Friday, August 15, 2014

RIP: Barbara Burstein (Jan. 15, 1926 - Aug. 7, 2014)

Barbara Burstein (2005)
My good friend, Barbara Wolberg Burstein, passed away last Thursday in Denver, Colorado.  She was 88 years old. Her passing was peaceful, I was told.  I was on the road to Iowa to visit family and did not find out about her death until I got back this week.  Barbara has been fighting the effects of Alzheimer's disease since the death of her husband, Irwin Burstein in 2010.  She was fortunate to be able to remain in her home in Denver until the final two weeks of her life.  She received lovely care from a team of caregivers. Brigitte Prince had been with Barbara for seven years and made sure her life was lived in dignity, good health and good cheer.

I met Barbara and her husband, Irwin, in June, 2004, after their son, Neal Burstein, passed away of a sudden heart attack in San Diego, California. I had only been dating Neal for a few months, but was deeply in love with him.  He often talked about his parents and called them in Colorado every day.  When Neal passed away, I flew out to Denver to meet his parents and prepare for a "Celebration of Life" memorial service.  I spent 2 days with Irwin and Barbara as I learned all the details of Neal's life and collected pictures for the memorial. I found Neal's parents to be gracious, witty, warm and generous people. From our talks and the pictures they provided,  I put together a slide show for the "Celebration of Neal's Life" and organized the event with 50 of his friends and family in July, 2004.  I also helped his sailing friends organize the final sail and scattering of Neal's ashes in the ocean off San Diego. Irwin and Barbara and Neal's daughter, Elizabeth, were on-board for Neal's final sail.

Irwin and Barbara Burstein on board for their son's "final sail"
From July 2004 on, I became very close to Barbara and Irwin.  Their only child was gone and I had lost both my parents in the 1990's, and so it began that we looked after each other as if we were "family". We began spending our vacations together.  I invited them to share my Breckenridge, Colorado timeshare condo in September, 2004.  Barbara and Irwin, in an act of gratitude for our kindness toward their son,  took me and Neal's good friend and executor of his estate, Sister Patricia Pelletier, on a cruise with them and Barbara's brother, Ron and his partner, Bruce, in the Caribbean in December, 2004.

Barbara and Irwin on Boreas Pass road above Breckenridge, Colorado (2004)

When I moved from San Diego to New Mexico in 2005, they drove 7 hours from Denver in a pouring rain storm to see me at my new home. I took them with my daughters for a vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 2006.

Barbara and Irwin on the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta

My daughters, Amanda and Mary, with Irwin and Barbara in Puerto Vallarta


Our vacation resort in Puerto Vallarta


Barbara enjoying a nap on the beach in Puerto Vallarta
Barbara and Irwin always warmly welcomed me at their Candlewyck condominium. My husband, Ron, my daughters, Mary and Amanda, and my new friend,Sister Patricia, enjoyed visits with them to places like the Denver Art Museum or to a great Jewish deli (The NY Deli News) on Hampden Road. They were a wonderful couple with gracious manners and funny stories to tell.

Barbara and Irwin outside of the Denver Art Museum
Between 2006 and 2009, Barbara was diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer's.  Barbara was still her gracious warm self.  But the Alzheimer's was noticeable as she began to repeat questions and experienced mild confusion.  Eventually, Barbara stopped driving when she got herself lost a few times. Irwin began to worry about Barbara's care if he was incapacitated for any reason.  In 2007, home health aides were hired to assist Barbara and Irwin with the household tasks and Barbara's care.  A grandson in California. Matthew Burstein, came back into Barbara and Irwin's lives in 2009.  Matt, along with his wife, Mary, and 8 year old son, Mark, were affectionately know as "the Three M's" to Irwin and Barbara.  They came to visit from Southern California several times and brought great joy to Irwin and Barbara.  Matthew offered to care for Barbara at their California home if something happened to Irwin and he was considering it along with two other options for her care.   In late 2009, Irwin was diagnosed with cancer.  He opted for an aggressive radiation therapy but he took a turn for the worse and passed away in March, 2010.  Barbara often asked where Irwin was as she kept forgetting that he had passed away.  I know she missed him very much as she began to face her illness without him.

Due to Irwin's sudden illness and death, no decision had been made about who would care for Barbara. The family elected to have Barbara get 24 hour assisted care in her own home. When I visited, there were always good care-givers keeping a careful eye on Barbara and she still could play a mean game of Scrabble.  As time went by, her friends were passing away and/or moving away. Fewer and fewer visitors came to see Barbara who could no longer remember family and friends names or faces. Unfortunately, my visits to Denver became less frequent in recent years and I relied on phone calls and letters. Barbara really couldn't remember who I was anymore.  I always sent her flowers on her birthday and sometimes on Mother's Day.  In June of this year, I called her to tell her I was moving to a new place in Albuquerque.  I know she did not remember me, but she carefully wrote down my new address and cheerfully talked with me for several minutes.

Barbara's last birthday bouquet (January 15, 2014)





I always felt that I owed it to her son to be there for her. Unfortunately, I was in Iowa when she passed and missed her Memorial service last Sunday.   Barbara was interred alongside her husband at Rose Hill Cemetery in Denver, Colorado August 10, 2014.



Shalom, Barbara. May you rest in peace.