Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Rest in Peace, Part II

My brother generously added me as a co-author on his blog about six months ago. I haven't been able to work up the gumption to write anything for it since, though. I never imagined that my first post would be the eulogy that I wrote for my mother's memorial service. But here it is.

In my mom’s obituary, my brother described her as a “conspiratorial grandmother.” It’s funny that he used that word, because, in reflecting on my mom, it’s the very same word that came to my mind.

In my mom, the grandchildren in our family had a natural ally and coconspirator in the long struggle against a common enemy: parents.  Cookies for lunch; waffles for dinner; staying up past bedtime; binge-watching inappropriate shows on Netflix: At Grandma’s house, all things were possible.

And it wasn’t just her grandchildren, either. My mom had a special affinity for all kids. She relished their humor—the more scatological, the better. She adored being goofy with them. And she treasured sharing her love of books and reading with them.

Many of you know that my mom was a garage sale and thrift store aficionado. She put these skills to use in tracking down anything we could possibly need, and many things we didn’t—tiaras, parasols, all manner of dress up clothes; entire wardrobes of regular clothes; art supplies; toys; and so many beautiful children’s books.

I swear I never bought a single Barbie, but somehow it seemed like we had thousands. And when the girls decided that they needed a Ken—apparently a fairly rare commodity at garage sales—grandma tried to help them create one out of one of the many superfluous Barbies we had lying around. I won’t say much about that other than that it’s my understanding that it involved the use of fire and it wasn’t very successful.

It didn’t matter, though. The girls were delighted to see grandma strike yet another blow against the tyranny of parental correctness. More importantly, they absorbed the underlying message: grandma would do anything for them.

The truth is, even as I publicly deplored these shenanigans, I was secretly delighted too. The incredible relationship between my daughters and my mom has been one of the principal joys of my life.  She entered into my daughters’ feelings and daily concerns as fully as I could myself. She was their strongest advocate.  It comforted me to know that she was always in their corner, even—or especially—when I was not. I knew that even if there were things they wouldn’t talk to me about, they could always talk to their grandma. It breaks my heart that they lost her now, when I feel that they need her the most.

And she was an integral part of our daily lives. We talked all the time, got together all the time. She was an indispensable part of so many family outings and road trips. After she discovered an aptitude for texting, we could count on witty one-liners and random asides throughout the day.

What I’m trying to say is that losing her has blasted a gigantic hole in our lives. We are standing in the middle of a crater, still dazed and blinded by the events of the last month, and we can’t even comprehend the edges of it. All we can do is try to fill it with love for each other.

I’m not a particularly religious person. But one religious sentiment has always resonated with me: “God has no hands but these hands.” Over the past month, I have been so humbled by my mom’s friends, neighbors, and extended family coming forward to help care for my mom and for us.  In your ministry to us, I saw each of you come cloaked in the mantle of the divine. And I am so very grateful for everything you’ve done. Without you, we could not have brought my mom home to spend the last few days of her life surrounded and cared for by her family.  And thanks to the stories and memories you’ve shared, I have also come to know my mom better even as I ached to hear her voice. As I try to make sense of a world without my mom, I will always remember how much she was loved by all of you. Thank you for that gift.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Rest In Peace, Mom

Note: I gave this eulogy at my mom's memorial service earlier today. 
I am your child
Wherever you go
you take me too.
Whatever I know
I learn from you.
Whatever I do
you taught me to do.
I am your child.
And I am your chance.
Whatever will come
will come from me.
Tomorrow is won
by winning me.
Whatever I am
you taught me to be.
I am your hope.
I am your chance.
I am your child.
Mom heard the petition of this children's poem, and she heeded its call. She parented as if everything was at stake. And everything was: she was a single woman with four children. She had a son with cancer. She faced the loss of her own mother. She had no money, no job, no direction. But she overcame all of this adversity: she graduated from nursing school… and built a full and happy life for herself and for all of her children. She poured everything she had into providing for us and our futures. But what did we know about that.

In 2008, after I got divorced, I lived with my mom for a time, while I got back on my feet. She was the ideal roommate: quiet (-- hard to believe, I know --), clean… she kept to herself when I didn't want company, but she was right there when I needed someone to talk to. I learned a lot about mom as a person that year.

So one evening, I came home and asked her about her day. She flashed me her knowing smile and replied: "today while I was seeing an amputee, and tending to his infected stump, the dog was sniffing my crotch. I look over at other side of the bed and I see a mouse crawling up the bedspread, and the cat isn't doing anything about it. So I say to the woman, 'there's a mouse, how come the cat isn't doing anything about it?' and the woman picks up the cat and throws it at the mouse. In the meantime the amputee has shit the bed."

Such is the life of a nurse. In that last year before she retired -- the year I lived with her -- mom, a twenty-seven year veteran who was turning 65, worked Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day, all without incentive pay. She was actually scheduled to work the entire Christmas weekend, but had to call in sick -- which she never did -- because she couldn't get out of bed.

And it occurred to me that this was her *every day* while I was growing up. When you are a child, you cannot conceive how hard your mother works. All of that noise, all of that chaos, all of that hard, hard work - she shielded us from it. We lived inside of her protective armor. All of our pedestrian worries about homework, sleep-overs, clean uniforms… these seemed like the biggest problems in the world to us. Meanwhile, outside of the bubble in which we lived, mom fought real demons: financial hardship, cancer, unsafe neighborhoods, unfair labor practices. And she did it always with a wry and confident smile on her face.

The poem reads, "tomorrow is won by winning me." You did it, mom. I am your child -- and I am very proud to say so.