A Eulogy: The Toughest Writing You’ll Ever Do

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I delivered my mother’s eulogy at her funeral Mass back on Saturday. It was the toughest few pages I’d ever had to write. Even harder was sharing it verbally in the church with the other mourners.

After all, there are the basic facts to cover: her birth, bits on her upbringing, her marriage, her family, where she’d lived and worked, etc. More important, though, are the human aspects. Somehow I got through the 10 minutes or so without breaking down, but, as I spoke, I remember feeling numb….

My parents on their wedding day, 1963.
My parents on their wedding day, 1963.

I thought I’d share some of it with you here:

Shortly after graduating from John Adams High School in Queens …. she almost joined the Peace Corps and ended up in Tanganyika in what was then British East Africa – until her father stopped that idea cold. That she had even considered moving to Africa is almost unbelievable based on what we all know of her later outlook on life.

About the same time, she had also wanted to get a job as a Pan Am flight attendant. That was another choice which we would later find almost impossible to believe. Flying on planes daily? My mother? Seriously?

She could be unpredictable and tempestuous – and then contrite afterwards:

Tah, da, di, dah, da, di, dah, da, di, dah, da, da…. About 10 years ago, when they were still living on Long Island, my Dad had the “Music to Watch Girls By” CDs.

The 2 discs featured the famous title song of the same name by Andy Williams and three dozen other songs by various “easy listening” singers of the 1950s and 1960s. For a time, he played them in the car a lot. Apparently, far too much.

Driving with my mother over one of the East End’s causeways, at some point she finally snapped. As Andy Williams sang it yet again – Tah, da, di, dah, da, di, dah, da, di, dah, da, da – she hit eject on the player, grabbed the CD, opened her passenger window and hurled Mr. Williams into the Long Island Sound.

“What did you just do?!” Dad was incredulous. “Don’t you know your son gave me that disc! It’s from England! I can’t get another one here!”

Suddenly, it dawned on her what she’d impulsively done. Days later, in England, I heard an uncharacteristically meek-sounding mother calling me from this side of the Atlantic. “Uh, your father lost one of his ‘Music to Watch Girls By’ CDs.”

“Lost?” I remember asking. “Dad doesn’t lose things? What are you talking about?”

I heard silence for a second. Then she confessed: “Bobby, I just couldn’t take it anymore. Tah, da, di, dah, da, di, dah…. I threw one of the discs out the car window. Could you send him another one, please?”

About her relationship with my uncle:

“You never call me!” he had thundered at her over the phone earlier this year.

She hit back, “You go on for three hours! My ear falls off!”

On his passing:

After seeing …. crime novelist, and University ____________ creative writing instructor Uncle ____’s obituary [in a major newspaper], and naturally very upset over his sudden death, from her hospital bed my ill mother forced out a smile and joked, “Well, my brother made the newspaper one last time.”

On us:

There was nothing she wouldn’t have done for us, her two children – except perhaps get on a plane. That she wouldn’t was all the more incredible considering her earlier supposed youthful hopes of becoming a flight attendant. She hated even the thought of flying and never did.

Back in April, though, we got her to take a road trip to Florida with us. We joked she had seen almost all the Atlantic coastal states from Maryland to Florida in one go. Now, I am so pleased we managed that.

She tolerated her two kids’ numerous foibles, and adventurism. I roamed, I suppose, because life was so comfortable at home. There was always a home that would be there, and I knew it.

Moving to Alaska to go to college for a time? She didn’t get that at all. “Fairbanks? Are you insane?”

Before the first time I went to Europe, also in college, to France, she said to me, “Why do you want to go *there*?”

On where she lived now:

I’d said to my father recently that I can’t bring myself to speak about Uncle ____ in the past tense. Somehow I expect a prodding Facebook message. A wry comment. Or even some stream of consciousness style praise. “Nephew, that photo. Geez. Bath. England. Spectacular. Where is that again? I really gotta go there. Is it easy to get there from Ireland?”

Similarly, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to speak of my mother in the past tense. It will be a long time before I cease to think, “I’ll call Mom over in Pennsylvania and see how things are.”

But she was so New York. So Long Island. She kept telling people here, “We don’t do it that way in New York.”

I kept saying, “Mom, Pennsylvanians love hearing that, I’m sure.”

But what NY or Long Island didn’t have are the Poconos casinos. She loved a day out – but not to put our inheritance into a slot machine, she always reassured us. Although she also made it clear if I ever called the house and new owners answered, that meant she and Dad had hit it big and left town.

However, she’d also assured me she’d have been in touch eventually.

On her end:

On October 26, my Mom was called from this world. She left from where she so wished to: at home, with her family around her.

Rest in peace, Mom.

Now, back to the business of living. As always, thank you for reading. I promise to try to return to being more “my old self” here in the coming days and weeks. 🙂

2 comments

  1. Be ‘your self’ whenever you’re ready, or when you like, Robert. Thanks for sharing about your mom. She and your dad were a lovely couple.. maybe that red hair helped with the feistiness? 🙂

    Also for sharing about your uncle. I have to confess, he intrigued me. Since I’m a fan of crime writing of course I had to figure out who he was. You never mentioned his name, but a little sleuthing and yes, I read his biography, and loved the film.

    Glad you have the human aspects, and the adventurousness, to remember them by.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the thoughts, as always.

      Oh, and I knew you’d probably figure out my uncle’s identity eventually. It wasn’t that tough for someone determined to do a little digging. 😉

      And my Dad: We like to joke that my Dad was part “Mad Men” and part “Grease” – in real life.

      And my Mom, dying at home. It was what she wanted: to die at home. She died, as far as we could tell, peacefully. Yet seeing your mother slowly dying and finally expire before your own eyes? It changed me as a person. I frankly wouldn’t wish the experience on my worst enemy.

      Liked by 1 person

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