Lena Jacobson: 1906-2012

My mother-in-law, Lena Jacobson (seated in purple), at her 105th birthday with family, in September 2011.

I have never known anyone who lived to be 105….someone who, almost until the end of her life, was a vibrant person who had survived the death of her 8 siblings, the Great Depression, and numerous bouts of illness. She told me once, jokingly, that the doctors had taken out everything that could kill her; that’s why she lived so long!

At her 105th birthday at The Saunders House, where she had resided since I met her almost exactly 9 years ago, in March of 2003, I wrote a poem which I recited at the party. Here is that poem:

LENA @ 105

Lena is our national treasure;
her talents are legion, measure for measure.

She can cook & crochet and knit up a storm,
with Afghans & sweaters to keep us warm
She’s sharp with puzzles, especially Cryptoquote.
She taught me how to do them–take note, take note!
The Phillies are her team; she watches them play,
and wears her Philly button day after day.
She enjoys a good joke & a good meal.
Her paintings are lovely–she’s the “real deal.”
Hard work, she says, is the secret to longevity.
Obviously, at 105, she’s short on brevity.
We wish her well on this special day,
with lots of love & admiration. Hooray! Hooray!

Miss Lee,” as the nurses called her, loved arts & crafts. Here’s one of her paintings hanging in our hallway :

Lee’s Tree

In these last few weeks, when her health had deteriorated to the point that she was in constant pain, Hospice care took over and made her comfortable.  She was given morphine, which dulled all the pain as well as all her senses. When I saw her last, on Friday, she was not really in this world.  The months of pain were over, but her will to survive was still there. I felt as much anger as sadness as I watched this vibrant women change slowly to a person I did not recognize. I came home and wrote this poem to express my feelings of anger:

A Dignified Death?
by ellensue, March 16th, 2012

I see no dignity in dying,
In the moaning & the crying
In the pain & sometimes lying
That you must keep on trying.

I see no dignity in Depends
As Life begins, so it ends
Being cared for as a loved one sends
For the closest family & friends.

I see no dignity in the end of Life,
Especially one that was filled with strife
Leaving penniless the kids & wife;
Then Death cuts more like a knife.*

I see no dignity in dying, with
Everyone weeping & sighing.
I say, Celebrate Life! without denying
That a person lived fully satisfying

Her life’s path and pleasures
With many gifts & treasures,
To be remembered thus & so;
That’s the way
I want to go!

*This does not refer to Lena, but more to me, referring to my divorce.

Of course, now that my anger is spent, I can allow the sadness to emerge. But at the same time, I do feel her life should be celebrated. I am more relieved than sad, because the last few months of her life there was no quality to her life. She could no longer knit, her passion; she could no longer read for more than 5 minutes, and she could barely hear. Her life as she know it was gone and was never coming back. Her desire to live faded, but her body took much longer to catch up to her mind than we thought. When I went in to see her after we received the call that she had died, her face was peaceful, more peaceful than I had seen in the last several months, so my anger really dissolved.

I feel privileged to have known Lena these past 9 years. My former mother-in-law from my first marriage was not nearly as nice to me as Lena, from the very first day I met her. That first meeting, when Lena treated me with kindness, I came home and cried that I finally would have a mother-in-law who liked me as I was! I think I cried with relief.

Lena will be buried tomorrow. (She died exactly on her half-birthday.) She survived all her peers, so it will be our generation and  my husband Alan’s children and grandchildren and our friends who will be there to say good-bye to a great lady! (My children are all on the West coast & we will see them in a few weeks and honor Lena then.) Below is a photo taken of Lena at Thanksgiving 2008. Her grandson Jay is on the right and Jay’s partner Ignacio is on the left. I like to remember this photo with Lena smiling and happy to be with her family.

Lena @ Thanksgiving, 2008

P.S.  When Lena turned 101 I posted her profile. If you type in Life 101-102, you will find it in the Sept. 2008 Profiles.


NOTE: Last week I worked on getting a little head of my postings, because we are going away in April. I had already written up a recipe for this week & it will post in a few days. I probably won’t post anything more for the rest of the week, because of  the funeral and sitting shiva, Jewish days of mourning.  But writing always makes me feel better, so I will be back soon!


20 thoughts on “Lena Jacobson: 1906-2012

  1. What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful lady. She will be very much missed.

    Jerry and Bernice

  2. What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful lady. She will be very much missed.

    Jerry and Bernice

  3. We will always remember Lee – a very sweet and charming lady.

    Jerry and Bernice

  4. This was wonderful, Ellen Sue. It brought tears to my eyes. She was truly an extraordinary woman.

  5. This was wonderful, Ellen Sue. It brought tears to my eyes. She was an extraordinary woman.

  6. Hi Penny,
    We met briefly at Lena’s last birthday party. (I am in the picture you posted to the right of Lena). I met Lena when I was in graduate school for art therapy and interning at Saunders House, and we became fast friends. I am pregnant, and plan to name the baby Lena if I have a girl! She was the most amazing person I have ever met. I loved her. I am sorry I didn’t find out about her memorial in time, but glad I found a link to your blog when I searched her name. When you have a moment, could you please email me the picture from her party? I don’t have many pictures of her and I. Thank you!

  7. Hi. I wish I had known that Aunt Lena was so close to Northeast Philadelphia, I would have taken my mother, Binnie Zied to see her. Binnie is her niece. My mother, Binnie will be 96 this November. I had a dream last night about Aunt Esther and her daughter last night on October 10, which caused me to look up our relatives, which is how I ended up here. : ) I am glad to see that Aunt Lena lived such a wonderful long life with a beautiful family that loved her. Just wish I knew all who I was related to. My best to your family! Love from your cousin….Mindy

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