Helen died Monday morning, 01/03/2022, at home, age 60, far too young. She had metastatic liver cancer, was hospitalized for GI bleeds in May and August, and had been mostly in bed at home for the past 6 months, with hospice checkups for the last 8 weeks.
She preferred to be very private on her health issues. Apologies to everyone for not communicating her status better, especially these last few months.
Helen and her parents, Boris and Irina, left Soviet Moscow as Jewish refugees in 1977, immigrating to NY when she was 16. Later they moved to Boston and then NH where she raised Aya. She never did finish high school, but got BS, MS (Chemistry), PhD (EE), and Dr degrees (Neurology with a epilepsy subspecialty) from Boston, Princeton, Dartmouth and Mayo, where I found her.
I struggle to find words to describe Helen. She was caring, curious, beautiful, playful, opinionated, brilliant, humble, willful, creative, multi-lingual (6 languages!), messy, funny. And loved.
Aya has a much better remembrance:
“Mom had the biggest heart in the world – she put everyone before herself. I always looked up to her for her intelligence, natural spirit, and humor. She dedicated her life to medicine and never got the appreciation she deserved. She bent herself backwards for her patients. I felt her love so hard and I loved her right back. She was my number one, she was the closest person I had and she was enough. I just wish she loved herself more. Mom drove me crazy with all her opinions, but as I got older I thought they were hilarious. I miss her weird outfits, her sweet talking voice, her awkward singing voice and her smile. I miss going places with her and seeing her eyes when she eats something tasty. Or when she makes fun of some fancy lady in Russian. Or when she almost always added penises to stuffed animals. I only wish I had more time with her. Mom was good at so many things, she could have been an amazing architect, professor or a lawyer. She loved to argue her point with passion and humor. She loved cooking the weirdest food. Also how she took restaurant menus and marked them up for her future recipes. She loved starting dramas online because she enjoyed the conflict and she had a fascination with trump, not because she agreed with his values, but because he looked like a Russian clown. She also took incredibly complex notes that only she could read and would add pictures of mystical characters around her scribbles. She was a top scorer in the MCATS and was passionate about mentoring medical school candidates and was a huge spokesperson for the diversification of medicine. She loved animals, wanted a horse and a parrot, and sphinx – but knew that poor bruce would end up having to manage all of them because she believed in letting animals roam free. She loved feeding her fish and fermenting foods, she had a passion for reading books, biking, hiking, swimming, and she was secretly an amazing skier. In these last years she grew a love for expensive and lavish designer Jewelry and bags, she felt that there is no reason to deprive oneself of luxury- she said once to me in Russian – “living is about the now, be fancy and be proud. She had so much empathy for everyone around her, she forgot to love herself the way she deserved. She believed in me more than I ever believed in myself. She was a fearless powerhouse of a woman. If you are reading this I know she did something for you too. It was her way. I would never ever in life replace my mom with anyone else’s mom, she was my also my friend. She was always the first person I would call with good news or bad news. I hope people know how lucky they are to have met her. She will always be in my heart.”
I cherish the wonderful 16 years we shared. Many adventures as we moved from MN to NY, NH, UT, and AL. She was photo shy, but I collected a few that I got her approval to share. Here are a couple of them:
I am sad and drained but will be ok. No need to do or send anything on our behalf, feel free to remember Helen however you wish.
If you would like to share remembrances, you can post to comment section at the bottom of this page.
If you want to send something privately, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Love to all,
Bruce & Aya
A couple additions. I was looking for a short video clip that had Helen in it, so we could remember her unique and wonderful voice. I couldn’t find any with her in the video as well, but I did find one of her narrating me cutting down a tree. I extracted the audio here.
Aya had a few more lovely remembrances to share:
I was just thinking about some funny things about mom that may make you smile:
Whenever she looked in the mirror she sucked in her cheeks and made a partial duck face to accentuate her cheek bones – she didn’t know she did it – it was a mirror reflex.
When mom ate food on a plate – she would poke it around before she ate it, she would just touch it with her fork multiple times, and then put a tiny bit in her mouth. It used to drive me crazy.
If there was something she liked to eat, she would always try making it herself from scratch, whether it was oat milk or biscuits. Her sushi was the most popular but she tried putting raisins and bacon in one and that’s where I had to stop.
Mom and I worked out together briefly (which I regret, I wish we did it more often) – when we worked out her favorite thing was what she called “the step up step down” where she used the stepper and stepped up and lifted her arms up while I played some rhythmic music. I was still living in Los Angeles and we did it on google meets.
Mom showed me how to pick the right mushrooms.
All through my childhood we had a brain mold and she would make a jello brain for Halloween, except the jello tasted quite strange. I have no idea how she made it and what that flavor came from.
When mom came to visit me in college – when I was in Providence RI – I took her salsa dancing and she was killing it on the dance floor with a Portuguese businessman. He had a gray ponytail. I didn’t know she could manage the 3 step.
Mom taught me the lyrics to some Russian songs on our walk together. We used to sing them while walking up the ridiculously steep hill to our house in Hanover.
I didn’t smoke weed in high school partially because it didn’t feel like rebellion- mom always said, if you want to smoke, smoke with me not your friends. I kind of wish I took her up on it back then.
She used to finish my drawings – she would make them ten times cooler – I didn’t want to admit it to her though and got very upset but was silently very impressed. She tried to do the same thing with my high school essays / I asked her to edit them, she would rewrite entire paragraphs and we would fight, back then there was no auto save, so I had to rewrite her rewrites. I don’t know if I learned anything through this method.
Mom helped me ace chemistry after she taught me a formula method she learned in Russia. It helped me so much- I wish I had more time with her so she could teach me more.
Like a total weirdo, I stuck a rock up my nose in 1st grade / my mom came and picked me up because I thought I was going to die. She never judged me or made fun of me for this. Well…much later.
She delightfully told my boyfriend and everyone in the room that she breastfed me for too long. Her sense of private information was a little strange and now I don’t care.
When I applied to jobs and got a rejection she would always say “fuck them”
When she encountered clothing or shoes she liked, she almost always bought two.
She loved reading the fashion section of the New York Times and kept up with new designers and once in a while I saw her in one of those super designery skirts with a plaid shirt. She always tried to give me her clothing but we didn’t agree on outfits at all. For her the more colors the better, the more patterns the better.
She had all this fancy makeup and after I gave her a whole tutorial on how to use it, she would still do it in one dip and use her index finger to run it across her cheek. She never used a mirror to apply makeup.
All through my childhood when mom and I would went to the supermarket she would pick up bags of fruit and chips and would finish all of them before we even got the the register.
She hated it when strangers would ask her where she was from, she would quickly say “I’m American” and then I would apologize and tell the person that her accent is Russian. I love her accent, but she never believed that she had one.
To remove stress mom used to swim long distances – I remember when we lived by the lake I saw mom get home from the hospital (1 hour drive) and she would jump in the lake and take 5-7 loops around the island.
Mom loved to make fun of me for not knowing where the liver is.
When we were lying on the beach in LA – she called me her “beautiful fat girl” Then she jumped into the water and a huge dolphin swam by her and she didn’t flinch.
She was so happy when I came to Birmingham she used to buy me these really ugly cut flowers from the grocery store, but I loved them, she was so sweet when she gave them to me and I couldn’t figure out what to do with them to make them look good. I never told her.
When I moved to Birmingham she bought half the bakery, brought beers, champagne, flowers – she was so happy – it broke my heart. That was a year and a half ago.