Life is like a roller coaster. Mine has been filled with great highs and lonely lows.
Few people could console me when I lost my daughter Lara and sadness overwhelmed me when I lost my beloved Nat Bassen and then my precious husband Stu. But somehow the loss of Claire Shulman, my friend of almost 50 years, leaves a unique hole in my heart.
Each year, I take my six grandchildren and my adult children for an August getaway. I had rented a house in Westhampton back in January, never anticipating COVID-19 would hit us. We were all tested before we left for the trip, and it brought me great joy to stay together with my family during a time when my heart is broken.
Claire had a graveside funeral and I was so grateful to my son Josh, who came with me to provide a shoulder to lean on. Everyone attending — there was a 20-person limit — respected social distancing and wore masks, so I was grateful to have someone to really hug!
The funeral was held at New Montefiore Cemetery in West Babylon on the border of the Southern State Parkway. Cemeteries are usually places of silence and solemnity, but on the day of the funeral, sirens roared repeatedly and I felt the cars on the parkway zooming right past me. It was an intimate ceremony, but everyone who spoke had to scream to be heard.
We heard Claire’s son Larry, a brilliant, accomplished, world-recognized oncologist, speak sweetly about his mom. He had helped the palliative doctor take over for the hospice doctor to make sure Claire didn’t feel any pain as she was leaving. It’s hard to believe that she was gone within two weeks of her diagnosis.
The small group that had gathered around Claire disbursed after the service, with her children going home to Philadelphia and Houston.
Alex Rosa, Claire’s decades-long chief of staff, and I had talked with Claire’s children about holding a celebration of her life in a few weeks.
She and I began planning on the way home from the small yet intimate funeral and came to a date of Sept. 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. See the information in our Queens media to register for the webinar of remembrance.
I drove back to my family at our rented vacation home and planning for Claire’s celebration was a welcome distraction from the pain of her loss. But nothing beats the laughter and love of family.
The house I rented has a pool and after I returned from the funeral, the kids all cried out “come on, Grammy, get in the pool,” and I did. To see them splashing like fish in the water, jumping off the diving board, racing around the pool and giggling along the way lightened my heart.
As I was getting my “balance” back, I received news that an old friend and supporter lost his battle with leukemia. Victor Gartenstein built his empire from his Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, office and was one of my King of Kings. He personified a noble, caring, loving family leader and friend.
His family’s words spoke truly to the kind of man he was: “Victor, the eternal optimist, stayed hopeful to the very end of his life. He leaves this planet with more love than most people will receive in 10 lifetimes. Victor was a self-made man who was passionate about life and work. He was a true leader in business and in life. He was quietly charitable and generous in every possible way. Each day he woke up with childlike excitement in his eyes. His energy and enthusiasm were infectious … His loss will leave a hole in our hearts but his memories and legacy will live on forever.”
I had been at the bottom of the roller coaster of life after losing Claire, only to soar after spending time with my children — it filled me with joy and happiness!