Live Life Like Lil philosophy inspires others

Photo of a group with Lil Erdeljan

IN AFRICA: Stephen London, Steve Johnston, Nikki London, Jake London, Dylan Malcomson, Rachel London, Lil Erdeljan, Alex Erdeljan, Talia Johnston, Katherine Stakits (pink jacket), Didi Johnston, Michael Stakits (black jacket), Rob Stakits, Alexander Stakits (grey & black jacket)

I wish I’d known her better.

Lil Erdeljan was beautiful, chic and gracious. Burton and I would see Lil and Alex at charity events. Lil supported dozens of charities. She threw parties at their elegant home in Bloomfield Hills, MI, and served on boards. At her recent funeral, niece Nina talked about fundraising lessons Lil had learned.

The first: pitch the cause, not the event. The Last: Don’t tell Alex how much they’d pledged.

“Alex began to catch on,” Nina said, “when their names started being listed along with GM.”

Rabbi Daniel Syme of Temple Beth El told how Lil and Alex met. He was a pro soccer player, well known in Yugoslavia. Lil’s parents, also from Yugoslavia, had moved to Windsor to escape communism. In Windsor playing soccer, Alex visited a friend who was an amateur photographer. He spotted a picture of Lil with what he called a “come hither look.”

His friend warned, “That one’s trouble.”

But later, at a Serbian community gathering, Alex saw Lil chatting with her mother. He said, “There’s a picture you might like.” A friend arranged an evening for the three of them and conveniently didn’t show up. Alex and Lil talked for hours and continued to date. But when Alex’s work visa ran out, he returned to Yugoslavia.

Two months later, his phone rang. Lil said, “I’m coming to Yugoslavia to visit my aunt.” Alex received most of Lil’s attention that trip. He arranged for a permanent work visa and moved to Canada. They were married 34 years.

My good friend Sandy Baer, also a good friend of Lil’s, shared a story Lil told her on a trip several years ago. Lil grew up Catholic and attended Catholic school but never felt a real connection. As a grown woman, Lil was close to her grandmother. On her deathbed, her grandmother started speaking Yiddish and revealed that she was Jewish. Lil learned the family escaped from Yugoslavia through a nunnery. Discovering her roots, Lil embraced her heritage and raised her family Jewish.

IN AFRICA: Talia Johnston, Katherine Stakits, Lil, Rachel London

IN AFRICA: Talia Johnston, Katherine Stakits, Lil, Rachel London

She was especially proud when granddaughters Talia and Rachel celebrated their Bat Mitzvahs.

Cancer survivors share an unspoken bond. In June, I heard Lil’s ovarian cancer had come back. I called to make a dinner date. With our heading up north and Lil’s family commitments, the timing didn’t work. Lil had been planning an African safari with her family this December. When she learned of her recurrence, she moved the trip ahead five months. With all she had weighing on her, I was amazed at Lil’s excitement about the trip.

Daughter Nikki recalls shopping for Uggs and North Face and “outfitting my mom in clothing I never thought I’d see her in.”

Family Safari hats 2014Granddaughter Talia (almost 19) says, “My Bubbe (Yiddish for Grandmother) pushed everything aside—her treatments, how she felt—to take our family on the trip of a lifetime.” Heading for camp, 14 travelers climbed into two jeeps for a bumpy, windy, dung-strewn ride. They came upon a parade of elephants. “My Bubbe informed us this was her favorite animal. You could see it in her eyes. Family was so important to her. Africa was my Bubbe’s last way to bring us together.”

I know how easy it is to be dragged down by a cancer diagnosis. Somehow, Lil remained optimistic and focused on living up to the last three days she spent in the hospital. Her family and friends signed up for the recent Relay for Life walk.

They printed up t-shirts: Live Life Like Lil.

A few didn’t make the walk, choosing to remain at Lil’s bedside. The rest swallowed their grief, as Lil did, and walked with pride.

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12 thoughts on “Live Life Like Lil philosophy inspires others

  1. Patti Prowse

    My Dear Friend Lil
    I still can’t get it through my head that you are gone. I still look for humorous e-mails and envision Lil out and about full of life. In the midst of our busy energetic lives there was Lil sharing hers. When she called me and asked if I wanted to go to France with her and the girls and play in a foreign sand box I nearly fell on the floor. When we were there doing our girl thing she leaned over and said with a soft voice “What happens in France stays in France”. She treated us as if we were the most important people on earth and her generosity was overwhelming. I must admit that I am spoiled rotten and travel will never be the same. When I had my cancer at the same time Lil had hers, she was calling me everyday to see how I was doing. When I called her to see how she was doing she would change the conversation back to me. Lil was a women who had a hard time receiving the same as she had given. I have spent 13 years studying non toxic cures for all types of cancer and wellness but I could not convince her to go that route. It was very hard to watch her body succumb to this nasty disease, but the amazing part is I never saw her spirit change or her spunk for life dwindle and never once did I hear her complain. Lil just kept on living life like Lil. She was a true beauty, with delicate features, sassy body and the most beautiful hands I have ever seen, right on to the end. She was the bravest, and most charitable person I have ever known. She was a lot of fucking fun….there I said it…..just like she’d say it…..and just like you were thinking it. She was a force of light in my life and I am so grateful that I had the privilege to be called one of her dear friends and through her I met many more. She meant the world to me and I told her often. I only regret that I could not give her one last squeeze before her journey. Your legacy will live on. Lilly, behave and don’t make too much commotion up there and remember “What happens in Heaven stays in Heaven”. Your friend always and forever, until we meet again. Patti

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks for your very perceptive comments, Patti. Lil was quite the lady. Her spirit lives on, though her presence is sorely missed.

  2. Sandra Baer

    Once again, you bring us all to a higher level. The elephant is know for its strengh and steadfastness. It is particularly known for its MENTAL strength, loyalty, gracefullness, power, abundance and protector of family. The ELEPHANT is strong on the outside, powerful in its mind, and sensitive on the inside. The elephant has the best memory in the jungle. Thank you for sharing your life with all of us, and bringing us such joy, sharing your home, giving so much back to those that are in need, and making us all better people for knowing you!!!! You left us all too soon! Rest in Peace, dear Friend.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      As always, Sandy, you add insight and depth to a conversation. Interesting observations about elephants. Lil’s love of her family and friends is clearly mutual.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to write, Rita. Lil was a force. So sorry that she encountered, as Alex said, “The one thing too big for her to overcome.” She is and will be missed.

  3. Robert Gauthier

    Having known Lil for over 35 years has been so profound. I had just come home to Windsor from completing my education in design from Toronto. She and Alex had a clothing store and I was hired to do the window displays, Lil and I clicked immediately and became very close friends. I journeyed with them through their many facits in Windsor and the US, helping with the homes and then the villa in France. All along admiring Lil,s tenacity, style, determination and compassion for others in her philithropic ventures. Her life embodied the true spirit of giving, she is by far one of the most gracious people I have ever known. I will cherish our wonderful times together and will hold her in my heart forever. A spirit that flesh cannot contain …

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thank you for your lovely comments. I know her family and friends will appreciate your insights. She was an amazing woman.

  4. Les Abramson

    Lil was a lady of extraordinary grace, style, beauty & love. I remember how good she was to her children, my family and I. At nikki’s sweet 16 I was lucky enough to have a dance with her. We talked about our families with mutual respect and laughed. She had a beautiful, smile and seemed to live life to the fullest right until the end apparently. I was shocked and saddenned by her death. However; she lives on in her family. To tell you the truth I didn’t know her that well. However; I remember Lil, Roxbrough and the family and will always cherish those memories from so long ago. My Condolences;Sincerely,Les Abramson

  5. Jessie Beld Elliott

    I am privileged to say Lil was an intimate friend….she got a small group of us girls together a few years ago and began inviting us to her beautiful villa in the French Riviera. …we always joked we could never go back like “normal” people because everything with her was like an enchanted holiday….we shared so many deep moments talking through the night, many hilarious times dancing in clubs we were too old to be in, and of course shopping til we dropped. She also recruited us to serve on committees with her and challenged us to make an impact for those who deserved it….But the most important thing, the most precious gift she gave me was to teach me never to lose myself…..Not in my children, not in my work, and certainly not in a man. A woman who loses herself is no good for anyone….a woman who treasures herself is the most precious and valuable gift to her family and all others in life….And that is exactly what Lil was, a gift and a treasure…I will love and miss her forever. Thank you for what you wrote….

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      What a beautiful tribute, Jessie. You were lucky to be part of Lil’s inner circle. Thanks for the lovely comments.

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