last months gentle and memorable.
"From the minute he was diagnosed to the
minute he died, we all worked together," she
says. "School was probably the greatest
thing that happened to Sebastian."
ebastian Dittman died on Shabbat,
Feb. 28, 1994 at Children's Hospital
The family went to the hospital
because Sebastian said it was time.
"It was eerie," Hospice's
Rabbi Freedman says. "The
nurses saw no rapid decline,
but Sebastian thought the
hospital was the place to go
and die, so that's where he
Sebastian was not afraid to
die, Rabbi Freedman says.
"Children are used to
change. Many things seem
strange to them, so even loss
comes easier. They are al-
ways in the middle of discov-
ery, always in the process of
Sebastian was, however,
"very aware of dying," the
rabbi says. "He talked about
being with God, and about
still being with Mommy and
Brandon, just in a different way.
"He thought he was going to another
place. He didn't understand — thank God —
how profound that separation would be."
Sebastian was buried with some of his
treasures, like Silly String, in a coffin lined
with his favorite color, purple. Michael Jack-
son music was played at the service.
Rabbi Freedman delivered one of the eulo-
gies, which included a description of how he
first met Sebastian.
It was in the summer. Sebastian greeted
the rabbi at the door and announced: "I was
"He grabbed me by my tie, pulled me to a
sofa, sat me down, climbed on top of me and
said, `I'm Sebastian. I'm the boss around
In his eulogy, Rabbi Freedman also spoke
of "his classmates at Hillel, who loved Sebas-
tian and sent him cards and visited him af-
ter he couldn't come back to school at
That the Hillel children were cited was
important, Mr. Techner believes. "It tells
them, 'You are being recognized publicly for
what you did."
When Mrs. Charlip's first-grade class
heard the news, they gathered around the
white rocking chair where Sebastian often
sat. 'We all cried a little bit," the teacher re-
calls. Students were given the option of at-
tending the funeral; many chose to go.
Memories of Sebastian continue to fill the
classroom: There's his brown bear with the
purple shirt, which students still come and
hug; the red-and-yellow plaster dinosaur he
painted for his teacher (still on her desk); his
writings in class books. "If I were a bear and
had to hibernate, I would miss..." Sebastian
wrote, "playing in the snow." And if he were
a bug? "I would love to be a butterfly."
Students remember Sebastian at special
functions, like the class Siddur party where
they all said a prayer "for our friend Sebast-
And several days after
the funeral, they made a
"Memory Book," compiled
for Ms. Mainster, in which
each student wrote and il-
lustrated a specific story
about Sebastian. (Ms. Main-
ster wrote them back, a
thank-you letter with one of
her favorite memories of Se-
bastian at the seashore.)
Class parents were invit-
ed back, too, for a small ser-
vice that included a hug —
complete with a Hershey's
'thug" (a dark-and-white
chocolate kiss candy) — for
Two months after the fu-
neral, students speak of Se-
bastian at times, Mrs. Charlip says. But for
the most part the much-needed sense of clo-
sure has been complete. Their comments to-
day are not frightening — they don't want to
know if death is awful or if they will die
soon, too. Instead, they'll pick up a book and
say, "Oh, do you remember when Sebastian
read this?" or they'll hear one of his favorite
songs, like "A Whole New World" from Al-
addin, and will say, "Sebastian liked this."
"I think the kids have gone on with life,"
Mr. Techner adds. "But none of them will
ever forget Sebastian."
above, and in
the rocking chair
often sat. When
he was tired, he
went there to
he grave lies near the front of
Machpelah Cemetery, not far
from a tree that is deep green
even as the winter clings to April.
Sebastian Mainster Dittman, it reads.
Virtually every other grave speaks of
decades of living. The person died at 70 or 80
Often, the loud noise — the laughter and
the horns blowing and the people yelling —
here on the edge of Woodward Avenue
seems to echo the cacophony of existence:
the excitement, the frustration, the un-
speakable happiness — everything good and
painful that comes with a long life.
But there are times when it's so quiet you
can hear the birds sing, almost in unison,
some kind of sad lullaby for a life that will
never be fully lived. El