Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Words of Love...Though Not the Last

My beloved mother passed away three months today. I go back over events of the last year...the last months... and ask myself if I could have done anything better? Could I have prevented/delayed what happened? Could I have made her last months and days any easier? Did I tell her enough that I love her? In my head, I know I did all these things. In my heart, I still ask the questions. And while I still cry, every day it's a little less.

I was quite moved by the outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and clients. Their notes and phone calls were comforting and reassuring. I was baffled by friends and family, even clergy, I never heard from. My mother would not have been surprised and would have excused them and moved on; she would forgive, but she would not forget. I try to mirror her behavior. I was even more touched, however, by the outreach from strangers. Their kind words have touched me, and in a short period of time have changed my own behavior towards others.

Several of us spoke at my mother's funeral. It was interesting that while Russell, Noemi, and Avi (three of her four grandchildren) remembered different things about their grandmother, the underlying theme was the same...she was a proud and independent spirit, who wanted them to be the same. Here's what I said at her funeral.


My mother would be so pleased with all the people here in her honor today. Just as she touched your lives, you all touched hers. If the funeral home had let us, we would have passed around some whiskey sours and toasted her in Garie style. Instead, we will toast her 93 years with words only.

It’s difficult to sum up my mother because she lived life to the fullest. In many ways, she was a Renaissance woman. She was a science teacher who could dissect a frog, but would scream for my father if a spider or bug were in the house. She was an artist who didn’t like the colors orange and brown. She played the violin, she danced, and she sang…all the time. She was an athlete who excelled at volleyball and swimming and was the shortest member of her high school basketball team. She was a financier, who helped the economy of our country with her endless shopping. And despite the rumors, it’s only a coincidence that the economy tanked four years ago when she got ill.

A teacher, my mother has taught me my whole life. Even in these last few years of her decline, she taught me much about living. I had started a blog to capture those lessons. Here are excerpts from one entry, which stands out more than the others.

I remember many trips to shopping malls, antique stores, and flea markets as a youngster. My mother once told me that she liked to acquire “stuff,” because as a child she didn't have much. She talked about a doll that she and her two sisters had to share, making its bed in a shoebox with clothes fashioned out of scraps of material that my grandfather, a tailor, brought home.

But in all her acquisitions, I only remember a few things that she actually searched out—a white wicker rocker, a glass and silver match striker, and an antique cranberry glass pitcher.

For many years, she used that pitcher at holiday dinners, putting milk in for the coffee drinkers. When I was about 15, she delegated the task of filling the pitcher to me. The memory is still vivid. As I poured the milk into the pitcher, I heard a noise, and then noticed a huge crack near its bottom. I was devastated. She had searched many years for that antique; it was one of her joys; and in one instant, I had destroyed it.

Though upset herself, she tried very hard to console me, claiming blame for the crack. “I am a science teacher,” she said. “I should know that if you pour cold milk into a warm pitcher, the glass will expand...and crack.”

Then the teaching moment: “Besides,” she added, “things aren't that important; people are important.”

And THAT is her legacy—that people are more important than things. She made friends everywhere she went, as witnessed by all of you in this room. She loved talking to people and being with people. She was a devoted daughter to my grandmother, a loving wife to my father. Her sisters Miriam and Helen were her friends, and her machatunim Marilyn and Matilda were her sisters. My brother and I were not her only children. As soon as Bruce married Lorrie, and I married Doug, she would say “I have two sons and two daughters.”

When rummaging through her drawers the other day, Bruce and I came across a sealed envelope, which she had put together in 1967 before a trip to Mexico. It would be her second time on an airplane, and apparently she was worried that it might go down. She left several sealed envelopes—one each for her two sisters, one for her dear friends Edythe and Sig, and one for Bruce and me.

Here is her final lesson:

Dear Children:
Remember to have a good sense of humor and to be honest and courageous. Remember to love each other and to always keep close, even though you will raise beautiful families of your own. Remember ALL the family and try to patch up any misunderstandings. Remember that we tried to do our best and that we both love you very much.

She certainly did her best.