Sunday, January 31, 2010

In Loving Memory: Laurie (Feuerstein) Walsh, 1963 - 2010

My sister, Laurie Walsh, died on Saturday, January 23, 2010, at the age of 46. She was a sweet, generous, loving mother, wife, sister, daughter, aunt and friend. She leaves behind an 11 year old son (and light of her life) and a husband.

Over 150 people attended Laurie's funeral service on January 25, on a day of truly horrible weather (pouring rain and driving winds). The outpouring of love for Laurie was overwhelming. We, her family, always knew how special she was, but we had no idea how much she had touched the lives of so many others.

Here's how I see it: Laurie was a true American hero. She believed in and dedicated herself to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Life: Laurie did not have it easy. For the last ten years of her life, she was ill, fighting auto-immune diseases and other challenges. But she refused to let it stop her or dissuade her from doing the things she wanted and needed to do for her family and for herself. She was always cheerful and positive with friends and family. She was determined to live her life as fully as she could.

Liberty: Laurie was her father's daughter. She did not want to depend on others, whether physically or financially - and like her father she was very stubborn. What this meant was that Laurie was always ready and willing to pay a long term price (with her medicines, for example) so that in the short term she could keep going, stay functional, maintain as normal as possible a life for her son.

And then...the "long term" became the now...and she paid the ultimate price.

Pursuit of happiness: Laurie was all about love, especially love of children, love of being with children, taking care of children, making children laugh and making sure they knew how special they were, each and every one. But there were two people in the world who were the very wellspring of happiness for Laurie: her son and her husband. I am so thankful that Laurie met her husband and that her son came into this world to give intense purpose and focus to Laurie's life.

Laurie struggled with learning in conventional ways in school, but she was an incredibly determined fighter - once she set an objective for herself, she never let up until she achieved her objective. And so it was that she graduated with a B.S. in microbiology from Stonybrook University on Long Island and took a job as a medical technologist and phlebotomist at NYU Medical Center. Her friend Susan told us that the doctors at NYU would seek out Laurie to do the testing for their patients because she was so competent and dependable.

When she became pregnant, she had to quit the job and always missed it greatly. She could have gotten the job back, but it would have required working nights and/or weekends, and she refused to compromise on spending time with her son. Her son arrived early and required lots of diligent mothering, from which Laurie never shirked. And from her son's birth to Laurie's death, children (first and foremost her son, of course) became the central theme of Laurie's time and effort.

Laurie was the president of the Parent's Association at her son's school, ran the Scholastic book program, and volunteered for any and every job. She taught herself how to use the computer and Internet to make cards and menus for events, keep track of payments and volunteers, and so much more. Her friends begged her to do less, to take it easy, but she refused with indignation to let up in any way.

Laurie worked as a teacher's assistant at the Central Queens Y, surrounding herself with children - and every single one of them was special to her, was greeted with a big smile. One teacher told me how a parent would arrive with a child who was upset, hysterical with crying, her nose running - a real mess. Kind of disgusting - but not to Laurie. She would welcome that child as if no one in the world could ever make her happier, as if she would rather do nothing else than wipe that kid's nose and give a big hug.

As a Feuerstein, Laurie inevitably harbored strong creative inclinations. She did a lot of drawing when she was young, but as an adult she found her artistic medium of choice in scrapbooking. She made the most wonderful scrapbooks, and she made everything from scratch - no shortcuts for her! She also loved to take photographs - of family events, of activities at school, of (more than anything and anyone else) her son. Shelley, a teacher for whom Laurie worked, told us that Laurie had a special gift: she could capture in her photos the inner life of a child, that you could see in her photos what a child was thinking, feeling, hoping for their lives.

[I hope to be able to post these photos and also scrapbook pages on the Internet at some point so we can all appreciate her work.]

My father died on January 9. He lived a long, full, life (for more about Sheldon Feuerstein click here) and while I miss him greatly, his death made sense in a way. It was part of a normal course of life and death.

But Laurie? I cannot make sense of Laurie's death. Her life was too much of a struggle, her death came much too soon and left too much pain and suffering in its wake.

But if she were here now, reading this, she would scoff at me. She would tell me that you play with the cards you are dealt and you make the most of what you are given in life. So that is what we will do: make the most of and with the life of her smart, funny son with a big, bright smile.

And, you know, I find that I can sum up Laurie's life in one word: love.

She was all about love: giving it in great abundance, taking it from others in every possible moment and form, shining her incredible smile on the children around her, making them feel special - and loved.

Laurie Feuerstein Walsh - we loved you and we will always miss you.

[Laurie was a member of Young Judea and greatly enjoyed a school year spent in Israel as part of that program. We ask that donations in her memory be made to Hadassah's Young Judea program.]

Monday, January 11, 2010

In loving memory: Sheldon Feuerstein, 1929 - 2010

My father, Sheldon Feuerstein died, on Saturday, January 9, 2010 from heart failure, at the age of 80.

Dad leaves behind his wife of 53 years, Joan; sister, Lilyan; five children, Jaye (Sela), Steven, Shari (DeUrso), Laurie (Walsh) and Nina (Rosenthal); nine grandchildren, Christopher, Eli, Masada, Timnah, Danielle, Benjamin, Markus, Liana and Sally. His family was the center of his life and we all - those above and many nieces, nephews, cousins and friends - mourn his passing, but celebrate a life well-lived.

Sheldon was born on October 7, 1929 to Jacob and Rose Feuerstein. He was the fourth of five children, the other four all sisters: Belle, Lilyan, Edy and Nancy (and what an odd coincidence that he had five children, and only one son among them). His father was an acclaimed pattern cutter (he would cut the original pattern of the dress, from which others were made) and my father idolized him.

Sheldon met his wife, Joan, at a dance, and that happened (according to legend) only because his friend, Stu, insisted that he come out to play. A short time later, they were married. And from then on, they were never apart. When Dad almost died in 2007 and went through a ( triple bypass + new valve - gall bladder ), Mom never left his side and helped him regain his life (and even improve on it in many ways). She was the center of his world, and he could never quite believe his luck ("I don't know why she puts up with me," he would say, shaking his head).

Sheldon was, professionally, a lawyer and CPA (certified public accountant). He practiced for decades in New York, and then relocated with Joan to Florida in 1996. As an accountant, he also taught himself computer programming, in particular RPG on an AS400, and built his own custom applications to manage his clients' financial affairs. That probably doesn't mean much to some of you, but his son (aka, me), a professional computer programmer, was way beyond impressed that he could do this!

He was a man of many interests and talents, and without a doubt he felt that his first calling, his great passion, was for art and not numbers. While he was not able to remain in the school, his acceptance into the Cooper Union School of Art as a young man remained a point of pride for him his whole life. He was an accomplished painter and his work graces the walls of Joan and Sheldon's home in Boynton Beach, as well as many other homes and some synagogues.

Sheldon approached the world with avid curiosity and was always interested to learn more, especially in the sciences. His passions (besides his family and his artwork) over the years ranged from chess and model airplanes, to photography (he built a dark room in his basement) and astronomy.

He played an active role in each synagogue of which he was a member, from the Suffolk Jewish Center in Deer Park , NY to Temple Torah in Boynton Beach. Israel, its land and people, figured large in his life. His several visits to Israel always excited him and never satisfied him. He longed to visit "one last time," but his health did not permit this.

Family was such a big part of his life. When he grew up and when we (my sisters and I) were growing up, the extended Feuerstein family (including Schuckmans, Knollers, Kleins and Gventers) would gather on a weekly basis or more frequently, for barbecues, holidays, birthdays and so on. It was a wonderful way to be raised, and I miss it. That was definitely one of the drawbacks to moving to Chicago: I moved away from most of my family in New York.

As a Dad to his only son, my father went to great lengths to both share his passions with me and also to ensure that I enjoyed other activities that he thought were important for me, though they might not be his forte. Namely: doing things outdoors. My dad was a bit of a desk potato and workaholic (gee, I guess that's where I got my "work ethic" from), but he enrolled me in the Cub Scouts, then Boy Scouts, and went on many camping trips with me. These were not his favorite thing to do, but he did them because he felt they were the right thing to do. I am so glad he did, and sad that I did not make more of an effort to do the like with my own children.

But I will always remember lying side by side in sleeping bags on a clear cold night in the woods, with snowflakes falling down over us, looking up at the stars. There had been some screw-up and so we didn't have a tent, but we didn't mind. It was wonderful.

My dad had a long (but not long enough), full (but there always room for more), successful life, surrounded by those he loved and loved himYou can see many photos of my dad, from all throughout his life, here. Perhaps best of all, you can enjoy his artwork here.

I miss him more than words can say.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Law and Order - Special Victims Unit - We're the Victims

My dad, unfortunately, is in the hospital (not the best way to celebrate the New Year, but there you have it), so I am in a hospital room watching what my Dad likes to watch on television, which turns out to be (among other things) Law and Order - Special Victims Unit.

And I am very alarmed.

I don't watch much television. Actually, just about the only television I watch on a regular basis is the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report. The main reason that I don't watch a lot of television is that it scares me. I "like" it too much. I watched lots of television when I was growing up and I find the television way too compelling. I start to watch it and I cannot stop.

Now that I have learned more about how the brain works, I understand better why I am like this - and it makes me even more frightened of television. Our brains are sponges, absorbing data (visual data, aural data, smells, tactile feedback), searching out patterns, and then making decisions (and taking actions) based on those patterns.

Television is a particularly powerful feeder of data, with its combination of sound and visuals, and specifically voices and faces, which humans have a hard time blocking out. So it seems to me that the stuff we watch on television can have an enormous impact on how we feel about ourselves and the world around us.

Which brings me back to Law and Order SVU - it is, of course, just one of countless police and forensic/crime programs proliferating on TV these days. And as I watched it here in the hospital, I found myself getting agitated. How could I not? Bloody scenes, highly dysfunctional, psychotic people, bad things happening to good people, tension, anger, grief....

[Just watched a young woman lie on the floor with a knife in her heart bleed to death.]

And I worry that anyone would want to watch these sorts of programs. What is it about humans that we would seek stimulation through the virtual brutalization of our fellow species members? What are we missing? A lack of purpose, send of excitement in our own dull lives? A "safe" connection to people who are hurting, as a way to assuage guilty feelings about our relatively comfortable existence?

Whatever it is, it doesn't feel very healthy to me. I think I will stick with science fiction.