Sharon Leichman Waks, one of my younger cousins, unexpectedly died recently. Sharon was one of the ‘rocks’ of our family, someone we could rely on to be there in a time of celebration and need. When my late husband and I returned from our sojourn in Australia 16 years ago, it was Sharon who hosted a welcome home party for us. She took care of my brother and looked after him during illness and recovery. Now she is gone.

            At the funeral Sharon’s grandsons spoke eloquently about the influence she had on their lives, how she instilled in them a love of theater, music, and art. Her daughter Nina talked about her mother as a role model, truly a woman of valor.

Later in the day at Nina’s house, I introduced myself to the rabbi, “I’m Janice Alper from California.”

            “I have never seen so many cousins come together like this,” he said. “You have come from all over.”

            “We are a very unusual family, and our cousins are close even though we don’t live near each other or see each other all the time. It may not have been important for them to have me here, but it is important to me.”

            As I sat with my cousins, their children, and grandchildren, I reflected about my formative years. I am the fourth oldest of the original 18 first cousins. I remember vividly how we gathered at our home on Sutter Avenue, where I lived with our mutual grandparents, my parents, and my brother. A cacophony of sound reverberated as the adults argued and solved the problems of the world and we kids escaped outside to play stoop ball or hide and seek. Our Zayda, with his big belly and booming voice held court in the kitchen, while our petite, feisty hard of hearing grandmother flitted around making sure we all had enough food.

            This shiva gathering was a far cry from those days, but the assembling of the generations attested to our fortitude and strength as a family. It was truly a nodal moment. The late Edwin Freedman, rabbi/psychologist noted that nodal moments are a time when families come together and even though they have not been in touch, may even have grievances, are somehow joined in celebration or in our case at this time, grief.

            I don’t think my presence made a difference to anyone but me. When I learned of Sharon’s death there was a tug to be with my cousins. It was a few days before Pesah, and less than two weeks when I was embarking on a three-week trip overseas, but the pull was there. I got on a plane and bedded down at my cousin Judy’s house—the other firm ‘rock’ in our family.

            Marvin Waks, Sharon’s husband, who we referred to as “Der Yinger,” since he was a day younger than my late husband, Marvin, was naturally in a state of shock and disbelief. He stood by at the gravesite to be sure it was filled in completely before leaving. We shoveled and shoveled until the task was done. It was cathartic and perhaps it gave Marvin a level of comfort. Although I know from experience, that with such a love as they had, one never fully recovers. I just wish him peace in his heart and hope he is comforted with good memories of their life together.

            As with all times like this, family members came together from all over. Pelinor Calderon, and her mother Ilene were there from California to mourn their aunt. Louis Calderon and Amy Baxter came from Georgia with one of their sons. My godson, Andy Giron drove up from Georgia with his daughter (who I did not meet) and his gorgeous wife, Alana, who I did meet for the first time. I met my younger cousin Hindy’s new grandchild and her daughter Alana’s husband, Kevin. I can’t believe Hindy is a grandmother since I visited her mother in the hospital when she was born. I was 14 years old.

Sharon’s brother Dr. Jerry Leichman was there with his wife Liz. He is such a caring physician today, but I remember his mother, Aunt Ann, pregnant with him during one of our summers in the country. I can still see her with her big belly as she stirred pots of blueberry preserves and made blueberry pies.

            The endless conversations went on about our lives. Many of the more active ones play pickleball, I don’t, and I don’t own a Tesla either. My cousin Annie is a walking miracle who will definitely be at her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah later this year.

            I spent time with my brother Barry, who I know will miss Sharon. She looked after him. His daughter Sheri, and her daughter Rachel, also came by to be with all of us.

Our cousin Linda, Sharon’s older sister, flew in from Israel. She told us how the airport was like a zoo with Ramadan, Easter, and Passover all converging at once. Linda was sad and in shock at the death of her sister, but in her inimitable fashion managed to share how she got the last seat in the airplane and was distracted by a young mother and her children which helped the time go faster.  I do plan to visit with her soon here in California.

Nina’s home was full of well-wishers, mourners and comforters and I hope that our presence in this nodal moment of such deep sorrow brought her comfort knowing her mother was so cared for and loved.



  1. So heartfelt…

    Thank you for sharing.



    Sent from my iPhone


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