Attending the Funeral of my Jewish Friend Lillian… Celebrating her Life!!!

With Lillian in July 2017... She was beautiful all the days of her life!

With Lillian in July 2017… She was beautiful all the days of her life!

Attending the Funeral of my Jewish Friend Lillian… Celebrating her Life!!!

Lillian was 93, healthy her whole life through except for these past few weeks. She was lovely, bold and beautiful inside and outside. Our families lived across the street from each other beginning in the late 1940s and we stayed in touch after our parents passed—her Mom living to be 101 years young!

While we, her family and friends, mourn, this was a celebration of Lillian’s Life, her being and how she impacted us in so many ways!

As fate would have it I received a ‘just in case you don’t already know’ text from one of Lilian’s synagogue friends that I had met for the first time visiting Lillian for the last time a week before she passed. I say for the last time, although I did visit her the day before she passed, because she was in great spirits, feisty as ever, and pure Lillian! She was such a blessing in my life. As I walked towards the synagogue for Lillian’s funeral, Lillian’s friend was coming from the other direction. I wasn’t sure that the text was from her but she gracefully confirmed that it was. As we had at the nursing home. We entered the synagogue together to celebrate Lillian!

Lillian brought people together. I would characterize her as an intellectual more than a socialite but she was both. As I would learn this day, she was a more a faithful than social Jew who contributed to her synagogue in so many meaningful ways. I am sure she is no longer in pain with her smirk y knowing smile as we all gathered in the synagogue to thank G-d for blessing us with the love and friendship of Lillian.

I sat down alone for a contemplative moment with my journal and realized all the other men had yamikas on the top of their heads. I was no stranger to Jewish worship as I once went to temple with my high school girlfriend, went to two Shabbats with a lady I met in South Africa, and recently spent a month in Israel and Palestine. Lillian and I went to the close-by non-orthodox synagogue so we could sit together a couple of years ago. I cherish that experience and all our conversations about Israel and our religions. She was an amazing woman!

After getting up and getting a yamika to wear from inside the front door, The rabbi greeted us and begin reading Psalms. Lillian had told me how much she loved reading the Psalms. In her recent move to independent living (the one before her passing that is), I saw her Hebrew Bibles, one with her name embossed on the cover, and she shared how she acquired each of them and a little bit about her faith. We shared in our faiths more than parts of the Old Testament, being with Lillian always seemed like a celebration of life itself!

Psalm 23: “A song of David. The L‑rd is my shepherd; I shall not want. He causes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even as I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You set a table before me in the presence of my adversaries; You anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows. May only goodness and kindness pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the L‑rd for length of days.”

I missed the reference on the next psalm or prayer though it was very familiar to me. It spoke of days and passing shadows, grass being renewed in the morning, fading and withering away… living 3-score and 4-score… we fly away… Shalom… Teach us to number our days… hearts of wisdom… this one touched home for me as it was the first biblical verse that started me journaling for the rest of my life nearly 20 years ago.

The Rabbi concluded with the last chapter of the King Solomon Book of Proverbs that spoke about women of valor… all the days of her life… strength and dignity and grace… let her work praise G-d…which of course, was apropos for Lillian!

Lillian’s brother got up and spoke from his heart about the spirit of his sister. She lived a good and long life; not 3-score or 4-score but 4-score and 13 more years! How she loved to travel and how grateful that we were all there today.

How Lillian loved the Broadway Musical ‘My Fair Lady’ and how Lillian was his Fair Lady. He referenced Professor Higgins. I found one of his quotes via Google… “It’s about filling up the deepest cut that separates class from class and soul from soul.” Again something that Lillian did throughout her life. She filled things up with her love and graceful manner!

Her brother concluded with “I loved my sister and will miss her greatly.”

The Rabbi did an exceptional Final Farewell, eulogizing Lillian to the nth degree in a manner reserved for heads of state and fallen religious leaders!

Stimulating conversations… traveling trailblazer… a women graduating the University of Kansas in the early 1940s in biotechnology… only one challenge in life that she did not overcome…unable to become a nurse because of her height… Hawaii… returned to Binghamton… Wilson Hospital… trip to Israel… Moses and the Ten Commandments… Honor your Mother and Father… rarely does the Torah specify rewards but the one for honoring your mother and father is a long and blessed life which Lillian enjoyed… the importance of family to Lillian… read every book in the Broome County Library that they had to buy more… always seeking knowledge… collecting money and accounting for all paid admission… would track you down to pay or refund if paid twice… Lillian needed to know their intention… do what is correct in the eyes of G-d… on the Board of Trustees… never had an email address… wanted personal contact… let’s talk… she prepared food into her 90s for shabbat services and monthly luncheons… nobody ever said anything negative about Lillian and Lillian never said anything negative about others… Lillian loved everyone and everyone loved Lillian!

The Rabbi noted that Lillian died on the saddest day of the Jewish calendar—Tisha B’Av—destined for tragedy; the day when both of the ancient Jewish Temples were destroyed. He added that, with Lillian’s death, it would be even a bit sadder now!

He ended with “May her memory be a blessing!”

I joined the procession to the cemetery and the procession in the cemetery from hearse to grave-site. Although I did not participate in the Jewish tradition of literally burying the dead, I did pay my respects afterwards and throw in a stone to honor Lillian’s faith.

As the Rabbi concluded the graveside prayers it began to rain as if the heavens above were either crying or rejoicing.

I found a verse in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to G‑d, who gave it.”

I joined the luncheon at the synagogue and met Lillian’s brother, other family and friends.

Her brother pointed out that my mother ‘was a saint’ which I wholeheartedly agreed with. Recalling that I used the phrase that ‘my mother was a saint and my father a hero’ in the book I wrote about growing up in Binghamton, I went out to the car and gave him a copy of the book.

I wasn’t going to ask for it but this seemed like a divine sort of lead-in so I asked, if it was not already spoken for, Lillian’s embossed with her name Hebrew Bible and he promised to find it and give it to me which he did two days later. I will treasure Lillian’s Hebrew Bible and use it as a reference on the spiritual book that I am writing. Somehow I am she will continue to guide me in life.

May her memory be a blessing!:

In the end, or the beginning as it may be, Lillian and I and our families loved and respected one another for a lifetime and hopefully beyond!

May G-d Bless Lillian!

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