This is the eulogy I wrote for my mother’s funeral. I wrote it late the night before, having put off the task with the hope and expectation that there would be some last-minute divine intervention. And there was! I think my mother was watching and decided she could not let me fuck this one up. It’s not perfect, but it is what I actually read. As you can see, the ideas that I’m sorting out in this blog have been with me the whole time.
“On behalf of my family, I want to thank everyone for coming. It means so much to us to have you here to honor my mother’s life.
As her daughter, and probably as anyone who knew her well, it’s hard to know what person and life to honor. In a lot of ways I think my mother led two distinct lives. The first part, which thankfully was the largest, was filled with passion, adventure and achievement. She was a very sensitive person, and she put love into everything. She traveled the world, dedicated years of her life to environmental protection, she was a devoted teacher, and of course, a mother. One of the nicest, and most difficult, things for me to hear over the past few weeks is how much she adored my sister and me. How, though she had a million interests, we were really her life. She gave us a lot of love, but she also raised us to be strong and independent. And on top of all this, she was also a lot of fun. She loved laughing and telling jokes, she could talk (and talk) to anyone, and she was a great hostess.
But my mother’s life was also filled with tragedy. She lost her son, Yuri David, and then she lost her husband, my father, George. And I just think it was too much for her. These two people left her life, and they left enormous holes in her heart. I don’t think she believed it was possible to fill them. She was so sad, and she turned to alcohol to deal with her feelings.
And we know the rest. For so long her friends and family rallied behind her, but she didn’t believe in herself the way we believed in her. I felt so helpless as I watched her sink further and further into her anger and grief. I also felt incredibly sad, angry, and confused. For so long I thought things might change, but eventually I accepted that they weren’t going to. She continued to decline, and toward the end of her life, I know many of us felt that she just wasn’t the person we knew and loved. I know it’s going to take me a while to make sense of it, as much as you can make sense of anything.
People have told me that of the most difficult things to do after someone dies is to go through their personal belongings. And yes, it is difficult, but going through my mom’s stuff has actually been really comforting, though it does make me feel a kid, that I’m being really naughty by reading Mommy’s love letters, and that she might show up at any time and scream at me. Now that she’s gone, I can finally get to the good stuff, the stuff in the boxes on the top shelf that I need a chair to reach. This excavating is weird and it is sad, but I’m learning so many funny things about who my mother was when she was not my mother, that I can’t help but be a little bit happy and even charmed. One of the things I learned recently is that one of my father’s nicknames for my mother was “Scrump.” Scrump? I definitely never heard that word in my house, and I can’t really imagine my father saying it. But he did, and I have the letter to prove it.
(I can’t find the letter, but when I do I’ll include the text.)
My father really loved my mother. And she loved him. They had a passionate, goofy, fun love. I am so sad for her that it did not last her whole life, but I am so happy she had it for a good long while.
One of the best things about going through my mother’s stuff is seeing all of the pictures, and I’m talking about thousands of pictures. My father was a wonderful photographer, and he documented everything, big and small, and I feel so lucky to have this window into their life. I’ve been pouring over these pictures from the sixties and seventies and I’ve made a realization that’s exciting to me now, but would have freaked me out when I was younger, when I definitely would have never verbalized it…but I think I’m ready.
My mother was cool. She was really, really cool. I feel lucky to be her daughter (most of the time), but I would have loved to be her friend. I wish I could have traveled with her. I wish I could have stayed up late with her, arguing about politics and philosophy. I definitely wish I could have borrowed her clothes, and I can’t even tell you how badly I want to have gone to one of her parties. Of course that can’t happen. And of course I can’t pretend my mother didn’t turn into a different, broken person. But I know that person, and it was often not an easy relationship. Now that I have all of these pictures and letters and tickets stubs, and, of course, all of your stories about her, I realize I can honor my mother by getting to know the woman I never knew.”