A classic conversation opener from my mom:
“I met the most fabulous couple at an open house today. He’s a tenured professor, she’s a classical pianist and composer. They both came here from Bosnia 15 years ago with nothing to their names. And their daughters are amazing. One daughter is getting her PHD, and the other graduated top of her class in medicine, but they are both classically trained violinists. And they are SUCH LOVELY PEOPLE. “
For my mom, her greatest joy was meeting people, celebrating their accomplishments, hearing their stories and recounting them with enthusiasm. The day she died, one of her favourite nurses came in to check on her. As she left, mom chirped: “Such a life story, that one!” The incredible nurses at Princess Margaret Hospital made a point to tell us how much they loved Judy. “We love all our patients, but your mom is really special,” they said. One of the nurses, Allison, shared, how much they wanted Judy stay at the hospital, even though their ward was as short-term care facility. “Can’t we keep her?” she said. They spoke glowingly of her generous spirit.
Generosity is a big word that comes up when people speak of Judy. And I don’t say this lightly. She would have given you her last dime if she thought you needed it more. If I mentioned I was going to a dinner party, she would ask: “Can I make you a chocolate cake to bring over? Take a bottle of wine from my closet. Let me drive you there.” If any of us hinted that there was something we needed, she would move hell and high water to make sure it was within our reach.
I am trying to find a good anecdote to describe her unhesitating generosity and kindness, and for some reason this one comes to mind. One day, she got home extremely late from work late and called me. I asked her where she had been. A client - one she didn’t know well - called her, in distress. She needed to put her cat down, and confessed she didn’t have a car to take it to the vet. Mom didn't miss a beat. She got in her car and drove across town to pick her up and took her and her ailing cat to the animal hospital, waited with the woman and drove her home again.
So many of my friends have said how much they will miss eating at her table. Judy’s cooking was the stuff of legend. When I’d invite a friend for Rosh Hashana or Pesach seders, their eyes would light up. They’d arrive and announce that they had skipped lunch so they could gorge themselves on Judy’s food.
She liked to tell the story of how, as a young mother in Vancouver – before the days she was tethered to a blackberry – her domestic achievements were the stuff of legend. She baked bread from scratch, ran a daycare, and whipped up fresh shabbat meals for the whole extended family every Friday night.
I met the most fabulous woman the other day. She left everything she knew in Vancouver to move to Toronto at 43 years old. With little education or workplace experience, she reinvented herself - made a new city her home, got her real estate license and became a hard-working, successful agent. She taught us that it was always possible to reinvent yourself, and to start over. She encouraged us to have adventures, educate ourselves, and bring back good stories.
And here, I am going to quote from an email from our cousin Helen: “Although she felt that her life was incredibly stressful (and she was right in many ways) in actual fact, her life was full of love. She loved to cook, she loved to bake, she loved Toronto, she loved to walk the downtown streets in the cool of a summer evening or even in the coldest winter wrapped in her down-filled coat, she loved closing a deal and basking in the gratitude of her many clients and most of all she loved her three wonderful daughters and her incredible grandchildren.”
After nearly 25 years in real estate, she often complained about the pace and craziness of the business. But even if she had bought that elusive winning lottery ticket, I don’t think she would have fully retired. She would have missed the people too much. And besides, I am not sure she would have known what to wear in her retired life - a life of leisure is not really suited to her famous dark Escada wardrobe.
I asked Judy's friend and colleague D’arcy to gather some memories of my mom from people she worked with - many of whom had come to visit her in the hospital - and here's some of what they said:
"Your Mom at her desk scratching lottery tickets. Looking lovingly at her grandchildren & daughters on her computer screen, calling everyone in to take a look. Wishing that she would have more time with her grandchildren, passionate about her daughters and their accomplishments.
Her colleagues remember her humanity, warmth and integrity, with a passion for real estate and her tenacity when it came to pulling deals together. Her willingness to help new salesreps and her quiet way of helping someone in any need. Her humour, her organizationally-challenged ways, her caring and support, her desire to mother everyone.
When she got sick, we all remember her remarkable stamina for the last 17 months, her ability to pick herself up despite setbacks, concerns and fears. The office was a sad place yesterday, as she was such a presence & she will truly be missed."
The other day, my mom told this story. Several years ago, she and one of her dear childhood friends, Pixie, were imagining what it would be like to grow old together. Like all old Vancouver Jews, they would no doubt spend their twilight years at the Louis Brier home, they decided. “But Judy, what will we do?” lamented Pixie. “We don’t speak Yiddish!”
She didn't end up growing old in Vancouver (or mastering Yiddish, for that matter). And she didn't get those twilight years - she always promised us she would live to 90 and drive us crazy the whole time.
This is the kind of driving-crazy I will miss: Once she determined she had little time left, she started to think about the funeral plans. The other day, she said, “I want you to each have your outfit picked out for the funeral BEFOREHAND. No last minute scrambling."
And here we are at her funeral, and as she could have predicted: I still scrambled last minute to figure out what to wear, but that doesn’t mean you - or I - should start ignoring her advice:
Pick out your outfit the night before. Dress sharp. Get a good haircut already. Do nice things for people. Eat healthy food. Buy your lottery tickets. Do something extraordinary and tell someone you love about it, so they can beam with pride.