I was in the kitchen early this afternoon when Chris exclaimed that he didn’t believe something had happened. I asked him what it was, and he wouldn’t tell me. Instead, he came over to show me the email that was sitting in our inboxes. I was shocked to read that a good friend of ours, who we used to hang out with regularly, while he lived in New York City, had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly due to a seizure. He and his wife had just had a baby just over a month ago, their first child, and we had just spoken with them on a Zoom call in early March when they were getting ready to drive down from Sacramento to the Big Sur for their baby moon.
I immediately just felt sick. I was literally just thinking about messaging them to ask if they wanted to do a Zoom catch-up since it had been a little over a month since the baby had come home, and I figured they’d need some time to get into the swing of things before socializing, even remotely. I didn’t even know what to say. I just felt hurt, shocked, disgusted that something like this could happen to someone who had just welcomed their little baby into this world.
Anyone who knew Raj even remotely would know how full of life he was. All you have to do is look at a photo of him, and he just looks like a big teddy bear: someone who is just so affectionate, tender, kind-hearted, well-meaning, who just screams to be hugged and loved. He is so expressive, so generous, and so thoughtful. Behind my current “desk” setup, we have the bottle (now empty and cleaned) of champagne he sent us from one of his favorite wineries in California. It was a celebratory bottle he sent us shortly after we got married in March 2016 when he and his wife were living temporarily in Switzerland. He had shared that when he and his wife visited this winery and loved the bubbly so much, they knew they had to share it for special occasions with their friends and family when an event came up that warranted it. So he had this bottle engraved for us.
Making new friends as an adult hasn’t been easy, at least for me. Meeting people I genuinely click with, who I can say whatever I want in front of without fear of offending, who I feel actually get and appreciate me, has been a challenge. And well, a city as impersonal and time-strapped as New York, it’s even harder I’d say. With Raj, I always felt like I could be myself. He was an accomplished and overly educated person, having spent a lot of time working and living abroad throughout his short life. He was truly a citizen of the world, constantly curious and wanting to learn, do, see, and eat more. From the time we met him on that food tour a friend of mine arranged in 2015, we immediately clicked and got along. He made it clear he wanted to see us again, and we met him for dinner with his wife downtown. We continued to spend time together regularly until 2018, when they finally moved west to Sacramento, in an effort to be closer to family on both sides and also to start a family with more space.
Raj defined loving and expressive. He always told us, in his cheesy, cute way, how much he appreciated and loved us. Even after they left New York and we’d catch up over FaceTime or Zoom, he’d always say that while he loved having family nearby, he really missed having friends like us close by. He never failed to share how much he enjoyed my cooking and the food I made… to the point of inviting himself and his wife over for lunch during a New York City visit in 2019 when he was here for a work trip. While I may have been annoyed if anyone else had tried to do that, with Raj and his wife, I was just so flattered and felt so loved and appreciated. I still remember when they came, which was the last time we saw them in person: they came in March 2019, and they showed up with a bouquet of flowers and a massive box of Levain cookies (which of course, they got themselves their own massive box for their flight back home to Sacramento).
My heart just hurts for Maria and their newborn Jay, and for Raj himself. It’s so fucking awful and unfair that this happened to someone as kind, genuine, and amazing as Raj. He was so full of life. That sounds like a trite statement, but he really was all those words: Full. Of. Life. I still remember how excited he was to start a family and to meet Jay. He even posted on Instagram that he was reading a book for expectant dads; I know for a fact he would have been a devoted and extremely loving and hands on dad. I just can’t get over how unfair and awful this is.
Life is really short. It is too short. I don’t even know what to say anymore.