Very touching letter written by a very close family friend Alana Bess
Eli Gradon: The Effects of an Eleven-Year-Old
It was September 29, and almost 3 months ago. As I walked into the auditorium for an assembly after praying to God for Eli Gradon to be cured of his catastrophic cancer, my heart shattered like broken glass. The eleven-year-old boy I had grown up with my entire life had died from the disgusting disease. Shock engulfed me immediately and I could not register the news I was hearing. How could this be happening? How was I in his backyard only a few weeks ago celebrating his eleventh birthday if now he isn’t even alive? After a grieving process, I came to realize that God had more plans for him than to be just another patient at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Eli Gradon affected me personally by teaching me, along with all his loved ones, to cherish family, embrace joy, and connect with God.
With four adorable children and two hilarious parents, the Gradon household never experienced a dull, laughter-free moment. Yet Ari, Eli’s closest brother, took his job as Eli’s roommate very seriously. Whether it ranged from fetching a simple glass of water to notifying their father about how Eli was feeling, Ari rushed to aid his older brother in any possible way with zero sense of reluctance. If Eli felt the slightest bolt of pain in even the dead of night, Ari would not think twice about pushing his blankets off himself to help him. Without Ari there to support him through every step of his tumultuous journey, Eli would have been a lonely child. Eli and Ari were the best of friends, and how could you lose a brother? I appreciate the seemingly effortless actions my siblings do for me everyday now because I know they would do the same for me as Ari did for Eli. Their relationship inspired me to always be grateful for my loved ones because life is not infinite.
Eli’s permanent smile was unquestionably contagious. Despite the excruciating treatments he constantly endured, he always radiated light. If an extremely ill boy can focus on life’s positivity, why is it so difficult for us to? We cannot let the stupid things in life steal our happiness. We must be fearless in our search for joy in this world; superficial matters scare us into hiding, which only hurts us as humans. Eli knew that and took matters into his own hands by concentrating on the countless other blessings he possessed. Eli’s death became a defining moment for me by leading me on a diligent search for satisfaction and serenity.
Eli’s direct hotline to God is a connection I envy. Eli had the strongest relationship imaginable with God for a child his age. At only age eleven, he had been setting alarms for himself daily to remember to recite the Shema prayer. On Saturday when I go to his house for Shabbat lunch, I know I will feel an immediate rush of emotions. Half of me will want to cry and grieve his death, but the other half will feel rejuvenated from the presence of his past spirituality. The entrance to their house on Fuller Avenue is an entrance to religious relationships with God. After his death, I felt a change in myself where I concentrated more in my davening daily. The child I grew to know and love was a spiritual beacon of light and hope for every person who crossed roads with him throughout his life.
I cannot begin to conclude this essay without sadness threatening me. As I type this finishing paragraph, my vision blurs with tears. The short life of Elimelech Ben Menachem Mendel Malkiel Gradon impacted me more personally than anyone else in my time. This ode to Eli only highlighted three of his amazing attributes: his appreciation of family, his ability to find the positive in negative situations, and his unbreakable spiritual strength. As the famous American writer Oliver Herford once said, only the young die good. Eli passed on in the noblest matter; he left fighting for what he believed in. I can only hope he relayed some of his admirable qualities onto me. Eli’s death does not define me. What defines me is the fact that I will move on in life soon enough with the lessons I learned from him. I will take one step backward and two steps forward.