November 18, 2014

A Woman of Valour lovely mom.
This beautiful eulogy for Denny Nathan was written by a close friend of forty years, Reva Stern. Reva read this at the levaya on November 13, 2014.

I humbly stand before you at the bequest of our beloved Denny. It’s hard to imagine anyone having the presence of mind, or the strength of character to consider their own eulogy, but then Denny wasn’t just anyone.

The friends and colleagues who formed the continuous and beautiful line of affection and love that surrounded her during her time in palliative care prompted Denny to whisper to me, “Imagine if I had passed away from a sudden heart attack... I would never have had the time to discover that so many people cared about me.” There it was... the familiar, sincere and irresistible humility that was always present. In a moment of vulnerability, Leonard, the stalwart Brit, left the room in tears. Denny seemed bewildered and exclaimed: “I know he loves me, but I never imagined he could love me that much. I am so blessed.”

Denny knew her time was limited and she wanted to use every minute of it in the company of family and friends. When she was too weak to talk, she would listen contentedly with eyes closed. The worst mistake we could make was to presume she was sleeping. Whenever she heard such a suggestion, she was quick to open her eyes and join in the exact context of the conversation.

One day, Leonard was working on a crossword puzzle by her bedside and was stuck on an answer. He muttered the query out loud and from behind closed eyes we heard the word “Askew.” It was the very answer Leonard had been seeking. We applauded and Denny offered him an enigmatic smile.

There is a celebrated verse from the Hebrew Bible that asks “A Woman of Valour, who can find?” She was Denny. She embodied qualities we would all aspire to encapsulate.

Denny was incorruptible, fiercely loyal, quietly courageous, passionate about life and dedicated to her family and friends... and that is the essence of valour. But beyond the attributes of honesty, fidelity and morality there was an entire goldmine of characteristics that not everyone was privy to.

Most will know that Denny was brilliant on stage, a devoted advocate for Israel, skilful at crafts, adept in the kitchen and an expert in proper usage of the English language. Some of you might know that she was a gifted artist. Her colourful paintings expressed her imaginative and delicate view of the world. But I’ll bet that most of you won’t know that Denny had a lovely singing voice. I knew about the singing, but much to my chagrin, I could never get her to use that lovely Julie Andrews voice on stage because I was sworn to keep her secret.

After a forty year friendship, the news of her childhood wish to have become a fashion designer was something I learned only recently from Leonard. I thought after decades of 4 hour lunches and heart to heart confessionals, I knew all there was to know... but of course, there was always more.

After the diagnosis, Denny confided that it was her promised mission, to be present for one particular celebration. And she, as always, kept that promise when a lifetime of hopes and dreams were fulfilled this August as Denny, looking like a beautiful Helen Mirren doppelganger, watched her son Barry, wed the love of his life.

Her deep affection and respect for Nicole and Amir was boundless. Her love for her children was always palpable. Denny gushed with pride every time she updated her friends about how her brave, mature and amazing children and grandchildren were contributing to their new homeland of Israel... and we kvelled with and for her.

Denny came from a large family, but only one other sibling moved to Canada. Her sister Joyce, whose sense of humour and her care and devotion to Denny during her long goodbye was deeply comforting to Denny and so heart-warming for the rest of us to witness.

The first binding friendships Denny and Leonard embraced when they moved to Montreal, Canada were the open arms of Sarah and Sidney Brickman. That connection continued on to Toronto. It was Sarah and Sidney that guided Denny out of her home and into Beth Tikvah Synagogue where Sarah, Sidney helped to formulate a plan that ultimately led to Denny climbing out of her shell and onto centre stage where she was truly a star.

For decades, Denny and Leonard joined Rochelle and Ray on a whirlwind theatre foray to Shaw and Stratford. Just weeks ago, the foursome headed off as usual on their annual theatre adventure. Denny, ignoring the exhausting symptoms of chemo went determinedly along. Upon her return, she offered me her insightful and candid critiques on each production she had seen. That was tradition. She was not one to ever break with tradition.

The protection and commitment provided by her husband, children, sister and her entire extended family was warm, loving and touching. It was like spending time with TV’s, The Waltons. This is the family that Denny, as matriarch, raised, gathered and guided. She is that woman of valour.

All the while Denny was in palliative care, she was, as always, kind, appreciative and especially considerate of the medical team. She never failed to thank them and praise them.

Denny asked me to tell you all how much she appreciated your good thoughts and wishes and that you should tell anyone going through this final passage of life, how much you matter to them. It meant everything to her.

She maintained her dignity, grace, humility, class and compassion to the very end; but then I’m sure that none of us are surprised at that. She was a role model always. For the first time in my experience, I understood the semantic difference between dying and passing away. In those last days, Mario Lanza sang to her, Joyce massaged her hands, Leonard offered her words of affection and love. Nicole and Amir, Barry and Alina were close by her side ready to do whatever gave her comfort. Denny purred, she smiled, she closed her eyes and she dreamed.

Denny was my friend, your friend, your loved one... and we are and will always be blessed to have had her in our lives.

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