Passages: My Mom, Beverly Lefkowitz

At 4:00 this morning, I held my mother’s hand while she died.

The last year was a tough one for her. Regular readers will remember how a year ago she underwent surgery to remove a cancer on her lung, and how that surgery ended up spawning complications that nearly killed her then — what was supposed to be a not-too-complicated procedure ended up with them completely removing one of her lungs and having her teetering on the brink of death.

When I flew out to be with her that night, the doctors told us not to expect her to see the morning. But, in a kind of miracle, she did. She held on and survived more than two months unconscious on a ventilator.

Then, once she came back to consciousness, the next challenge came: learning to live on one lung. She had to go through rehabilitation to learn to walk again with the decreased lung capacity. She took on the rehab like a champion, blowing away their expectations for how quickly she’d be up and on her feet again.

And then she came back home, but the problems weren’t over. She had a portable oxygen machine that gave her additional air when she needed it; it was useful and important, but it annoyed her no end. And her voice had changed — the doctors, when trying to remove the cancer, had nicked one of her vocal cords, making her voice a throaty rasp. My mom loved to talk and she hated her new voice.

To understand my mom, though, you need to know that she took on each and every one of these challenges — challenges that would have broken a lesser person, like, say, me — head on. Twice the doctors told us that she wouldn’t survive, and twice she battled back and spit in their eye. She turned months of rehab into weeks just through determination. And she did it all with a never-failing supply of good humor; she always had a joke or a funny face at hand.

This time, though, it was too much. The doctors had been giving her chemotherapy to prevent the remnants of the lung cancer from spreading, and it apparently weakened her immune system to such a degree that an infection she caught sometime in the last few days ran riot through her body. When it got into the blood, it poisoned her faster than the doctors could keep up.

I came home on Tuesday to be with her in case anything happened. She was conscious then, and aware of who I was. They had her on a ventilator again, so she couldn’t talk — tube down the throat — but when I stood there by her bed and put my hand in hers, she squeezed it tight. She was even making funny annoyed faces as the nurses adjusted things.

By yesterday all that was gone. She didn’t respond to stimuli, didn’t look at you when you called her name, didn’t squeeze your hand anymore. One by one her vital signs failed and were propped up only through artificial life support. And at 4:00 this morning, at the too-young age of 56, she died.

Beverly Lefkowitz wasn’t a famous woman and no songs or stories will be written about her. But she will always live in the hearts of those of us who loved her. And the memory of her combination of wit and will is going to be my inspiration for all the rest of my days.

I miss you already, Mom.



October 7, 2005
8:27 pm

I don’t really know what to say other than I stopped by your site again today (I have it on bloglines along with countless others), the title caught me. As I was reading the piece I couldn’t help but start thinking that I hope your well-written post in some small way has helped you to deal with your loss.
Anyway, I just wanted you know that someone was reading, and wishing you well.
Then I clicked to the mainpage and saw that you have consistent readers who comment, and I felt like I wanted to let you know anyway…that someone new was reading, and wishing you well.

Sandy Smith

October 7, 2005
10:48 pm

Really sorry to hear your news, Jason–if you need anything taken care of back in Alexandria, let me know.

Susan Libman

October 8, 2005
12:28 am

Sorry to read about your mom, Jason. And, if she’s at all responsible for your wit and sense of humor, a lot of us from school loved her (and you) too. ***HUGS***

Suzanne Rainey

October 10, 2005
5:04 pm

Jason, I’m so sorry to read about your mother. Thoughts are with you all.

Tim Shaw

October 10, 2005
5:12 pm

So sorry to hear this news. I am sure this is a difficult time, but I hope you continue to honor yur mother well and remember what she brought to the world. Please let us know how we can help.
-Tim Shaw

Elizabeth Reich (formerly Bowles)

October 10, 2005
10:31 pm

I’m probably one of the people you least expected to see posting a comment, but I do follow your blog because I’ve always thought you are one of the funniest people I know. I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. I had the pleasure of getting to know her a bit, and I can say that she definitely bears the responsibility for passing on her quick wit to you.
I quit smoking three years ago, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Too bad smoking feels so good and broccoli tastes so bad, because if I could reverse the health effects, I would – but I can’t, so alas… Broccoli it is.
Take care,

Jim Cashel

October 10, 2005
11:14 pm

Heartfelt condolences, Jason.


October 11, 2005
11:28 am

Jason, I just heard. I’m so, so sorry.

Liesl Lavery

October 11, 2005
12:13 pm

Jason, so sorry for your loss. She sounds like a wonderful and loving woman. Please know that I’m thinking of you and your family.

Barbara Bianco

October 11, 2005
3:18 pm

Jason, I just heard the news,I am so sorry for your loss.
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.


October 23, 2005
5:48 pm

Jason I don’t even know you but I read what happened to your mom and it touched my heart..i’m really sorry for your loss, I lost my dad years ago and I remember how painful it was. I pray that you will receive comfort from all those that are around you and love you. Your also in my thoughts and prayers. Take Care…

Erin Ackerman

October 23, 2005
11:04 pm

Jason, ran into Liz Bowles in the mall today and she mentioned your blog, which is why I decided to check in today… And this was the first entry I saw.
I am sorry for your loss. It sucks.
For someone who likes the sound of my words as much as I do, you’d figure I’d come up with something more eloquent… but nothing describes it better. Your comment about your mom’s frustration with her new voice reminded me of how much my dad (never a big talker, clearly I get that from the other side) became more determined to talk and tell stories even as his voice was basically a whisper because his lungs weren’t giving him much in the way of breath support.
My thoughts are with you.


October 25, 2005
5:51 pm

I am so sorry, Jason. You are definitely in my thoughts, and please don’t hesitate to call if you need us to do anything. Is there anywhere we can send donations in your mother’s memory?

Brian Murphy

November 1, 2005
1:42 pm

I’m truly sorry to hear of your mom’s passing. Your mom was truly one of a kind, and from her you received her wit and sense of humor. I still remember all the sleepovers as a kid at your house and I’d like to think some of my taste in humor and life have come from her and the time we spent together. I know as the years have passed we lose touch with our friends, and it seems that only in times of sadness do we hear from them, but it helps to bring back the memories of happier times. If you ever need anything, let me know.