Remembering Eleanor (1944-2021)

Eleanor Lupescu was one of the few people I knew who had proper recipes, the kind that were written down and repeated and shared.  My mother cooked delicious meals, but most of it is in her head from decades of practice and improvisation. The same for my grandmothers—except for the cases when someone captured the ingredients and instructions for them (which a few of my aunts thankfully did).

Now, more than twenty years later, when I meet others who painstakingly print their signature dishes or scribble their measurements and notes, I understand that food is one of their love languages. Food was one of Eleanor’s love languages. 

When we had a family dinner at the Lupescu house, I often saw Eleanor’s careful shopping list beside her handwritten menu of what would be served. Don was her partner in hosting and meals, and he would greet guests, make sure everyone had a beverage and was comfortably seated, and he stood by to help Eleanor with serving and clean-up. (Mark absolutely learned from his parents how to be a good cook and host.) When Eleanor’s Parkinson’s began to rob her of her dexterity, Don became her hands in so many ways. They worked together with Eleanor overseeing. He was her partner and best friend, their love was real and multifaceted and true. 

When I was a young mom visiting their home, I watched with awe as Eleanor always seemed so calm and collected as she sifted any lumps from her gravy and put the finishing touches on her dishes. Dressed beautifully, her hair carefully curled, I can see her so clearly in the kitchen of their house in Darien, eyes bright, an easy smile for her guests, and the kind of bubbly laughter that’s infectious. Eleanor was beautiful inside and out.

For my bridal shower, Eleanor gave me a recipe book with a few of her favorite handwritten recipes, among them: Strawberry Ice Cream Jello Mold, Kolachke, Skewered Steak and Mushrooms, M&M cookies. If you knew Eleanor, you have very likely enjoyed at least one of these. Written in her pretty, leaning handwriting, those recipe cards are such a treasure,

I have slowly added cards of my own to it over the years, and those cards from Eleanor are always a touchstone among the others. It makes me happy to see them when I leaf through looking for something. They are a reminder of her love and care. They will always be a reminder. There is an intimacy to a handwritten recipe card that I really appreciate. It tells you a lot about the type of person Eleanor was. Thoughtful and generous, Eleanor treasured her family and friends. She and Don were at the heart of so many parties and gatherings and reunions, bringing the people they loved together. 

There’s much that can be said about the life Eleanor lived and the things she loved. She was well-respected and well-loved. Eleanor was strong and protective, elegant and creative, curious and kind. A supportive mother and aunt, a devoted sister, an enthusiastic grandmother, a trusted friend, Eleanor was one of the most beautiful women I have known, and every moment shared with her—all the beautiful memories with her family and her grandchildren—are such a blessing.

Eleanor loved the choir at church, often choosing the Mass time according to which one had the choir. She also loved Don’s singing. I remember one day when we were all in the kitchen, and I had only known them a short while. Eleanor turned to me and said, “Don has such a nice voice, I love listening to him sing.” Then she turned to Don and asked him to sing something, and he did! His voice was indeed beautiful, but what struck me was the way she looked at him then, with so much love in her eyes. There was always such a bright, burning love in her eyes.

Eleanor passed away on Friday, July 23, 2021. There are no words to describe the loss in our lives, the hole she leaves behind in our hearts, but it is a comfort to think of Don and Eleanor together again. I like to think Eleanor heard a choir of angels when she crossed over. I like to think of Don singing to her in his beautiful voice, Eleanor laughing that joyful, infectious laugh of hers. Vichnaya Pamyat. What is remembered, lives.

https://www.conboywestchesterfh.com/obituary/eleanor-lupescu

Visitation
Sunday, August 01, 2021
2:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Conboy-Westchester Funeral Home
10501 W. Cermak
Westchester, Illinois 60154

Funeral Mass
Monday, August 02, 2021
10:00 AM

Divine Providence Church
2550 S. Mayfair Avenue
Westchester, IL 60154

Reflections

Sometime last month, as the weather started warming up and the days began to get longer, I realized that I was breathing deeper, feeling hopeful, and closer to “normal” than I had in a long while. It made me aware of just how tense I had been this past year: shoulders tight, jaw tight, brow furrowed. All the time.

Like many of you, I have spent much of the last year tight with fear and anxiety, worrying about how to keep my loved ones safe, how to help the kids get through this, how to create positive memories in the midst of it all, how to practice gratitude, how to try and support those who need help and those who are working to make things better, how to be a friend without the luxury of shared time and space, how to prioritize, self-care, and keep connections.

My friend Nancy Hightower is a college professor and writer living in New York City. She spent much of the last year of quarantine alone in a city that is well-known for bringing people together.

Nancy, like many people, moved to NYC to be with people. What happens when all those New Yorkers, who usually breathe life into the public spaces that are the nervous systems of that vibrant city, are forced to disengage and isolate themselves?

Nancy would mask up and go on walks every day in her neighborhood, and she started taking photographs of what she encountered.

Nancy reflected in a mirror with trash on the streets of NYC.
Nancy reflected, from her Patreon post, “The Shadow Pandemic.”

What Nancy photographed over the last year is the subject of her Patreon (and for those who don’t know what that is, Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that enables supporters/patrons to pay and support artists for their work). She shared a lot of her photos with me over the changing seasons, and they were rich food for my imagination. I think it’s a similar reason that so many people took refuge in Animal Crossing, Instagram, and TikTok. We needed windows into worlds outside our own.

Nancy’s photos capture relics of this moment; they are tiny portals into people’s lives left on doorsteps and balanced on mailboxes, draped over fences and hung from lamp posts. It was as if New Yorkers, forced into their apartments and unable to inhabit their museums, cafes, restaurants, galleries, bars, and parks, started leaking bits of their lives and themselves onto the streets. Here was a cookie jar beside a pair of vintage cowboy boots filled with plastic flowers, there was a lamp and a typewriter and a bag of rice. Sometimes it felt like poetry, other times like an art installation, or a Rorschach test for the state of mind of a city mourning and struggling.

Nancy has started sharing those photos with accompanying essays on her Patreon. The most recent one about how we have been changed by the pandemic struck a chord with me, and I wanted to share it. She’s made it public, so you can follow the link to see all the photos. You can join her Patreon if you’d like to read/see more.

Nancy writes: “This Spring you might find yourself being simultaneously hopeful and exhausted. You might not know who you are anymore–alone, or with other people. I’ve had sporadic dinners with pod friends over the past year, but nothing close to real, sustainable community, no touch longer than quick hug. I wonder what I’ll look like by the time I can be in a group, maskless and yet changed, a time traveler finally trapped by time.”

We have all been changed by the events of the past year, for better and for worse—as a nation, as cities, as neighborhoods, families, and individuals. We won’t be able to see just how far those changes go for a a while, but I think they will go deep.

Pandemic self-portrait post-vaccination.

We are still in a pandemic. The numbers are rising even as more people are getting vaccinated. There is hope, but there is also a need to remain disciplined. I feel like when I look into the mirror, I’m more than a year older. I think about my grandparents and their parents before them, who lived through war and famine and so much death and sacrifice. They were changed by those events too. Some of them shared their stories, and I am grateful.

It’s going to be important to remember, to document this time, to share our stories, to listen to one another when we finally come together, to really see ourselves and our neighbors  as we emerge from this—inevitably changed.

We Are Still Here

I have not blogged in six months. I have not really posted anything on social media in all that time. I try to respond to messages and keep up with news, but I’ve fallen behind with most things.

Like many of you, I suspect, my orbit has been small in these strange times. Daily life has been revolving around the day job and the kids, managing risk from the virus while trying to serve as a support system.

Writing has taken a backseat to most things, and other relationships have not been given much attention at all—not for lack of caring, but for lack of energy and hours. And self-care? Self-care is not something I’m good at. I come from a line of self-sacrificing nurturers who don’t really do boundaries. Nothing like a pandemic to hold up a mirror.

Stephen has been a good partner through it all, and Mark has been a good co-parent. Ever since I had kids, I keep coming back to that adage, “It takes a village.” It really does. I am grateful for our little village. It has taken our team of three adults to parent our three teenagers in this pandemic. Each kid has unique academic, social, and emotional challenges exacerbated by remote learning and quarantine.

There are highlights: We have a lot of animated dinner conversations. They are often the high point of my day. We pay close attention to the spectacular sunsets outside our windows. Maya has applied to colleges for next year and has already been accepted to several. Liam is making beautiful music and came in second for Student Council president in his high school election. Lana creates rainbow sculptures that dot our house, and she is my steadfast kitchen helper. They don’t like remote learning. They miss their friends. They are worried about the future. Their emotions are all over the place. They are doing the best they can.

I have heard versions of this from other parents and caregivers, or from teachers  dealing with students. The kids living in this time are not really ok. The people who are trying to help them are not really ok.  None of us are really ok.

Yet as a society, we are not good at talking about mental health or the role of it during this pandemic. People are being asked to perform as close to “normal” as possible when so little about this is normal, especially for the children and teenagers.

So we do our best, and then we often feel woefully inadequate at the end of the day.

It’s a lot. For all of us.

The caregivers trying to fill other people’s “buckets” are drained. Those confined with (and grateful for) family and friends crave a little time and space for themselves. Those who are alone are starved for contact and touch (even the introverts).

There’s a song by Florence and the Machine that keeps running through my head. The refrain is: “We all have a hunger.”

Yep.

So many needs not being met. So many people hungry.

And tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. In a pandemic. In a country raw from disparity, unrest, and resistance.

Am I grateful? Every day. Does that mean that everything is ok? Nope. Our world is not ok. Is there hope? I think so. Are there moments of grace and joy and profound beauty in the middle of it all? Absolutely. Thank goodness. Is it easy to lose sight of that sometimes? Also yes. Is there a lot of work to be done to make things better for the future? Again, absolutely.

I wanted to write something today because people have sent messages recently asking me if I’m ok, concerned that they haven’t heard from me in a long time.

It’s mostly been that thing where you have five minutes free, and you want to call a friend or write a message, but you know that five minutes is just not enough time and there’s just so much to catch up on, but nothing at all so urgent or monumental.

How do you fit an honest response into five minutes, especially if brevity is not your strong point? (And if you know me, you know that brevity is NOT my strong point.) 😉

So instead of saying, “I’m fine,” or “I’m ok,” I tend to get quiet when there’s too much to say and not enough time. I’m sorry.

This time, I wrote this. Hopefully the next post will be sooner than six months.

I am looking forward to cooking dinner for tomorrow, but I am going to miss all our family who would usually gather together. I wish we could all be with the people we love. I look forward to the time when that’s possible.

Sending love and all the hugs.