Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Cessation of Her Own Brand of Magic

- John Updike

Yesterday afternoon, for the third time in the past eight years, I spent a little bit of time at the Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman Suburban Funeral Chapel in Livingston.  Sadly, it was the second such visit I had made there to pay my respects and to lend support to my partner, Howard, upon the death of a parent. 

Howard's mom, Frances, died in her sleep on Saturday.  Mrs. Brechner was ninety-four years old. Although I have known Howard for close to twenty years, I met his mother but once.  That meeting took place on October 20, 2008 - at the funeral of Howard's dad, Stanley.  I would love to be able to tout a recollection of having said something to Howard's mom more memorable or timeless than, "Sorry for your loss" but I cannot.  I am quite confident that in the brief moment that I spent speaking to her - on a day in which her world likely felt as if it was moving at one million miles per hour - I said nothing less cliched.  

Our brief interaction on that most terrible of days for her did not prevent her from reaching out to me thereafter.  The funeral for Howard's dad had featured Howard and his big brother, Irv, each sharing simple, funny, and heartfelt stories about their father.  They were the type of stories that enabled everyone gathered there that day - on the most somber of occasions - to smile and to laugh.  They were stories that imbued with a bit of humor an event to which humor is not always invited but at which it is almost always appreciated.  As someone whose relationship with my own father was both brief and unspectacular, I was particularly touched by the memories Howard and Irv each shared.  

I was also incredibly impressed by the steely resolve Howard's mom displayed that day.  She delivered the service's first eulogy, which was an extraordinary bit of public speaking.  Her pain was apparent - and not surprising - as she buried her husband slightly more than two months before they were to celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary.  

Mrs. Brechner's poise and grace - as well as that shown by Howard and by Irv - so moved me that I wrote about it.  It was not my intention for any of them to ever read it.  I wrote about it for the same reason that I write about the things about which I write - because it serves as an elixir for my soul.  At some point - several months later if I recall the story correctly - Mrs. Brechner did read what I wrote on October 21, 2008.  She sent me a handwritten letter - the type of document that I typically receive only from the indomitable Joanie K. - complimenting me for the manner in which I wrote what I wrote and thanking me for having written it.  

I smile still at the recollection of receiving that letter, which was mailed to me here at the Firm, for she addressed me as "Mr. Kenny", which seemed both entirely unnecessary and wholly appropriate given the author.  Her letter to me was a magnificent gesture, and proof that there truly is no such thing as a small gesture.  

Yesterday, sitting and listening to first the rabbi and, thereafter, Howard and Irv and their wives, Jill and Nadine, eulogize Mrs. Brechner, I could not help but think that although I have attended my fair share of funerals, few - if any - have been as uplifting and as celebratory as Frances Brechner's.  Hers was indeed a life well-lived, in the company of those who loved her and whom she loved most of all. A reminder, perhaps, of the fact that while death comes for all of us, it is what we do from the moment of our birth until the moment that we draw our final breath that not only defines us but enables those who shall survive us to construct the framework of the memories that shall last them for the rest of their lives.

Frances Brechner lived a long life.  More than that, she lived a three-dimensional life.  It had not only length, but also breadth and depth...

...and a time to every purpose.




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