The longer we live, the more dates take on multiple meanings.

January is a complicated month for me, but it wasn’t always so.

As a child it was a month of celebrating, since one of my brothers and I both have January birthdays. Growing up on the Charles River meant that many years included birthday celebrations of skating and bonfires, and those days created a storehouse of happy memories. In addition, early on in my adulthood Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday became a national holiday, which meant sharing my birthday with a titan as well.

J. Chester Webb, Esq. (1914-2000)

However, twenty-two years ago, my father died on the day after my birthday. So for the many years since, the weekend of my birthday became sullied with the sadness of a profound ending. Sitting in the hospital room with him that long ago day, we all knew it wouldn’t be long… he wasn’t speaking and he wasn’t eating and only occasionally would he open his eyes. Having read that hearing is the last sense we lose, I’d brought him a recording of his favorite Robert Frost poems. Sometime after he passed, I listened to where the recording was when he’d last been listening, and was happy to know it was “Blueberries”, a poem I knew he loved.

But as we sat by my father’s bedside on the night of my birthday, twenty-two years ago, I remember feeling the visceral power of our collective hope that he would work some kind of magic and not die on my actual birthday. I recall my husband telling me he’d made a dinner reservation and asking me if I wanted to go out for just a couple of hours. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My mom and my siblings encouraged me to go; I thought my dad would want me to celebrate, and — truth be told — I’d never seen anyone die and I was ambivalent and scared about being there when he did. My dad was funny and irreverent, intense, creative, and quick-witted. He was my mentor and my law partner. I knew that with his death I would be losing so much, but I also knew I’d been blessed with all that he had taught and given to me.

I decided to go out to dinner and celebrate his life through his favorite foods: scotch on the rocks, oysters on the half shell, duck for a main course and a ginger dessert. Everything about the meal was sad and pungent, sweet and bittersweet. We rushed back to the hospital where he was resting comfortably. We left in the early hours of the morning and returned again when daylight arrived. Late into the day, I sat with my Mom and my siblings, waiting for the inevitable. And at a moment that seemed suspended from reality, he exhaled but did not take another breath. It seemed surreal to me, the ephemeral nature of life. And in that millisecond, I felt an invisible line of connection, a tie that strengthened in its absence.

So, yes, January is a complicated month for me. In a month that people often look at as a time of beginning, my associations now include a life-changing loss.

Despite the passage of time, my father’s many lessons have remained with me in my life and in my work, and I am carrying them forward this January as I celebrate a powerful new start. Because this year, January is the month when my partner, Judge Julie Field (ret.) and I are launching The Consilium Institute’s transformative training and certification program for lawyers and judges. The Consilium Institute will shift the current divorce paradigm from one that too often entails destruction to a new methodology which helps families restructure in constructive ways.

This January, I can once again feel his profound connection. I can hear my father’s encouraging voice, loudly cheering us on, and I know he would be proud.

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