Phyllis Mendelsohn

Phyllis Mendelsohn

30 October 1937
Hackney, London, United Kingdom
16 September 2023
Ealing, London, United Kingdom
Words by
David Mendelsohn Son

For those of you who do not know me, I am one of Phyllis’s two sons, David. Today, I am joined by my wife Susan and our daughters Sophie and Jenna, and my brother Paul and his wife Sarah and three of their children, Rafi, Daniel and Avi. And I know their daughter Tamar, who was not able to travel to London for the funeral, is thinking of all of us and is here in spirit. We all want to thank you for joining us today at the funeral of our mother and grandmother, Phyllis.

From time to time, Susan and I watch a segment of a Sunday morning news show which we always enjoy. The segment focuses on a recently deceased individual, typically someone who is not particularly well- known or famous. And the segment is called A Life Well Lived. From week to week, the range of stories and memories covered by the presenter is wide and always fascinating because they select people who did amazing things. But the show has always made me wonder, does one have to do extraordinary things to be remembered? Admittedly, extraordinary accomplishments make for good TV, but the world is filled with so many everyday wonderful people like our mother who one would say also had a life well lived.

I now understand more about what she has managed to accomplish

Our mother’s life reminds us that what is important in life is not always sensational and not always filled with superlatives, and this week during long days and nights at the hospital I had time to reflect on my mother’s eighty five years, why she chose her path in life, what was important to her, and her legacy.

Our mother was born in October 1937. She was fortunate to be raised by wonderful parents. Becky and Alf were quiet, simple, family-loving, traditional, conservative, and religious people who were very kind, did not have a bad word to say about anyone ever, and who worked so hard to make ends meet and provide a loving home to our Mom and her brother. Without ever preaching the words, by example they taught our mother that family comes first. Her formative years for six years also overlapped with WWII, and this week I wondered how much her home environment and the likely fraught experiences in her childhood perhaps unknowingly shaped and moulded our Mom’s perspective and priorities in life. As we live in some difficult and challenging times, it is now easier for me to comprehend how much of an impact these experiences affected choices she made in her life.

a master at guiding and directing a child who had potential to create havoc

Mom did her best to live a simple life that mattered to her. She cared about our Dad, Paul and me, as well as her parents, more than she cared for herself. She cared more about her role in the family and making sure we all had everything we could ever want or need. She made the decision to stay home to raise Paul and me, and the lessons she learned from mistakes made with Paul (we are still living with the consequences) helped her to perfect how she raised her second child. But more on that in a minute. She relished supporting my father in his career. And she never for a moment left me with the impression she doubted or questioned this was what she was here to do. Unwavering in her commitment to our family, she gave everything to support us without complaint. She was unflappable. She always reacted to whatever was thrown her way calmly and with compassion. And while raising Paul was a much easier task for her, these qualities were critical in raising me. In other words, I needed a parent who was a master at guiding and directing a child who had potential to create havoc.

When I learned to crawl, I smartly figured out the way to change direction was to keep going until my head would hit a wall, door or piece of furniture. She let me do it. And when she came to pick me up early from school one day because I tripped in the playground and cut my head, she was the calmest person around as my entire white school shirt had turned a blood red colour. When I flunked an exam, she knew my competitive nature would drive me to work harder and she just simply asked how well did I think I would do if I actually did some of the work. I started studying from that day forward. Shortly after learning to drive and making the mature decision to race a friend after school, she barely said a word to me when she learned I had damaged a parked car by the school and not stopped to exchange information with that car’s owner. She knew my sense of her disappointment would be all the punishment I needed. And although she might have raised her voice just a tad when I was sitting on the ledge of an open window two stories up just so I could “get some air,” she never made me feel badly for what I did or choices I made. She just always seemed to handle me the right way without me even realising it. She always said the right thing and in retrospect understood me with a degree of clarity that was exceptional. She was doing what she was meant to do.

She cared for others

But what I recognised this week was something much more. She gave her life to others. She cared for her parents in their retirement with complete dedication. It was natural and joyful for her to care for them as they had cared for her. She gave so much in supporting our dad, and took enormous pride in his successes, which some of you will recall I talked about at his funeral here almost seven years ago. And when he was so sick for so many years before he passed, she visited him in his home ever day of every week for almost four years, because that was what her heart led her to do, but it also happened to be the right thing to do. She cared for others. She put others before her. She even made cholent for years even though she didn’t like it. This path in life was her choice and what gave her the greatest pleasure.

So when I look at her life through this lens, I now understand more about what she has managed to accomplish. She helped her parents to live their retirement years in comfort and with happiness they never had the luxury to enjoy in their working adult lives. My Dad could devote himself to achieving the highest levels of success in a most difficult profession. She left behind two sons, both of whom are happily married with thriving kids. But let me expand on this for just a moment.

the right thing to do

My brother has inherited so many of these laudable traits of my mother. I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart for sacrificing so much to care for our parents over the last ten to twelve years. This is not coincidental. He gave so much of his time without question because he learned from our Mom that this is the right thing to do, and of course because this was something he wanted to do. And as we all stand here today to remember our Mom’s life, Paul, I hope you take comfort knowing that when Mom suffered so much over the last decade of her life with our Dad’s long-term illness, grieving his death after fifty seven years of marriage, living in total isolation during COVID, and then contracting COVID and living with all the consequences that flowed from that infection, culminating in her passing over the weekend, she always knew you were there for her and were minutes away when needed to support and help her, just as she supported and helped her parents, Dad, and you and me.

And then there are her grandchildren; Rafi, Daniel, Tamar, Avi, Sophie and Jenna. The fact that four of the five of you have flown thousands of miles to be here today tells us everything we need to know about her legacy. Family First. Caring for those that are closest to you. And doing so with undying loyalty and love. Every week when I spoke to Mom, she wanted to know about Susan, Sophie, Jenna and me. And when she heard all was well with us, she would say then everything is OK. No matter what she went through in the last and challenging decade of her life, she just wanted to know others were OK.

That is what my Mom stood for and how she will be remembered. Not only will we remember mom with love, but our lives will continue to reflect what we learned from her and observed in her eighty five years. In other words, hers indeed was a Life Well Lived.

Every family needs a Phyllis.

Thank you all again for being here.