Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Goodbye, Uncle Walter

Mom & Uncle Walter, November, 2012

In case you've been wondering where I've been lately....

The day after my mother passed in January, my Uncle Walter got diagnosed with stage four, metastatic lung cancer. He was given a three to six month prognosis.

Less than a week after that I was taking him to oncology appointments, visiting him in his Long Island home, spending time with my cousins - his daughters - as they cycled through town, coming in as often as they could.

In spite of how unfair this all was, in spite of his (growing) pain, in spite of his (very understandable) fear of death, he somehow maintained an upbeat, positive attitude throughout it all. He was magnificent, amazing.

Last Friday, he lost the fight. His daughters were with him for the last day of his life (I had sat vigil, awaiting their arrival).

His funeral was Monday. Family, neighbors, colleagues, friends all gathered. The rabbi delivered a lovely eulogy. Jess spoke for the daughters (Annette was too overcome to go join her at the podium) and said so many beautiful true things about Walter. And I spoke too.

It was a beautiful May day at the cemetery. Afterward we gathered in the backyard he so loved and ate and drank and shared fond memories of Walter. He was much beloved by all who knew him.

In the coming days I will tell more stories from these last three months, but for now I will just share the words I spoke at the funeral, here:

Walter was my uncle. My mother's "little brother" as she was so fond of calling him in recent years - and he was so UN-fond of hearing. Still, he put up with it with a grimacey smile because he loved his sister - his big sister Sylvia - so very much.

We were a close family. Growing up, "the relatives" meant Walter and his family - my Aunt Eva and cousins Jessie and Annette who were truly my best friends. Besides my parents, the Heimers - as we called them - were my very favorite people, the ones I was closest to, knew I would be intimately connected to for the rest of my life.

And we are.

I loved my Uncle Walter and am so grateful to have had the chance to spend so much time with him over the years -- and especially in this last year of his life which my Mother spent in the Nursing Home just 9/10ths of a mile from his house (yes, I clocked it on the odometer).

My mother absolutely loved Walter's frequent visits. Sometimes I would also be there during them, and the three of us would hang out together in the courtyard. Walter always turned the heads of staff and resident alike - he was such a handsome man, such a dapper dresser, in his suit and fedora -and mom was so proud to tell everyone who he was - her baby brother.

Walt visiting Mom at the nursing home

Every time I would come into my mom's room she was always showing me the flowers and chocolates he had brought her on his last visit. "My brother is so good to me" she would tell me, so grateful for his company, so much love twined between them.

And that love has roots that go all the way back. My mother often told me the story of going to see her new - baby - brother who had just been born. At that time they didn't allow children under 16 into hospitals, so my then 5 year-old mother stood outside the building, under Grandma Dunia's hospital room window - and she held Walter up for Mom to see.

Recently, at a family gathering, Jessie went to the basement for a bottle of seltzer and came up with an old journal of Walter's from 1941 when he would have been 14. (You never know what you're going to find in that basement.)

This entry from February says so much: "My older sister is a swell gal. My ideal. I wish she was born a boy then we could have some real fun."

And in spite of her being a girl, they did have fun, throughout their lives together. In jazz clubs in the 1940s, at family holidays - always together, on vacation in Maine, hanging out in the lush backyard of Walt & Eva's Port Washington house..

The other day I was rifling through my old photo box - you know why - and came up with a great shot of Walt & Eva from 1968. I showed it to my husband Danny and he commented: Eva looks great and Walter... looks like movie star! And indeed he did.


Everyone thinks my own son Ethan takes quite a bit after the Heimer clan, looks a lot like Walter. He does. I can only hope he grows up to be a warm, loving mensch like my Uncle Walter. There's a good chance of it - he already has his huge - and not always appropriate - sense of humor.


Goodbye Walter. You were loved. You will be missed. Keep my mom good company, Ok?


  1. Oh how sad. And I think you mentioned your Aunt Eva not being in good health herself. What a year for your family. Lots of love and long life to you all. xxx

  2. I'm awfully sorry, Varda.

  3. I'm sorry for your loss.

  4. May you be blessed with resounding echoes of the love from Walter's life! Oh, friend.

  5. "swell gal" made me smile.
    We buried my father in law in February and my uncle on Monday. It's so hard, this time in our lives when we start losing people.
    Very sweet tribute post!

  6. I am so very sorry for this new loss in your life, Varda. I am grateful, too, that you spend the time to share the lives of your beloved family with us here. Reading your words is a blessing --

  7. What a year it's been for you Varda. I am so sorry for your grief, when the grief from your mom must still be so potent. Love and peace to you and all who love your Uncle Walter.


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