My grandmother, Helen Mackler, was a vibrant and generous woman with surprisingly few health issues for her 85 years. So, when she suddenly passed away of a stroke on Oct. 27, it was an immense shock for all who loved her. What’s more, the perfect storm was fast approaching.
Within hours of the news, events transpired that we’ll never forget. Flights were booked from Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa Bay and even as far as Tel Aviv, and each made it in time to say their goodbyes to the woman they loved. Everyone came to honor the life of the “architect” of our close-knit family, knowing they might not get back home thanks to Superstorm Sandy.
We searched in three states to make arrangements for a funeral that needed to happen within 24 hours. Despite the imminent storm, 50 loved ones united in Bergen County, N.J., to celebrate the life and legacy of our mom, sister, aunt, grandmother and great-grandmother Helen.
Then, the next challenge: “Can you even sit shivah with a hurricane bearing down and if so, how?”
We quickly learned the amazing healing power of family and friends, as Rabbi Gregory Marx of Congregation Beth Or and dozens of others braved the elements to pay a shivah call and participate in a minyan service on Sunday evening as the storm was upon us. Even when our original location in Dresher lost power on Monday night, family friends stepped up and opened their doors to us.
It was something to be seen: A laptop in one corner as my aunt, uncle and cousins in Newark, Del., joined us for minyan via Skype; two iPhones with FaceTime connected to additional cousins in Los Angeles; and our other cousin, powerless in New Hope, joined on speaker phone.
On the third night of shivah, more than 30 people braved the roads and power outages to join us in Dresher. Everything about our candle, flashlight and iPhone-lit service epitomized our family. It was an unforgettable experience, and one truly fitting for Grandma Helen.
My grandmother was the matriarch of our family, a role my mother will undoubtedly step up to and fill. While no one will soon forget Sandy for all her wrath and suffering, for our family, Sandy will forever be a storm that brought us even closer as a family — and that is exactly what grandma would have wanted.
Justin Windheim lives in Lafayette Hill and works as a public relations executive.