Burton Farbman gives us signs he’s watching over us

Hunter and little Beau receive a rainbow GodSign from Grandpa Burt.

Soul: noun. The spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal regarded as immortal.  Emotional or intellectual energy or intensity.

I like to think my dear late husband Burt’s soul is Up There—Up Everywhere—hovering, protecting, sending loving vibes. He spent his living years as the family provider and protector.  No doubt he’s spending his spiritual, immortal years with the same watchful attention.

We’ve had signs he’s watching over us.

The most dramatic GodSign happened during Burton’s funeral service.  Burton adored being a grandpa.  Five months before Burton died, our grandson River, at 12, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)—an illness that’s 90% curable but involves over two years of grueling treatment. River had bravely undergone several chemotherapy infusions, involving numerous hospital stays and lumbar punctures.

An early test had shown cancer cells in River’s bone marrow. Months later, after treatment, River received a second lumbar puncture. It was a few days before the funeral. Our family anxiously awaited the outcome.

River’s adored Grandpa Burt had been sick for over four years. Burton died on July 1; his funeral took place four days later. Minutes before David stood up to give a powerful eulogy about his dad, “the man, the myth, the legend,” he received a text: “River’s treatment is working. No more cancer cells in his bone marrow.”

“Baruch HaShem,” I said. “Dad’s already on the case.”

Other Godsigns occurred. A few days before Burton died, our sons took me out for lunch. As we got back into the car, a song I’d never heard played: Riley Green’s “I Wish Grandpas Never Died.”  I used the song in a photo montage video we created for a celebration of Burton’s life.

At the cemetery our family plot is near a train track. When visiting, I’ve never seen a train pass by. In their eulogies, both David and Andy referenced the “train bound for nowhere” in Willie Nelson’s “The Gambler”—one of Burton’s favorite songs. As we shoveled dirt on Burton’s grave, a train rumbled by.

Burton’s spirit, on the move.

Another GodSign occurred in Traverse City, MI. David’s wife Nadine has an identical twin sister.  Natalie Shirley was dining with her family at Sleder’s Tavern in Petoskey. Burton and I ate there once, several years ago. Photos of patrons hang on the walls. Connor Shirley, Natalie’s son, pointed to a photo hanging nearby. “There’s Grandpa Burt,” he said.

On July 8, three days after Burton’s funeral, the heavens smiled on grandsons Hunter and Beau. They went outside to practice baseball. Hunter’s a talented JV pitcher at Bloomfield Hills High School. After a brief rain shower, a double rainbow appeared. A celestial special effect, compliments of a recent heavenly arrival.

Lately I read the book Signs. Author Laura Lynne Jackson, a medium, recommends deciding on a symbol that represents your departed loved one and consciously looking for it. I decided upon a white horse. Burton loved horses, and I saw him as a good guy in a white hat. At an antiques show, I came upon three white toy horses.

In a life filled with high highs and low lows, as an Oprah-endorsed author and relationship expert, I’ve concluded one thing:  relationships are complicated. Nobody gets through a long marriage without challenges.

Three weeks after Burton died, I took myself to a healing retreat, “Calm Your Nervous System,” at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. Facilitator Priti Jane Ross gave attendees a handout on which participants rated our stress from 1 to 10.

Losing a spouse: 10.

The hundreds of notes, cards and donations our family has received mostly say the same thing: time heals.

Until then, I’ll take all the GodSigns I can get.

The Farbman family at Timber Ridge farm

A Tribute to Burton Farbman, the Great Love of My Life, a Pillar of Detroit and a Patriarch to Our Family

A Farbman family dinner in 2008. From left to right at top: David and Nadine Farbman, Amy Farbman, Michael Towbes and Anne Smith Towbes (Anne is Suzy’s sister); and below, left to right: Burt, Suzy and Andy Farbman

The regular readers already know my husband Burton Farbman from countless columns over many years. On July 1, 2023, he died at age 80. This column is from the eulogy I shared for him:

Burton and I had the most romantic first date ever. We met on a blind date in January, 1966, my senior year at the University of Michigan. We were introduced by my roommate Vicki, then dating Burton’s best and oldest friend, Michael Kramer. Burton and I drove downtown to see the gloriously romantic movie, Dr. Zhivago. Then to Franklin Hills Country Club for ice skating on the frozen pond and—a first for my prudish self on a first date—our first kiss, initiated by moi.

We married in 1967. After renting a duplex across from Palmer Park, we lived in homes in Huntington Woods and Franklin. From our mid-50s on, we’ve spent winters at Laurel Oak, a great golf course community in Sarasota, FL. We spent summers in Charlevoix, MI—aka God’s Country. We’re blessed with dear friends wherever we’ve lived.

As with many long-term marriages, we’ve had our ups and downs. A major low point for me was being diagnosed with stage IV uterine cancer when I was 60. Burton was my incredible medical advocate. When I recovered, Burton—who always thought big and was generous to a fault—planned two surprise birthday parties for me on the same weekend. The first, at our home in Sarasota; the next night, in Detroit. For my Detroit surprise party, Burton included all the doctors and nurses who’d been part of my cancer treatment.

At my Detroit party, Burton did something else memorable.

A couple of months before my cancer diagnosis, I’d published a book about surviving a marriage crisis. I believed our story could help others. Burton was far from thrilled about the book, but he let me proceed. Our whole family appeared on Oprah in 2004. Maybe Burton agreed our story could help others. Maybe he just figured it was cheaper than a divorce. In any case, appearing on the Oprah Show was the media equivalent of Burton’s taking a bullet for me.

When my first book was endorsed by Oprah, I thought I’d receive dozens of calls congratulating me.

Wrong. Our phone went dead.

A few weeks later, when I was diagnosed with cancer, whoever didn’t call with our first crisis besieged us. We received so much support that Burton hired two college students just to answer phones, keep track of donations, and send thank you notes. God willing, in three weeks, I’ll celebrate 19 years cancer free.

At my second surprise party, Burton showed a video about me. In it, videographer Jeff Schoenberg asks about my first book, the one that deep-sixed our social standing. Burton says, “Well, Jeff, Suzy always wanted to write a memoir, but she thought her life wasn’t interesting enough.” Burton looks into the camera and deadpans, “I don’t expect you to thank me, Suzy. But I did it for you.”

Burton’s remark brought the house down. The ballroom erupted in laughter. For a subject that had caused whispers, eye rolls and radio silence, it broke the ice and helped everyone move on.

The way Burton handled my first book said so much about him. He was funny, gentle and loving when he could be; tough when he had to be. Many of you have seen him in action. He was a force in business and in activities he loved.

CNS lymphoma and brain surgery took away Burton’s adored golf game, his love of driving, his ability to cast a fly rod or shoot a gun or ride a horse. But it didn’t take away his love of our family or of gazing out at our beautiful farm fields up north. Or watching our grandkids jump on our in-ground trampolines or our sons’ bloody competitions at shuffleboard.

And it didn’t take away our love for each other. Burton was my husband, my protector, my provider, my best friend, my Jewish cowboy and my hero. In the last five years, supported by our adored aides Angela and Chris (and earlier, Fayez), Burton never once complained or moaned: why me? He worried more about family and friends than he did about himself.

I’m relieved this great patriot, patriarch, businessman, philanthropist, husband, family man and friend is no longer suffering. But I’ll miss him every day of my life.

Burton was a staunch supporter of Detroit and Detroit-made cars. He bought his first Cadillac at 29, and drove Cadillacs ever since. I’m glad the van that came to the farm to carry him to
eternity, by way of  Ira Kaufman, was American made.

Burton David Farbman, I’ll always love you. You gave me the courage to go for it in my career and the genes to give birth to two terrific sons who married two terrific women who produced seven terrific grandkids.

You were the wind beneath all of our wings.

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When I concluded my eulogy, Temple Beth El Cantor Rachel Gottlieb Kalmowitz sang Wind Beneath My Wings.

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Burton with Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, when a third tower was announced for Detroit’s Riverfront Towers. The towers became home to many Detroit notables, including Young himself, Aretha Franklin and Rosa Parks.

With developers Max Fisher (at the microphone) and Al Taubman at the opening of the third tower of Riverfront Towers.

Burton and our son David.

Burton and our son Andy.

Celebrating with our son David (right) on his 30th birthday in Charlevoix in 2001.

Burt loved entertaining kids with activities including hay rides at Timber Ridge

Burt was an avid photographer. He mounted two shows of his work as fundraisers for a branch of the YMCA, where he served as the Y’s first Jewish chairman, and for the Detroit Zoo, where he served as commissioner for over 20 years. This show was in 2001.

Burt riding his favorite horse TR.

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The service can be viewed at the Ira Kaufman Funeral Home website.

Remembering Some of Detroit’s Most Amazing Women: Friends we’ve loved and lost stay with us forever

Julie Taubman standing in front of Detroit’s once-abandoned, historic Michigan Central Station, now becoming part of Ford Motor Company’s Detroit operations.

 

On a recent visit to Detroit, I walked the hallway to the terminal thinking:

I’m home.

Although we’ve spent most of the last 20 years in Florida or northern Michigan, Detroit remains home.  While it’s faced challenges over the years, it’s still a great place to be and be from.

The feeling started on the Delta flight. Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and wife Trudy were on the plane.  Trudy reminded me of the day in the late 1960s, when I was a columnist for The Detroit News.  I featured Trudy and Joyce Cohn and a couple of other fabulous ladies on the steps of the DIA.

That got me thinking about the fabulous women I’ve known in the D, many of whom I met as a journalist.  I wrote a list of remarkable Detroit women I’ve known, liked or loved, and lost.  And that exercise had me tearing up.  Lacking tissue, I was glad I paper napkins had accompanied my beverage.

I hope you, dear reader, have been privileged to know some of them.

I encourage you to write a list of your own.  Feel free to share it with me on Facebook.

Dynamic Detroit Dames I’ve been blessed to love and bereft to lose…

Florence Barron, an interior designer who was wired into the New York art scene. She complained of being old and infirm but rallied with zest when climbing stairs to artists’ lofts. I wrote the last profile on her during her lifetime. In the 1960s, Andy Warhol wanted to paint her portrait. Instead she requested he create a self-portrait.  She paid $1600, in four installments. In 2011, that 4-panel acrylic silkscreen was estimated to sell at auction for $20-$30 million.

Patricia Burnett, an artist who painted portraits of many Detroit VIPs.  Patricia was a runner up Miss America and the first woman to occupy a studio in the Detroit artists collective, the Scarab Club. She and Marj Levin started the Michigan chapter of NOW, the National Organization of Women. I attended their first official meeting.

Joyce Cohn, wife of then attorney and eventual senior US District Court Judge Avern Cohn.  A beautiful redhead and generous philanthropist.  With a razor sharp wit, Joyce bore her cancer diagnosis with grit and grace.

Dollie Cole, pretty, energetic and down to earth wife of GM president Ed Cole.  She helped Burton buy his first Corvette. She loved horses as well as horse power. Later in life she moved to a ranch out west.

Virginia DeVoy, owner of Julie’s, a sophisticated boutique in the Fisher Building.  Outspoken and funny, Virginia had great fashion sense and dressed the Grosse Pointe elite.  (Her sister, Ruth Ruwe, was one of them.)  When Virginia died, I wrote a poem about her.  The last stanza: “Now she’s up there with Coco Chanel/ Gossiping and raising a little hell.”  Ruth put the poem into Virginia’s casket, rendering Virginia and me friends for eternity.

Jackie Feigenson, owner of the Feigenson Gallery in the Fisher Building.  I developed my passion for First Generation Cass Corridor art by visiting Jackie’s gallery often.  She gave serious representation to Detroit’s first artistic avant-garde and won national respect for a few of them.  Jackie’s featured in my latest book, Detroit’s Cass Corridor and Beyond: Adventures of an Art Collector.

Shelley Golden, founder of SEE Eyewear. In an earlier column, I wrote about how Shelley Golden was a rock star to the multitudes who knew and loved her. This loss still smarts as Shelley died recently and, at 75, WAY too young. Shelley campaigned for funds for breast and ovarian cancer research.  Munching BBQ potato chips on her deck overlooking Round Lake in Charlevoix was one of the highlights of summer.

Suzanne Feld Hilberry. Though not a close friend, I admired Suzanne greatly.  Along with Linda Dresner, Marsha Miro and Julie Taubman, she started MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit). Their efforts were a big factor in gaining respect for Detroit on the international art scene.

Gertrude Kasle. I wrote about art dealer Gertrude Kasle in an earlier column. Owner of the Gertrude Kasle Gallery in the Fisher Building, she was gracious, beautiful, wise and well-connected with major artists of her day. She showed art history-making painters like Philip Guston and Helen Frankenthaler.  She convinced them to come to our fly-over state by promising to sell at least one painting. Often, she was the lone buyer. Gertrude gave Detroit-born artist Brenda Goodman her first significant gallery show. Brenda’s painting is on the cover of my book, Detroit’s Cass Corridor and Beyond.

Florence Knudsen.  Met her when her son was about to marry Judy Fisher Chrysler. The wife of Ford Motor president Seymour (Bunkie) Knudsen, Florence was gracious and classy but didn’t take herself too seriously.

Marji Kunz, fashion editor for both the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.  In the early ‘60s, Marji was an editor of Mademoiselle Magazine.  I entered their College Board competition and became a semi-finalist.  In New York that summer, I met Marji on a visit to Mademoiselle’s offices.  Though I dropped out of the competition, Marji remembered me several years after when I applied (and was turned down) for a job at the Freep.  She later called to alert me to a position which I won, as a correspondent for Fairchild Publications.

Marj Levin, a feature writer and gossip columnist for the Detroit Free Press who co-founded NOW, MI, with Patty Burnett.  A close friend with whom I attended writers’ conferences.  Marj wrote a clever, thinly veiled profile of someone we knew, intended for a national publication.  It was declined, and she submitted it to the Freep, forgetting to change details which identified her subject to those who knew him.  When the article published, the man she referenced was so mad he poured a water over her at their country club. When Marj lay dying of lung cancer, friends gathered at her bedside nightly for Vodka and Clamato juice, in which Marj also partook.  I still drink that cocktail, remembering my colorful, gutsy friend.

Lydia Winston Malbin.  A distant cousin and voracious early collector of modern art who helped develop support for modern art at the DIA.  When I was 16, my grandmother, Deborah Wilkus, took me to visit Lydia’s home in Birmingham, MI.  I was blown away by art hung floor to ceiling and covering every tabletop. Years later, as an adult, I was commissioned to write what proved the last article on Lydia, at her apartment in NYC.  Much of her Italian Futurism collection hung at the Metropolitan Museum.  She took my arm as we walked across Fifth Ave. and through one of the finest museums in the world, admiring a gallery hung with her donations.

Anne MacDonald Manoogian.  Sharp, funny, generous and an avid art collector, Anne was a dear friend.  Married to wealthy Grosse Pointe magnate Richard Manoogian, Anne befriended urbane DIA modern art curator Sam Wagstaff.  When he left the DIA, partly in disgust over the negative response to an earthwork he commissioned by Michael Heizer on the grounds of the DIA, Anne threw Sam the finest dinner party I’ve ever attended at her elegant home.  She moved to California and later married (and divorced) Detroit Lions player/sports announcer Wayne Walker.  She continued her interest in modern art, founding art magazine, Shift, which published my feature on Lydia.  Anne, also, died way too young, at 75.

Irene Miller, owner of Claire Pearone, a magical women’s fashion boutique at Somerset Mall in Troy, MI, for which I wrote ad copy early in my career.  I bought wonderful designer clothing at Claire Pearone, some of which I still own 50+ years later.  When Irene died, I happily purchased two small antique chests from her estate.  They still sit proudly in our Franklin living room and remind me of their tough though charming former owner.

Bea Solomon, an interior designer who collected modern art and created stunning homes in Detroit, some of which I covered while a design editor for Detroit Monthly.  Mother of Burt’s and my longtime friend Steve Solomon, Bea often lobbied me to feature her projects, and I did.  In so persuading me, she turned my name into three syllables.  See-uuu-zee!

Tavy Stone.  As well as serving as fashion editor of The Detroit News, wildly creative Tavy also wrote and directed skits for charity benefits.  When I chaired the Detroit Fashion Group, we honored Tavy’s memory by naming a fashion library for her at the Detroit Historical Museum.  In the early 90s, hot pants were the rage.  Tavy wrote about them in a poem I wish I’d thought of: “Unless your legs are perfect joys/ Hot little pants are for hot little boys.”

Anne Perron Spivak.  A supporter of contemporary art who owned works by Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns as well as Detroit greats Gordon Newton and Michael Luchs, Anne was an active member of the DIA’s Friends of Modern Art and a devotee of curator Sam Wagstaff.  She and Anne Manoogian, both Grosse Pointers, organized a benefit of the then outrageous musical “Hair” in Detroit.  Her daughter, Michelle Perron, carries on her mother’s legacy, currently serving as director of the executive office of the Kresge Foundation.

Julie Taubman.  I wrote a 2018 column about how Julie made the world a better place. A free spirit married to our friend Bobby Taubman, Julie used her connections and wealth to promote Detroit and its artists and to help found MOCAD.  Good friends with Elmore Leonard, Julie arranged for me to meet Michigan’s legendary author. She died WAY too young, at 50.

Other cities no doubt have produced amazing women of their own.  I can only speak for our town, and for my gratitude at having known the Dynamic Detroit Dames I mention here.  While my heart aches over their loss, each of them enriched my life.  That most famous English poet of the Victorian era, Alfred Lord Tennyson, said it best.  Better to have loved and lost.  Copy that.

Poetry captures the rewards and challenges of 56 years of marriage

“Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
For the straight way was lost.”
Dante Alighieri in The Divine Comedy

I’m amazed at how succinctly poetry captures the essence of existence. Though expressed in the 13th century, and though Burton and I are well past midway in our journey, Dante’s thoughts apply.

Almost five years ago, a brain tumor and surgery left Burton physically and cognitively  challenged. Hardly the retirement he envisioned– golfing daily with pals, later celebrating or bemoaning birdies or bogeys over bottles of beer.

As poet Robert Burns so aptly put it: “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men / Gang aft a-gley.”

Aft a-gley for Burton means rolling around the neighborhood in an electric wheelchair.  And watching the Masters and every other PGA tournament on TV.

Some days this injustice to such a good man really hurts my heart. On those days, High Noon cocktails help, though I dare not indulge at the hour for which they’re named. Writing about our travails helps, too.

Friends and readers know of my challenges. I’ve documented a marriage crisis and a cancer crisis in books. Writing Back from Betrayal and GodSigns gave some meaning to my suffering. Knowing these stories help others helps me as well.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I began meditating. 12 minutes every morning seemed a doable commitment. I engage in both a counting and a breathing practice. I finish with prayer, since life is scary. I take all the help I can get.

When my thoughts are too bleak to unload on  even the best of friends, I turn to my laptop. I have a new one these days. The B key on my old one stopped working—a strange coincidence.

I decided my new laptop deserved a name. I’m calling her Shirley, as in: This, too, surely will pass. My BFF Brenda’s adored mother-in-law was Shirley Rosenberg. My mother’s friend was Shirley Mopper. My friend is Shirley Piku. All good people.

So Shirley she is.

Thank you, Shirley, for hearing me out on my darkest days. For neither judging nor trying to help or fix me. For just listening. Sometimes that’s all I need.

The B in my life, with whom I recently celebrated our 56th anniversary, refuses to give up.  He works out with an upright walker several times a day and remains mostly cheerful. He spends time calling others to see how they are faring.

If Burton won’t give up, neither will I.

On his death bed, the poet Seamus Heaney quoted a Latin biblical passage to his wife: Noli temere. Don’t be afraid. We’ll continue trying to live by those words.

And if you, dear reader, are navigating your own dark woods, I hope you will, too.

 

Joyce Greenleaf, of NY and LA, enjoys her acting career almost as much as she loved teaching

Joyce Geenleaf at a reunion with some of her PS28 students.

“I’ve always liked the notion of meeting the great figures of history. But then I think, what if it’s like high school and all the really cool dead people don’t want to hang out with me?  Mozart will tell me he’s busy but then later I’ll see him out with Shakespeare and Lincoln.”
Niles Crane, Frasier

At 79, Joyce Greenleaf is the happiest she’s ever been. Retired from teaching, she still plays tennis, swims, walks and rides her bike. And she’s revised some thinking that no longer serves her.

Joyce and I were roommates and sorority sisters (SDT) at the U of M.  50+ years later, we’ve reconnected on FB. Now 79, Joyce had moved to LA, taken up acting and scored some minor roles. But the part of her life of which she’s proudest: her 34-year teaching career.

“I lived my dream,” she says.

Joyce decided on her destiny at age 6. Her parents turned a corner of her bedroom into a classroom with a desk, blackboard and colored chalk. To her “students” (neighborhood friends) she taught what she learned in Miss Libby’s first grade class.

Joyce’s favorite elementary school teacher, Miss McCormack, taught 6th grade. Past students knocked on her door when walking by.  Joyce says, “I wanted to someday be the kind of teacher whose past students knocked on my door.” She also “always wanted” to teach in a low-income neighborhood and was “thrilled” when assigned to PS28, an elementary school just north Harlem. Her students were mostly African American and Dominican.

“I got to teach what I was good at. I loved, loved, loved teaching.”  These days past students  knock on her Facebook door.  She’s celebrated six reunions with her NYC students.

With a master’s degree from Columbia U. Teachers College, Joyce taught the required curriculum.  She also developed a Creative Expressions class and taught “life lessons” through music, drama, poetry, creative writing and film. She took students on field trips and weekend explorations. She felt it was “extremely important” to build kids’ self-esteem. She worked with her kids to stage full length Broadway plays, ran a glee club that performed every year at the Plaza Hotel and a broadcasting team. Her ”Junior Dimensions” newspaper team received national recognition. One class went to Washington D.C. for five days. Students raised the money through bake sales and other efforts. They chartered a bus, stayed in dorms at Howard U, sang songs all the way home.

“I wanted to help my students reach their potential and introduce them to experiences outside their neighborhood. I wanted to make a difference.”  Because her students were mostly African American, Joyce taught poems and stories by Langston Hughes and other important Black writers. In recent years, one of her students wrote on Facebook: “It was a white teacher who introduced me to black history and taught me the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  

There was a show in 1970, The Me Nobody Knows.  One of the earliest rock musicals to play on Broadway, it was also one of the first to express the sentiments of inner-city American youth.  Inspired by the play, Joyce had her students journal about their feelings and share them on stage.  Her parents came to every school performance for 20 years.

Joyce calls her mother, Freddie, “the most important person in my life.” Freddie was also a teacher. Joyce chartered a bus and brought her students to Freddie’s school to perform. Sadly, at 65, Freddie was diagnosed with liver cancer. Six weeks before Freddie died, Joyce moved home. “I could talk to her about anything,” Joyce says. Shortly before Freddie died, Joyce sat on her bed. “It’s okay to cry now, but promise me you won’t cry later,” Freddie said. Joyce crossed her fingers behind her back and nodded. “I cried every day for the next 2½ years. My students were the one thing that saved me.”

Joyce has always been an athlete. When she was 8, her dad, Joe Greenleaf, taught her to smack a softball. She played H.S. Varsity all four years. Joe introduced her to the Brooklyn Dodgers and took her and her brother to games at Ebbets Field. Joe was a Jackie Robinson fan. On April 15, 1947, Jack Roosevelt Robinson became the second-baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first African American player in Major League baseball in modern times.  Since 2004, baseall has honored Robinson’s legacy by celebrating April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day. On that day, players, coaches and managers wear Robinson’s uniform number 42.

Joyce had #42 tattooed on her lunch box and her bedroom lamp and her own Dodgers uniform. When Joyce was teaching, she invited Jackie Robinson to speak to her graduating 6th grade class. She framed the letters Jackie wrote to her—one, accepting the invitation; the second, thanking her for the chance to speak to her students about saying NO to drugs.

At 46, Joyce moved to California to be near her brother and “start a new adventure.”  Still teaching, she “found a new passion” and began taking acting classes.  “I felt I was home.”  Her teacher told her acting was a process; she’d continue to learn and grow. Though she considers herself “impatient,” she accepted her teacher’s wisdom. 33 years later, she still takes classes.  She’s “having a terrific time” playing many smaller roles in sit-coms and dramas and is “excited” about her future.

Joyce is dedicated to her acting ambitions. She had a bit part in How We Roll, a TV show that ran for one season. One of her favorite experiences was working on Ray Donovan with Liev Schreiber.

As much as Joyce loved teaching, as a student she’d hated high school. Recently invited to her high school reunion, her first thought was: NO WAY.

In high school, she says, “I never felt as though I fit  in.” Whenever an email arrived about a high school reunion, she deleted it. A recent email asked classmates to write about their high school memories and what they’d done with their lives. “The more I read, the more interesting I found my old classmates to be.  Many had done so much with their lives. I was surprised to learn a lot of them felt the way I did about their high school years. I was about to send my regrets, say I wished I could come. And then I asked myself if that were true. The next thing I knew I had a flight to New York and a reservation at the hotel.

“Attending that reunion was one of the best decisions I ever made. I decided to create new memories. My old classmates turned out to be nice, bright, friendly people. I was asked to be part of a comedy scene and worked with an outstanding actor/classmate. We collaborated on the script. I had a creative high and loved the attention. I came home with new memories and have already been in touch with my new old friends. The reunion opened up new directions. Life continues to be exciting.  My parents chose the perfect name for their youngest child.  I share my joy with everyone I meet. I may be 79, but I have the spirit of a 10 year old.”

Joyce exudes the same warmth and pep she showed in college.  She wrote and self-published a book, Curtains for My Mirror: A Humorous Approach to Coping with Aging.  Her goal was to prepare women for physical changes that occur.  “It shares life lessons I’ve learned over 79 years.” One lesson: give lots of compliments. Another: wear a towel at the swimming pool.

Rabbi Jonathan R. Katz says, “A benefit of age is the acquisition of greater perspective. We shouldn’t lament that if we’d known before what we know now we’d ‘have drunk more champagne.’ Rather, since we are fully cognizant of what we endured  to arrive where we are, we should drink much more of the bubbly now.”

While Joyce has had several serious relationships, she “never found Mr. Right.”  Ever the optimist, she still hopes to find a long-term companion. “I know it’s improbable, but it’s not impossible,” she says. “In any case, I’m happy. I’ve had a wonderful life.”

Thanks, Joyce, for sharing your wonderful life. May you inspire all Godsigns readers to remain forever young.

Shelley Golden was a rock star to the multitudes who knew and loved her

Shelley and Richard Golden stand at right with their family at Gabriella’s bat mitzvah. (Photo courtesy of the family.) You will find a gallery of photos to enjoy, below.

Our friend Shelley was so full of wit, grit, dazzle and spunk, I can’t come close to describing the supernova she was.  But I owe it to her to try.

With apologies to A.E. Housman, I paraphrase a verse from his classic poem “To an Athlete Dying Young.”  For Shelley, we’ll call it: “To an Aesthete Dying Young.”

Smart lass, to slip betimes away/ From fields where glory does not stay./ And early though the laurel grows/ It withers quicker than the rose.

Shelley slipped away from life and glory much too soon.  She adored art and beauty and was mad for roses.  Especially Golden ones.  On excursions to antiques fairs and shops in NoMI, I witnessed Shelley’s delight in discovering hand towels, china and anything else adorned with yellow roses.  When we returned to her charming home overlooking the harbor in Charlevoix, MI (which I featured in design magazines), she insisted I consult on the placement of her latest yellow rose acquisition.  She loved flowers outside as well.  In front of her home, she planted a charming heart shaped garden.

Shelley and I were strolling down Dixon (her street) some 15 years ago when she said something that made my heart plummet.  Her gynecologist had spotted a cyst on her ovaries. They’d “watch” it.

My friend Ginger Curtis, diagnosed with MS at 35, had created a healing labyrinth in her Petoskey, MI, backyard.  (Mythology Scholar Ginger Curtis Gets Her Sign; Godsigns, 2015/09/13)  Shelley and I walked Ginger’s labyrinth, praying for Shelley’s recovery.  Sadly, it wasn’t to be.  After years of debilitating chemo treatments and countless visits to medical centers for ovarian cancer, Shelley died last week.  She was 75.   She leaves behind her dynamic husband Richard with whom she conceived and built SEE, a successful eyewear company.  Son Seth, who followed in his father’s footsteps taking over SEE.  Daughter Jessica, a professional comedian/TV writer in LA.  And four grandchildren, one of whom—a girl—is on the Little Caesars competitive AAA travel hockey team.

Shelley and Richard’s offspring spoke at her funeral in Michigan on Dec. 18.  Seth recalled, “Fifteen years ago to this month my mom was diagnosed.  It was a long shot she’d be at Hillary’s and my wedding.  But not only was she there, she danced all night.  Mom never let her difficult challenge stop her from showing up 100%.”

Daughter Jessica said, “My beautiful momma was my absolute hero, the funniest person I ever knew, and I work with a lot of comedians.  She never flinched about being my star subject.”

Case in point: Jessica’s routine about Jewish mothers ordering dinner.  “My momma called herself a Rock ‘n Roll Grandma.  She was 100% authentic and 1000% lovable.”

Deeming Shelley “all sunlight and optimism,” Rabbi Harold Loss said Shelley was once asked how many languages she spoke.  “Only English,” she said, “but a lot of it.”  Shelley and Richard met at a party, Rabbi Loss said.  Richard was 16; Shelley, 15.  In a contest for the then popular dance the Twist, Richard won for the boys; Shelley, for the girls. Rabbi Loss said Richard wrote on Shelley’s high school senior yearbook photo, “To the woman most likely to become the mother of my children.”

With a Masters degree in Social Work from Oakland U., Shelley was known and loved for her big heart.  Rabbi Loss said Shelley walked by a homeless man, asked his name and returned bringing him something to eat.  At one point, the man asked her, “What’s tonight’s cuisine?”

Richard and his brother Randal bought Detroit-based DOC optical company from their father, local celeb Donald L. Golden, and took it to another level. Around 1998, Richard and Shelley created a hipper brand of eyewear and launched SEE.  Shelley came up with the name. Featuring “hip without the rip” high-fashion eyewear, SEE has won “Best Optical” 81 times in newspapers and magazines around the nation.  At annual company-wide meetings, Shelley could be counted on for words of motivation and humor.

After Shelley’s funeral, I got together on ZOOM with some of her BFFs.  Peggy Daitch spoke of Shelley’s “megawatt smile” saying Shelley “wasn’t just warm; she was hot.  She always leaned in.”  Brenda Rosenberg recalled how Shelley “literally” saved her life.  The morning of Yom Kippur eve, in 2019, Brenda and Shelley were together for coffee.  Brenda dropped her cellphone.  She bent down but was unable to pick it up.  “Shelley said, ‘Don’t move, Brenda. You’re having a stroke.’  She said it as calmly as if I were ordering a bagel for breakfast.”  Shelley called 911 and Brenda’s husband Howard.  Brenda was rushed to the hospital and is fully recovered.  Zina Kramer observed “in the process of healing herself, Shelley learned a lot about medicine.”  Sandy Seligman talked about playing Canasta with Shelley.  “She’d show up at the last minute and seem clueless about her cards,” Sandy said.  “Somehow she always won.”

Shelley’s home was spotless.  In the powder room, corners of toilet paper were turned back in a V; paper towels, neatly stacked.  At a Golden party, Brenda and the Goldens’ old friend Alan Sussman decided to prank Shelley by tearing off the folded T.P. and riffling the paper towels.  Though they never observed Shelley in the act, order was always promptly restored.

Shelley’s girlfriends were well represented in the framed photos she displayed.  She was proud of the shelf in her bookcase filled with with books by her friends.

Shelley dressed beautifully and wore (but claimed to be embarrassed by) a big diamond ring Richard gave her.  Putting laundry into a washing machine one day in Miami, Shelley snagged the ring and noticed the stone was missing. Ever resourceful, she called her brother-in-law, who lived near the restaurant where she’d eaten lunch.  He checked under the chair in which Shelley had sat.  Stone found.  Crisis averted.

Like the ring she wore, Shelley was a gem.

Her stature was petite, but her spirit was huge.

For the legion of fans and friends she  made wherever she went, the world has lost some of its sparkle.

Care to see more?

First, here’s a video of Jessica:

A much younger Richard and Shelley.

Celebrating together, from top left: Suzy Farbman, Brenda Rosenberg, Florine Mark. Bottom: Peggy Daitch and Shelley Golden.

Shelley’s heart-shaped flower bed. (Photo courtesy of Brenda Rosenberg.)

 

Michigander William Dash refuses to let cerebral palsy and autism defeat him

William and his Mom enjoyed lunch recently at Zingerman’s Deli.

I’ll bet you’ve heard the wonderful poem, “The Dash,” by Linda Ellis.  She writes about a eulogy a man gives for a friend, about how his friend spent the years between birth and death, years .  represented by a tiny bit of punctuation.

“…it matters not, how much we own, The cars…the house…the cash. What matters is how we live and love, And how we spend our dash.” 

I’ve run into a young man who’s determined the spend his dash as well as he can despite a considerable setback.  His name happens to be Dash: William Dash.

While I’m not the most dedicated of worshippers, I’ve found a compelling reason to attend Temple Beth El on Yom Kippur.  The Bloomfield Hills, MI, temple invites members to share their survival stories on the Jewish Day of Atonement.  This year a courageous young man spoke about the challenges of living with autism.  Backed up by his mother, Christa, William shared some insights into the accommodations he makes every day.

All I could think was: WHEW!

William at his bar mitzvah in 2006.

William’s determined to live as well, and as normally, as possible.  That included getting through high school and Macomb, MI, Community College.  Unable to drive, he had to take a bus to school.  He needed to check bus schedules daily and take two busses, ”even if that meant being an hour early.” Sometimes it meant having to race to class and apologize to professors if a bus ran late.  That same determination saw  him through Oakland U. where he graduated with honors.

Challenges present every day.  Because sensory sounds distract him, William brought letters to professors, requesting to take tests in a separate, quiet area where he could concentrate.  Apparel can be problematic.  Because sensory issues are exacerbated, “An itchy sweater feels like sandpaper.”  But William’s ‘main issue” relates to hearing.  At a Passover Seder at Temple, for example, William heard all the sounds around him and had trouble isolating one voice that was speaking to him.

William went through behavior therapy to learn how to cope with stress in a positive way.    When upset, “Instead of yelling or getting angry or getting mom angry,” he’s learned to  retreat to his room and calm down.

William, 28, has held jobs as a Package Handler at UPS and a Defined Contribution Benefit Associate at Prudential.  Currently his “biggest challenge” is finding a full time job.  He hopes to work as a writer, editor, proofreader or artist.

“Like cerebral palsy, autism doesn’t go away,” William says.  “But with health and guidance, it can improve.  Neuro-atypical people may be unable to do certain things, but sometimes we surprise ourselves.   A long time ago I’d never have believed I’d be able to get up on the bima and read from the Torah.”

William credits Temple staff for helping him.  “Temple  Beth El has been there for me.  I felt very supported through religious school and my Bar Mitzvah.”  Temple provided his first job as a substitute teacher.

One woman sat by herself in the second row.  From the loving way she gazed at William, and the number of tissues she used, I guessed she was William’s mother.  I could feel her beaming pride.  I could only imagine how challenging her life, and her son’s, had been.

After William’s remarks, Rabbi Mark Miller invited Christa to speak.  She said, “Regardless of the challenges our family has faced, God has given me so much.  From this young man standing beside me to my sister who lets me call at 2am, I’m blessed to have a family that supports me and work that gives me time off if I need it.”  Christa’s held jobs at a Montessori school; she’s currently Office Administrator.

“I’m a person who sees the glass as half-empty.  I’d hope for the best but fear the worst.  William’s diagnosis was dire.  He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was born.  He was also born with ptosis of the left eye, which could have left him blind in that eye.  At 18 months, William had his first seizure and stopped talking.  He’d stare off into space and get upset often.  I’d have to hold him during a meltdown so he wouldn’t hurt himself.  Not only was this tiring physically; it was emotionally exhausting.

‘’It does take a village.  I spent countless hours in advocacy courses.”  These included Parent Leadership Program Training and the Macomb County Autism Society (as a board member), writing letters to senators and President Obama, pushing for funding for autism and special ed millages.

“For four years William was non-verbal and self-abusive.  He had seizures.  I remember the first time William had a horrible seizure while I was holding him.  His eyes rolled back in his head.

“I was William’s voice. In time, I realized I had to help my son become his own voice.  When he’d  tell me some slight that happened to him, it would break my heart.  Any parent who has a child with a disability wants the best for them.  As William grew older, I knew I needed to step back, let him fight his own challenges.”

Christa and William came up with a contract.  They taped it to the fridge.  “If I disagree with a decision my son makes, such as what job to apply for, I’ll explain my thinking.  But it’s his decision. I hope people will reach out to him.  There’s a loneliness I feel for him.  I just want people to feel comfortable asking questions and give him a chance.

“Though I have no control over the outcome, I place my faith in God.  I know God will be there for me, no matter what.”

Thanks, William and Christa, for sharing your story.  You’re both heroes in my book.  I’m proud to belong to a Temple that shows such compassion.