When I asked mom what she wanted me to say in her eulogy, she said to stress that she had “no regrets” and she encouraged us to celebrate her life. “I lived a great life, Jo” she told me. So today, I ask you to share in celebrating Helaine and her courage, compassion, love, and strength. My mother was the strongest woman I’ve known. In some ways, there was an invisible line dividing mom’s life before and after her cancer diagnosis in 2018, but in truth, she was very much her authentic self regardless of her own health. My mother was known for providing support to others, and she continued to do this, even while undergoing chemotherapy or recovering from major surgery.
I was amazed that despite her own turmoil, she was still able to sit on the phone for hours on end, and administer her wisdom, offering words of support and strength to others. “Where does she find this inner strength? I used to wonder. Since mom had been a hospice social worker, she was well versed in handling conversations about the end of life. When I needed help addressing something related to her health, I would say, “Mom, what would YOU tell you?” And then I was the one on the receiving end of her wisdom.
There are two particular Helaine-isms I’ve been carrying around for years. First, my mom used to always say to me, “Always tell the truth. You can never go wrong with being honest.” She was right. The other thing she used to say, “You can’t control anyone else’s actions; you can only control your own.” That piece of wisdom has served me so well in life, especially in the workplace. She encouraged me to not sweat the small stuff, and I’m still working on that one.
Besides giving advice, mom was also extremely passionate about music. Mom may not have been able to carry a tune, but she loved to belt out a song, especially in this very sanctuary. I used to make faces at her when she’d sing along here. I can still picture the tears in her eyes when she’d hear Rabbi Pearlman and Cantor Grissold sing. Mom brought Ken and me to Broadway plays and musicals as soon as we could sit still in our seats. We have memories seeing They’re Playing Our Song, Annie, Phantom, Miss Saigon, Anything Goes, Rent. We had a chance to see Barbra Streisand – her favorite – together a few years ago. She reminded me that she had seen Barbara perform opening night for Drat the Cat in 1965, and it proceeded to close the next day. When she loved something or someone, she gave it her all.
Speaking of loving with her “all”, let’s take a minute to look at Helaine and Don together. They were wonderful role models to Ken and me, celebrating their 52th wedding anniversary this past June. In 2019, my parents renewed their vows in front of their closest family and friends, which was an incredible experience to witness. As Ken, Marina, Kirill, and I held the Chuppah poles, I saw my now husband, Ted, and felt such a sense of pride and peace at the family we had all become. 2 years later, this past May, Ted and I got married in my parent’s living room. Mom was too weak to join us downstairs, so we set her up with her iPad and she watched us from the comfort of her own bed. I can’t put into words the significance of that moment – my mom got to see me get married to the love of my life. We will all cherish that for the rest of our lives.
Mom had an incredible thirst for knowledge, which manifested through her love of travel and devouring the latest best seller from the NY Times Book List. She would sit with her cup of coffee every morning and read the newspaper from cover to cover. But let’s be honest. Her favorite section was Modern Love. She loved a good love story, and was always scouring the paper for the most romantic or unique love story. She would weep over The Way We Were and when we saw Beaches together. And did she love reviewing the Style Section on Sundays! She was always up on the latest trends and her closet – packed to the brim – was filled with the most stylish items. “Jo, do you want to do a shopping trip to NY?” and off we’d go, visiting our favorite floors of Sacks and Bloomies, concluding with a chardonnay and chatter at the Café, complimenting each other repeatedly on the beautiful makeovers we just had at Henry Bendels. I can still picture us coming in with all of the packages and putting on a fashion show for Ken and dad.
As I look around the sanctuary, I know every single person here has their own personal memories and shared experiences with my mother. She knew just how to make you feel like you were the only person in the room, and her complete focus was on you. She listened, she observed, and she cared. My dad recently asked mom what was it about her, what magic did she possess to get so many people to divulge their deepest secrets to her? She smiled and pointed, saying “The face.” And she gave him a giant toothy grin. We’ll all cherish that smile, and of course, that face.
Barbra sang beautifully these words in The Way We Were. I encourage you to all sing along in your minds.
Light the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories
Of the way we were
Of the smiles we left behind
For the way we were
Love you always.