Parting Thoughts

Remembering My Mom, Helen Slater Zager

Posted 16 April 2013

My mother, Helen Slater Zager, died on March 10. She was 92, and led a very full life.

In the weeks since then, I’ve thought a lot about how much she has influenced my life, as well as that of many others.

While I don’t feel equal to her endless creativity, enthusiasm, and enchantment with all the beautiful things in the world, a good dose of it rubbed off on me.

From an early age, I have always been driven by projects that I wanted to do. Her unending confidence in me, as well as her own example, powered this drive.

I’ve been self-employed for most of my career, as have my brother and sister. All during my childhood, my mom was a self-employed ceramic artist. I’m sure that the model of her working in her studio in the garage, following her own agenda, is a big part of why I’ve chosen this path and have often worked from home.

Gardening has been one of my enduring passions, and this too I learned from her. Not only a love of gardening in general, but a passion for the unusual and obscure.

Relationships were always important to my mom, and she put a lot of energy into her friends and her own personal growth. When I was a teen in the 1960s, she was getting Rolfed and going to encounter groups. She passed along the attitudes and values that are surely one factor why all three of her children are still married to their first spouses after 30 years or more.

Another enduring value I absorbed from her is the importance of design. Both a love for great design, a desire to be surrounded by it, and a disdain for badly designed things.

She cherished her photos (something else I inherited from her) and left behind an amazing collection. There are still many thousands yet to be sorted through. I’ve put up a small selection of them on her former website, now serving as a memorial site, at

Helen’s final years

During her final years, she needed a lot of help, and it was gratifying to see how many people contributed. Her many decades of being a friend and mentor to so many people gave her many returns, not only in the joy she took in being connected with their lives and reveling in their accomplishments, but in the care and attention they gave her when she needed it most.

Mom never lost sight of the beauty of the world and her joy in being part of it. Even in her final months, when life was very difficult for her, she would comment on the beautiful trees, or an interesting house, as we drove down the street. In her final weeks, her biggest joy was the birds that came to her birdfeeder.

As her body declined over the past decade or so, she dealt with her challenges without becoming depressed or bitter. It was only as her mind began failing that life became so difficult for her. With both Ray and her mental clarity gone, she desperately wanted to "move back home" — she wanted a life full of people, and gardening, and clay, and it was impossible for her to accept that much of this was now beyond her reach. She would talk about getting a volunteer job, taking in a few children, getting back into clay.

An inspiration in so many ways

I can only hope that if I make it to my 90s, I can remain as positive as she was, and have such a loving, supportive community of family and friends.

I will miss her forever, and take comfort in being inspired by her memory.