lillian weiss, 1917-2008

I just heard that my beloved great aunt passed away.

As many of you know, this is the tough part of long-distance. Jewish funerals are immediately after the death, so there's no way I can make it to the funeral. Whether or not I can make a shiva call - the Jewish post-funeral period of family visitation and mourning - I don't know.

Lillian was my grandmother's youngest sister, the last surviving of five siblings. She and I had a special relationship. We were "pen pals" (what an old expression!) when I was 8, 9, 10 years old, writing letters back and forth between Brooklyn and the New York suburbs.

And we stayed close over the years. It was just a special thing we had.

I find Lillian's death especially sad because in her last years, she was very depressed. She withdrew from everybody except her daughter and her sister Ida, with whom she lived at a senior home. When Ida died five years ago, Lillian withdrew from everybody. Allan and I used to visit them once or twice a year, but in recent years she refused to see us. We wanted to visit before we moved to Canada, but she wouldn't let us come out. I still called her and wrote to her. In fact, I just mailed a letter yesterday, one she'll never see.

She was 91. I'll miss her.

* * * *

This morning when I posted this, I was too sad to think of anything positive. A few hours later, plus a comment from a thoughtful friend, and I am remembering happy times with Aunt Lillian.

Lillian was a creative, artistic person. She would have liked the opportunity to go to art school when she was younger. As an adult, that wasn't something she would give to herself. She painted copies of famous paintings that she framed and hung in her home, joking that they were authentic fakes.

The creativity Lillian was best known for were her hand-made cards. For birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and any other special occasion, she would make her own cards. She'd cut out a cardboard square - my grandmother saved the cardboard that came in my grandfather's shirts from the laundry - and paint a little scene relevant to the occasion.

They were always humourous, full of inside jokes about the person. On my grandparents' anniversary, my grandmother, a neat freak, would be dusting my grandfather's head. There would be travel brochures on a table and suitcases by a door, since they traveled the world together.

Cards for me and Allan had dogs in them, and baseball caps, and maybe music playing, or we might be going to a club to hear music. My birthday cards often had me at a typewriter. My mother would be knitting.

These cards were always so clever and cute. We looked forward to seeing what she'd put on them every year.

I have at least a dozen of Aunt Lillian's cards, probably more, stowed in the shoeboxes that are the archives of my life. Here's one Allan found in a box. I think the wish refers to Allan's writing, trying to get wider recognition, and the double meaning of the dogs not being in their place - an ongoing issue she heard a lot about!


That's Gypsy and Clyde, our first two dogs. I think I'm yelling at the dogs! Not very nice!


Amy said...

I am so sorry for your loss, Laura. May you find comfort in your memories (the good ones, not the sad ones). I am thinking of you.

L-girl said...

Thank you very much, Amy.

Your comment reminds me to post something happy and funny I remember about my Aunt Lillian, not only something sad. Thanks for that.

John A. Ardelli said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. I lost my grandmother a couple of years ago; I know what it feels like.

Incidentally, the term "pen pal" is still common today; I've heard people many times refer to online buddies they mostly exchange E-mails with as "pen pals." :)

You'll be in my thoughts and prayers.

annulla said...

I'm sorry to hear of your loss. Your Aunt Lillian sounds as though she could have been a member of my own family - a smart, creative lady who lived in a time and place where she never got to fully develop her talents.

When I was kid, I always thought that living "forever" would be wonderful, but these days I see the pain of those who survive after their spouses and siblings are gone. While it is awful for us to lose them, those who live on in increasing solitude often come to view a long life as kind of a curse.

Lillian sounds as though she was a lovely woman, and this post is a wonderful tribute to her.

Blather From Brooklyn

redsock said...

Gypsy: "Do you hear anything?"

Clyde: "This couch sure is comfy."

L-girl said...

Thanks John and Annulla.

Annulla, you live in the very place my Aunt Lillian spent her entire life. :)

When I was kid, I always thought that living "forever" would be wonderful, but these days I see the pain of those who survive after their spouses and siblings are gone. While it is awful for us to lose them, those who live on in increasing solitude often come to view a long life as kind of a curse.

She would have agreed with this. I think Lillian had clinical depression, not only the "having lived too long" syndrome. But she often said that getting to be that old was no fun.

raikiri said...

I am sorry for your loss and that your are unable to attend the funeral. Personally I prefer not to attend funerals but to remember happy memories of the person. I recently lost a favorite Uncle so I do know how you feel. At my Uncles funeral I had a hard time not crying when I saw my two year old cousin burst into tears when she saw our Uncle lying there.

L-girl said...

Thank you. I have a feeling you're talking about an open casket. Jewish funerals don't do that, because the body is not embalmed.

I like attending funerals or memorial services - "like" is the wrong word, but I definitely prefer it. Being around other people who loved the person, sharing memories of her life, gathering to mourn and remember - I find it very helpful and useful.

I also find the crying cathartic, and feel better afterwards.

Larry Gambone said...

My condolences for your loss. I too once had an artistic Great Aunt - she died at 92 and like your Aunt Lillian had cut herself off from the rest of the family. (except me) Born in 1901 from a working class English family she never really had the economic nor emotionally-supportive situation to pursue her art. There is so much tragedy in those older generations.

L-girl said...

I just spoke to my cousin, Lillian's daughter. We were both saying how tough, how strong, Lillian was. I come from a family of strong women, whether or not each of them ever realized it themselves.

L-girl said...

Larry, thank you, and thanks for sharing that.

I always marveled at how few opportunities my great aunts had, what they might have done in a different generation.

One of them, Lillian's sister Bess, was the second woman to graduate law school in New York City. She practiced law all her life, well into her very senior years. But she never married or had a family. It was one or the other in those days.

I have another story on this, next comment.

L-girl said...

After graduating University, I worked for a few months to save money, then went to Europe with a friend, my first time in Europe, and my first time traveling on my own.

My grandmother was a huge traveler - we say she gave us all the bug - and I couldn't wait to tell her about the trip. But I thought she might disapprove of the arrangements. She was very traditional and old-fashioned.

To my surprise, she was so happy for me. She said, "In my day, we had to wait until we were married to do anything like that. These days young women can do what they like, they don't have to wait around for men to escort them. I think it's wonderful."

David Cho said...

What a nice tribute to your great aunt.

So sad that she ended up withdrawing herself. What stories she must have had. She was an young adult when WW II started!

That is a wonderful painting. Were you known to yell at your dogs a lot to your great aunt?

L-girl said...

Her eldest sister, my grandmother, was born in 1901. She remembered when women got the vote!

Re yelling at the dogs, I think she was making a joke. I would tell her how Gypsy would try to take over my life, and what we learned about dog training (alpha, leadership, knowing "their place"), and I think she was joking around about that.

richard said...

My condolences, Laura. May light perpetual shine upon her.

impudent strumpet said...

My condoleances. And that card is brilliant!

L-girl said...

Thank you :)

I'm going to dig up a whole bunch of the cards, scan them, and send them to her daughter.

Tom said...

Sorry about your Aunt, she sounds lovely.

Ann said...

So sorry to hear about the loss of your Aunt. She'll always be in your heart and mind, with such great and wonderful memories.

Kim_in_TO said...

My condolences, Laura. I just saw this post now.

I never had any close relationships with older relatives, partly because of a language barrier. You're lucky to have had such a nice relationship.

L-girl said...

Thanks, all.

I am lucky. I had several relatives who lived to be very old - long enough for me to value them and make an effort to spend more time with them.

After graduating university, I moved to Brooklyn - where my mom was born and grew up, and where her parents and aunts & uncles still lived - and I formed relationships with them on my own. I'm very glad I did.

Amy said...

You are so fortunate to have had that experience. My longest living grandparent died when she was 79 and I was 23. I never appreciated the opportunity to talk to her about her life. My other grandparents died either before I was born or before I was ten years old.

L-girl said...

I was lucky - but none of these people ever talked to be about their lives, in any more than a superficial way. I could never get them to - it was just not in them. I'm very glad I spent time with them, just for its own sake.

My grandmother lived to be 94, but she had Alzheimer's, and for the last 10 years of her life, lived in her own world, didn't know any of us or remember anything. She was very strong and healthy physically, but...

You know the story, it's not unusual. Not something I'd wish on any family.

Living to be very old is not necessarily a positive thing.

Amy said...

I agree about the downside of living to be very old. My friends and I joke (sort of) about taking a road trip to the Grand Canyon and pulling a Thelma and Louise before we reach the point where we no longer can appreciate our lives.

On the other hand, Harvey's father lived to 95, and his mother is now 91. Neither became mentally or even terribly physically disabled. So I guess you never know...