A rose gold casket sat inside a vacant funeral home at the end of April, a colorful reminder of a woman who lived a colorful life.
Sylvia Laine was born on April 7, 1924 in Corona, Queens, to Finnish immigrant parents. She had five sisters and two brothers, one of whom died when she was very young.
She married Warren Brocker in 1943, and they moved to Franklin Square a few years later, where they raised their four children. There, Sylvia became involved at the St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in West Hempstead, and served as its secretary and on its council. Then, when she got older, she led the singing group at the Catholic Charities Senior Center at Wesley United Methodist Church.
She died from the coronavirus on April 14, one week after her 96th birthday.
She had been in the hospital for almost three weeks, some days of which she would say she felt “OK,” but others she would have to rely on a ventilator for oxygen. Her son, Andrew, stayed by her side during her final moments, and called his relatives so they could tell Sylvia what she meant to the family.
Her children described her as one-of-a-kind. She was very outgoing, and liked to make cream puffs, macaroni and cheese and lasagna, her daughter, Melanie Osse said, noting that the lasagna was her favorite.
As a family, she said, they took frequent trips to Zachs Bay and Heckscher State Park, and would visit friends in Northport over the summer. They lived in a small house, Brocker Osse said, and five people had to share one bathroom. But, she said, “We made do with what we had.”
Sylvia had a sense of ‘sisu’ — a Finnish term meaning determination, perseverance and a power of will — her family explained, which helped her through the loss of her husband in 2000 and the loss of her eldest son, Warren Jr., in 2003 at the age of 55.
She also lived her life to its fullest, Andrew said, and made her presence known wherever she went. Every day, she would wear a different shade of lipstick, even if she did not have any plans, and loved to be fancy. She never passed up delicious food, sometimes eating cake for breakfast, and would sing questions.
“We’d be like, ‘Mom, you’re living in a musical,’” Andrew recounted.
She used that talent to put on plays for residents in local nursing homes, where she volunteered. One day, she told her son, Russell, about her work, and noted “a little old man in the front row,” which Russell thought was ironic.
“My mom never acknowledged her age,” Russell explained. “She never looked her age, she never acted her age.”
Sylvia was active on Facebook, Andrew noted, and would often comment on her relative’s posts with pictures and hearts. And after her husband retired with a Civil Service Pension in 1977, the couple traveled to Tanzania for three months, where Warren helped build a bus garage and Sylvia taught at a local school.
She remained “sharp as a tack” even as she got older, according to Andrew. Once, after undergoing surgery, a social worker asked him about her health, to which Sylvia asked the social worker if she “‘could talk to me, please?”
“The woman jumped,” Russell recalled.
He said he is happy that he has had his mother in his life for 68 years, noting “most people don’t get that.”
Sylvia was laid to rest on April 24, wearing a designer pink suit, with her Chanel lipstick, a purse and her nailpolish. The family is also planning to hold a colorful celebration of her life, complete with a church service and a cocktail party, next year.
She is survived by her children; Melanie Brocker Osse, Russell Brocker and Andrew Brocker; here nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. She was pre-deceased by her husband Warren, and her eldest son, Warren Jr.