I’ve been my mom’s caregiver for 5 years now – since my Dad died April 7, 2007. It’s been both the hardest and most rewarding job of my entire life. And, predictably, this eulogy is the hardest one I hope to ever give. Please bear with me.
Mom was born October 28, 1916. To put that in perspective, she was born the year:
stainless steel was invented, before the zippers, bandaids, the traffic signal, nylon or ball point pens were invented. She was born only 13 years after the Wright Brothers had their first flight. She saw the development of commercial airplanes, saw WW1 and WW2 where she lived without her husband for years. She had a baby while her husband was in the war – she lived 95 very full and wonderful years, 65 of them beside her best friend and lover, my adorable dad. Anyone who knew my parents saw a real life love affair. They were connected both physically and emotionally.
My sister died suddenly in 1989. It was then that I learned of the strength of my mother. She held my father up, physically and emotionally. She held the family together during those very dark days.
When my dad died, the very first words my mom spoke to me were “These things happen.” And, that was her philosophy as she faced the end of her life. “These things happen.” That pretty much says it all.
One of my favorite memories of my mom was when my friend Bobbi, Mom and I were sitting around the kitchen table having cocktails one day – as we did frequently. I had just purchased a brand new Bluetooth for my cellular phone. And, I got one of the first blue tooths on the market. Mom and Bobbi had never seen one before. To those of you unfamiliar with the thing, it’s a very small earpiece with no discernable buttons. You just press an area of it to answer or hang up the call. Anyway, Bobbi was looking the thing over and said “How do you answer this thing?” Without missing a beat, Mom looked up from her cocktail and said “hello?” That one word, “Hello” would send the three of us into peals of laughter all the way to mom’s end.
Mom and Dad were extremely proud of their children. But, they didn’t coddle us – my parents were the type of parents who stood behind their children 100%. We all had a safety net but we didn’t take advantage of it. My parents taught us how to live with life’s ups and downs. They taught us how to survive on our own by letting us all fall and then teaching us how to get up. I think that’s the most important lesson they could have given us. That and seeing the love they had for each other. They had a marriage to admire. They had a relationship I’m lucky enough to have found late in my own life with John. Mom loved John almost as much as I do and gave me the ultimate compliment one day when she said that John was very much like my Dad.
I remember one time when my parents were trying to correct me as I slid under my new car (at the tender age of 18) to change the oil. By my side was my trusty “car repairs for dummy book.” Dad and Mom were standing by the car as I was trying to get the nut loose in the oil pan. Dad tried repeatedly to warn me that I was about to make a big mistake and, in 18 year old fashion, I just told him to leave me alone. I do though remember looking out and seeing their shoes, next to each other as they waited to see what was going to happen. I was too far under the car when I finally got the nut loose and came up sputtering oil. It was in my mouth, my nose, dirty oil coated my eyes and ears. I remember bolting from under the car, mostly blind and deaf. I do though remember my mom and dad holding each other up. I’m not sure I ever gave them another laugh like that. To her credit, Mom did take me in the house and clean me up. From then on, I (mostly) listened to them.
I remember Dad telling a story of being out late with his brother-in-law, Uncle Harry. They went to a dive diner for steak and eggs and were half toasted themselves. The waitress, at 3 am, was very slow so they concocted a plan to buy the place. And, if they hadn’t returned home finally to sleep it off, I believe we’d own the Tasty Diner in Bethesda, MD.
They drove to Florida one time in our large yellow Chrysler Imperial and returned 7 days later in a Triumph convertible. Dad saw it, liked it, and bought it. He was born with the philosophy of a Costco shopper – if you see it, get it now. Sometimes, quite sadly, I have the same impulsive quality. I’ve been known to make some pretty quick decisions – some have worked out and some, well, never mind.
After my folks moved to Arizona, Mom and Dad would return to Maryland to spend the summers so Mom and Dad lived with me 12 years in my current home. I had the pleasure of knowing them, not just as their child, but as the adult they had molded. We had a lot of fun in those days – days filled with laughter, good friends and treasured family dropping by, poker games, and just quiet times of sitting on the balcony. It didn’t take much to pleasure them nor me. Just being with them every day was a treasure in its own right.
Mom and Dad were movers and shakers. I remember one time, they disappears for 3 weeks! Ronnie, Mike, Steph and I were quite worried about them. Mom’s siblings had no idea where they were, they weren’t in any hospital beds – they just disappeared! One of us finally thought of checking with travel agents in the area and we got a hit. They got a great deal for a “that day” flight to Budapest and that’s where they were. Budapest! Now, Mom would get angry at Sharyn and me if we were an hour late coming back from the senior citizen bar in Arizona but they disappeared just fine…
My Mom and Dad sacrified for their children. They ran Town Hall together for 25 years or so, working opposite shifts most of the time so one was always home with the kids. But, when retirement came, that was their time. They traveled the world, Alaska, they were one of the first people into Russia, they almost lived in Laughlin where they’d gamble into the night.
After Dad died, Marlon, Craig and I took Mom to Atlantic City. I bellied mom up, in her wheelchair, to a blackjack table and told her that I’d be right behind her at the craps table. My craps table got hot so I turned around 25 minutes later to check on her and she wasn’t there? Now, how far could a woman in a wheelchair go? I went to the blackjack dealer and asked him if he had seen her. His reply floored me! He said that Security had her. My next words pretty much spell out who my Mom was. I said “What did she do????” The dealer laughed and told me she was tired so she’d flagged down a security guard to take her to her room.
My Mom was the type of mother who wouldn’t sleep soundly until I was home. I went on a trip one time with some school friends and a teacher. The teacher drove and was driving us all to our houses – this was before cell phones. We were running very late – in fact, I was supposed to be home around 6 and it was 11 pm by them time I got in. When Mr Allen was driving me to my house, he bet me that my mother would be waiting up for me. I took the bet – but shouldn’t have. There she was, in the doorway. The only mother waiting up. And, at my tender age of 53, she would still tell me to wear a coat if it was cold out. She never failed to utter the words “be careful” when I left the house. And, to this day, even transcending her death, there are things I’m not allowed to do because I promised her: I can’t use a chain saw, I can’t use a pressure cooker, I’m not allowed to cross against a light, and I’m not allowed on a motorcycle.
The last one, not being allowed on a motorcycle, I actually tested once after I started dating John. He had a motorcycle. I argued with Mom a few times about wanting to get on it and she finally said that “if I don’t see you.” Well, I took that as a nod to go ahead, which I did. And, the very first time I climbed atop the bike, I suffered a nice third degree burn on my leg (why they put the muffler right there is beyond me) which sent me to the hospital. She never ever said the words “I told you so.” She expected that I’d learned my lesson and I did. I’m not allowed on motorcycles.
Hillary Clinton said it takes a village to raise a child. It’s not only children who need our support but the elderly. It takes a village to walk someone to Heaven’s door and I had the best village of anyone I know. I’ve become used to the comments about how wonderful my friends are. Throughout this whole period in our lives, my friends have dropped their own lives to help us along. It was nothing for Bobbi to cancel two business trips to be here with us today. She just did it as she thought it was the right thing to do. That’s what my parents expected of their family and friends – you did it because it was the right thing to do.
Mom wouldn’t want us to draw this out. When she was done, she was done. And so am I with just one more thing:
Every single night of her married life, Mom would kiss my Dad and say “Good night, Sweetheart.” Once dad was gone, she uttered the same words to me as I tucked her into bed. So, “Good night, sweetheart. Sleep well. You deserve it.”