Syvia Siegel, 1921-2017
November 19, 2017
My mother, Syvia Siegel, died on Tuesday, November 14. She was 95.917 years old and would have been 96 on December 19th.
As is the Jewish way, we buried her as soon as was feasible, in her case less than 60 hours after her passing. The rabbi at Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City gave a beautiful eulogy. My sister Adena and my great friend Alan Armstrong spoke. After the service, we proceeded to the cemetery and buried Syvia in a grave next to her husband of 63 years, Albert, who died a little less than nine years ago. It was Thursday, the one rainy day of the week, and I thought that the rain was a nice touch.
Friends and relatives from Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland, Connecticut, Washington, Oregon, and the Bay Area gathered to remember Syvia, honor her, and give comfort and support to my sisters, each other, and me. We also gathered to sit Shiva on Thursday and Saturday. At Shiva, we have a short service, recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, eat, drink, and exchange memories of the times we spent with Syvia.
I was blessed to have been visiting my mom this past weekend. Although we’ve watched her cognitive decline and failing health the last few years, my visits to see her every few months since my father died, were a spiritual practice, and I felt the love that connected us become more vivid and meaningful. Last Friday, November 11, when I came into town, we had a conversation, and when I kissed her to say goodbye, I said I love you and she said I love you too. On Saturday’s visit, she asked about her niece Janice, she said I need to talk to you, and when I kissed her to say goodbye, I said I love you and she said I love you too. On Sunday, she asked about ‘the baby’, and said that she was going to run away, and when I kissed her to say goodbye, I said I love you and she said I love you too. On Monday, her social worker, Laura, joined us. Mom would never let me feed her, but Laura had a very special touch with Syvia and helped her drink some juice. As we sat and talked and made some arrangements regarding supplies in her room and activities at her residence, I commented to Laura, her spirit is gone and when I kissed her to say goodbye, I said I love you and she said nothing. At Noon on November 13 I returned to Seattle, and she died at Midnight.
I understood suffering in a deeper way that day. True suffering is when you are under assault—mentally, physically, any way—and you cannot fight back or even be angry. You give up. They say that there is never a good time, but when I saw my mother’s suffering…I spontaneously prayed for something that would make her more comfortable. She has been released from the suffering. I believe my prayer was answered.
Syvia Pyes was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, December 19,1921. She was raised in Chicago, a city she loved and knew well. During the 1940s war years Syvia reported for local newspapers. She married Albert Siegel in 1945. In 1962 they moved to Palo Alto with their three children. Albert pre-deceased her in 2009.
Syvia was employed at several Stanford libraries and was especially proud of having worked on the Index to The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Her volunteer work included Jewish Family Services, Stanford Hillel, Hadassah, World ORT*, English tutoring, support for Russian Jewish immigrants, and a local soup kitchen.
She pursued her passion for learning through her own program of audited classes at Foothill College and Stanford University. Nourished by a love of music and literature, she enjoyed the symphony and chamber music concerts as well as a music appreciation club she and Albert helped establish. Theater and art museums gave her much joy and a lifetime of reading sustained her. She was a lifelong Democrat, inspired by Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy, and a supporter of Israel.
Syvia was enriched by her love of family—immediate and extended—and is survived by many who hold her dear: her loving children Gretta, Shepherd, Adena, and son-in-law Steven; devoted grandson Leo; her beloved brother Harvey Pyes and treasured sister-in-law Lois; as well as nieces, nephews, and cousins.
* ORT is the world’s largest Jewish education and vocational training NGO. ORT began in Russia in the 1880s, our family’s‘homeland.’