Eulogy for Mom

This entry was posted by on Monday, 29 December, 2008 at

This eulogy is really a continuation the one I wrote for Dad in 2005. It was delivered December 29, 2008.


I stood here three years ago and tried to explain the shape of my father’s life, and now, in a strong way I feel like this is a continuation of that same experience. In my mind, it’s often difficult to separate my parents… while intellectually I know that they were both very strong individuals, their union was so perfect that they always felt like a single “parental unit” to me. When dad died, I was not only mourning his passing, but also the passing of the marriage itself.

As I’ve said before, their marriage was simply incredible… the kind of marriage we all dream of and strive for. After 40 years, still holding hands and looking at each other as if they had just started dating. After 40 years, still absolute best friends.

And so it’s been very hard for me to watch mom live as a widow for the last three years. Completely ignoring issues around her physical health, it also felt like part of her soul was missing. While I could clearly see her glow as an individual, her spark still felt somewhat crippled, not quite as bright as I was used to.

So while I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, mom’s passing is also somewhat of a relief to me — partially because her physical suffering has ended, but moreso because she’s finally no longer separated from her soul-mate. It feels to me like dad left us prematurely, but now finally mom is catching up with him — they’re together again, and things are as they should be.

As I mentioned three years ago, mom and dad had somewhat reverse stereotypical roles as parents. Dad was the “nurturing” parent, while mom was the driving type-A personality, pushing us all to achieve. Her life was one series of of ambitious projects after another.

In college she studied music and voice, and dreamed of being an opera singer. When she realized she’d never make it as a professional singer, her ambition switched: she went to grad school to become a psychologist. It was there she met the love of her life and was married within a year. After graduation, The two of them moved to Elgin and began working together in the state hospital as psychologists. Several years later they decided to have kids, and moved to River Forest. She spent a few years as a stay-at-home mom, while working part-time at Loretto hospital. When we kids were old enough, her ambition kicked in again and she started her own private practice. She then spent 25 years counseling people, billing herself as as a therapist who specialized in “women’s issues”. She and my dad also worked as a dynamite team of marriage counselors: first meeting with husband and wife 1-on-1, then working out issues with all four people in the room.

I don’t think many people realize that in the 80’s mom was working on a book that was never published — one which revolved around issues of feminism. She was part of that first generation of women’s lib, and took real pride in being part of that movement. She strove to be a living example of everything that movement talked about: that it was okay for women to break free of gender stereotypes and be “strong”, to be heads of households, and to have egalitarian marriages. Years later, after I got married, mom was always secretly thrilled watching Frances so easily bounce effortlessly back and forth between children and career. She was immensely proud that she had fought for the culture which enabled Frances to do that — a culture that most folks of my generation now take for granted.

Later in life, when my dad went back to school to get his doctorate in psychology, she pursued her own continuing education by becoming a licensed practicioner of NLP — a branch of hypnotherapy that focuses on mind-body connections, and the ability of people to induce their own healing. She made numerous friends through her training.

And toward the end of her life, when she was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer, she became incredibly active in the community of carcinoid victims. She attended support groups, helped organize conferences, and was a source of comfort and wisdom to hundreds of people on email lists. She was a beacon of strength to the whole community.

So that’s a snapshot of mom’s “external” life — her outward accomplishments. However, her internal life was at least as rich. She always spoke about my brother and I as her “two biggest projects” of which she was the most proud, and her influence on us was immense.

Growing up in our home, she soaked us in a culture of music. Classical radio played in every room of the house, every day. She sang all sorts of lullabies to us, which I now sing to my own kids. While she had given up her idea of being a professional musician, she had a rule in her house that “all kids must take music lessions from age 6 until they move out”. Needless to say, this caused quite a number of fights, usually ending with “you’ll thank me for this someday”. And sure enough, over time, she was right. By the time we were adults we were thanking her. Music is now a major cornerstone of our lives and personalities.

The other major cultural gift she gave us, I think, was her immense drive to learn everything and participate in endless activities. Her appetite for learning was insatiable. We used to joke that she suffered from ‘FMS’ — “Fear of Missing Something”. She had too many hobbies to count — reading, writing, knitting, tatting, neighborhood clubs and organizations. She sang in choirs all through her adult life, all the way into her 60’s. She read a book every two days, and so our house was absolutely overflowing with stacks of paperbacks. Her brain was always hungry for more, and she passed that traitdirectly on to us. She taught me to play chess, how to play piano, how to write BASIC programs on the very earliest home computers. She continuously hounded my brother and I to chase our dreams — urging me to write more musicals, and urging my brother to become an astronomer. Of course, one of the side-effects of FMS was the constant risk of over-extending oneself — but she taught us how to avoid that trap as well.

Over the weekend I joined the carcinoid email-list, to let all of mom’s friends know she had passed. The outpouring of sympathy and stories has simply been tremendous — a huge flow of emails full of shock and sadness. I want to read one particular story I received, which I feel exemplifies mom’s life:

“I met [Dana] for the first time at my first carcinoid support group meeting in Hinsdale […] I was still in shock of being diagnosed […] About 30 minutes into the meeting and listening to others speak about their carcinoid journey, I felt myself coming apart, emotionally, and thought I was going to ‘lose it.’ So, I quietly got up to make an exit from the meeting room & was going to just calm myself down in the hall. Before I knew it, Dana was out there in the hall with me, holding my hand and telling me everything would be O.K. Then she told me about her journey up to then and how well she was doing. She literally embraced me mentally and physically with reassurance. Later in the meeting I learned that she had just lost her husband only about a month before. I could not believe how ‘put together’ she was…..so soon after her tragic loss. She said she felt from the moment I walked into the meeting that we were kindred spirits. When she spoke at our meetings, we were all in awe of her knowledge of carcinoid and her ability to explain so many concepts, procedures, protocols, research and resources to learn about and fight this disease. […]”

Now my father’s self-admitted life goal was to bring joy to everyone he met. And while my mother never openly admitted to a specific life goal, I think there’s a clear theme that underlies everything she did: she brought hope to everyone she met.

She started her career by comforting ER victims in hospitals, calming them down and raising their spirits, while also assuring the families of the injured. She brought hope to women of her generation, urging them to work for a society free of gender barriers. Over the decades, she brought hope to the hundreds of women she counseled in her private practice: helping to mend their lives and their marriages, helping overcome depression and other ailments. And at the end of her life, she brought tremendous hope to her community of cancer victims, comforting individuals and encouraging them to fight.

So while my father’s headstone reads “Bringer of Joy”, I think it’s fitting that my mother’s headstone have the words “Bringer of Hope”.

Decades from now, someone might walk through the cemetery and wonder what the two mysterious side-by-side epitaphs mean: “Bringer of Joy” and “Bringer of Hope”. And those privileged few of us — those here in this room today, and those lucky enough to know Larry and Dana — get to know the true beauty of the stories behind those words, and what an inspiration these people were. May we all have lives this bright.

12 Comments to Eulogy for Mom

  1. Harriet M. Welsch says:

    December 30th, 2008 at 12:04 am

    That was beautiful. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  2. Karl Fogel says:

    December 30th, 2008 at 12:44 am

    Beautifully said, Ben, and so true. I wish she could have lived long enough to see her grandchildren grow up, but you and Mike brought her plenty of joy.

  3. Clare S. says:

    December 30th, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Ben, this eulogy is as beautiful now as it was when you read it yesterday. I thought coming away from that ceremony that this was a life-long goal to work towards: to have the kind of life that people can talk about that way when one is gone.

    I’m sorry for your loss, but also I’m happy that you had such an amazing mother who had such a rich life. Her legacy clearly lives on in you, your brother, and everyone whose life she touched.

  4. brad dunbar says:

    December 30th, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing. That’s a beautiful story.

  5. karalyn faulkner says:

    December 30th, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing. It seems to me that your mother and father both passed on the loving and giving spirit to you. What a legacy that they both left you.

  6. Barbara Mathis says:

    December 30th, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    I only knew your mother through the on line support group but I knew that she must be a truly concerned individual. I am sorry for not only your family’s loss but for all those who drew from her wisdom. Thank you for sharing the eulogy with us. I’m certain your mother would be proud of you.

  7. Pat McCoy says:

    December 30th, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Ben, What a beautiful way to say your goodbye to your wonderful mom. She raised a son with such insight into the beauty of others, especially his mother.

    All those that are fighting this disease and those that love them feel the loss you are feeling and we know your mom is now back in the arms of the man she loved. She will be remembered fondly by those that knew her.

    I have only known her a short time but she has left a deep impression on me.

    Her lagacy will live on in those she touched…the Bringer of Hope…

    Pat McCoy

  8. Al Jones says:

    January 1st, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Wonderful tribute to your Mother. I lost my Mom a few years ago to lung cancer and she was also a remarkable lady. I wrote a tribute to her. I am sorry for your loss.

  9. Polly says:

    January 1st, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    what wonderful words for a wonderful lady. I am one of the lucky folk that even though I only had therapies through Dana, I knew Larry as well. I know the 2 of them are smiling that folks here celebrate them and their children. Thank you to Ben, for sharing this blog with me so I can respond to your writings. Thank you to Dana and Larry for helping make ME a better and not bitter person. I celebrate YOU

    cheers,

    Love Polly

  10. Gale Stafford says:

    January 2nd, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    I just came to your blog for the first time today. Good post here about your mother. I lost my dad 13 months ago — hardest thing I ever went through. But the grieving process caused me to change my life’s direction and set more ambitious goals for myself. As a result, I’m back in graduate school working on a doctoral degree and moving into a new career.

  11. Steve Schmitt says:

    January 19th, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    A thoughtful and thought provoking tribute to a wonderful person. Do not be embarrassed by the relief you express; your selflessness during your loss shows a great understanding of the hereafter and the essence of her life. I have lost both parent and child and understand the grief you endure. Cherish the gift of such beautiful parents and in time their memory will be a constant repository of strength and love throughout your life.

    My warmest regards.

  12. Jeanne T. Arrigo says:

    March 19th, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Wow, Ben; another amazing tribute after the loss of your second parent. I hear what you’re saying about being relieved at your mom’s death, since she was not complete without your dad, and hence, was once again with her soul-mate: I know that is how it will be for my dad, too; though i surely expect and hope to have him much longer than just a couple more years. Since he has stopped smoking (he is now into “vaping” – the “e” or “vapor” cigarette) he seems much healthier than in years past. I know he may want to be with her more than on earth right now, but am hoping he will have the will to stick around until he is a ripe old 90 or so!

    I know it’s years later, but I want to extend my deepest sympathies for your loss – which is of course immense, and I’m sure you still miss them both.

    Best,
    Jeanne