My sister is law Brenda Maryles passed away yesterday here in Chicago her home for over 50 years. She was my brother Barry’s wife.
A holocaust survivor she met my brother while in a DP camp in Farinwald, Germany. Himself a holocaust survivor - he was nonetheless drafted by the US army and stationed near her there. They met in the early 50’s and married in 1957. They produced four beautiful children: Chaim, Helen, Bernice, and Sam. She loved her children and grandchildren all of whom live in and around New York.
A true daughter of Israel, she was a devoted wife and an exceptional mother. She personified Chesed thoughout her life – always giving of her time quietly without any fanfare - with a smile and a good word.
She died of bone cancer – a disease she had managed for many years. One would not know she was ill in the way she led her life. She always greeted people with a smile no matter what was going on her life. Always eager to have guests on Shabbos she would prepare sumptuous multi-course meals for her guests. She was a great cook. I always eagerly looked forward to eating at her house when invited for a Shabbos or Yom Tov meal.
She was my brother’s entire life. After his retirement, he rarely did anything without her. They went everywhere together. Even grocery shopping.
The last year of her life was particularly difficult. Her oral chemotherapy stopped working. Then came the regular trips for intravenous chemotherapy. Her bone cancer progressed and she started having bouts of extreme pain.
Shortly after last Pesach with her immune system severely compromised she contracted an almost fatal bacterial pneumonia. She was rushed to the hospital treated with heavy doses of antibiotics and survived. But in the interim her chemotherapy was halted and her steady deterioration began. Her bones were racked with tumors and became so weak that she ended up breaking both of her legs in separate incidents – both times requiring surgery. After that she alternated between hospitals and rehabilitations centers.
She never really came back home except for one weekend just before Labor day. Her daughter Bernice and her husband came in for the Labor Day weekend. I walked over and saw Brenda in her home for the first time since Pesach. She was all smiles and had even gone to Shul that Shabbos wheeled there by her son in law. That weekend at home was probably the happiest moment during the entire seven month ordeal. But she suddenly developed a fever and was rushed to the hospital that week.
Eventually the pain from the cancer was so great that she required massive doses of anti pain medication administered intravenously and was often sedated. Shortly after that she was put on a ventilator. I never really saw her fully conscious after that. On Sukkos of this year the final prognosis came in. There was nothing more doctors could do. After much agonizing discussion and debate in the family she was placed in a hospice last Sunday and her care was to be supervised by the family. But 48 hours later, her soul departed.
The funeral is today in Chicago at 9:00 AM CST. She will be flown to Israel and buried in Bet Shemesh. Her body will be accompanied by her son Sam, her daughter Bernice and her husband. And of course Brenda's husband, my brother Barry. This ordeal has taken its toll on Barry. He has become a shell of his former self and can barely walk. But he is determined to do this final act of love for his wife. God be with them.
I will miss my sister in law. She was a bright light in all of our lives. May God grant the family comfort among all the mourners of Israel.
Update: (11/7/09 - 1:24pm CST)
The following is the Hespid given by my niece Bernice. As per request I am posting it below in it's entirety.
I would first like to say a few thank yous in case I don’t make it to the end of this speech.
Thanks to my father who went above and beyond in the love and care he showed our Mom these past seven months. From the moment he brought her to the Evanston Hospital ER with double pneumonia to all the days he spent watching over her from his chair at Liebermans and Evanston hospital. He loved her dearly and she loved him.
Thanks to all the angels at Evanston Hospital. The nurses that cared for our Mom were amazing: Rhonda, Jennifer Myers, Jennifer Murphy, Germaine Rubens, Antoinette and Miriam.
Thanks to Wanda Wilson, another one of our angels who took care of Mom as if she were her own mother.
Thanks to our Aunt Marcy for moving into Evanston Hospital to entertain and take care of Mom. She was everything you could want in a little sister and more.
Thanks to our Aunts and Uncles, and cousins Ari and Esther for really being there for Mom and Dad for emotional support and for making sure Dad did not go hungry for the past seven months.
Thanks to my siblings for really being there for Mom so that she rarely spent a shabbos by herself in the past seven months.
Thanks to my husband, or as Mom called him, Dr Grunzveig, who was in constant contact with the doctors and nurses and for so kindly and patiently responding to all my frantic calls about my Mom’s health.
Thanks to Rabbi Matanky, Rabbi Aron Wolf, Rabbi Zisuk, Rabbi Orzofsky, Rabbi Teitelbaum and Rabbi & Mrs. Louie Lazofsky.
Thanks to all the people in Chicago who kept Mom in their prayers and who were able to visit in her last months, and to the wonderful people on our block in Cedarhurst who formed a Tehilim group to pray for Mom every Friday night.
Its very fitting that Mom’s levaya takes place at KINS. Mom loved shul. She went every shabbos and made us go every shabbos. Even when we were adults visiting Chicago, on shabbos morning Mom would jump on our beds while singing a Polish wake up song in an effort to get us up and out. And it worked, we went to shul every shabbos, not early, but we went.
Even at the Liebermans rehab center where services were led by a Reform rabbanit, not really her cup of tea, Mom happily went and took part. But she truly loved KINS. Mostly because she was surrounded by family and good friends who were like her family. She also loved the fact that they announced the pages. It made the shul going experience that much more enjoyable for her.
One of our favorite things to do with Mom on shabbos mornings was to sit at the kitchen table while the guys were at shul, drinking coffee and getting mom to laugh so hard she spit out her coffee. Mom had a great sense of humor and was even able to laugh at herself.
Walking anywhere with Mom was exhausting because she walked faster than any of us. And if you mentioned it to her she would say “shush”.
While Mom was sick I told Helen how guilty I felt that when she and Dad came for Pesach, I got upset with her when the pot of gefilte fish boiled over onto our new stove. Helen said you know what Mom would say? I already forgot about it. And it’s true, I apologized and that is what she said. Mom never stayed angry. She forgot about things and it was as if it never happened.
She was always making new friends wherever she went. And when Mom made a friend, she kept them. She has friends all over the world from before the war, during and of course, after. Mom’s landsman were always part of our lives. Pinye, the Tanenbaums, Bronia, the Lungens, her wonderful Chicago friends and Nili group.
Mom would do anything for her family. From tracking down girls for Sam to asking pregnant women if they wanted to give up their baby because she knew a nice couple looking to adopt.
Mom would stop at nothing to help people she loves or people who just plain need help.
Mom was a tremendous baalat tzedaka. She would deliver gefilte fish and challah erev shabbos to a neighbor that no one liked and most people were afraid of. The lady once stopped me in the street. I was terrified. I thought I had accidentally stepped on her lawn. She said “I hope you know that your mother is an angel. Everyone in this community forgot about me except your mother.”
Mom made everything look easy. From making gefilte fish from scratch to making Pesach every year. She even kashered her kitchen when she was coming to New York for Pesach so that she could cook and fill her suitcases with gefilte fish, knaidlach, holepses and a roast or two. Not only that, but she made the gefilte fish and holepses two ways, one with sugar and one without to accommodate Milty (my husband) who is on a low carb diet. I think Dad was allowed to bring one suit and a pair of shoes so that there would be more room for food. This year we went to Florida for Pesach which was a big deal for Mom and Dad. But Mom knew she would not be able to help Milty and I prepare so she and Dad agreed to go to florida and it was a dream come true for all of us.
I remember how excited Mom was when we went to the Saxony Hotel for Pesach the last year it was open. It was the first time Mom was ever in a hotel for Pesach. She was standing by the window, looking out at the ocean and singing about how it was erev Pesach and she was doing her nails.
Mom was not a complainer. When her pain first started, she only admitted she was in pain if you caught her wincing.
Mom had a gift for putting things in perspective. She used to tell us about surviving the Holocaust and winding up in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany called Fahrenvalt. She told us how wonderful it was, how she used to go dancing with her friends. Then one day I saw a film about Fahrenvalt called The Long Way Home. I said Mom, the place was filthy, they were rationing food. You made it sound like a party. And she said, well, no one was shooting at us. There is a photo of her on the United States Holocaust Memorial website taking a sewing class. And she does look like she’s having fun.
The Displaced Persons camp is actually where Mom and Dad met. He was a dashing American soldier, she was a red haired beauty and they had 52 years together.
Mom loved the house she and Dad share. She loved that no matter what time of day it was, the sun was shining through somewhere in the house. She loved sitting by the window and of course loved her garden. Over the past summer when she was unable to take care of the garden, our neighbors Gus and Helena made sure the garden continued to grow and flourish.
Mom was a great storyteller and told great stories about her parents. Stories that really shed light on how she came to be the amazing person she was. She told of her mother’s generosity that during hard times she would keep her wood burning oven going over shabbos and tell all the neighbors to bring over their cholents so that they had hot food for shabbos. People would also bring her wood to help with the fire and she always refused saying keep your wood and use it to keep your family warm. She also told us how her father was such a good person that when someone ordered supplies from him but didn’t have the money to pay him, he said, “take it, when you have the money you’ll pay me.” And when the war heated up and my Mom’s family needed help, they ran into this man and he was willing to do anything to help Soroka because of the kind of person my grandfather was.
Mom always put other people first. Whenever I would tell her that we were coming for a visit she would say, no, no, you and Milty need a vacation, you should go someplace nice and relax.
Some of Mom’s favorite things: Dad, her grandchildren, her kids, her kids in laws, family and friends, cooking, baking, learning new recipes and then modifying them, laughing, singing, Spumoni ice cream, her lichta, shabbos, Desparate Housewives, Bonanza, I Love Lucy, planting tomatoes, making fried onions and freezing them for her kids, shopping for mitziahs and Judge Judy.
One of Mom’s favorite sayings is G’benched is the handt vos tiest alain. Blessed are the hands that can do things for themselves. Mom loved doing things for herself. She would much rather do something herself than ask someone to do it for her. You can imagine how difficult the last year was for her.
Lessons I learned from my Mother:
1) If you get into an argument, forget about it. It’s not worth carrying it around. As my Mom said, “I already forgot about it”.
2) Look at the positive. You lost your job, you’ll get another. Bad day? Tomorrow will be better. They’re rationing food? So what, no one is shooting at us.
3) Tizku l’mitzvahs. Do for others. My mother never asked “do you need soup or challah?” She just brought it over. And I know she appreciated it when people did it for her because she told me.
4) Keep fighting to get better. Because what choice do you have?
5) Walk fast and no one will see. Whenever a seam of mine wasn’t straight or my skirt had a spot, that was her advice to me.
Full of Life. Those are the best words to describe my mother. Mom loved life and fully expected to live forever. And we all wanted her to live forever because the world was a better place with her in it. I love my Mom. She was my role model, my inspiration, my cheerleader and my friend.
Oh, and one more lesson:
6) Chop a rein because life is short. Sometimes shorter than we expect.