The following eulogy was written by Sylvia Posner’s son, Matthew:
It is a solemn yet daunting task to compose a eulogy for a parent. On the one hand, you seek to highlight the qualities and extol the virtues of the person who gave you life and nurtured your development, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. On the other hand, you recognize your innate deficiencies in being able to fully encapsulate the essence of someone’s being in a concise synopsis, and fret over your inability to adequately honor their many contributions to this world. Within the context of this quagmire, I offer the following thoughts of my mother, Sylvia Shaw Posner.
Sylvia Shaw was born on August 29th, 1926 to Morris Shaw and Dorothea (Petal) Shaw. She was the middle of three children, having two brothers, Marcus the elder, and Harvey, the baby. They were the first Canadian-born generation of their lineage. The early years were spent in Edmonton, but the formative years of their childhood materialized after they had relocated to Montreal. Mom’s dad worked as a traveling salesman, which required her mother to shoulder the lion’s share of the responsibilities of raising the children. When my mom was 14 years old, tragedy befell the family when her father passed away. This calamity was compounded by the fact that World War II was raging, goods were in short supply, and society at large had yet to embrace women in the workplace, with the notable exceptions of teachers, nurses, and secretaries. Borne out of necessity, and armed with gumption and a steely resolve, my grandmother went to work and ensured that her children wanted for nothing, and received a well-rounded education. I believe that these life-changing events from her early years are the source of my mother’s fierce independence and legendary coping skills, courage and perseverance in the face of hardship, overarching sense of self-sacrifice and responsibility for others, and humble spirit and kind heart.
Soon after the war ended, my mother and father, Edward Neil Posner, met, and following what in contemporary times would be considered a brief courtship, they married on February 22, 1947. They settled in Winnipeg, my father’s hometown. In short order, they added branches of their own to the Posner Family tree. They raised five children, Miles, Cynthia, Stephen, Alex, and Matthew. Like her mother before her, Sylvia applied her can-do attitude and prodigious work ethic to all of her innumerable responsibilities and commitments. She worked tirelessly both in and out of the home, with the latter inadvertently becoming an outlet to develop and showcase my mom’s talents at professional baking. Weekdays, during school hours, my mom would work at Sharon’s Linens, first on Bannerman, and later on Main Street. Her only quiet times were the pre-dawn hours, which were spent laboring at crossword puzzles or a game of solitaire while enjoying a cup of black coffee, piping hot. The weekends were claimed by the Sildor, the family business that served as a banquet hall for the community. My mom would sell liquor tickets for the Friday evening socials until the wee hours of the morning, and on Saturdays would prepare desserts for hundreds of people that would attend weddings being held later that evening. Sundays were devoted to family, with the early years of married life being a time when the extended clan would enjoy an impromptu gathering simply to visit. Over time, the arrival of grandchildren enriched family time, and many happy hours were devoted to babysitting. The number of progeny swelled through the years that followed, and the final tally included nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. In later years, my parents opened a delicatessen out of the Sildor that operated during the week, affectionately called Pal Joey’s after my dad’s favorite movie, and unsurprisingly, my mom created all the baked goods sold there. After the Sildor was sold, my mom and her first cousin Debbie Israel started up a business together, baking high quality desserts for many local restaurants and private affairs. Some of you may recall the name of their business…Sinfully Delicious. Indeed it was, especially their cheesecakes. As an aside, when my wife Brenlee and I moved away from Winnipeg in 1987, my mom lovingly put together a book containing all of her prized recipes so that she could start a business of her own. As many of you know, Brenlee and Sylvia shared an inseparable bond as well as a birthday, and out of an abiding sense of love, gratitude, and respect, my wife called her business Syl’s Secrets.
What I have shared with you thus far amounts to the structural framework of what you shall see was an exemplary life, distinguished by chesed and measured by the fulfillment of the sacred mission of Tikkun Olam. Let us turn our attention to more substantive aspects of my mom’s life whereby her character and values can be appreciated. This is where the divine spark of Sylvia Posner resided, and illuminates the impact that she had on the lives of countless individuals. My mother Sylvia was one of the most exceptional and endearing people that I have ever met throughout my life. During childhood, there is a naive tendency to take one’s parents for granted. Time, maturity, life experiences, and the transition to parenthood cause us to become more reflective, and comprehend, with a renewed perspective, the various dimensions of their character, values, priorities, and personal qualities. The delicate interplay between these entities define and determine how one interacts with, and is perceived by the outside world. Through the lens of adulthood, we see our parents anew, and become acutely aware of the full extent of our good fortune. As a young man, I realized that I was profoundly blessed to have Sylvia Posner as my mom. This conviction has only strengthened over the years, and will forever enshrine her as my first, and most enduring hero and exemplar.
My mom had several gifts, and it is debatable as to which one was the most iconic. She had this uncanny ability to instantly put people at ease, making them feel welcomed and valued from the moment she made their acquaintance. She was unpretentious, authentic, and possessed a knack to always see the hidden potential in people that had escaped the recognition of others. This may explain her lifelong staunch support for the underdog and disenfranchised. Her natural tendency was to effusively praise and graciously elevate others as she understood the power of kindness to boost self-esteem, dignify one’s spirit, and transform pernicious attitudes. Her kindness, generosity, and hospitality knew no bounds, and it easy to see why our home was the preferred place for our friends to congregate.
Always thinking of others, and never one to complain or adopt a woe-is-me mindset, Sylvia was a continuous source of inspiration for others. Hers was not an easy or charmed life, but there was always joy in her heart. She confronted the struggles of life with steadfast determination and savored the joys associated with its simple pleasures. Syl was an avid reader with mysteries being her preferred genre, and I would be remiss if I failed to mention her affinity for scrabble, where she garnered the reputation of a formidable opponent. My mom was never bored and filled her days with an endless array of activities. The consummate social butterfly, she would often host friends and family in her apartment at the Portsmouth Retirement Residence. Her solitary pursuits enabled her to indulge her creative instincts which centered around knitting. This was likely an extension of her artistic tendencies that first manifested as a teenager, when she would produce advanced oil paintings. Knitting was a hobby that provided endless satisfaction, and the quality of her creations could easily sell for a small fortune. I still treasure things that she made for me over four decades ago, and they remain in pristine condition. She delighted in her children and grandchildren and celebrated their every activity and accomplishment, but her main source of pride derived from their menschlichkeit. Her friendship was warm, genuine and loyal. I can’t count how many people over the years have shared with me how special my mom was, or that she was their favorite, or that her hearty laugh and incessant good cheer were positively contagious. Syl had a larger than life personality with a sense of humor, razor-sharp wit, and affectionate and expressive disposition to match.
Another aspect of my mom’s narrative relates to her sense of responsibility and penchant to serve others. At times, this took the form of being there physically for others during a period of need, without hesitation or reservation, despite tremendous personal hardship and sacrifice. On other occasions, she was simply available to offer a sympathetic ear or supportive shoulder. Of course, there were plenty of situations where her wise counsel and honest assessment were sought, and this need, I surmise, may have served as the impetus for the development of speed dial. Regardless of the circumstance, my mom was a reliable and consistent source of comfort, encouragement, and sagacity. As long as Syl was available, you never felt overwhelmed or alone. She was trusted and trustworthy. Sylvia’s humility sometimes veiled her savvy, though her posse was well-acquainted with her towering intellect and capacity for nuanced thinking and creative problem solving. My mother, ever the selfless caregiver, insisted on caring for my father and grandmother in their homes as failing health hijacked their independence and vigor. She would not allow others to care for her loved ones as long as she had the physical strength to do so, for she couldn’t be assured that they would safeguard their precious dignity during this most vulnerable phase of life. On September 17, 1999 Sylvia bid farewell to Eddie for the last time, after 52 years of marriage. It would be accurate to describe my mom as a truly selfless human being. Unicorns may actually exist after all.
My mom was a proud and independent woman, whose biggest fear was to develop dementia and become dependent upon others. It is the cruelest fate that robbed this giant of her cognitive faculties in her twilight years. True to form, in the early stages of her decline, with a full awareness of her condition and prognosis, my mom accepted her situation with an abundance of grace, dignity, and humility that was both sublime and edifying to behold. Her kindness only increased. Her concern for others only magnified. And never did she submit to bitterness or engage in self-pity. Her courage, a consistent feature throughout her long life, was unfailing and on full display during this final titanic struggle. I remember having lunch with her during a visit to Winnipeg, and witnessing the grace with which she conducted herself as she interacted with others. I learned through her powerful example, to accept each phase of life with serenity, and that within the act of acceptance, there is a dignity bestowed upon the human spirit. Fear dissolves when denial and resistance are extirpated. My mom was a shining light for me and countless others during her life, guiding us along the uncertain and precarious path. We honor her memory when we incorporate her teachings and examples into our everyday demeanor. As we accept the torch from her noble hands, we shall aspire to be a light unto others, so that her legacy of goodness and giving may be perpetuated through the generations that follow. You have my eternal love, gratitude, respect and admiration. May G-d rest your blessed soul mom. Shalom.