Robert Mark Ackerman - The Story
Robert Mark Ackerman came into this world on May 18, 1971, a stunning baby with a huge dimple in his right cheek, a blond streak in his hair right where it was parted, and the longest eye lashes you could imagine on a baby. And although he was the third child in the family, he truly believed he was an only child since his older siblings were five and eight years older.
Even at a very young age, his personality was magnetizing. People simply loved him and were drawn to him. It was obvious, however, that he didn’t know how to take NO for an answer. He knew what he wanted, and he worked feverishly to get the things that were important to him.
At the age of three his parents presented him with a beautiful baby sister. What an eye opener that was! No longer the "only child," he had competition and had to share attention. It was truly a family challenge. A later move from Massachusetts to Long Island was also traumatic for him. He loved where we lived and, frankly, resented being taken away. It wasn’t easy for him to adjust. But he did.
Rob was very interested in baseball and played Little League until he slid into base and broke his foot. Then he decided to try skiing on a family vacation in the Catskills. He was extremely impatient, however, and didn’t wait for instructions. That’s when he broke his leg—incredibly poor timing since I was leaving for Israel that week and the kids were staying home with their father. Rob's baseball career picked up again in high school where he was one of the team's star players until he damaged his shoulder. (HEY, anyone see a pattern here?) He also played football and wrestled. He loved wrestling because you won or lost on your own; no one else was involved.
As a teen, he met Bradley Stern, a contractor doing some work on our house. Rob and Brad became the best of friends. Rob decided that he was going to work with Brad to learn everything he could so when he got married, he would be able to do anything and everything his wife wanted done in and around the house. To this day, Brad has Rob’s picture on his desk, and we are still in touch with each other.
At 16 Rob met the love of his life, Helene. Their romance was quite rocky for the eight years until he passed, but their love was amazing. During his last weeks she flew from Austin, where she was getting her doctorate, to be with him. She was there for nine days and the night before she left, I remember her sitting on the floor next to his wheelchair, feeding him strawberries and playing airplane. You could cut the love with a knife. Oh, how I wanted to get the Rabbi to marry them!
From high school on, the years are kind of a blur for me. Robert moved out of the house, went to school in Poughkeepsie for a while, worked, and did what young men do. In November 1994, Walter and I went to Texas to be with Cheryl for Thanksgiving. Helene was in Austin studying and Rob flew down to be with her. They joined us at Cheryl’s for Turkey Day and slept over. The next morning, he woke up with a crick in his neck. No one thought anything of it, since he had slept on the floor.
About two weeks later, Rob called to say he didn’t feel well. I told him to come by and made him dinner. He slept over and awoke the next morning with a black dot in the middle of one of his eyes. He hadn’t slept well, so I had him take a nap. Upon awaking, he had a black dot in the middle of both eyes. It was Sunday, but I called my ophthalmologist’s office anyway. Someone was there and told us to come right over. Although the ophthalmologist didn’t give any diagnosis, he said he wanted Rob to see a neurologist the next day. The diagnosis came back within 48 hours: ACUTE LYMPHOCYTIC LEUKEMIA.
Less than two years later—on November 22, 1996—Rob passed away after fighting this terrible disease with every ounce of his strength.