Despite brain surgery, Burt Farbman pursues life with love and resolve

Back in the 1970s, Burton and Suzy enjoyed a cookout on the beach in Northern Michigan.


Hemingway defined courage as “grace under pressure.”   I’ve witnessed such grace first hand for the past 6 months since an MRI showed cancer and treatment couldn’t eliminate all of it.

I‘ve witnessed patience, optimism, humor and determination to enjoy each day he’s given.  I haven’t seen Burton shed a tear.

I’ve cried enough to water a farm field.

Sons Andy (left) and David with Burton in Florida.

Memories flood back.
Our first date seeing “Dr. Zhivago.”
Our honeymoon in Acapulco—the sunburn, Montezuma’s Revenge.
The first year of marriage when we existed on my journalism salary while Burton found his footing in real estate.
The caramel-leather Eames chair I bought with the commission from a fashion consulting job.
The births of our sons, both during a move to a new home.
Burton’s first Cadillac at 29, despite my protests that he was too young for such a fancy car.
The terror of flying with Burton as a new pilot.
Trips to Europe, India, Thailand, South America and more.
Purchasing farmland up north. The farm became our favorite place on earth.
Campfires at Carpenter Lake.
Burton’s starting his own real estate firm.
His masterminding the Wayne County Building restoration—establishing Detroit’s first public/private partnership. (He was the first suburban developer to venture back into the D in many years.)
His developing the 3rd Riverfront Towers apartment building downtown and his crazy idea to have Detroit Tigers star Cecil Fielder hit baseballs off the roof to a target on the Detroit River.
Our sleepless nights during several Detroit downturns.
His devoted advocating for my cancer treatment.
Seven grandbabies.
Burton’s support of my writing.
Winters in Florida; golf games played.
Awards Burton won.
People we met.
Boards Burton chaired.

So much to be grateful for.

Farbman and Lazerson families celebrate Alexis Farbman’s bat Mitzvah in 2017

Burton said to me recently, “We’ve had our day in the sun.”

I said, “We’ve had lots of them.”

These days victory for my fearless warrior consists of standing, pivoting and moving from a wheelchair to a bed or an armchair. He works tirelessly in PT. Victory is also, for a left-handed athlete whose left side shut down, opening a Molson Canadian with his right hand.

Most amazing: he doesn’t complain. He says, “You do the best you can with what you’ve got.”

Grace under pressure. I’ll say.

This once real estate titan and civic leader is willing to be seen in all his vulnerability. He welcomes visits from old friends. He gladly accompanies me to the country club where his picture as a young man hangs on the wall—a reminder of the year when he, at 40, served as one of the youngest presidents ever.

The psychologist I’ve been seeing since this challenge began helped me recognize the extent to which Burton has made me, our whole family, feel protected. Burton/Dad/Grandpa has protected all of us. He’s also been our provider. Thanks to his hard work, and that of our sons and capable colleagues at Farbman Group—our second family—we now protect and provide for our patriarch. Our old Eames chair currently serves as a bed for our nighttime aide, Angela, aka Angel.

In his own way, Burton still protects and provides. He asks if I’ve gained weight. (I lost 10 lbs. at the start of this crisis.) He worries about how I sleep. He insists on keeping cash with him. At first I protested—sensibly objecting there were so many different people in and out of the house. He insisted. I gave in. It’s who and what he is—caring, loving, generous. A protector and provider.

Farbman family and Suzy’s sister Anne Towbes dine at Phoenicia in Birmingham to celebrate Suzy’s birthday this May.

I chalked up a significant birthday this May. Not feeling festive, I decided to ignore it. My sister Anne, my shrink and my husband all insisted otherwise. Burton and I, David and Andy, Amy and Nadine and Anne savored dinner at Phoenicia in Birmingham, MI. Burton, our sons and their wives presented me with a ring—actually 3 rings linked together, symbolizing the linking of our 3 generations. The ring first presented was a model of the ring to come, once the size was determined.

Burton presented me with my actual ring when it arrived a few days ago. With his right hand, he slipped it on my finger. Realizing the implications of this moment, possibilities too painful to mention, I started to sob. One of Burton’s more endearing qualities is that despite his hard shell, inside he’s a softie. There in David and Nadine’s kitchen, tears unshed for himself fell from Burton’s eyes as well.

When my first book came out, Burton graciously agreed to participate in some talks with me. We became sought-after experts on relationships, until Burton requested we stop speaking out on the subject. But as a once-sought-after expert, I share with you an observation I believe is incontestable: Relationships are complicated.

Dinosaurs in our musical taste, we’re fans of the late John Denver. Our kids and grandkids roll their eyes when we ask Eric, our longtime farm manager and talented musician, to sing a song like “Country Roads.”  We ask anyway.  Lately the soundtrack to the experience playing in our lives is a song John Denver wrote and sang with Placido Domingo, “Perhaps Love.”

Perhaps love is like the ocean
Full of conflict, full of pain
Like a fire when it’s cold outside
Or thunder when it rains
If I should live forever
And all my dreams come true
My memories of love will be of you. 

We’ve lived our joys and our sorrows out loud—as hundreds of friends, thousands of readers and millions of Oprah viewers know. But over 52 years there have been way more good times than bad. Plenty of days in the sun.

Thank you, my dear husband, for modeling grace under pressure.
For being an amazing protector, provider and partner.
My hero, my champion, my friend.

Thank you for showing me what love is.
You’re the love of my life.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

56 thoughts on “Despite brain surgery, Burt Farbman pursues life with love and resolve

  1. Sylvia Kaufman

    Dear Burt,
    Just a note to tell you that I have always been proud of you. Though we’ve not had much of a connection, I have at all times perceived you as a shining star in my life; an example of positive strength and consistency.
    With love,

  2. Suzy Farbman Post author

    As emailed from Stephen & Lynne Proctor
    Very touching. The story you tell is both sad and uplifting, but having known you, if only for a few short years, the way each of you is handling it is exactly what we would have expected. Truly admirable in the deepest sense of those two words. Oh that we could turn the clock back to those happy days.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Oh that we could. Thanks for the lovely comment from across the pond, S&B. We miss and love you both.

  3. Gord Sommerville

    Amazing piece and written like the words were being spoken. Prayers and thoughts to the entire family.

  4. stan schear

    Suzy: This was one of the finest tribute one could write to a beautiful family with LOVE, COMPASSION, and all of the wonderful beauty that U share, in both good times, and challenging times. May the Good Lord watch over and protect all of U, and we only hope the day comes we can all go out and celebrate the wonderful friendship we have shared. LOVE To all, Jackie & Stan

    1. anita marcus

      Suzy has captured my brother in her sincere and authentic words. I have not had a GREAT love of my life. But Suzy and Burt exemplify the tender and beauty of a lifetime of love, sorrow, joy, anger, and all the other emotions possible. They not only have survived they r teaching me the nature of compassion, love and great respect. I love you both. A

      1. Suzy Farbman Post author

        Your brother is a gem, Anita. And so are you. Thanks for the lovely comment. We love you, as well. S&B

    2. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Amen to that, Stan & Jackie. Thanks for the prayers and the beautiful comment.

  5. Wendy Acho

    Suzy: Thank You for sharing.
    The beauty of poetry is it’s power to heal by feeling through another’s very personal voice—Inspirational and Courageous. No family escapes that battle against cancer. We’ve all known it. I feel for you, as this same cancer touches my family, as well. I’ll share with you this poem:

    “Cancer is so limited…It cannot cripple love, It cannot shatter hope, It cannot corrode faith, It cannot destroy peace, It cannot kill friendship, It cannot suppress memories, It cannot silence courage, It cannot invade the soul, It cannot steal eternal life, It cannot conquer the spirit.”

    -Author Unknown

    There is some good news for Pancreatic cancer. #innovation Sheba medical team finds treatment for 4th leading cause of cancer death.

    Sending you my family’s warmest wishes. You will be in our thoughts and prayers.
    Kindest Regards,
    Wendy Acho

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      And you in ours, Wendy. Thanks for the poem and the sensitive comment.

  6. Andy Gutman

    A loving and touching tribute. I am at a loss for words but awed with your ability to share and show the rest of us how to be strong yet vulnerable and to love.

  7. Gail Cherry

    Suzy, your thoughts and emotions are transformed into eloquent written portraits of love. You have painted a portrait of honor, legacy, compassion and authenticity. What a privilege this is for everyone who knows Burton and all of your great family.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks, Gail. You and Eric have been such an important part of our journey. We love you both.

  8. Norine Zimmer

    Love, love changes everything,
    Hands and faces, earth and sky
    Love, love changes everything,
    How you live and how you die
    Love, can make the summer fly,
    Or a night seem like a lifetime
    Yes love, love changes everything,
    Now I tremble at your name
    Nothing in the world will ever be the same

    Love, love changes everything,
    Says are longer, words mean more
    Love, love changes everything,
    Pain is deeper, than before
    Love, will turn your world around,
    And that world will last forever
    Yes, love, love changes everything,
    Brings you glory, brings you shame
    Nothing in the world will ever be the same

    Off into the world we go,
    Planning futures, shaping years
    Love bursts in and suddenly,
    All our wisdom disappears
    Love, makes fools of everyone,
    All the rules we make are broken
    Yes, love, love changes everything,
    Live or perish, in its flame
    Love will never ever let you be the same
    Love will never ever let you be the same

    And the lives you and Burton continue to create prove that love will never ever let you be the same …..Norine

  9. Elaine Greenberg

    Oh, Suzy—I love this piece I just read—I cried, I thought about the two of you as you wrote so beautifully about your lives together. You helped me, Suzy (as I once helped you), my husband, Shelly is coming home Sat. after being hospitalized and then 5 weeks in rehab—-it has been a long haul (as you know) a ton of tears and lots of remembering of the beautiful life we have shared together. We just added to our family with our fourth great grandchild—–so Suzy you helped me as I read what you wrote in facing this challenge of being the caregiver and cheerleader for our wonderful strong husbands. Thank you ——
    Love to you and your family
    P.S. This Wed we are celebrating our 64th anniversary–where did those years go?

    1. Suzy farbman

      You’re a blessing to your dear husband and to many more of us. So appreciate your beautiful and perceptive words. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Xo

  10. Renée Hamad

    What an incredible expression of love, dedication, unity and devotion!
    I went through a similar journey with Sam who, unfortunately, lost his battle and left this earth ten years ago!
    I applaud your courage and strength
    May God keep you together on this earth for many more years , able to enjoy each other and your loved ones
    I pray for you both every day

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks, Renee. I miss seeing you in person and appreciate your sensitive comment. This disease is a scourge. Thanks for the prayers.

  11. Gail Cherry

    Suzy, you’ve transformed words and thoughts into profound expressions of the gift of love.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks for the lovely comment and all the support, Gail & Eric. We so value your friendship.

  12. Susan Zinger

    Your words, and those of your friends and family so eloquently express my wishes for you and Burton. What more can be said! Wishing only the best for you both. ❤️❤️❤️❤️ Susan

  13. Judy komer

    I love reading about you and Burton but even more I love seeing you together with faces full of love. ❤️

  14. Cele Landay

    This love letter is the best medicine Burt has received. You are a Sparta Women Suzy.
    My heart is wth you.
    Cele Landay

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks, Cele. Appreciate your lovely comment. Never been called a Sparta Woman before. Love it. Glad you enjoyed. Best wishes back at you.

  15. Brenda goodman

    Suzy such a beautiful and beautifully written story.
    Knowing you since the 80’s but never getting to know Burt feels sad. I cherish our friendship and through you I’m getting to know what a special man he is. I send you my love and carry you both in my heart.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks, Brenda. He is indeed a special guy. Thanks for commenting. I cherish our friendship as well.

  16. Rosann and Ian Black

    Suzy and Burton
    You live and love passionately and beautifully!
    Thank you for sharing and being an inspiration
    We love you both dearly

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks, Rosann & Ian. We appreciate your comment and feel the same way about the two of you. Hugs from the D.

  17. Tammy ( Benson) Olson

    Beautiful, poignant, tear inducing and hopeful. You are amazing Suzy. You and Burton are a force. A force of love and family and hope. As you mentioned, joy sometimes is measured as an opened beer. Bless the Farbman family on this journey. For every thing there is a season. May you continue to find love and joy and wonder in life’s simple pleasures. xox Tammy

  18. Marilyn Connor

    Both you and Burton are a blessed gift to all who know you. You have touched so many lives. You call them God signs ! I add Burton and Suzy signs…lesson to all of us of what a full fulfilled life is all about. Sending ❤️❤️❤️❤️ To my fearless warrior!

  19. Kathy Yaffe

    Yes, you do have a gift of words. I didn’t want the piece it to end
    Thanks for sharing your beautiful journey The love and warmth you and Burt share is a gift not many people know

  20. Suzy Farbman Post author

    Thanks Judie, Amy, Nadine, David Denise, Sue, Anne T, Anne SF, Jen. Your love and support, especially at this challenging time, means so much.

  21. Dan Syme


    Such a beautiful piece. Your love, courage, kindness
    And goodness shine through.????

  22. Lynn Buehler

    And you my sweet Sistah there with your gift of words, you share the essence of your husband with those of us who love you to smithereens. Tell Mr. B he is a hero to many and we have admiration for you both.

    1. Suzy farbman

      Thanks, honey. Message received and delivered. Love you to smithereens as well. XoS/B

  23. Suzy Farbman Post author

    as emailed from Sue Tarlow
    My tears come for Suzy’s resolve and courage, love and understanding, grace and forgiveness. For better or for worse. And better once again. To know in your heart how deep their love and mutual respect.
    Anne Sutherland Fuchs
    This is extraordinary… could not stop reading it and then read it again. Oh to share such a deep love of 52 years and still going strong. Wonderfully expressed. I am so very sorry for the pain of this complicated time but can also hear the joy Suzy expresses– a tribute to both of them.
    Amy Farbman
    You have a gift with words, Suzy. The passage is truly so touching and so genuine. It definitely pulls at the heartstrings. I love you and I love our family.
    Nadine Farbman
    Absolutely beautiful.
    David Farbman
    This was excellent!!!!!
    Jennifer Hale
    Such a beautiful post! What an amazing love letter!!!
    Andy Farbman
    Very well said.

  24. Suzy Farbman Post author

    As emailed from
    Denise Tietze:
    Beautiful! Incredible! And I’m still crying.
    Anne Towbes
    Amazing post. Should be shared worldwide!!
    Judie Koploy
    One of my favorite people in this world has been struck with this vile illness. I treasure every minute we spend together! So unfair! There is no fair. I am so proud to call him cousin!!!

  25. Suzy Farbman Post author

    As emailed from
    Arthur Greenstone:
    Suzy, your column is beautiful, poignant and stunning. It is about two stunning people who daily demonstrate grace under pressure. Whew!
    Bill Haney:
    Suzy, I hadn’t known. You’ve said it so well.
    Zina Kramer
    A remarkable piece about two remarkable people.
    Lynne Kukes
    Beautifully written
    Gail DeMeyere
    This was so eloquent I shared a few tears myself reading it. (I’m a big John Denver fan as well. Aye Calypso, The places you’ve been to…

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks, Artie, Bill, Zina, Lynne & Gail. So appreciate your thoughtful comments. Big hugs back. S&B
      As emailed from
      Marcy Klein:
      From the heart and so beautifully written.
      Anne Towbes
      Fantastic! What a legacy! What a love! So glad Burt could enjoy the article with all of us.
      Pam Good
      I love all your posts. This one touches even deeper. Too deep for words. Love you dear sweet friend. P.S. I love “Country Roads.”
      Bob Zielsdorf
      A beautiful paean to a beautiful guy! Please give him a hug from Fran and me.

      1. Suzy Farbman Post author

        Thanks, friends, for the beautiful comments. We’re blessed to have such wonderful friends. S&B

  26. Cathleen Philip

    That’s so touching & so very beautiful! God Bless your beautiful family & keep you strong!

  27. Liz Taft

    Suzy, this is a beautiful, inspiring and moving tribute to love and strength, dignity and courage. I too wept as I read how you and your loving husband have survived “for better or for worse”, “in sickness and in health” and much more. I’ve shared it with my adult children and friends. Thank you for sharing so much love and devotion through your story that will be read and remembered for generations to come and provide help and strength to those who read it. Much love to you all.
    Liz Taft

  28. Robert Milne

    This is the most beautiful tribute I have ever seen. Thank you for writing it.

  29. Linda Solomon

    So very beautiful Suzy …
    my tears while reading the lyric of your song …
    And the vision of your Eames chair as a metaphor for comfort and a life marker . Markers to help us always remember important turning points .
    As my father said , life is a bouncing ball …
    Sending my love and prayers always ❤️

  30. Josh DAITCH

    Suzy, I remember so much of that history. You guys have certainly lived to the max, finding all the nooks and crannies of a full life to weave into your tapestry. So much joy and some pain. But sooo NOT boring!! The love for you and Burt doesn’t stop in the Western Hemisphere, nor do you hold the only “Burt is my hero,my champion, my friend” card… But yours is probably Black. ,????????????

  31. Diane Mahan

    Beautiful Suzy. So much love in every word. How blessed Burt and your family are to have you! May God hold you all comfortingly in the palm of His hand.

Comments are closed.