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Jason: In Loving Memory

Eulogy delivered at Jenny’s service by her brother, Jason

 

I just cannot believe I am giving a eulogy for my sister. I think we kinda figured she’d just be around forever. She’s obviously been a fixture for me since go. We shared a room for years. We collectively watched about 1,000,000 hours of TV together.

Dream: I really get the sense that that was more Jen’s speed – games. Always like playing games. Rummy Kub, Junior Trivia, Harry Potter trivia; card games. Backgammon. She played games a lot with my kids. She really enjoyed their company, and they liked it when she visited. 

She loved games because she was good at them, but mostly because she just loved the human contact.

By the way, there’s one person in every family who, if you needed to role doubles, you’d look to that person. She was so unlucky in life in so many ways, but she was so damned lucky with games and rolling dice. I seem to remember dad used to have her roll for him.

**

Jen was the repository of obscure memory. She’d remember what happened when we were at the restaurant literally 30 years ago. It wasn’t just the encyclopedic nature of those memories, but I think she really cherished knowing stuff about people. She was actually really paying attention. I sure as hell don’t remember what any of you ordered for breakfast 35 years ago.

***

Jen was really very kind. Trying to help – when she got a job she could do she was always really happy and proud. She had the very, very important job of assembling the s’mores for Avigayil’s BM. Even though it was long and tedious, she was really happy to help. I know that gave her a sense of dignity.

She was often thinking about giving, and really wanting to give. Sometimes people didn’t want to receive what she had to give, but I am not certain that she noticed.

Massages – she would always offer. And if you said “my back hurts” or “my feet hurt” she was on that in a second. Foot rubs.

If she saw a book that had to do with something she thought you’d be interested in, she’d get it for you. So I have a whole shelf of Jewish books that Jen got me. In her own way, she was paying attention to what you were into. She may have understood that in a simplistic way, but it was there, always thinking about other people and what they might like.

I think people were maybe aware that those gifts weren’t exactly tuned in to the most updated version of what a person was into, it was pretty clear that she was thinking all the time about the people she loved.

At her best self, she really genuinely wanted to help and give.

She was always forthcoming with a complement.

She would always compliment Ketriellah on her cooking, and would ask for recipes.

She’d always say, “I like your shirt!” Or “this is a cool painting.” Sometimes you kinda wondered if she really thought it was cool or not. But maybe she just thought a lot of things were cool, or a lot of dishes taste good, or that the quality of the food or aesthetic value of the shirt took second fiddle that she wanted to make you happy in whatever way she thought would work.

Maybe she really wanted to have something in common with you, so if she sensed that you like something she’d like it too. For some reason you wanted her to like something she lied just because she liked it, and not because you liked it, but I think the sentiment of wanting to have something in common with people is worth cherishing, too.

***

Jen was always interested in:

Arts and crafts. She loved to get down and make crafts with the kids, and also would make crafts at home and bring them. She made me a macrame wall hanging that we hang in our sukkah. It was yarn with the se big wooden beads, and I remember she told me that the beads represent the hard times in life that you encounter along the way.

She actually had some skills – painting, clay sculpture, beads. Jewelry.

**

Jen had dreams. She really dreamt – a house in the country, like Little House. She dreamt of good, wholesome things.

I’m really trying to maximally appreciate that sense of optimism that Jen had. Call it hope. She really felt like a job, or a relationship, or some kind of break, was just around the corner. She just told me on Thursday, on her birthday, that she had a lead on an office job. And I think we could guess that she might not have been the most qualified person for the job, but just the excitement she had of something possible was really admirable. I think that’s something people could have more of.

Hope or optimism. She didn’t give up on life, and it seems that a lot of people would have after a while. There’s something to say for always having a dream, even if it feels like other people to a fantasy. At least that is something that I want to take from Jen. I think that’s what you have to do when someone dies – you need to keep some part of what they do alive.

**

I think one of her dreams was that someone was going to come and save her. She loved those TV shows where there was a strong male figure who would save the day – LH, BATB. I know she really had a dream that someone was going to come along and save her.

When my father passed, she really lost a very important ally. I know we were all affected by that very deeply, but for her it may have been more dire, because she lost one of the pillars of her support network. I’m not sure she really recovered from that.

***

She really had a hard life from go. There were so many tragedies for her – two brain tumor surgeries; she fell off a horse once and the horse fell on her – and I sense it was a kind of betrayal for her – she thought horses were solid allies, and I think that damaged her. I saw her experience bullying first-hand. It was really hard for her – not only did she have to suffer, she was left out for it, too. People are so mean sometimes.

***

I think we all kinda didn’t know how to react to Jen. She was in her 40’s, but in her heart she was 13 or 14. And her understanding of relationships, and beauty, and her dreams and goals – they were very simple, and not sophisticated at all, and so no one really knew what to say when she would say, “One day I want to have a nice big house in the country.” And people would get all realistic on her. And maybe we needed to think a bit more whether it was so important to burst her bubble, or maybe we should have just seen those dreams as a part of her life force. I feel sadness about this. We were all pushing Jen to grow up, and I understand that, because she had a hard time taking care of some things, but pushing her to grow up in certain ways came at a cost to those relationships.

Another piece I’ve mentioned is a deep love of human contact. Like, so many of us, if we were reading a book and someone asked us to play cards, we’d ask for an hour. Jen would be on that in a second. She much preferred contact with people than being alone. She was actually an extrovert of sorts. It was just hard for all of to figure out how to meet that in a way that made sense to us. So we ended up not responding the way we now wish we would have, right?

***

I found with Jen that she had moments of intense clarity. If I made enough time to call her and listen, and kind of respond to what she was saying, and stay interested, she would sometimes lock in to something interesting, something she was very passionate about. And it was like a different Jen, but it wouldn’t come out in the first few minutes of a conversation, and you had to kind of stick in there.

– Rabbi Gavriel Goldfeder (“Jake”)

Jenny and Gavriel
Jenny with Gavriel

Disney (Audio Description)

Despite her low vision, Jenny loved to watch Disney and Pixar Movies. Among her favorites was Aladdin, mainly because Robin Williams had a lot of dialogue.

On the other hand, Wall-E was towards the bottom of her list, probably because too much happens outside of the dialogue, the camera makes fast movements, and challenging color palettes abound.

This is where Audio Description comes in. I discovered it while researching links for this site.

Launching with the in-home release of The Good Dinosaur on February 23, 2016, sixteen Disney*Pixar titles on Disney Movies Anywhere (DMA) will include a free audio descriptive narration feature for low-vision and blind audiences.

Titles include: Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars , Ratatouille, WALL-E , Up, Toy Story 3, Cars 2, Brave, Monsters University, Inside Out, and The Good Dinosaur.

Unfortunately, this came out a bit too late for Jenny. I’m sure she would have enjoyed Wall-E much more with audio description. Her favorites to try first would have been Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3, but we would have worked our way through all of them, I’m sure.

If you have an ipad or iphone with iOS 7 or higher, you can download a free app from Disney.

All you have to do is start your movie with the TV Audio audible, launch your Disney Movies Anywhere iOS app, tap the “Sync & Play Audio” button and the app will play an audio description track along with the movie, filling in the gaps with clear and timely descriptions of the scene.

We tried it with Inside Out and loved how easy it was. We were surprised how much the descriptions enhanced our experience of the movie. Our toddler enjoyed it and benefitted by learning words and language. When he accidentally stopped the iphone, we were able to re-sync it easily without interrupting the movie.

Kudos to everyone who made this possible. Strongly recommended.

Other options for streaming Audio Description can be found here, at the The Audio Description Project, An Initiative of the American Council of the Blind.

Philip: In Loving Memory

My first thoughts about Jen’s passing were a rush of emotions that were kind of all over the map: guilt, sorrow, anger, and disbelief were what came first.

When I got the call that you never want to get, it was Sunday evening and Benny and I were at Target shopping for a sled so he and his brothers could do some sledding on their day off of school because of President’s Day. It just did not even register as a possibility when the phone rang. She was 43. We had just spoken three days ago on her birthday.

That is part of where the first emotion – guilt — comes in. Calling Jen was not something that I really looked forward to and most definitely not something I did often enough. Part of that was that I expected her to live by standards that WE considered, for want of a better term, appropriate. We would have nearly the same conversation every time we spoke. It would be about how she didn’t have a whole lot going on right now, but that she was on her way toward: getting a job, being more social, taking better care of herself and anything else that WE considered important for her. But what about her? What did SHE think was important? What did SHE want? What did SHE strive for? How did SHE define happiness?

I feel like we never took enough time to ask her – or even think about – things from her perspective. All we ever did was try to fit her into our world.  But what about her world? My guesses about what made her tick come from the times where I saw here at her happiest. Some were recent, others were far in the past, and others may never have even happened. As far as I can tell, there were four things that made her truly happy:

  • Being generous to others. She spent more time and care on getting people the perfect gift than anyone I have ever met. And the look on her face when you opened it was priceless.
  • Feeling needed/wanted. When Jen and I were in High School, she used to wake up extra early and make me scrambled eggs with cheese every morning before school. Considering that she and I were never, ever morning people, this was an act of generosity that she did purely out of love. And, again, the pride she felt in doing it knew no bounds.
  • Listening to John Denver or watching any movie with Robin Williams in it. Enough said.
  • Being the center of anyone’s attention. Jake and I had asked her a few years ago when we met up in Philly to take her out for her 40thbirthday to reflect back on some of her happiest moments. Though we were not sure whether all of the moments she mentioned actually happened or not (which is just not important), the one commonality they had was they all involved her as the center of someone’s attention. Some of those moments were, empirically, not happy ones (like going to doctors), but what they all shared were people she loved — parents, siblings, friends — turning all of their focus toward her, for whatever the reason might have been.

In that way, I guess today would make her truly happy. Because this is about Jen and the life she lived and NOT our judgment of it. We have to remember her as someone who overcame dramatic odds to live the life she did. She was really given NO advantages in life, going through medical procedures starting at an age even younger than my own kids that left her legally blind as well as handicapped in ways way will never even know. On top of that she had to endure several rounds of radiation before she was even old enough to be in junior high.

As much as we looked at her as someone who did not live up to our ideal of a successful person, we cannot forget what she did accomplish: she graduated from college AND grad school. And this was in a time before schools were truly set up for someone with her needs. She had to fight for every scrap, often against systems that she felt were rigged against her. She dealt with the constant cruelty and ridicule of being different. She went through the sort of childhood and adolescence that could easily have left her broken and embittered, yet she came out of it with her huge heart intact. She was a stronger person than me; perhaps a stronger person than any of us.

And THAT is how I will remember Jen: as someone who never lost the genuine goodness of her heart and spirit, and not as someone who somehow failed to live up to anyone’s standards of what a life should be.

– Dr. Philip M. Goldfeder

Jenny and Philip
Jenny and Philip

Michael: In Loving Memory

My sister Jenny passed away on Valentine’s Day, 2016.

She had just turned 43 on February 11 and blushed a bit as we sang her Happy Birthday. Less than a week later we buried her in the driving rain at Ewing Cemetery next to her father.

Below is the text I wrote the morning before the service at Har Sinai Synagogue, although the actual words I spoke were somewhat different due to nerves and my three-year-old son Aiden interrupting me at the podium. I picked him up, at which point he grabbed the mic and said: “This is a microphone. It has the technology when you speak into it to amplify.” I put him down and tried to continue but he insisted on being picked up again. His next announcement was less erudite: “I have to poop.”

Never have I felt such a complex mixture of emotions: proud yet mortified and sad yet tickled. The crowd predictably loved it and surely it would have been Jenny’s favorite part. Thankfully, Aiden returned to his seat and somehow, despite my nerves, I managed to finish.

I am Michael, Jenny’s older brother from Helmut.

For the past two years I’ve been living in Jenny’s room, with her purple rug, her needlepoints on the wall and shelves filled with dolls and stuffed animals. My 14-month-old son, Joshua, has recently started talking to them from his crib at the foot of her bed. He grabs my toe in the morning to wake me: “Da Da”.

Jenny has been a huge part of my life recently and also at important points along the way.

Growing up I had trouble adjusting to her visual disability because I didn’t want to let her use it as a crutch. At times I was not the kindest big brother and teased her or took out other frustrations on her but she was always so quick to forgive me and always so eager to join back in.

As we grew older she really took a special shine to me and showed me nothing but love. It brought out a protective side in me. I became a confidant and trusted friend. As adults she could tell me many things which she would tell no one else. And I would keep her trust and I always have and always will.

In our best moments together we could talk about G-d in a way I simply can’t with anyone else. For reasons I can’t explain we could open up completely. In my efforts to soothe her, most times I would instead be soothed myself. She brought out the best big brother in me and I’m grateful for that.

I’ll miss kissing her after she lights candles on Shabbos.

She was good with my boys. Aiden, my three year old, had a great relationship with Aunt Jenny. They recently began to count his cars together and I had to haul him off to bed. He wailed and was bitterly disappointed and I wish I had let them play a bit longer.

Jenny was at times hilariously funny and her humor was one of her very best attributes. When I told her last week I had a string of job interviews coming up she said, that’s great Mike, I hope you get them all.

She could quote every line of the Wizard of Oz and she requested it so often when she came over that she couldn’t get anyone else to agree to watch it again. Jenny recruited Aiden and he became a staunch Oz supporter so we watched it at least a dozen times together.

She endured so much and although I have selfish reasons for wanting her here there is a sense of relief for her sake. Surgeries and medications had ravaged her brain and body.

She was special to me. I just want you all to know that. I’ll miss her.

I love my sister and I will always keep her close. She is stuck in my heart.

Michael Lecke

Jenny and Michael
Jenny and Michael