The other day at Hospice, Stuart showed me a book that he and Richie presented to their parents on their 50th anniversary. It was filled with photos of their parents’ lives, step by step.
I’ve seen a thousand photo albums, so I’m not sure why this one had such an effect on me. Maybe it was because Evelyn was lying there on her deathbed. Maybe it was the feeling of walking through a time tunnel, seeing Evelyn at every stage of her life and then looking at her as she was now.
But the strange thing was that somehow, all this did not pull me down. I was uplifted. I thought about Evelyn, from an immigrant family, who had to come through Canada to get to America. And I thought about this daughter of Jewish immigrants whose family left Europe to build a better life for their children.
And I looked at all of the pictures of her life, of how this daughter of immigrants married a nice Jewish boy and they were married for 57 years, and it was a good life, the life that her ancestors wanted for her, a life in the suburbs of Connecticut, with her unspeakably handsome husband and her two fine sons, one a respected rabbi and the other an energetic businessman. And those happy pictures of Evelyn, beaming with pride, looking great in a succession of hairdos that mirror the cultural styles of the times, told a great story about a good life.
In a certain way, I could not have been doing anything more appropriate in trying to understand Evelyn’s life. Her Photo album was her Torah; she studied every page like it was scripture. So thinking about Evelyn’s life as a photo album, a summary or outline of her family life, is exactly the right way to think.
Evelyn was born in Canada and was raised with her brothers Abe, Ike, and Jake who we mourn with respect today, and her sister Ruth and brother Harry, with whom we mourn. Evelyn always respected and appreciated Harry. And she was always very close to Ruthie, going back to when Evelyn, the older sister, worked so that she could buy Ruthie the clothes she needed. They talked every day.
She was married at 28. I’m not going to tell you how she met George because I don’t want to tell you that he was helping at a gas station and he had to get into a car to get the money that the people weren’t paying and Evelyn was in the car. So I won’t tell you that story.
What I will tell you is that this was a great couple. They would go dancing on Saturday nights. Evelyn always looked great and George looked like a model off the cover of GQ magazine.
I am about to make an outlandish statement, but I defy anyone to disagree with me: Evelyn had the best husband any wife ever had. I am not only speaking about this last difficult period, during which George literally did everything for her. I’m talking about for every year of their marriage, when George did everything for her, willingly and happily. And Richie and Stuart have said that if anything, they were only closer and more affectionate as the years went on.
Stuart and Richard have been good and loyal sons who have always done right by their mother and brought her pride and joy. Evelyn was a wonderful mother. She taught them about love and life. She taught them to smile so that the world will smile with you. She would always quote her mother who had a very realistic view of life. She accepted what came her way. She saw how things really were.
She accepted all their friends.
She worried about everything. In fact, they didn’t have to worry because she worried for them. She had a Mother’s antenna for things that were going on.
She let them become themselves, two very different people.
She never judged. But she did have her opinions. They had an expression: Daddy advises, Mommy tells.
You knew where she stood.
Most of all, she taught them the feeling of unconditional love.
She was proud to be Jewish. Judaism was in her bones. She was so proud of Stuart becoming a rabbi and being a rabbi and educator that it was beyond words.
George and Evelyn both took care of their parents and their kids had role models to give compassion and love for each other’s parents.
In her extended family, she was the glue. She was very family-oriented. She was the one who sent cards and presents. She had great relationships with nieces and nephews, great-nephews and great-nieces.
She pushed her kids to stay in touch with relatives.
She was a great knitter. She knitted sweaters for her kids. She knitted hats and blankets for babies at the hospital.
She was a great advocate for her family members when they were sick or in the hospital.
She became a rock.
There is an incredible story about how she stood up to a gang of teenagers in their jackets. They respected her so much that they brought her a jacket the next day.
She loved people of all ages
She had good friends who have been devoted to her, all the way to the end.
So tonight begins the festival of Sukkot, the harvest festival, the festival of thanksgiving, and because of this public joy, there will be no formal shiva. In a way, the family has already sat shiva for her at Hospice, staying by her bedside at all times. And a harvest somehow seems right for this moment. We think about all Evelyn’s good deeds, and all her wonderful relationships, and her fantastic marriage and family life, and we do thank G-d for her and for a life well lived.
It sounds like a cliché, but we are relieved that she is no longer suffering.
To George and Stuart and Richie, we wish you G-d’s comfort at this difficult time. Always remember how much she loved you.
She was a loving and caring person. May she rest in peace. Let us say Amen.