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Between Us

My Friend Fern

Celebrating the people who touch our lives.

Normally you don't become best buds with your real estate agent. They are nice enough people. But sometimes you wonder: Do they love me only for my commission?

I never wondered that about Fern Greenberg.

Back in the summer of 2000, my family and I moved from California to New Jersey. Long trip, young child, new job, tight budget, not much time to find a house. Lots of stress.

Then Fern entered the picture. Dressed in a bright suit and fun jewelry — always — with a big smile and a bigger heart, she had endless energy and a can-do attitude you knew better than to mess with. I loved Fern on sight. I loved that she found a beautiful, affordable Tudor house for us in about 48 hours. I loved that everything struck her as funny — including when my toddler set off our new home's monstrously loud security alarm, putting the entire neighborhood on full alert: "INTRUSION! INTRUSION!" The longer the warning blared, the harder Fern laughed.

When you met her, says her husband, Ed, "you wanted to be with her some more."

On March 12, 2009, Fern suffered a fatal asthma attack that took her from us at the way-too-young age of 53. As the holidays approach (she threw a mean Halloween costume party), I miss my friend Fern.

And I worry about the family of five she left behind. At 71, Ed, a former pharmacist with advanced diabetes (legal troubles and disability forced his early retirement), is doing his best to put all four of their kids through college at once, with his Social Security check and some financial aid.

Those remarkable children are Fern's lasting legacy: Kenneth and Chaz, who will soon be 21; Jalesa, 19; and Neil, who will be 19 in October. Two sets of twins — kind of. Fern gave birth to Kenneth first. Shortly after, she and Ed adopted Chaz, a girl with an artistic flair, who was born with three fingers fused and an extra finger on her thumb. True to her mom's spirit, Chaz never allowed this unique challenge to hold her back. A couple of years later, on the day that Fern delivered Neil, a social worker dropped off baby Jalesa — Chaz's biological half sister — with the Greenbergs. They've had custodial rights to Jalesa ever since. A typically atypical American family — and a joyful one.

The holidays are a good time to remember — and to celebrate — the lives of the special people who are no longer with us. Special people like my friend Fern.


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