Koby Gruenwald

A New Redemption Song, in memory of Koby

by Melanie Gruenwald

January 19, 2018- the 3rd day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, my 13 year old son, Koby, died from a glioblastoma (brain tumor). Koby brought me to Kabbalah Experience. We began taking classes here, and I later became faculty and the ED. This post is a reflection I have been sitting with, as we marked the sixth anniversary of his passing.


As Jews, we are really good at marking time. Sundown to sundown, new moon to new moon. Cycles of life, and cycles of grief. We hold them all at once, forever holding opposites.


Creation starts with darkness and chaos, and from there, God manifests light with the spoken word.


Each of our cycles starts with darkness—beginning with the sunset, or a mere sliver of moon. We have to search for the light in the darkness, and hold hope that the light will expand once again. And it does come, through no work of our own.


My friend, Rabbi Kolby Morris Dahary, recently shared a sermon she gave soon after Koby’s death—speaking of Koby’s connection to Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, and sharing teaching from Reb Soloveitchik about redemption, as a process of moving from darkness to light. From slavery to freedom.


Perhaps redemption is the process of  living and dying. On the most basic level— Birth is redemption from the womb, moving from darkness to light- and death is the ultimate redemption, a relief of the physicality that binds us to this world, especially, when this redemption is a result of prolonged illness.


Even after six years (which feel like a lifetime) we have not figured out a way to mark the years of Koby’s death, except as ritualized in Jewish tradition. We light a candle, we cry, we attend services and say kaddish, and do acts of lovingkindness in his honor.  It’s a fairly simple approach.


Salomon and I mark time on the Jewish calendar– the third day of the Hebrew month of Shevat. The twins mark time on the secular calendar– the 19th of January. I feel like the two dates are parentheses, holding the vessel of intense grief. I move from one to the other, not knowing how to show up. I carry this through the beginning of January, remembering his final weeks and days.


Gentle grief awareness is with me all of the time. I carry this in my heart every day. Just sometimes, the edges of that grief are a bit sharper, and bit harder to bear.


There are key dates- like birthdays and death days that are obvious. We remember Koby’s date of diagnosis, and death, and relive them over and over again. Our calendar is full of reminders.


There are moments- like life cycle passages, that stir the yearnings for him in my heart. The moments he should be sharing with family and friends are punches to my gut. We grieve the potential that is lost.


We each connect with Koby in our own ways on a daily basis. I honor Koby through my teaching. Hannah connects with him through song. Micah connects through biking. Salomon through his rabbinate. We carry him with us. It doesn’t take a gathering or a specific date to evoke the loss for us as individuals. However, the marking of time brings Koby back to and for all of us.


I think, what people don’t always understand, is that we are always carrying that broken heart. Sometimes it reveals itself through a funny story, a moment of shared understanding or remembering. Sometimes, as I close my eyes to fall asleep, I remember the moments of his life, illness and death. I remember conversations and stolen breath. Sometimes a butterfly appears, or we experience some crazy weather moment, or hear a specific song—and I know it’s a wink from Koby.


Sometimes I wonder how we managed through the 23 months of his illness.  I barely remember it. Just snapshots in my mind exist.


I recently re-read the Caring Bridge blog I kept during his illness. It reminded me of his pain and suffering. And as I cried through the final entries, I sobbed to my husband—“the boy dies in the end” (spoiler alert). Relived it all over again. I had forgotten how much he suffered, and that just made me so sad.


From the darkness, we will once again know light. That light continues to emerge. We have to choose to see it. Koby was our teacher in this.  May his memory be for a blessing.


Video of Koby singing with our family





Peter Hantman · January 25, 2024 at 2:03 pm

I feel like I knew him thru your thoughts and words. His life lives in you.

    Melanie Gruenwald · January 25, 2024 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks, Peter

Marty Morris · January 25, 2024 at 3:02 pm

Your writing is beautiful Melanie. I wish I had known Koby. I am sure that he is always with you.

    Melanie Gruenwald · January 25, 2024 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks, Marty

Judith Brodie · January 25, 2024 at 5:21 pm

Thank you, Melanie, for so generously sharing Koby and your experience with us. Choosing to see light in the darkness takes great courage. Koby clearly had that even though he was so young, and so do you. I am grateful for your words.

    Melanie Gruenwald · January 29, 2024 at 5:20 pm

    THank you

Cherie · January 25, 2024 at 9:48 pm

You give voice to spirit, bringing Koby in so closely and lovingly. Todah for all you share so deeply and fully. Koby inspired and inspires us all.

    Melanie Gruenwald · January 29, 2024 at 5:20 pm

    Thank you!

    Marnina Kregas · January 29, 2024 at 8:56 pm

    Melanie , I have to say after reading this blog post entry I am still in awe of your strength, the strength of your whole family and the strength that Koby still brings out in each of you. He was one remarkable kid and the family he was born into explains why he was so special!!! There’s I know no words enough to make your pain and sorrow ever go away but know I think of you and your whole family and the courageous journey that you shared with all of us and the blessing you shared with us through your beautiful son Koby. He still shines light in the darkness we all feel as we miss him and his love for all of you he still brings forward in so many ways.
    Sending love and hugs !! Marnina Kregas and Family

Jennifer Abate Schulefand · January 26, 2024 at 7:07 am

You write so beautifully about your son and your journey❤️ and the tremendous light he shared with your family and all around him. There are no words for your loss.

    Melanie Gruenwald · January 29, 2024 at 5:19 pm

    THanks so much

Diana Arendrup · January 29, 2024 at 3:19 pm

Thank you for your moving words I have read your blog over and over again and have found comfort and meaning in regard to my own recent loss. I am truly sorry for your loss. You and your family are an inspiration.

    Melanie Gruenwald · January 29, 2024 at 5:19 pm

    Thank you, Diana

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