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A few words about Cindy Lobel

She was part of the Recode family, and her tragic death last week leaves a hole in our lives.

Cindy Lobel, wife of Peter Kafka

No words.

A blank document has been sitting on my computer screen for a week now. Usually, it’s always been very easy for me to write about anything at all.

But not about the death of Cindy Lobel. She passed last Tuesday, a day after her 48th birthday, after what was a valiant and ultimately unsuccessful battle with triple-negative breast cancer.

Peter Kafka and Cindy Lobel
Peter Kafka and Cindy Lobel

Cindy was a critically important part of the life of those who work at Recode, but you may have never heard of her. She was married to Peter Kafka and has been a key part of our family — a work family, but a family nonetheless — since the start. With her quiet influence and behind-the-scenes, always-spot-on advice, she leaves a space that will never be filled.

There are few truly exact words to describe how completely awful it is to lose such a person in such a way.

Unfair? Sure, but that doesn’t even begin to depict what it means for someone to suddenly have the life that she had assumed would go on for decades end so early and so suddenly.

Tragic? Of course, given that her promise will now go unrealized as a professor who had just begun, really, to tap into the experiences and expertise she had gained over the many years she had devoted to her students and her academic arena. An historian, Cindy wrote about food culture in 19th century New York; her next book was about the 1800’s oyster trade.

Devastating? Definitely that, but still not right to explain what it means, especially for her two young sons, who will be without their beloved mother for the rest of their lives. Cindy was the kind of parent who always seemed to laugh and enjoy the ride as they were bouncing off various walls and floors and whatever happened to be in their way. I once asked her how she stayed so calm and even bemused when the kids kicked into high gear — the hair trigger of my own patience with my two sons is razor-thin in comparison — and she said to me with a sly glint in her eye: “Do I have a choice?”

Heartbreaking? Oh yes, most of all for Peter, since he has lost the person who was the perfect partner for him. That does not happen often enough in life, and I told him many times how lucky they were to have found each other and done what is impossible, which was that they actually made each other better. I told him that even last week when it was over and thought for a minute if that might be wrong to say to Peter, that he was lucky at what has to be the most unlucky moment of his life. But the fact of the matter is that he was lucky and so was she — because of each other.

As I said, no words are good enough in times like this and they fail us completely now.

Except one: Indomitable. That is what I was thinking the last time I saw Cindy in mid-August at a hospital in Manhattan. She had just had a scary period of her illness that brought her close to death, but from which she had miraculously recovered.

It was a gift of just a little more time, as it turned out, but she was joyous to be able now to walk with only a cane from the bathroom to the bed. She talked about how happy she was to be going home and about how she was excited for the kids to start school and about a work trip that Peter and I just took and about the latest awful political mess.

Her mother was with her, as she has been throughout Cindy’s illness, and the pair ping-ponged back and forth about so many things you talk about in the daily course of living. There was no talk of anything but what was next.

And even though I guessed Cindy knew that there was a time constraint on that next, she never for a moment seemed as if she might be scared or sad or angry about what happened to her.

Kara Swisher and Cindy Lobel
Kara Swisher and Cindy Lobel

She was, for example, so excited that she was able to use all of her energy and go to her polling place in this next election, talking about the importance of voting. She asked me how SoulCycle — which she had gotten me hooked on — was going (“Tap it back for me, Kara!”). We discussed her illness very little and her life very much.

I remember thinking, too, that it would have been so easy to lose hope, because it was indeed so hopeless.

But not for Cindy.

“Do you like my shirt?” she asked me of a teal t-shirt she was wearing that read, “got goals!”

I did. I still do.

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