MOTHER HELENE: Her Legacy Lives On
In memory of my beloved mother Helene: Yahrzeit August/2003
by Ariella Bracha Waldinger
My mother passed away 12 years ago, this week, and I miss her so deeply. There was only one way I could ease the pain in my heart and that was to share her with all of you, so that she could come alive through my words and memories. We did not have a perfect relationship but we had a perfect love, for we valued and cared for each other in the way we could. We admired and respected one another and we savored each other’s company. Her legacy lives on through me and my children.
“Each woman is far from average in the daily heroics of her life, even though she may never receive a moment’s recognition in history” (author unknown).
My mother Helene was far above average in the heroics of her life. She manifested these heroics through overcoming the challenges and losses presented to her at a young age. With grace, she played the hand that was dealt her, as she faced the loss of her father at age 14, the loss of her adorable little 3 year old sister and also her beloved 21-year-old sister, while she was still living at home. And yet the greatest loss of all was that of her 3rd child, her precious firstborn son, at the tender age of one week. And then later in life when she was 77, her second son, at the age of 44, succumbed to Leukemia, one year after her husband of over 50 years passed away. She was intimately familiar with great loss and yet, as a result of her humble acceptance of these profound losses, and her resultant strivings to make every day count, she revealed the greatness of her soul and truly excelled as a heroine in her life story.
Typically, when we extol the virtues of our mothers, we recite a litany of their hard work. However, that would not be the primary description of the virtues of my mother, Helene, in spite of the fact that she worked constantly from morning to night for the good of her family.
The primary virtue of my mother Helene was her faith in G-d and her core belief in the goodness and beauty of life. She personified the strength of a righteous woman who knew G-d personally. My mother did not unload her problems on her children or anyone for that matter. I think she personally delivered them straight to G-d Himself and they discussed them. Afterwards, I think she simply accepted them and went about her days smiling, as if some Divine secret had been revealed to her giving her profound peace of mind. I owe Heaven an un-payable debt for giving me a G-d fearing mother because she filled my life with the wealth of wisdom that comes from knowing G-d intimately and profoundly.
My mother was the vital life force of our family of seven girls and one boy for the entire length of her life. Her calm, feminine presence was a balm for the soul of our home where she reigned as house-keeper, cleaner, laundress, nurse, cook, baker, decorator, gardener, wife and mother. Her love of singing carried music throughout the house and her laughter and joy spread sunshine in every nook and cranny.
My mother was a radiant spirit who glowed with both inner and outer beauty. She greeted her days with joy, positivity and good humor. She generally awoke before the rest of the family, in order to dress and begin the task of fixing breakfast for 10 hungry souls. Mother had an exquisite flare for dressing and style and knew how to tastefully adorn herself. She also had a great flare for decorating and placement of furniture and embellishments. Her talents were many and varied and they lent themselves to living in a rich and beautiful environment which I highly prized.
She taught her children to embrace life and persist in overcoming whatever challenges came our way. How she lived her life remains as a moral compass for my own life because in truth, more than half of what we become as adults, we become through imitation and my mother was a great role model to imitate. There is a Yiddish Proverb that says,”One mother achieves more than a hundred teachers.” That was certainly true of my mother. I was one of her greatest admirers and I loved her dearly.
Mother never complained: she simply dug in and found the strength to do what needed to be done in a happy fashion. She never made a big deal about how hard she worked for she truly felt she was serving her mission and purpose in life and that was extremely satisfying to her. It was her gift back to life. Thus, she served life not only joyfully but willingly and with a full heart.
No medal of honor could reward the bravery of my mother, her deeds of valor and her shining faith and trust in G-d. Simple acts of courage emerge into sharp focus as I reflect on her life and I am often left speechless even now at age 66. My mother spent a year in a TB sanatorium away from her two little girls, age 3 and 5. And when she returned home, she brought her inspiration and light with her. The most stirring quality my mother possessed was the ability to move through the challenges of life with exquisite grace.
I believe my mother’s life resonated with an inner music that allowed her to dance through life with a rhythm all her own. My mother had a fullness of life experiences and this aspect manifested as a radiant facet of her beauty. I saw it as a child but understood it only as an adult.
As a child returning home from school or a newlywed returning home for a visit, I could not wait to catch sight of my mother’s beautiful, tender loving face and her radiant smile. Being in her presence filled me with joy and pleasure.
Mother was compassionate to the less fortunate and on numerous occasions fed the poor and helped to clothe the needy. This aspect touched me deeply and has become a quality I strive to emulate.
My mother had a great laugh, a graceful persona and she was extremely witty and clever. She wrote poetry and loved storytelling which she did in a vibrant, expressive way.
Mother loved nature and the outdoors and spoke of it in glowing adjectives. She was like a flowing natural fountain refreshing all manner of life around her.
Tears well up in my eyes at the thought of how extraordinary and truly magnificent my mother was. She personified the true “woman of valor.”
As I was reflecting on the lovely attributes of my mother Helene, I was reminded of the Persian convert to Judaism during the Second Temple period, named Queen Helene. She was known as a generous noblewoman who was reputed to have provided grain and dried figs, imported from Egypt, for the poor and hungry of Jerusalem. Additionally, she donated a golden chandelier, which hung high in the entrance to the HOLY TEMPLE. When the sun would rise from the east, it would light up the golden chandelier with an exquisite radiance. The brilliant light radiating from the chandelier in the Temple would herald the time of reciting the Shema and all the residents of Jerusalem would gather. This created a dynamic unity whose sphere of influence spread out into the world.
I believe both Helene’s shared virtues in common, as well as names. I am so grateful to G-d for the gift of my beloved, amazing mother Helene and for the fine example she set for me to emulate. Noted teacher and lecturer, Charles Swindoll says, “If you were blessed with a good mother, you reap the benefits all your days.” How True!
May her neshama have an aliyah in Shemayim on her Yahrzeit.
May we merit to create our lives as beautifully as did Helene and merit to teach and inspire others to mold and sculpt their lives into stunning works of art directed by the teachings of the Torah.
With love and Blessings,
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov, Ariella Bracha