By Barbara Falconer Newhall
The Oakland Tribune, Dec. 11, 1988
It was a copy of the old Union Prayer Book that had stood on a bookshelf next to my Bible and Koran for years. The three books there together had given me a comfortable sense of completeness, of having my spiritual bases somewhat covered. But now, the time had come to split up the set.
“What?” Beverly said to me and Jon as I put the book into her hands. “You mean you pray? My friends pray? How come no one’s mentioned it to me before?”
Beverly shook her head in mock disgust and gave us her slow, sweet smile. It was an ironic smile, made of equal parts joy and grief. She wrapped her hands resolutely around the old book and took it home with her.
Beverly had breast cancer. From the time I had met her some months earlier, I had known that eventually I might lose her.
And, three years later, I have.
Beverly Bondy Rose died on the evening of Nov. 21, leaving behind a host of treasured friends, her husband, Jordan, her father and mother, Irvin and Anne Bondy, her sisters Linda Bondy-Ives and Paula Bondy, and her 5-year-old daughter, Amanda.
Soon after Bev and I met, our then 3-year-old daughters became friends. The two of us followed suit. We liked to get on the phone to arrange a carpool and then keep on talking. We talked of schools, carseats, temper tantrums, husbands and prices at the Mousefeathers factory outlet.
Once in a while we talked about cancer, but mostly Bev did not care to feel sorry for herself. If her time was limited, she was going to have fun with it.
Beverly’s idea of a good time was a day at the Galleria with her decorator friend Laurie Joseph. Or inviting Christina and me over to watch Maria and Luis get married on “Sesame Street.” Or throwing a 40th birthday/farewell party for herself with hot dogs and dancing.
Beverly enjoyed the things of this world, but understood that they were only things.
It was a long illness – four years – and at the end, Beverly was in pain. But the sense of humor that had given her and her friends so much pleasure, continued to serve Bev.
“If I die, I want a big funeral,” she told her friend Miriam Brown. “I want everyone to come.”
“They’ll cry their eyeballs out, you know,” warned Miriam.
“Good,” said Beverly with a laugh. “I want them to. They’re losing someone special.”
Friends crowded the Home of Eternity Chapel at Mountain View Cemetery. Rabbi Joseph Schonwald talked of visiting Beverly at Alta Bates Hospital last summer and watching her grow more beautiful even as she moved closer to death. Finally, after surviving a series of strokes, Bev came home, partially paralyzed.
Immediately, she set to work on the immobilized arm and leg. By the first day of kindergarten, Bev could walk from the car to Amanda’s new classroom.
On Yom Kippur, Rabbi Schonwald looked out over his congregation to see Bev, back from near-death, sitting in a wheelchair at the rear of Temple Beth Abraham. She was “radiant and confident,” he said. “She illuminated the sanctuary.”
That a beautiful and caring woman with a young child should die at 40 is beyond understanding. Bev’s friends prayed for a miracle and thought it a reasonable request.
But there was no miracle. There was only Beverly’s pain and finally, for her friends and family, an empty place where Beverly had been.
We mustn’t try too hard to understand, Rabbi Schonwald admonished the mourners. “We have been shown more than we can comprehend.”
At the gravesite, bouquets of flowers and a grass mat could not hide the reality of the empty hole. Beverly’s casket was lowered into it, and Jordan shoveled dirt into her grave.
A journalist once asked Albert Einstein what he thought was the single most important question that could be asked.
“Is the universe friendly or unfriendly?” was the scientist’s reply.
Bev’s place in the universe was infinitesimal, a grain of sand, but she did her best to make it a friendly, safe place for the people around her.
Back at the Roses’ house, tables of food and a 5-year-old, very much alive, Amanda awaited the mourners. We ate, told our favorite Beverly stories, wiped away the tears, and looked into each other’s eyes. There, we saw Beverly looking back at us, with love.
Reprinted by permission of The Oakland Tribune
Today, the Qur’an and a half-dozen different translations of the Christian Bible share a shelf in my writing room with the Bhagavad Gita, the Book of Mormon and the Tao Te Ching. But I still haven’t replaced the Jewish prayer book that I gave to Beverly so many years ago. — BFN