I’ve been largely absent on Red Shutters the past few weeks, and I want to explain why.
My beloved mother passed away on August 31. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006, she survived multiple reoccurrences of the disease over the past nine and half years. This last return of her cancer, however, was too much.
I’m working to find my way through the aftermath of losing my first best friend, the person I admired and looked up to the most. I expect that this will take a long time, and I know everything – including me – will be different now.
One step forward is to write again; I haven’t been able to capture the words and phrases that have been floating through my mind. They’ve been ephemeral, hard to grasp.
But I’m trying. So, today, I’m sharing the eulogy I wrote for my mom’s funeral. Perhaps, this way, those of you who never met my wonderful mother might get a glimpse into life of a strong and loving woman, the person I try all the time to emulate in my parenting, in my friendships, and in the way I interact with the world.
On behalf of my family, I thank you for being here today to celebrate the life of my mother, Judi.
Judi was many things – wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, friend, and neighbor. She was a traveler of the world, a keeper of many collections – from teapots to blue bottles to Lenox to mystery novels, and the maker of the world’s best coffee cake, the secret recipe of which my brother and I are now the proud owners.
My mom was the person you could depend upon, and the person who would always tell you the way it was. She delivered the truth straight up – even if you didn’t want to hear it – especially if you didn’t want to hear it. She was the problem solver, the person you could turn to with a dilemma and you know she’d help you find a solution. My mother was generous and always wanted to be there for the people she cared about.
My mother’s organizational skills are legendary. There were the dozens of Thanksgivings when she cooked the entire meal almost singlehandedly, with her kitchen looking immaculate as we sat down to eat. There’s the fact that her Christmas card was always the first one to arrive in your mailbox every year; her goal was for it to be there right after Thanksgiving.
My mother had more energy and enthusiasm for life than anyone I’ve ever met. In 2001, a few months after my father died, my mother joined me on a trip to Botswana and Zambia in southern Africa. For one part of our journey, we went white water rafting on the Zambezi River. Our trip down the river started in a section called the boiling pot, which, for me, was a sign that this trip wasn’t going to be easy. And, it wasn’t. I fell into the river twice, almost drowning. It was terrifying. My mother, on the hand, hung onto the raft and rode right over the rapids, smiling and shrieking with laughter. She loved every second of it; she didn’t let fear stand in her way. She wasn’t even concerned when the guide said crocodiles were about. She grabbed onto that experience and welcomed the risk and thrill with great joy. That was her approach to all aspects of her life: to embrace what came to her, to rise about the waves, and to find her way to happiness.
In her last weeks, I recorded a series of very short interviews with my mom. I asked her simply to tell me some stories. Whatever she wanted to talk about was okay with me; I just wanted to be able to hear her voice months and years from now.
My mother wanted to talk about one thing only: the people in her life, the people she loved and cherished. Many of the people she loved and cherished were her friends.
She was proud to have so many deep and true friendships. In one interview, she said: “I am so blessed with so many friends. I don’t know how, in God’s name, I got so lucky. I didn’t do anything special for my friends – except be a friend. And I love them all.”
She felt similarly about her family. She loved being the oldest of five kids, and, in one of the interviews we did together, she talked about growing up with her brothers and sisters on Ackerman Street in Bloomfield. It was chaotic, but her parents made them feel loved and part of something much bigger than themselves. She said, “You can never be alone if you have family. That’s so important.”
She also spoke with her own family – her kids and grandkids – saying how all she wanted was for us to happy and to be together, to stay connected and to be supportive of one another. And, of course, she spoke about my dad. She loved him profoundly and held tight to her belief that they would soon be reunited.
There’s great significance in the fact all of my mother’s stories focused on her friends and family. She knew what we all sometimes forget in the hustle and bustle of our busy lives: the people are what matter. Not things, not status or money. The connections and love of the people in our lives are our greatest blessing. And in that sense my mother was the most blessed person I know, for she was surrounded and buoyed, especially when her illness was at its peaks, by people who loved and supported her, who made her laugh, who brought her great joy. And, I am so very grateful for that, and to all of you for being part of making my mother so very happy.
Our lives will be different without my mom. There will be moments when we want to call to tell her something, but we won’t be able to. There will be gatherings where she should be present, holidays she should be at the table, celebrations that will be different – perhaps less even – because she is not there. I know I will be so very lost without her. My mom understood that. “I’m not afraid of dying,” she said to me. “I’m just going to miss you all so much.” And we will miss her, every day. But she would want us to hold onto our memories together and to remember that she loved us all very much.