Stella Saner 1916-2016
Stella Saner would have been 100 years old today, had she not passed early in
the morning of January 21st with her daughter, my mother, at her side.
Here’s a lightly edited version of what I wrote to read at her memorial service.
Top: Stella Saner in 1946 with her husband, Leon, and two
daughters, Ronda and Sherie. Bottom: Stella with Sherie in 2015.
I have a distinct memory of being in my grandparents’ bedroom in the pink house
in Wildwood — not sure I’m even in the double digits at this point — as Grandmom tells me that while the face in her mirror keeps getting older she doesn’t feel any older inside.
She repeated this many times over the years. I’ve long since come to know exactly
what she meant. We all do. And every time something brings that dichotomy into focus, I picture her sitting at her vanity in the bedroom in the pink house in Wildwood.
A couple of years ago, Grandmom began shrinking, physically, and recalling stories from her childhood that none of us had heard before. These newly unearthed memories were a gold mine but they came at a cost. Although we didn’t realize it right away, it soon became clear that they and the odd perseveration (counting; labeling statements yes or no) that soon followed were the start of an increasingly rapid, irrevocable decline. For months, around the time she moved rooms at her assisted-living center, I found it hard to handle — that’s an understatement; I was often consumed by — the fact that I hadn’t had a chance to stop and take in Grandmom as she had been for my entire life one last time before the end commenced, to say a private goodbye within myself.
Grandmom as she had been my entire life — our entire lives — was a singular, near- indescribably delightful woman. Not that that’s stopped us from trying to describe her these past few days. To know Stella was, I promise with utter lack of exaggeration, to love her. She was abundantly patient, generous, and warm, not to mention increasingly funny the older I got. Literally the worst things I can say about her are that she worried too much and she could barely carry a tune, yet her fretting was usually adorable and her singing was heavenly nonetheless.
I’ll share another memory of Grandmom that repeated in recent years. The family is together for Passover or Rosh HaShanah or Thanksgiving or just because. Dinner’s finished and we’re lingering at the table, cracking ourselves up, quoting Airplane! and Monty Python and The Princess Bride, when one of us looks over to see Grandmom smiling. We ask how she’s doing and she replies that she has no idea what we’re talking about but she loves being there to experience it. Of course she does.
I feel almost unfairly blessed with the mother I had and the grandparents I had when hearing from some friends that their relatives are a vague, distant fact of life. Stella and Leon Saner raised their daughters with such love, and welcomed their siblings’ children into their home so readily, that generations have reaped the dividends. I know what a second cousin once removed is, but it doesn’t matter. We’re family.
May we all continue to make each other laugh, to console one another when times are dark, and to keep each other young inside. I can’t think of a better way to hold Grandmom in our hearts until we see her again.