There are daily updates on television about the coronavirus. Statistics are reported by county in New Jersey. In Teaneck, where I live, this became personal — the kindest, most decent person I ever have known, my sister Janice Preschel, turned into a statistic when she became an innocent victim of this dreaded, unpredictable virus.
A proud graduate of the Teaneck public schools and Boston University, Janice was an amazing woman, who leaves behind a legacy of love and civic accomplishments. It was coincidence that Governor Phil Murphy recognized her as a “true woman of valor” for her work as the director of Teaneck’s Helping Hands food pantry on Wednesday, April 1, at 1 p.m. — just as we laid her to rest. She since has been mentioned on CNN, Channel 2, and Channel 11 and in various publications in appreciation of her selfless work.
These are the words that I said at her funeral:
“Janice Preschel, a longtime Teaneck resident affectionately known as Aunt J in our family and to many people in town, passed away Monday, March 30th.
“It is impossible to accept that Janice is gone forever. She was a beloved sister to Howard, Larry, and me and a beloved sister-in-law to Thurmon and Claire. She was obsessed with her love for her niece, Jenna, and her nephews Ira, Eric, Ian, Zachary, Harrison, and Noah, whom she considered to be her greatest gifts and the most perfect human beings in the whole world, no matter what.
“She extended her love with open arms to welcome recent family additions Shara, Kao, Bri, and Carlie. She was a friend to so many people, who have sent us beautiful tributes recognizing the incredible impact she had made on their lives.
“Janice had a warm smile. She was a kind, gentle soul who always saw the best in people.
“Her work as founding director of Teaneck’s Helping Hands food pantry has fed hundreds of families since its inception in 2008. Her leadership as president of the Teaneck Rotary and her involvement with Temple Emeth’s social committee meant so much to her. It gave her purpose.
“We admired Janice’s bravery, compassion, and selfless devotion to her causes. She immersed herself so completely in everything she did, ignoring visual limitations that could have held her back.
“It destroyed our family that we were unable to be with her during the last weeks of her life, when she most needed our love and support. We are grateful to the wonderful staff at Holy Name Medical Center for their care and support to Janice in our absence.
“Our family is incomplete without her. We will honor Janice’s life at a memorial service as soon as this pandemic that took her from us is over.
“Rest in peace, Janice. We miss you.”
These are some thoughts from after the funeral.
On behalf of my family, I want to thank Cantor Ellen Tilem of Temple Emeth, who officiated at Janice’s service. It was personal and dignified. Cantor Tilem has a beautiful, melodic voice, which makes even the most difficult funeral songs and prayers so much easier to hear. It was exceptionally meaningful to us that Cantor Tilem brought prayer books from Temple Emeth to accompany Janice in her final resting place. Old prayer books never are destroyed. Burying them with a devoted congregant is the perfect thing to do. Cantor Tilem wiped away tears several times as she spoke. She and Janice were friends.
I also want to thank Sherry Bensimon from Gutterman’s for suggesting that we bury Janice with some personal mementos. Janice died alone, but she was not buried alone. Our pictures are by her side.
Jenna Sutcliffe also remembers; these are her private words to her Aunt Janice.
“Today we lay you to rest. You haven’t even been gone 48 hours. Isn’t that something? My mother is beside herself. Trying to stay positive is a challenge.
“Aunts don’t die. You were supposed to be around forever. That was part of the contract. For a visually impaired woman you did more than most. I cry alone, so nobody sees me break down. I try to stay strong for them. You’ll be so very missed.
“With love and a broken heart,
“Your niece, Jenna.”
Brenda Sutcliffe of Teaneck is an account executive at the Jewish Standard, and her daughter, Jenna Sutcliffe, is the Standard’s administrative assistant.