October 12, 2010

A Eulogy

My mother, Betty Ann, died on August 26th of this year after a long period of being in and out of hospitals and nursing homes. What follows is a modified version of the eulogy I delivered at her funeral service. It's modified because my eulogy followed my brother's, and it wouldn't have entirely made sense the way it was, as I made reference to a few things he said. He declined to become my first guest poster, and I can't blame him for that. (Except that it was really good.) Obviously, I wrote this at the time, but it has taken me this long to be able to edit and post it. I am, to put it gently, adrift. I miss my mom more than any words I can scribble down will ever capture.

The last few days have been filled with more laughter than you might imagine. My family is not a somber group and while there has been reminiscing and missing going on, there is still life, humor and joy. I'd like to think that Mom would appreciate that.

Though it might sound trite and somewhat underwhelming, to know my mom was to like her. But being universally well-liked is actually a rather impressive thing. Not that many people really pull it off while being genuine. Mom was. She was certainly a lot more likeable than I am, but I could never quite figure out what her secret was. Maybe I wasn't supposed to; everyone has their strengths and that was hers, not mine. And her strengths were often extraordinary.

This year was really rough for Mom, health-wise. I know there were times when she felt like it was all a little too much. She kept tackling each problem, though, even when she might not fully have wanted to press on with yet another procedure. But she did want to, for us, and we were there with her at each step, trying to keep her spirits up and keep her laughing, too.

She and I spent a lot of time together in the last twelve months, even more than normal, and I am thankful that was the case. Until she went into the hospital, we had developed a pattern of going out one day, getting the medical stuff out of the way and then enjoying the day with as much fun as possible; eating out, running errands, going to the library, getting a favorite treat here or there and, most importantly, shopping. Then we'd spend a few days at home, cooking when we were up to it, perusing cookbooks when we weren't, doing the crossword in the paper, reading, watching her favorite shows and, most importantly, shopping. On TV. My cousin Michael asked the other day if my mom and I had stock in QVC. He came across a stack of invoices and drew a logical, if smart-alecky, conclusion. (I send my apologies to QVC for the dip in their profits over the last few months, and I promise to honor my mom by making up for it as soon as possible.) But really, being able to shop that way and keep up to date with what was going on was important to her, and helped her feel less restricted that she might have otherwise. In many ways, our living situation may have resembled The Odd Couple more than Gilmore Girls but somehow it worked for us and we were friends as well as mother/daughter housemates.

For me, there was always a lot to admire about my mom. She raised two kids, mostly on her own, to be independent, self-sufficient and unafraid, which is quite an accomplishment given that she had a lot of fears of her own. But for the most part, she didn't let her fears hold us back. She supported us even if she didn't completely agree with or get what we chose to do, which is a lot more than many kids can expect from their parents. She trusted us to blaze our own path. She just reminded us to be careful at every turn.

Mom reminded us about a lot of things. She was the one who kept the memories for us and was our touchstone of family and history, as well as right from wrong. Whereas my brother, Sean, hears her voice in his head when making decisions, for me it was more a matter of just following her example to where it became a part of my thought process; my fearlessness tempered with her caution, my adventurousness balanced by her practicality, my impatience mitigated by her reasonableness, my procrastination...curbed...well, no, I guess there was no accounting for that. Suffice it to say that she softened my harder edges and I provided the encouragement for her to push past her reluctance to try new things. In that, we made a good team and, with Sean, an even better, closer family.

I will miss you, Mom. But I will always be grateful for everything you taught us, told us, showed us, put up with, laughed over and, more than anything, for the way you loved us.