Yesterday, our dear Rebbetzin Elizabeth “Lisl” Geller passed away. I feel blessed to have had her friendship for nearly 20 years of my life.
Everyone should have an older friend. I am not talking about someone a few years older than you, I am really talking about someone decades older than you. Someone who has lived their life significantly longer than you and might have a prospective that can help you see your situation in a new way. Someone who can teach you that this too shall pass, both the good things and the bad things and they’ll help you when necessary clarify what’s really important in life.
In my late 20’s, when my husband and I relocated to Portland, Oregon we befriended our Rabbi and his wife, Lisl Geller. They visited us in the hospital when both of our children were born and we shared dozens of meals and events with them over the years as our children grew from toddlers to teens. After the Rabbi passed away several years ago, the Rebbetzin remained in their family home. She was much less mobile these past few years but continued to remain independent and had quite an active life with a large extended family that visited her frequently.
I continued to visit with the Rebbetzin as often as I could. I was surprised when people would remark how nice it was that I continued to do this because the truth was she had become a dear friend to me. I loved our visits and was sad when a few weeks would pass and we hadn’t had a chance to share a cup of tea. Even our frequent two minute phone conversations allowed enough time to check in and wish each other well. Lisl never seemed to need very long to make sure things were okay. Even though there was a 50 year gap in our ages, I was continuously surprised how we could discuss subjects pertinent to my life and how her advice helped guide my actions. For example, a few years ago while discussing teenage relationships my 90-year-old friend brought up sex. She may have been over ninety, but having reared three children of her own, seen the growth of several grandchildren and dozens of great-grandchildren she had plenty of experience to share with me. Despite the age difference and the fact that she was from a previous generation many of her suggestions were still very relevant and helpful.
She also provided counsel and guidance. There was another time I had used my husband’s car while he was out-of-town at a conference and gotten an expensive parking ticket. I was so irritated and mad at myself and knew my husband would probably be just as irritated. I shared my distress and unhappiness with Lisl and she said, “Linda dear, you don’t have to tell your husband absolutely everything. You are already upset about it. Just pay the ticket and forget about it.” I think it was more than two years until I actually came clean to my husband about the incident.
Befriending an older friend who offers wisdom and guidance offers incredible two-way benefits. I was as much the beneficiary of any visiting I did with my dear friend as she was with me. I feel deeply saddened by the loss of this incredible friend who offered counsel, love, guidance and always made me feel special. I know I was not the only one who felt this way either. Lisl your memory will always be for a blessing and you will be deeply, deeply missed. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.