Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Eulogy for Mom - On her birthday

The following is the eulogy I gave for my mother for her many friends in Cary, NC.  I hope you enjoy it.

On behalf of my brother and sister and I, and our families, we want to thank you for being here today.

It was a great comfort to us, that Mom had so many friends and great neighbors here in Cary.  We could never convince her to move from her apartment, the second floor walk up terrified me, because she said she loved it here.  Her social life was much better than mine, breakfast here, lunch there, trips, cruises, birthdays with the girls.  And neighbors who not only looked out for her but were great friends as well.  We cannot thank you enough for that. 

Although we loved her independence, we definitely kept tabs on her.  Like the time a few years ago when, after repeated calls one evening, I could not get in touch with her.  And so began the calls..."Matt, have you talked to Mom today?"  No?  "Jacq, have you talked to Mom today?"  Panic had begun to set in as none of us had talked to Mom that day.  The usual drill was that at least one of us would talk to her every day.  I wasn't really panicked until a couple of hours later when I still couldn't get an answer.  So, I called the Cary non-emergency number.  "Yes, hello.  My Mom is older and I can't get a hold of her.  Do you think you could send someone by to check on her?"  "Oh, yes, we do that for a lot of people."  Well, good, I thought.  If she is dead in the apartment, I will know.  About 20 minutes later my phone rang.  "Hi Sue!  I got your messages.  I was downstairs having a drink with Sally.  What's up?"  OMG, I thought.  Crap.  The next thing I heard was...knock, knock, knock.  "Hold on, someone's at the door."  "Mom!!  MOM!!...WAIT!!"  (Oh, yes, you can see this coming...)  In muffled voices I hear..."Oh, yes, Officer, I'm fine.  Thank you for checking on me."  (Was that through gritted teeth, I thought?)  Crap...here is comes..."Sue, why were the police here checking on me???"   Well, you can finish the rest for yourself.  Secretly, although she was annoyed, I think she was pleased we worried about her.

You all had the privilege of knowing my Mom the last eight years of her life.  We had the privilege of being her children.  As I’m sure ALL of you know, Mom was born and raised in New York City.  Her childhood was filled with music and laughter.  For Mom, New York would always be the New York of the 1940s and 50s. 

I want to share with you just a few stories from our life with Mom.  Mom and Dad moved us to a bedroom community 20 miles south of Pittsburgh when I was 3.  In those days, Pittsburgh was a dying steel town, having not yet re-invented itself.  For Mom, it was like moving to another planet.  No streetlights, no sidewalks, COWS could be seen from the kitchen window, for heaven’s sake!  But she did it for us and made the best of it.  We had a huge yard on a street that was a giant oval so all the backyards backed up to one another.  Imagine a backyard as big as a football field with tons of trees, hills, a creek and plenty of room to run.  We fed or housed every stray animal, or some “poor soul” one of the cats had injured.  We fed the local raccoon population by throwing bread to them out the dining room window.  Apples out for the deer, nuts for the squirrels, seed for the birds.  It will not surprise any of you to know that many a stray cat found its way to our house and would be well cared for, for as long as it wanted to stay.  I swear the animals actually told each other where to get a free meal and a warm blanket.  "Psst…head over to Muriel’s."  And while my mother may not have known the owners, she knew every dog in the neighborhood.

When I was about 7, in the dead of a Pittsburgh winter, Mom decided we should go ice skating.  So, she flooded the porch (made of cement) with water and made a rink for us.  We had a ball, until my father came home and had a fit.  Seems she could have cracked the foundation.  We never did that again.  Winter was sledding, snowmen and wet mittens.  Summer was the pool, catching fireflies and warm nights on the porch in our pajamas.

Mom loved music.  Having a lovely singing voice, she even performed in the community talent show one year.  She had great fun doing that.  She was in the choir at St. Benedict's for years.  She finally gave it up because every week after rehearsal, she couldn't sleep because all those songs were constantly running through her head.   We always had a variety of records in the house, Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra, you name it.  Dad would put the music on and we’d push back the chairs in the living room and we would all dance. 

Christmases were a big deal.  Mom loved Christmas.  She would buy gifts all year long and stash them away so we wouldn't find them.  The only problem was that she forgot where she hid them.  So, she got wise and WRAPPED them so we couldn't see what they were.  But they were wrapped for so long with no tags, come Christmas morning, she would hand one to one of us and say, “Open this, I want to see what it is.”  And the year Mom discovered QVC, there must have been 75 presents under the tree!  It took us hours to open everything.  It was wonderful, she loved it.  I think QVC will have to double their sales efforts now to compensate for the lost revenue.

Mom loved to laugh.  Her laughter was contagious, sometimes at the most inappropriate moments.  Like the time in Mass when she and I were seated behind a father and his son of about 4 or 5 years old.  Unbeknownst to his father, the little boy was ever so meticulously licking every single page of the missal, bottom to top.  Mom and I lost it.  And try as we might, we giggled and giggled.  The boy was probably 4 pages in before his horrified father caught on.

Discipline was not my mother’s strong suit.  We could always get her to laugh, even when we were staring down the Wooden Spoon.  She could never stay mad at us for long.  And she never missed a scout meeting, a play, chorus and band concerts, swimming, basketball, football, or anything we were in, Mom was there.

My Mom, “Mrs. Bell” was very well known around town.  Not because she was particularly involved but because she was very outgoing and social.  Frequently, we would ask her “Mom, do you know them?”, after she had struck up a conversation with a store clerk, postal worker, a person in an elevator or some other random individual.  She had friends everywhere.  And all our friends knew her, they not only knew her, they stayed in touch and did so til the day she died.

When I was a freshman in college, I was having a really hard time.  I was so homesick, really not ready to be away from home.  I’m sure you remember the days when the phone rates went down after 11:00, before cell phones.  I would wait in line at the only pay phone on my dorm floor, and call home collect every night.  Mom would make me laugh with stories like how she started to play the lottery.  She had to stop, though, because she could never sleep at night, thinking about how she would spend the winnings!  Little did I know at the time, that those conversations that left me feeling better, left Mom unable to sleep at night for worrying about me.

And while she didn't always like the decisions we made in our lives, she swears she never would interfere.  The thing is, we ALWAYS knew what she was thinking, just from a raise of the eyebrow, or simple silence.  She was every easy to read, she had the best non-verbal communication in the world.

When my husband and I adopted our daughter, Grace, from Ukraine, my mother was the first person I called after meeting her for the first time.  Mom was elated and wanted to know every detail.  That started a very special relationship she would have with Grace.  Two peas in a pod.  When Grandma visited, all rules went out the window.  When we adopted Lucas, who is now 16 months old, the reaction was slightly different.  On our way to the hospital to be with Anna, our birth mother, I called Mom.  “Mom, Anna’s in labor!  We’re on our way to the hospital.”  Silence.  “Mom, do you have something you’d like to say?”  “Well”, she said slowly, “ Isn't it a bit LATE I the game for this?”  I knew exactly what she meant.  I was 48 at the time.  “Well, you’re probably right but we’re doing it anyway!”  And that was that.  She loved Lucas no less than all the others.

She adored all her grandchildren.  She bragged about my brilliant and talented nephews and the three girls, the Ukrainian Trifecta.  She loved her one on one time with them all.  Coloring, playing pretend, singing, talking, whatever they wanted to do.  Those will be great memories for them.
As adults, and as parents ourselves, we came to understand and appreciate our mother in a different way.  She gave us everything we needed to succeed as adults.  To stand up straight and take your hands out of your pockets; to look at people when they spoke to you; the laugh at ourselves; to be kind to animals (as many as possible); to see the good in people and take pleasure in their successes; to try new things; to appreciate the unique gifts God gave us and try not to let the highs get too high or the lows too low. 

Mom gave us the Gift of Gratitude.  She was always grateful for what she had and for her years of health.  Yes, at times we all envy what others have but she saw that many were not as fortunate as she and she was forever grateful.  

She gave us the Gift of Laughter.  I think the three of us inherited a good sense of humor from Mom.  My father was very quiet but Mom loved to laugh.  And we could get her going.  We laughed a lot growing up.

Mom gave us the Gift of Love.  She loved us enough to give us a better life in Pennsylvania, leaving her friends and family in NY. 

I will miss your visits, Mom, our coffee in the morning and wine in the evening.  You were the best, Mom.  And we will miss you every single day.