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.]