A Tribute :: Irene Janice Gimpel Strongwater Gutwirth (March 28 2014)

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On behalf of my family, my sister Natalie and her family, my Auntie Sandy and cousin Kathy, my stepfather Gary, and all of the extended family who felt so close to Mom, I want to thank all of you for coming today to celebrate the life of an extraordinary woman. Your presence here today is a true testament to how many lives she made an imprint on. Having your love and support is a great source of comfort to me, Natalie, all six grandchildren, and Gary.

You are all here because Mom touched your life in some important way. Whether that was as your teacher, colleague, mentor, friend, mother figure, surrogate sister, aunt, cousin, godmother, wife, sister, mother, grandmother. Mom had a way of being everyone’s ‘special person’, that person that you want to please, you want to make proud, you want to brag to about your accomplishments, or be held in her arms when you needed love and strength. She loved to laugh with us, brag about us, and even cry with us. She loved all the people in her life and always expected the best out of us, even when we didn’t know we could be better. She expected all of us to live up to our full potential. Sometimes she would coax that out of us with gentle loving words, and sometimes she would use tough love. Either way, she got the job done…because she loved us and believed in us.

She was passionate about the things she believed in, and let me tell you, all 5’2” inches of her were a force to be reckoned with. She could silence a gym or locker room full of 100 12-year-old girls with just one yell into her megaphone. That tiny petite little woman could holler across an entire middle school track and get the kids on the other side who were dawdling to pick up their speed. She could take a timid, uncoordinated and inexperienced 6th grader and by the 8th grade make her the best on the dance or drill team. She liked to see people shine. And was always proud if she had a hand in making that happen for that them.

Growing up, we were a house full of women. Mom, Natalie and I were the equivalent to an estrogen induced version of the three musketeers. We were bonded by a fierce love and strength shown to us by an independent and strong woman. Mom showed us how important we were to her by doing everything she could to provide for us. Sometimes that meant working two jobs and long hours, and missing out on important milestones in our lives. We knew she hated if she ever had to miss something, but she always sent in reinforcements, someone that she knew loved us almost as much as she did, whether that was our Aunt Sandy or cousin Sharon, or a dear family friend.

When she had her own jewelry business, Natalie and I loved to go downtown to the jewelry mart to work with her on days we had off from school. We’d dress up and run errands throughout the huge downtown office buildings (which usually included stopping for a chocolate croissant). Natalie and I always felt like ‘big stuff’ when we went to work with her. We were proud of her and her business, and we felt special that she included us. Later, when she went back to teaching we always enjoyed visiting her at the junior high in the gym or on the field. All the kids (who were mostly all taller than her) would gather round her and gush that they couldn’t believe she had daughters our age. She was their rock star and they idolized her. And if you knew Mom at all, I’m sure you can just picture her huge smile lighting up her face.

Mom had so many loves and passions and wanted to share all of them with Natalie and me. I’m fairly certain that we were the only grade schoolers who knew how to loop and evaluate diamonds and pearls. She took us snow skiing, and water skiing, and most important to her, she took us sailing which was always one of her greatest passions.

When we were younger and lived in our little house in Sepulveda, that she was so proud to own, we had so much fun. She had a Jacuzzi put in the backyard and we’d spend many evenings relaxing in there together. She shared her love of gardening with us, and she shared her love of cooking with us. One of my favorite memories from that house was every Saturday when we would clean house, she’d pull out some albums, put them on the turntable and blast the music. We’d dance and sing and rock out while we cleaned. And always she’d kick the party off with ‘I Am Woman’ by Helen Reddy. That was her theme song. In fact, Natalie and I played it for Mom last week in the hospital and sang it to her and it was beautiful because we were able to give her the gift of confirming to her how strong and amazing she truly was.

There are some things that we will remember about her that will make us laugh when our hearts are heavy. The woman had NO sense of direction, she could get lost driving from her house to the grocery store (and I’m not exaggerating). If she told you to turn right, you knew to turn left. She was also tone deaf, could not carry a tune to save her life. And of course her favorite part of the Passover Seder was the song Dayenu. Every time we had to sing the entire song. And we’d moan and groan and try to sing over her or skip verses so we could

speed through it. Which would only make her start over from the beginning. The entire Seder table would be laughing hysterically by the end of the song, and she would giggle and laugh and enjoy every second of it. She also always had to have the last word. Even right up to just hours before she passed. We had gotten her home Monday evening, where she wanted to be. Natalie, Gary and I were sitting by her bedside talking to her and reminiscing. Gary made a comment to mom about taking care of us even if he pisses us off, and then he

said “although I don’t know what I could ever do to piss you guys off”….what happened next is truly unbelievable, and SOOOO Mom. This woman who was literally just hours from death and hadn’t moved or been responsive in over 24 hours, literally SAT UP, looked right at Gary with her eyes open, and let out this guttural yell. Then just quietly layed her head back down and closed her eyes peacefully and had the most contented look on her face. Needless to say the three of us were stunned and then we started cracking up and high fiving. In true Irene fashion, she got that last word in. She loved all 3 of us, never put up with Gary’s crap, and protected Natalie and me fiercely.

When I think of Mom, two words come to mind: GRACE AND SPUNK. She was so full of spunk and so fiercely fought for what she believed in, but she did it with grace and dignity and elegance. This is her legacy to me. To be even half the strong woman she was, would be an honor. I love you so much Momma and I am going to miss you so much. And even though you were taken from us so tragically soon, it is truly a blessing that you are not feeling any pain or suffering. And I know you are still with us, because really…you’re just that stubborn. I can hear you talking to me and guiding me and holding me up right now. And I know I’ll continue to feel your warmth and love and strength and pride, as you watch over all of us in this room because you loved us so much.

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