Thursday, March 28, 2013

A beautiful thing

Jake and his Grandma, September, 2012

My mother's memorial service, held, finally, on Sunday March 3rd was beautiful; just what I needed. Although up until five minutes before it started I was feeling all jangly and out of sorts, grumbley about how it didn't feel right to be doing it at that exact time, a month and a half after she had passed.

I had been up nearly all night finishing and polishing my eulogy, wanting it to be just right, to properly honor the mother I had so loved.

When I stepped up to the podium to begin the service, Ethan was standing right beside me. He had asked to do so, telling me he wanted to support me, to be there for me in case I was overcome with grief. Sometimes I am astounded by his sweetness and depth.

I welcomed the assembled guests, a mix of family and friends, including, thankfully, one set of old, old friends of my parents, nearly the last left standing.

I read my eulogy: Some Heart: Sylvia Steinhardt's Eulogy and then opened up the podium to everyone who wanted to speak, starting with Ethan.

He spoke about where he was when he found out his Grandmother had died and how he felt. It was spontaneous and heartfelt and lovely. Clearly there is yet another storyteller in this family.

Then my brother Bruce spoke, filling in his side of the story of what it was like to suddenly have a step mother as an older teen, and how wonderful Mom had been, in spite of all the challenges. He spoke so lovingly of her, reminded me that I had forgotten "seltzer" in my list of things she loved passionately.

Then my fourteen year old niece Greta (my cousin Annette's eldest daughter) read a poem she had written for my mom. I was awed by its beauty, and am sharing it here:

To Sylvia

My most vivid memories of you
are summertime; flowers
stretching palms for sky,
a green new world
growing into its skin.

I wore golden, dangling earrings
to go see you.
You thought they were beautiful,
and you told me so.
Again. And again.

Your memory was a visitor
that didn’t stay for long,
But you knew who we were.
Your hands were for holding,
your eyes were an embrace.

I like to think
that wherever you are in the universe,
you will continue to find
new stars in the sky.

by Greta Wilensky

(Now you can see why she's been winning poetry slam contests.)

And then Jake, who had been sitting next to me, taking this all in, told me he wanted to speak too, and pointed to the podium... I asked him “Are you sure?” and he said “Yes.” Firmly.

So up we went. I had absolutely no idea how much of what was going on he had comprehended, and what he was going to say. If he had recited a favorite scene from SpongeBob it wouldn't have surprised me.

But no. He stood there silently for a moment, clearly working hard to come up with what he wanted to say.

And it was stunning and beautiful.

“I love my grandma” Jake said.


“I see her in the hospital” (what he often called the nursing home, it being more like one than any other home of hers he had known)

“2012” (which was the last time he saw her)

“Mommy loves Grandma” (very true indeed)

And he was done.

My heart just filled to the brim – that he had understood we were all sharing our experiences with his grandma and he had wanted to participate, to be a part of it, and then that he had found his own words to do so, not a scripted phrase among them.

Well, I was floored, and so proud of my boy.

After that, I honestly cannot tell you in what order people spoke. I remember who spoke, remember their words, their stories, their love.  I deeply appreciated the tremendous amount of humor that everyone brought to their stories of Mom, which was so fitting because she was such a warm, funny, full-of-life person.

My cousins Jess and Annette spoke together, sharing what a warm and loving presence their aunt Sylvia had been in their life.

My niece Rachel, my sister-in-law Bern, Jess's daughter Ilana, my friend Emma, my husband Danny all shared lovely memories of my mom.

And my Uncle Walter? Brought down the house. He loved my mom, his big sister, so very much. Generally an earthy as well as intellectual man with a bawdy sense of humor, he has been ailing lately and may have been somewhat further disinhibited by medication he is taking.

He told more tales of Mom that frequently included phrases like "and then she bedded the boss, and was soon running the joint." But as these were delivered in tone so clearly full of admiration for her, he had tears of laughter streaming down our faces as he filled in many details of her adventurous life, pre-Dad.

When it was over, my friend Julie came up to me and said she absolutely wanted my uncle to deliver her eulogy, when the time comes.

Everyone contributed their stories in what felt much more a celebration of her life than a mourning for her death. And that was exactly right. What she would have wanted.

So many people came up to me during the lox and bagels brunch in the social hall afterwards, telling me they had never been to a memorial service that was so funny, so haimish, so relaxed and enjoyable. Those that hadn't known her well - like some of my recent friends and my husband's family members - told me they felt they really got to know her.

And that was just perfectly who Mom was: funny, warm, informal, wanting to know people and to be known.  I feel we truly honored her that day, sharing her essence as well as her stories.

I now carry this day around with me, along with all the other parts of my mother that live on forever inside me.

My mom is gone, but her love, and the love she continues to spread among those who knew her, lives on. As it should be.

It was a beautiful thing.

Mom & her brother Walter, October 2012


  1. It sounds like it was a beautiful tribute to your mom. xo

  2. We should all be so lucky to have such a wonderful memorial service, filled with people who loved us so in life. What a blessing to you, Varda!!

  3. I am so sorry I was not there, I was there in my head and heart , I know you believe me..Love you always,Lori

  4. Thank G-d for Uncle Walter! How wonderful that the celebration was so complete. Thank you for sharing your mom with us for all this time, and for sharing her Going Out with so many. You did it right.

  5. This post has just about, family, humor, memories, sadness, joy...and even a poem.

    And yes, I can see why she is winning slam contests.

    Here's to your mom, Varda!


  6. It sounds like it was the best it could have been. Much love to you and your wonderful family.


I am so sorry to have to turn word verification back on, but the spam-bots have found me - yikes!