will check in next week.”
We didn’t know about his death until several weeks later. His phone had been disconnected and he wasn’t replying to emails, so I finally called his sister. On the phone, she told me many things about Jay, including that when he was hospitalized the previous year, he had spent a week in a coma. She, his best friend, sat beside him, holding his hand. Finally, he emerged and, at age 62, taught himself how to walk, and work, again.
We hadn’t known. He was so stoic, so tough. Like Duncan, he just soldiered on, got to the other side of whatever pain he was feeling, whatever obstacle his body threw at him. And no matter what, he was always there. We never had to worry, never had to dread. All we had to do was pick up the phone and call. “You just hang on, I’ll be there soon.”
He was loyal, constant and true. It hit me like a gale force, the realization that I had taken so much for granted about this man and the role he played in our lives. By the time I understood, he was gone, and it was too late to say goodbye.


Your Comments

Wendy Read  | June 17, 2012 12:06 PM

What a beautiful piece written for your brother. Words cannot really convey how this touched me, your brother was so very special as are you and navigating the world without him is a sheer act of strength.

Your Comments

Deb  | June 17, 2012 5:51 PM

A most fitting tribute to your brother. I hung on to every word of the lovely story. It is a beautiful post.

Holidays can be so difficult when someone we love is no longer able to celebrate with us. Although I lost my father several years ago, I still fill with emotion when trying to articulate my thoughts on Father's Day.

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Gail  | June 18, 2012 8:52 AM

This is a beautiful tribute to your brother, Sarabeth.
So moving.
What a mensch.
What a loss.


Your Comments

Jane  | June 19, 2012 8:14 PM

What a sweet and wonderful man. You are so lucky you had a brother like that, Sarabeth. Truly, truly fortunate. This is a lovely post.

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Patricia  | June 20, 2012 12:04 PM

What an exquisite tribute to a rare and beautiful human being. Even though I never knew him, from this article I have such a strong sense of who he was. Thank you.

Your Comments

Cathy Fair  | July 19, 2012 4:44 PM

I too lost my brother, who left behind twin boys. He was 48. What was most comforting was listening to the wonderful stories friends and family shared about him.

The article about Jay is so touching. What a wonderful rememberance.

Blessings to you and Jordon!

Your Comments

Alyse  | July 22, 2012 1:26 PM

With tears in my eyes, I can do nothing but thank you for sharing your brother with us. As an animal lover and owner, I am so touched by his love for other's pets/family members.
You had quite an amazing brother, and this article is richly overflowing with his legacy.

Your Comments

Madam Chow  | August 22, 2012 7:54 AM

What a beautiful tribute. I am so sorry for the loss of your wonderful brother.

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Pamela Beers  | September 28, 2012 3:55 PM

What a lovely tribute to your brother and the love you shared as siblings.

People who love and care for animals are very special people. Their souls will forever be etched with the primal kiss of God. Their love last forever.

Your Comments

CLP  | October 15, 2012 10:08 PM

I'm proud to see their are still HUMANS being humain towards others above and beyond.

Treasure your souvenirs cause nobody can
take them away from your heart and soul.

And you get to see your brother in his son's

Your Comments

penny fulton  | October 20, 2012 6:40 PM

A lovely and heartfelt tribute to your brother Jay... I hope the young man who accompanied him that night to care for Duncan is carrying on with Jay's legacy..somehow I know he is.

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Jennifer Simon  | November 1, 2012 6:05 PM

What a beautiful article! I wish I had known your brother. My dogs would have loved him I'm sure. Jennifer

Your Comments

cari pasangan  | February 7, 2013 3:00 AM

hi, i'm sorry to hear that, it's very good photo. be strong and may he rest in peace.

Your Comments

Marilyn Konigsberg  | March 1, 2013 1:58 PM

What a beautiful commentary on such a wonderful individual. Sadly our family didn't hold up for the next generation so that we were able to know and love all of our cousins.

I truly miss your mother whose warmth and love was a magnet.

You are her up a notch! LOVE

Your Comments

maria johnson  | April 23, 2013 6:21 PM

I was truly transported into Jay's world. Though I thought my life too busy to pause and read the beautiful article about Jay, I decided to read it anyway. All the anecdotes of his life point to someone I felt I knew in his humanistic behavior and love for man and animal. I want to thank those who take that time to honor their loved ones. My mother passed what will be 3 years this July, and just a couple of months ago I decided to write about all the special attributes of my mother. I felt so full of love and gratitude that this special and very loving person had been my mother for so many years.
Thank-you Sarabeth.

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