My mother would have turned 86 on Friday, March 4th, 2016. Below is the eulogy I read at her funeral on February 19th.
My mother passed away on Saturday, February 6th, 2016 at the age of 85 years, 11 months, and two days. Today we honor her.
My mother possessed a quiet strength which I often misread as passivity because she was not direct and bold as I am. My mother was very strong, however, right up to the end. So ill from cancer, unable to eat or drink, and then unresponsive, she continued to defy all predictions of her imminent demise, confounding every hospice nurse who visited.
“We expect her to be gone within 72 hours.”
But still she breathed.
“It could be this weekend; it could be today.”
But still she breathed.
“She will be gone in 24 – 36 hours.”
But still she breathed, and hospice stopped predicting.
Until she breathed no more, and on her own terms, she passed.
Many decades ago in the 1960s, when my brother and I were small children, my mother was a woman ahead of her time. She had married my dad in the 1950s but by 1966, she knew her marriage would not be a happy one. She and my father separated. My father tried to come back, but she wouldn’t have it. “It’s either you or Fran,” my father said in his inimitable style.
“I don’t feel as if I’ve lost a husband, Ben,” she said to my father, who loved large quantities of shoes and clothing. “I feel as if I’ve gained a closet.”
When my father was officially with my stepmom, Fran, he said to my mother, “Fran says we should get a neat, legal separation because of the kids.” To which my mother replied, “I don’t want a neat, legal separation,” and as my father’s eyes grew wide thinking my mom might want him back, she continued, “I want a neat, legal divorce.” She showed this strength for her own well-being before the Women’s Movement made it okay. My mom wanted what she wanted on her own terms. She was willing to be a single mom and a divorcee before society said it was okay.
She was strong.
My mother was kind. My mother lived a long life filled with kindness. She loved my dad, despite his difficult personality, which often expressed itself with verbal taunting. My mother could easily have been angry at Fran. But my mom was too kind to be unfair. My dad once “bragged” to my mother that Fran didn’t mind when he spoke to her poorly, to which my mother immediately replied, “You shouldn’t talk to Fran that way either!” Many of us would have found some measure of satisfaction in hearing that our ex-es significant other was now experiencing the same hell we had. But my mother was much too kind to feel vengeance.
In fact, she forgave my father for all of his infractions because she was kind, just as she always forgave me for mine. I was not always as kind to her as I could have been, but she always forgave me with a mother’s unconditional love.
My mother was a much loved woman. In her senior years, before she became ill, I would take her out to shop at clothing stores or bed and bath stores or what have you, or we might go out to eat at a local restaurant. No matter where we went, people always came up to her and said “Hi, Edie!” with big smiles on their faces. I was very impressed. Even at the nursing home, there were genuine tears when my mother passed. “I loved your mom,” one nurse said, echoing the sentiments of several of the staff who cared for her at the end. It’s quite an accomplishment to be so well-loved.
Some of you know me as a writer. Some of you know I have often written about my mother and my relationship with her in a light that is not flattering to her or to me. So today, as we honor her, I would like to read in public for the first time two short passages from my essays that do honor her.
The first is from a published essay called:
From A Smirnoff and Coke:
Once, my mother was a colorful figure of the night, showy in her dress, donning bright green-and-orange sweaters, or stark black-and-white dresses. Hitting all the singles clubs. I remember giant-checkered skirts, and circle- and leopard-skin blouses. She wore wedge heels and bright pink lipstick. She was always tall at nearly five foot eight, with a well-developed bosom that LURED man after man to her side. She had thick dark hair that she wore in whatever style prevailed in a given decade. I remember the flip-up hairdos in the 1960s and the pictures of her from the late 1940s wearing banana curls, which she called “shit curls.” She turned heads in her day: Edie, the tall, thin Jewish girl with the big boobs and the jet black hair. More than once she has repeated what her mother-in-law said to her when she was dating my dad, “She can’t be Jewish, she’s too tall and too skinny!” Imagine my grandmother saying it with derision and a Yiddish accent. Of course, my mother took it as a compliment – she was skinny and tall, as opposed to short and fat, like my grandmother.
From Paper Moon:
My mother was the first woman who took me on a date. I was eleven and she was forty-three and she asked, “Would you like to see a movie and then have dinner at the hotel across the street?” She caught me pre-adolescence, young enough still to want to spend time with her whenever I could. She was home so little during my waking hours, maybe three hours a day, before she headed out the door for an evening of god knows what.
At age eleven, I said, “Yes, yes, let’s go to the movies.”
We saw Tatum O’Neil and her father, Ryan in “Paper Moon.”
I recall sitting in the dark theater with her as the movie began to play. I believe the movie was in black and white to visually capture the poverty of the Depression era. Up on the big screen we watched Ryan and Tatum put on their con artist show for those of us sitting in the glow of the movie. He was so handsome then; Tatum was so cute. My mother sat next to me on a Saturday afternoon and then into early evening as we ate a mediocre meal at the hotel restaurant. She was disappointed with the food.
“I thought the food would be better,” she said as if to apologize. “We should have gone somewhere else to eat.”
“It’s fine,” I answered.
I sat in my chair and gazed at her. I thought: my beautiful mom, all to myself.
I was lucky to have my mom in my life for nearly 54 years. Some people do not get that luxury. I was lucky to have such a kind and quietly strong mom whose love I never doubted. I was lucky to have generous mom and a mom with a sense of humor. She was my mom and she was my best friend for my entire life. I miss her terribly but I hold on to the belief that I will see her again when it is my time.
Mom, we are all here for you today. I love you and will think of you always.