The Hired Hand – Not just another blah-blah-blog

March 28, 2015

A lasting tribute to my mother, in cyberspace

Filed under: Uncategorized — Darcy Grabenstein @ 2:39 pm

I gave this tribute at a memorial service for my mother, who left this world on March 8, 2015.

For those of you who didn’t know my mom, Janet Landy, I’d like you to get to know her. And for those of you who did know my mom, I’d like to share a little bit about her that maybe you didn’t know.

I have to warn you that my husband, Micah, joked he’d be playing music before I got to the end of my tribute, like they do for the Oscar acceptance speeches. But please indulge me… I’ve got only a few minutes to sum up a lifetime of love.

My mom, born in 1930, grew up in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill and hadMy mother, Janet Landy many fond memories of her grandmother, Nana. Till the end, she was a huge Pirates fan (although she claimed to be a Phillies fan when she moved to the area, she was a Pirates fan at heart). She also lived in Atlanta for many years, and was a devoted Braves fan too.

Grams, as she was known by her grandsons, shared a love of baseball with Aaron and Dan. She loved them so very much and was as proud as a grandmother could be. And she knew that they, each in their own special way, loved her dearly. Or, as Aaron would say in his cards to her when he was little, “I love you with joy.”

Her parents ended up in Florida because her father, an insurance agent, was transferred there. She graduated from Miami Beach High, and years later they ended up in, of all places, Pensacola. Talk about a gefilte fish out of water!

That’s where she met my father, Alvin, and that’s where I grew up. Like her father, my dad became an insurance salesman, and built his own agency. While we weren’t overly religious, because the Jewish community was so small and close-knit, our lives centered around our synagogue, B’nai Israel. That’s why I’m so drawn to our synagogue, Temple Har Zion of Mount Holly. It’s truly an extended family for us.

Mom’s best friends were those she met at B’nai Israel. For years and years, my mother would play mah-jongg every week with four other women (I still see one of them every time we visit Dan at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where both my father and I also went to school). When the mah-jongg game was at our house, that meant there would always be goodies to snack on. I’d hear the click-clack of tiles and smell the incessant cigarette smoke. Those damn cigarettes stole my mother from me.

Mom was always there for me. As an adult, she gave me emotional support during my divorce and was never judgmental. That’s the beauty of a mother’s unconditional love.

She was there for me throughout my childhood, and was the ultimate chauffeur. I remember being driven from Hebrew school to ballet class (or was it the other way around?), and turning into a contortionist as I tried to slip on/off my leotard and tights in the car. She spent hours (probably years) of her life with me in the beauty salon as I had my hair relaxed, straightened, and reverse-permed. (As you can see, my hair won the battle.)

Those were the days. Of course, like all mothers and daughters, we had our moments. I still remember the time she chased me down the hall with a kitchen knife. OK, I thought it was a knife. It actually was a hairbrush. I probably deserved it.

All in all, life was good. That is, until my father required open-heart surgery. I was a freshman in high school. It was a very rare and serious procedure back then. My father was never the same after; turned out, he had a series of small strokes due to blood clots. My mother became his caretaker. It got to the point where he didn’t recognize us. He ended up in a nursing home and died when I was a freshman in college.

Mom and her parents ended up back in South Florida. As a testament to the love she had for my father, she never remarried (although I often wished she had, so that someone could’ve taken care of her for a change). After her father passed away, she again became caretaker for her mother, who had Alzheimer’s. After her mother passed away, she moved to Atlanta to care for her aunt, who had emphysema. This was after she herself had a small stroke that left her with a limp.

That pretty much describes my mom, a very selfless person. I called it the “martyr” syndrome, but she simply got joy out of helping others. I know that, when she was pregnant with me, she badly sprained her ankle. I’m sure it was because she was protecting me, as always. She’d tell me the story of how, when I was a baby, she severely burned her hand while making wild rice for dinner. My father wanted to take her to the hospital right away, but she insisted waiting until I finished eating. Oy. And when I was in my early teens, I had an accident that required oral surgery. My father was out of town having pre-heart surgery tests, and my mother had to handle the crisis herself. There also was a terrible car crash on the corner where we lived, and my mother (who kept an impeccable house), allowed an injured and bleeding man to come in and use the home phone while I contacted the ambulance on our office line.

Another example of her selflessness was at Daniel’s bar mitzvah. She tripped coming down the stairs after her aliyah and, although we didn’t know it at the time, fractured her arm. She must have been in a great deal of pain but, not wanting to ruin the event, never complained… through the service, the photo shoot outside the reception in the sweltering heat, through the candlelighting ceremony and entire reception. Upon the advice of a doctor friend who was there, immediately following the reception we took her directly to the ER. Afterward, she stayed at our home for several days where our dog Snowy, sensing something was amiss, faithfully stayed by her side.

When Mom ended up in the hospital in Atlanta, I was happy that I could bring her here to Abrams assisted living and finally help her. (I couldn’t have done it without both the physical and emotional support of my sons, Aaron and Dan.)

After Abrams, mom moved over to the nursing home at Greenwood House and, if you ask anyone here, they’ll tell you how loved she was. After her recent hospital stay, she said that she felt like a queen when she returned to here. She said her room was like Grand Central Station, with everyone parading in and out to say hello. I stayed in her room the last few days of her life, and it was true. If I had collected a toll, I’d be rich!

Ask anyone here and they’ll also tell you how well-dressed she was (did you know she once was asked to be a hand model?), and what a great Text Twist player she was. (Greenwood has my son Aaron to thank for the heads-up about that game, by the way.) Mom also had a great sense of humor, and was more open-minded than I gave her credit for. In fact, one of her last big laughs was when Dan showed her a photo of him and a couple of frat brothers “mooning” for the camera. (Sorry, Dan. Hey, she got a big kick out of it!)

She made such great friends at Greenwood, especially her friend Rose, who was the sister she never had. They would talk on the phone to each other every day, and dined together every night. Sunday afternoons were always fun, as Mom and I often enjoyed the entertainment with Rose and her daughter, Debbie. Connie, a volunteer at Greenwood, was an angel on earth to my mom. And Esther always made her laugh (she cracks me up too). I don’t think it was a coincidence that Mom passed on International Women’s Day. She so cherished her women friends.

Another person who became so much more than a friend to her is Margie Kopins. In fact, Margie was my mom’s “adopted” daughter, making her my adopted sister! I know they had a very special bond. You’ve heard of Tuesdays with Morrie? Well, this was Tuesdays with Margie. I am deeply touched, as Margie has made an unbelievably generous donation to Hadassah in my mother’s memory, which she will talk about in a minute. I’m so thankful that Rose, Connie, Margie, along with Millie and Rita, Emery (go Pirates!) and Therese, Marge, Janet, Helen and many others, all were a part of her life. I can’t list everyone, but you know who you are.

Over the years, we lived in different cities but would get together for special occasions, holidays and vacations. We had this running joke that every time we got together, some major event occurred. One year I think it was the tsunami, another year an earthquake. Well, wouldn’t you know it, Mom’s health took a turn for the worse on the day of our biggest snowstorm this year. Micah, my knight in shining armor, bravely drove through the snow and ice so I could be by her side. Earlier that day, before she took a turn for the worse, we had spoken, and I told her I’d be by after work the next day to see her. She was already a little foggy and asked, “Today?” I jokingly responded, “Are you crazy? I love you, but not THAT much!” Turns out I DID love her THAT much.

Another running joke we had was that nothing was ever easy for us. A simple trip to the grocery store, for instance, could be complicated by traffic jams, no parking spaces, out-of-stock items, long checkout lines, price checks, broken grocery bags. You name it. Again, Mom got the last laugh. Trying to arrange her burial in Pensacola was quite the challenge. Turns out that in New Jersey you need a permit for transport. But you need an official death certificate for the permit. And you need the doctor’s signature for the certificate. Then there’s the matter of a rabbi. You see, Pensacola only has a part-time rabbi and he was out of town the week of the burial. The other rabbi in town was only available for a few days. So we had to get a rabbi from Mobile, Alabama, an hour away. And the chevra kadisha only was available at night. Ah, the joys of being Jewish in a small town in the South.

We also found out after the fact that, after a journey via Texas (I joked that Mom traveled more after her death than before), the cargo airline officials at the Pensacola airport were not going to release her to the funeral home because they required pre-payment and weren’t going to accept on-site payment.

And then there was the matter of the photos for the PowerPoint slide show I created of Mom. I got a new laptop and had transferred all my data, but certain photos – including many of Mom – were inaccessible. I was on the phone with Apple Care support for over an hour and a half trying to fix the problem. I’m sure Mom was looking down and laughing about that, too.

My mom’s biggest disappointment was that, because all her finances were depleted, she could not give birthday gifts or Chanukah gelt to Aaron and Daniel, or to Julia, Josh and Lily, whom she loved like her own grandkids, or to Mara, whom she loved like a granddaughter. Mara was truly my lifeline during this whole ordeal. Mara, I’ll be forever grateful for your knowledge, your caring and your love. My mother also was sorry that gifts to staff were not allowed. And so she gave them the one thing that she could give: her heartfelt gratitude. She loved the staff here: Alma, Amber, Jasmine, Jodi, Gen, Jeff and too many others to name individually. It really hit me what an impact Mom made on those around her, when the aides, nurses and even Dr. Schwartz came in to pay their respects, and no one left with a dry eye.

I must admit that, when people would ask what my mother did, I’d answer, “She was a homemaker,” and secretly be a little embarrassed. I grew up in an era when feminism and women’s power were all the rage. Now, I realize that it’s not what you do in life that’s important. It’s how you treat others. And Mom did that so well. In fact, when you’re in doubt of what to do in a situation, ask yourself, WWJD? What would Janet do?

Mom’s biggest joy, however (besides the births of Aaron and Dan), was the fact that she knew I was happy. She loved Micah to pieces, and I know she’s resting in peace because she took comfort in the knowledge that we’ll always take care of each other.

You know, like many of my friends, I joke that I’ve “become my mother.” I’m a life member of Hadassah. I play mah-jongg (occasionally). I love shoes. I love a good bargain. And chocolate. I DON’T smoke. But I could only hope to be a fraction of the woman she was. Her heart was too big, and her beloved shoes are too big to fill.

We talked every single day on the phone. I will miss that the most. (Aaron and Dan, be prepared to take up the slack.)

Mom, I have just one request: When you see Daddy, give him a big hug and kiss for me.


  1. Darc – such a wonderful tribute to your Mom. God rest her soul. She’s a peace…

    Comment by Ken Caputo — March 28, 2015 @ 5:39 pm | Reply

  2. Darcy: I read every word. I am only sorry that i did not get to meet your mom. Reading this gave me an idea of the wonderful caring parent who made you what you are today. Did she love dancing too?

    Comment by Phyllis Chick Hecker — March 28, 2015 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

  3. Darcy, it looks like your mother was a real trooper. I’ll bet she’s busy organizing a mah jongg club right now!

    Comment by Steven D. Levin — March 30, 2015 @ 5:52 pm | Reply

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