Two Farewells to An Accomplished Palestinian Sister

Earth Day: Celebration of Life, April 23, 2023

Remembrance: Eulogy # 2

Several months prior to her death and while my sister, Betty, and I were discussing her final arrangements, she instructed me as follows: “You can do what you wish with my remains.”

La Belle Femme and I had already decided that we would fly Betty’s remains from Hot Springs, AR, to be interred at Skylawn Memorial Park (Skyline Blvd., Hwy. 92, Half Moon Bay, CA) in close proximity to our late mother, Katrina Helaneh Halaby, and brothers David and Ramzy, may they rest in peace.

David and Ramzy passed away in 2005, just four months apart; Ramzy, my twin brother, and I were only 12 days away from celebrating our 60th birthdays.

Even though Beatrice passed away on November 29, 2021, seventeen months later and on Earth Day (Saturday, April 23, 2023) Beatrice’s remains were interred. La Belle Femme’s sister opined that Beatrice took the long way home.

In June 2015, La Belle Femme and I moved Beatrice Rima Halaby from Redwood Shores, CA to a Hot Springs, AR senior residence.

Because of the scourge of COVID and because protective measures were in place to protect the senior residents of the Hot Springs West Shores Retirement center, for most of the year 2021 we could only see Betty through the ½ inch thick glass wall which separated interior space from exterior concrete patio. Three to four times a week we would drive the 80 mile roundtrip and, at a pre-arranged time,  a CNA would wheel Betty in her wheel chair to where Rachel and I were seated on lawn chairs under the protective cover of lawn umbrellas.

Holding our hands to the thick glass wall, she on the inside, and we on the outside, and for almost a whole year, this was our only physical contact. How we missed her embraces and pecks on our cheeks. With cell phones in tow on both sides of the wall of separation, this was our better-than-non and only means of communication. And, because Betty’s declining physical and mental heath were taking their toll, she would occasionally  push the wrong button – only for us to start the whole process over again.

Visiting with a loved one involves many sensory stimuli. Working in tandem, the visual, auditory. olfactory, tactile, and facial expressions modulate and accentuate the vocal responses (with all the subtle nuances and intonations thereof). While all of the aforementioned were compromised to a certain extent, every moment was a precious eternity.

So near yet so far has never meant as much as it did during those days, weeks, and months of apprehension and isolation.

Fortunately, in the fall of  2021 these restrictions were lifted. And we could now visit Betty in her apartment. Always cheerful, always full of zest for life, even when declining physical and mental health in 2021 forced her to spend most of her time in her apartment, Betty never lost her sense of humor.

Thanksgiving of the year 2021 will always be etched in my mind. On Thursday, November 21, 2021, La Belle Femme  and I partook of our Thanksgiving dinner in Betty’s apartment. The few bites she took were not a good omen.

In the late evening hours of November 28, 2021, the health caretaker advised that Betty had to soon be moved to a nursing home, an idea she disdained and prayed would never happen.

And in the early hours of November 29, 2021, Beatrice Rima Halaby passed away peacefully in her sleep – as she had repeatedly wished and prayed for very earnestly.

Having first delayed this funeral service to late October 2022 due to COVID, and then, because of an unfortunate accident 1,500 miles away in Boston (which necessitated 2 surgeries and 10 days of rehab) way back in October 2022, we gather today to honor Betty’s memory and to celebrate her life.

Thank you, Dr. Hyde, for officiating, thank you Matthew for your patience, diligence and professionalism, and thank you especially for helping locate Betty’s niche some 35 feet away and in full view of our mother and brothers’ graves. And to each of you, family, relatives, and friends of Beatrice Rima Halaby, thank you for honoring Betty with your presence.

From the blue yonder Betty is smiling and reaching out to embrace each of you. And thank you Rima and Miranda for having taken care of Betty prior to her moving  from California, her home for 28 years.

At the risk of leaving out any one, and on Betty’s behalf and ours, I would like to recognize Julie Kimura, Betty’s friend, for her love and dedication in sending Betty handwritten, newsy,  letters and cards on a bimonthly basis. Julie, your eloquent words helped give Betty’s transition from the Bay Area to a location that is culturally and socially  different a smoother landing,  first, into independent senior living,  and eventually assisted living. Your beautiful  penmanship  in drafting long letters and cards chockful of news from this area were the antidote that brought sunshine on the cold days and nights, hot and humid summers, hospital stays, and the increasing health challenges.

I have kept every single one of these precious mementos.

The oldest of five children, Beatrice Rima Halaby was born on June 18, 1937, in Jerusalem, Palestine, to Jamil and Katrina Halaby.

Accompanied by her uncle Naim Halaby and his wife Nadeemeh, at the age of 17 she, along with younger brothers Tony and David, moved across the border to the Jordanian side of Palestine. And again, because we could only see them once a year at Christmas, so near yet so far away is a very painful reminder of man’s inhumanity to man. In 1959 the entire family was reunited in Beirut, Lebanon

A stateless person, in 1965 I was the last of four boys to leave home for the U. S.  in pursuit of higher education and a better future. And I made the same promise to my mother and sister: we shall one day bring you to America, the land of freedom and opportunity. In 1987 Betty and our mother emigrated to the US to join brothers, Tony, David, and Ramzy and their families. They resided in Redwood City.

In 2015 Beatrice moved to West Shores Senior Community Living in Hot Springs, AR, to be close to her brother and sister-in-law, Raouf and Rachel.

No matter where Beatrice lived, she always made lasting friendships. She loved people, she enjoyed good conversation, she loved to read, she was an accomplished embroiderer, she enjoyed knitting, and best of all, she enjoyed cooking and sharing her recipes with anyone who’d give her even one minute. Beatrice enjoyed giving gifts to old and new friends, and her favorite gifts were Middle Eastern cookbooks. Gifted such a cookbook, West Shores Chef obliged Betty by adding a few Middle Eastern recipes.

A devoted and loving daughter, sister, sister-in-law, and aunt, Beatrice’s genuine love, gracious demeanor, giving spirit, great sense of humor, and abiding belief are based on her belief that all human beings are God’s children and deserve respect, inclusion, and love. These were her trademark.

In closing and as an affirmation of Betty’s love for her beloved Palestine, her urn is wrapped with the checkered Palestinian black and white keffieh headdress.  And this enveloped contains soil acquired in 1979 from our front Jerusalem, Palestine yard, the crucible that nurtured us in the dark days when we lived under the difficult circumstances of Israeli occupation, a place than runs deep in our veins, and a place that makes all of us yearn for justice and peace.

To you, the young and younger generation of Palestinian Americans, Palestine runs deep in your veins and genes. Never forget your centuries-old Palestinian roots.

On this, very special day, Earth Day 2023, Sis,  you took the long journey home, departing your earthly world to an everlasting life.

Sweet, gentle, kind, and loving Betty, may you enjoy the fruits of your labor, may you  rest in Eternal Peace.

As I looked at the crowd of some 45 family, relatives, and friends, I saw those of my immigrant generation who arrived to these shores with the clothes on their backs and armed solely with hope and determination and resolve to carve out a space and future for ourselves in a country which, despite its mountains of woe, is perhaps the best experiment in self-government. And, by Gosh Golly, we’ve succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

Over half of those present were first generation  nieces, nephews, and second cousins who were born in the States and represent a younger, more energetic, and more vibrant generation of professionals who are living the American dream by giving back to their communities.

A Celebration of Life, Friday, December 10, 2021

Remembrance: Eulogy # 1

On more than one occasion my late mother, Katrina Halaby, asked my three brothers and me (individually and collectively) the following: “Should something happen to me at a future date, promise me you would take of your sister.”  Since I am the only surviving brother, the promise I made to my mother was undertaken   with gladness. After all, separated for years, I looked forward to having my sister closer, and all to myself.

In addition to marrying my Belle Femme (Rachel Lollar), one of the very best life decisions I have made was to move my sister, Beatrice Rima Halaby,  from Redwood Shores, CA, to West Shores, Hot Springs, AR.

In 2015 Rachel and I flew to the San Francisco Bay area, rented a large shipping pod,  loaded her belongings with help from nephew Jimmy and his wife Michelle, boarded a plane, and moved Betty to West Shores.

Yes, “Thank God we have a roof over our heads and enough to eat” was a refrain Betty uttered every time I visited, especially in the last  year of her life.

For the past 6.5 years Betty found a warm home, an outstanding roof over her head, made many friends, and was given the royal treatment by all the West Shores staff.

In 1950 Betty was13 years old. There was a food shortage post the 1948 war in Palestine.  Because she was the oldest child, mother would send her to the neighborhood food distribution center set up by the Israeli government. Food could only be acquired with Ration cards. She would stand in line for well over an hour-and-a-half, “reading a book to pass my time,” she told me, two years ago. And on far too many occasions when she presented the family ration cards ( a type of ID card) and because we were Palestinians, the attendant would gruffly tell her that they ran out of food, repeated rejections and humiliation that left an indelible impact on her life.

While Betty’s early years under Israeli occupation in Palestine were fraught with dispossession and the grappling with daily difficulties and challenges in a state determined to rid itself of the indigenous people, I am not going to allow these ugly memories to define her life.

Instead, I would like to invite you to join me in a random metaphorical photo-album-like reflections on the life of Beatrice Rima Halaby, and the indelible impact she had on the lives of so many across the world.

Here goes the first string of photos: Her favorite tv channel was The History Channel, and her favorite programs were Everybody Loves Raymond, and Dr. Oz.

Truth be told, in the order of importance, Dr. Oz came in 3rd place, only after Jesus Christ and all the saints. Dr. Oz and his health advice were a sacrosanct staple and dietary health teachings; no, they were health rules to live by. Oz’s wisdom was always shared with me in our daily phone calls or visits.

Since last year, a frequent refrain has been: “To fight Covid, Dr. Oz says that you should add water to powdered beats, and drink a full cup – daily. Also, eat bananas, mushrooms, onions, garlic and avocadoes – they are good for you.”

I shall never forget  what happened two years back. During one very rough hospital stay and at 1:50 p.m., the doctor was trying to carry on a conversation with Betty about her health – to which Betty responded : “What time is it?”  “It is 1:50, why do you ask?” responded the doctor. With the tv remote control in her hand, she bluntly asked the doctor to move over so she could have a better view of the tv screen. Dr. Oz’s show was coming on in 10 minutes.

Soon after her moving into West Shores, Rachel made sure that  Dr. Oz magazines were a regular and added essential, if not indispensable, addendum to her reading list.

[Had she lived to witness Oz’s venture into politics, she might have changed her views.]

Betty had friends across the globe, friends with whom she stayed in touch. She valued and treasured these friendships. Her five address booklets attest to that. I distinctly recall her decision, some two years back, to call Rose, a friend from her Beirut, Lebanon days. The call to Copenhagen, Denmark,  was well over 100 dollars. Friendships were priceless, and one shouldn’t put a price on friendships, she surmised.

She was also a good neighbor; she shared her recipes and food concoctions with her neighbors. Last week her former Redwood City neighbor, Lidia Lebeaux, wrote me the following:  “She was not just a kind and caring neighbor (who sometimes strongly voiced her opinion about things and causes she believed in), but she was also a dear friend to me. Whenever I pass by her former house, I think of her and I still miss her.”

Another neighbor, Nellie Samut, told me the following in her native Italian inflection: “I will miss her. Only yesterday I walked by her house and I thought of her always inviting me in for coffee.”

If I had the talent to write a movie script, Beatrice Halaby and her  one-block-over friend Dalal, a widow in her 80’s, would be the protagonists. Dalal fixed the best Hashweh dish, seasoned baked chicken and rice crowned with sprinkled roasted pinion nuts and almond shavings.

Dalal and Betty  were a pair. While Betty was 4’6”, Dalal is 5’10”. Because Dalal did not drive, Betty would drive her to the grocery store, doctors’ appointments, trips to pick olives, lemons, and almonds from people’s yards. The balmy San Francisco Bay Area is an ideal place for people to plant these trees as ornamental trees. A stickler for decorum and proper etiquette. Betty would always insist on first ringing the door bell, and then asking for permission. On occasion Dalal saw no need for getting permission, and an argument would ensue.

Dalal and Betty traversed the busy byways and highways of San Mateo, Foster City, and Palo Alto to go to special sales and Mediterranean and other ethnic food markets and restaurants. Even with two cushions to prop her up in the driver’s seat of her white Toyota Corolla,  Betty was hardly visible. Towards the end of her residency in Redwood Shores and because her scoliosis became a nagging health issue, and, with Betty at the wheel, Dalal was the one to navigate backing up the car in tight spots and parking lots.

That was never a good idea. Enough said.

Palestinians are notorious for taking pride in planting fruit and olive trees, vegetable gardens, and ornamental flowers. After mother’s death, Betty took care of the lemon, apple,  and pear trees, and flower beds,  and she valiantly fought the squirrels and shoed them away from the fig trees – only because she wanted to preserve the figs in the fridge for my regular visits to Redwood Shores. Her fig jams were a true delicacy.  And yes, for every visit there was a long list of to-do things.

She was active in the Toastmasters program, winning many awards and citations, and she credits this organization for giving her the confidence to negotiate life in her new cosmopolitan environment.

From Knoxville, TN, Cousin George Halaby, a frequent caller,  and more brother than cousin to Betty and to me, sent the following:

Betty lived her life well,  and with dignity, and she shared her love and caring with family members. When she was young, she helped her Mom raise her youngest brothers Raouf & Ramzy. Later in life she took care of her ailing Mom, and after mother’s death she took  care of Naim,   her ailing uncle, a widower, taking daily meals to his apartment. Those who knew Betty, and there were many, loved her and held her in highest regard. She always paid her dues and then some. Betty earned herself a one way ticket to a better place. She flew on the wings of Angels to a heavenly destination. She will be joining mother Katrina and will reside forever in a Most beautiful place.”

From Berkeley, California, Cousin by marriage Mona wrote the following:

I was very saddened by your news about Betty. May God rest her soul. Betty was an extraordinary woman and such a good friend to me. I admired her wit, her humor, generosity, her devotion to Palestine, her kindness, her warmth and much more. I am glad for three things: one, that you celebrated her last Thanksgiving with her, two, that she is not suffering anymore, and three, that she died peacefully.”

Over the past 6.5 years I’ve tried to see Betty three times a week, often accompanied by Rachel. During illness, hospital, and rehab stays, this was a daily trip the reward for which were hugs,  kisses, lots of humor, and many a “Do you remember when?”  reminiscences about our younger days.

Since April of this year and after every visit I began to detect a decline in both her health and mental faculties.

Some three months back I wrote the following to a dear friend:

Dementia creeps in like ivy on an ancient stone wall.  When I engage Betty mentally, she seems to perk up, especially when I resort to nostalgic events of our days in Jerusalem and Beirut, and the memories gush out with perfect accuracy, down to the very last detail. One day, and out of the blue,  she recited an Arabic nursery rhyme with perfect accuracy. Utilizing mnemonic English/Arabic words, I assumed that the rhyme was recited for and by children to teach them the English numbers. I was struck by her perfect recitation, without even a pause.”

One/Two:  Jannantoo  (you drove him crazy)
Three/Four:  Ihmar ou Tor (a donkey and a bull)
Five/Six: Nilaab el sticks (we play the sticks)
Seven: Eight:  Minrouh al beit (we will go home)
Nine:Ten: Big fat hen”

After I joined in on the second recitation, the big fat hen phrase prompted her to ask me: “When is Thanksgiving?” “In six weeks,” was my answer. To which she responded “You know what, I’m thinking about taking Prevagen.”  I must admit that on certain days I’ve been wondering whether I should buy Prevagen for the two of us.

In spite of chronic shoulder pain, her immobility, and other issues of recent months, that sister of mine did not complain, and was always cheerful. If I knew there is a place in Arkadelphia that’ll take care of her as well as they do at West Shores, I’d promptly move her so as to visit with her every single day, of every day, of the rest of her life.

Arkadelphia Friend Janet Green, sent the following:

Oh, Halaby. The Obit is a beautiful tribute to this truly amazing lady. What a strong, smart, kind woman she was!  I’m so sorry for your pain, but happy she  passed into her forever home so peacefully. She certainly made her life count to so many. You and Rachel took such good care of her, and she knew she was loved so much. My love and prayers are with you. “

I could not have undertaken the formidable task of caring for my sister without Rachel, my Belle Femme, my kind, patient, and loving wife. In somewhat demanding and challenging decision-making situations, Betty always listened to Rachel’s wise council over mine. In fact, on numerous occasions Betty would tell me that I married the right girl. “Rachel,” she would add, “is the sister I never had, but always wanted to have.”

Judy Harrison, another Dear friend, sent a touching email, the best part of which was an image of a Palestinian flag. Yes, Judy, Betty was very proud of her Palestinian, Arab, and Antiochian Orthodox  Christian roots; she is smiling at you from the blue yonder and giving you a thumbs up.

Yes, Betty was very proud of her Palestinian roots  – but she was equally  proud of her American citizenship.

High school classmate Kirkor Agopian, sent the following: “My deepest sympathy, I did not know her, but that’s a person I would have enjoyed knowing & talking to.”

And from London, High school classmate Dr. George Tawil wrote:

I am so sorry to hear of the passing away of your sister. Of course to us she was always “Betty,”  and I remember very well her years at Intra Bank with my mother. It is a shame, all this generation is leaving us one by one and leaving us with all these bitter sweet memories.”

From Fayetteville, entrepreneur Fadil Bayyari’s comment on Beatrice’s passing on:

Thank you for sharing Betty’s Obituary… it is very comprehensive. It is a moving farewell for a well accomplished PALESTINIAN Sister.”

Indeed, Beatrice Rima Halaby was an accomplished woman and a trusted friend. La Belle Femmel observed that   Betty was  born 50 years too early – meaning that had she come of age in the 80’s or 90’s – when myriad doors began to open  for women, Betty would have very well been competing with men in the corporate world – and giving them a good run for their money.

A word portrait of Betty’s life would not be complete without my highlighting Betty’s  love – no, passion – for cooking. As I was going through the disposition of her  belongings, I found a voluminous number of recipes, counting in the hundreds, most of which were clipped out of magazines. These included recipes for soups, dips, casseroles, chili, lemon chicken with chick peas, snacks, especially of the healthy kind, Vegetable Pie Fillings, and so much more, including dozens of recipes, hand written on note pads, napkins,  junk mail envelopes, a variety of post it note papers, receipts, and monthly bills. Two such recipes were “Turkish Rose Petal Jam,” and the less appetizing  one , “Stale Bread Soup.”

In a small plastic spice dispenser, Betty carried the following Dr. Oz concoction,  and quoting her exact words,  “a supplement in three equal parts, one third pepper, one third turmeric, and one third thyme.”   I’ve seen her sprinkle this priceless concoction mostly on her salads – much to the bewilderment of her table mates and the dining room staff.

She even went as far as gifting West Shores Chef a Palestinian cook book, requesting that he fix some of these healthy Mediterranean Diet meals. Oh, yes, the Mediterranean Diet was one of her favorite subjects. Last week I carried some 90 books on a variety of international cuisines and gifted them to the Arkadelphia Public Library. If you received a cook book from Betty, then you knew that you were a special friend. Stacked on the table right behind me is a stack of brand new Palestinian cook books. Upon Reverend Pearson’s invitation, you are welcome to help yourself to a book of your choice. Nothing would please Beatrice Rima Halaby more than to know that her cook books found a welcoming home.

[And the books were gone in less than 3 minutes.]


Betty was also notorious for saving dozens of cards or handwritten notes that included bible verses, aphorisms, or proverbs. I have chosen one such example under the title Irish Blessing, which, I am certain,  she would have wanted to share with each of you:

Irish Blessing

May God grant you always … A sunbeam to charm you,
a sheltering angel so nothing can harm you. Laughter to cheer you.
Faithful friends near you. And whenever you pray, heaven to hear you.”

From Beirut, Lebanon, nephew Fareed sent the following:

“To appropriate a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet,  ‘She was a [woman], take her for all in all, I shall never encounter a [woman] like her again.”

How true that is!!!

Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor Emeritus of English and Art. He is a writer, photographer, sculptor, an avid gardener, and a peace activist.