|At Leila's 86th birthday in April at home of youngest son, Larry|
|Leila on my left side. Widad and Suad stand to my right, respectively|
Picture taken ~ one month prior to her passing
Good Morning, I am Leila’s brother, David. Thank you all for coming to celebrate the life of my sister, Leila, who was 15 years my senior. I have such fond memories of her starting when Leila baby sat me, in fact acting as a surrogate caregiver in the early years of my life before she suddenly disappeared from our Madison Ave home after her arranged marriage. Leila was indeed more than a sister to me.
From a family of 11 children, only four of us survived to adulthood. Coming from a poor country, from parents with only a second-grade education, Leila struggled through a life encumbered by a parochial and patriarchal culture of dominance. In our household, I could come and go, I was free to date, I was supported through college and encouraged to seek a career. My sisters did not have the same opportunities, and Leila had little say in most of the aspects of her life at least until the last few chapters. This is a concept that I will return to shortly.
Leila had every reason to be resentful for aspects of her life that were beyond her control. But despite these circumstances, Leila resisted the temptation to act as a victim, or to whine or complain. She never said anything bad about anyone, and always seemed to find the positive rather than dwell on the negative. For Leila, the glass was always half full, never half empty.
Briefly, Leila’s life was epitomized by love of God and love of family. She had an unwavering belief in God and was a loyal life-long parishioner at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church. She smothered her family, her children and grandchildren, her mother and father, her nieces and nephews, her cousins, and her brother and sisters with unconditional love and a positive spirit. Remarkably, she perpetually put the welfare of her family before her own. About two weeks before her death, I called to find out how she was feeling. She dismissed my inquiry, opting to question me about whether I was recovering from a bronchitis related coughing episode that she had witnessed. Even to her last moment, she was more concerned with the welfare of others.
Leila was a gentle and quiet soul, full of love, accommodating, and never wanting for confrontation or disparagement. But there was one thing about Leila that drove me crazy. The list of foods that she would eat could probably fit on two hands. She was totally stubborn about what she would put in her mouth, and while she would usually default to her delicious middle eastern cooking, I can think of only two restaurants that Leila would allow us to take her to and her predictable limited selection of items on the menu that she would eat was mind boggling. And when I objected to her narrow minded attitude, or injected one of my many self-proclaimed edicts, she would respond predictably with her now famous retort “You’re kidding me.”
As I mentioned, Leila’s early life lacked freedom of choice. Even her house was masterminded and partially funded by our father. But there was one frivolous thing that Leila did on her own, against my advice and the advice of at least one sister. Leila purchased a condo in Ocean City, Maryland. It was a five-hour drive to get there from West Hempstead but she faithfully travelled there many times a year to enjoy her beach front panoramic view of the ocean, and some peace and quiet in her summer hideaway. She loved the feel of the cool and sometimes cold salt ocean water on her feet and legs. This Ocean City condo truly gave her great pleasure and joy.
This last year of Leila’s life, and particularly the last month have been a total shock and surprise to everyone around her. Bits and pieces have emerged of comments that Leila made – not to me but rather in confidence to others over the last year – that she saw her time coming. I think she had been preparing, unbeknownst to me and her family. I wish I could be more like my sister who was truly not afraid and was ready when God called.
In a final act of love, Leila allowed her family to take her for medical evaluations to her doctor’s office and to allow for a hospitalization. This was not of her choosing. She knew however that her family could not passively witness her rapid decline without seeking some answers and treatment remedies. it is important to note that her daughter Diana, cared night and day for her at home an was at her mother’s bedside nonstop at Brooklyn Hospital. I mean literally around the clock for the entire hospitalization!
It was a painful week for Leila in the hospital and one that she would endure, already sensing the outcome. She knew God was calling, and she resolutely rejected the one palliative medical option offered, wanting nothing more than to be discharged to spend what turned out to be her last four days at home.
I’m sure Leila is looking down on us embarrassed at what trouble she has caused us by her passing. She was never one to impose on anyone and never wanted to call attention to herself or her ailments. She never once asked me for anything. I would always have to interrogate her to find out what she needed and how I could help. But, I think she will be comforted to know how many people loved her and with the knowledge that she brought happiness and joy into the world for the many people in her life’s circle.
We live in a complicated world that is difficult to understand and to navigate. But I know you will agree with me….that it would be hard to find a human, anywhere in the world who was as good, kind, generous, and loving as my sister Leila. I’m sure if she were here today, she would say something like “God bless everyone here and thank you for coming”. I hope you will join me in keeping Leila’s memory in our hearts forever. Thank you again for sharing this moment in celebration of the life of Leila Hanna.