I have a lot to say about this first week of October. I have a lot to feel as well. It’s almost comforting to me that everyone else is sad and upset, too, because this week marks the one year anniversary of my mom’s death. I was sad and upset already. I remain so every day. It’s also cold and rainy here, so you know, that’s always good.
When someone you love dies, the memories are really strong. I can tell you what I was wearing when my dad died 21 years ago. And what was on the tv in the hospice family room. Technology is making the memories of my mom’s death just last year extra vibrant, extra painful. Facebook Memories, usually one of my favorite features, is showing me this week in pictures. You won’t see evidence of my mom’s last week on Facebook, because she was super private and gave us specific No Facebook rules, but I see the posts I made and the things we were doing, and I know what else was going on. Pictures of my family at a college hockey game are innocuous in their posed adorableness, but I know that just before we left for that game, my kids said goodbye to their grandma for the last time. By the end of the week, my Memories will be flooded with condolences, as if it’s happening all over again.
She died on October 6, 2016, so the “actual date” is still coming up. But the entire week was like one long day to me, which unfolded into one long year. Or short year. It’s really hard to say. It flew by in a blink, but only because it feels like yesterday. I feel like I lost a year of my life, and yet, no year has ever changed my life more.
When I gave the eulogy at my mom’s memorial, people told me I was so brave. “I could never have done that,” echoed over and over. It was a compliment, yet also a little offensive. As if perhaps my level of sadness wasn’t low enough to be overcome with emotion. It helped to have many years experience as a public speaker, but that’s beside the point. People thought I was sweet and strong, but really only those who know me best know why I really wanted to give my mom’s eulogy: I didn’t want someone else to fuck it up.
Yup. The truth is out. I just didn’t trust anyone else to do it. A real detriment to my personality, I am unabashedly a believer in “if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself.” My mom was a pretty amazing woman, but not in an obvious way. And we all loved each other very much, but again, not in an obvious way. Eulogy cliches simply would not work for my mom. A stranger wouldn’t do it justice, that’s for sure. And even her siblings and closest friends had the potential to say something to piss me off. Oh, yeah, that’s right. This decision was all about me. My sister approved and also got to read the finished product beforehand, but mostly, I didn’t want someone ruining that day for me. Because it was fucking hard enough already. I had to honor my mom with words I knew to be true. Words I thought she would appreciate and admire.
So, because you’re all sad and upset anyway, here are those words, unedited, despite my desire a year later to do so.
Thank you for being here with us to celebrate our mom. I’m Karen’s younger daughter, Emily. When I told my sister, Leslie, that I wanted to speak if I was able, she wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it through without breaking down. To which I replied, “Challenge accepted.” However, she does have a strong history of being right, so I have a poised and elegant understudy waiting at the ready.
I have unfortunately been to many funerals in my life. And so often, an obituary or a eulogy is filled with all the things the person did in their life. Clubs they belonged to. Places they volunteered. Professional associations and memberships. Achievements and awards. But I don’t think those things really matter all that much, because a lot of people never DO any of that, and yet still, they are wonderful people.
Then when I was driving home on Thursday, I was struggling to stay awake, let alone concentrate on driving instead of crying. So, I pulled over to plug in my favorite audio book: Wayne Dyer’s Inner Wisdom. I quote him constantly, obnoxiously even, because his words are very inspirational and almost always relevant, and he didn’t let me down last week. He said,
“We cannot be defined by the things we DO in life. If that were the case, we’d be called human doings. They would’ve come up with that. But no. We are called human BEINGS. Because our self-worth is not determined by that which we do, but by who we are. By what we feel and think. Because if you are what you do, then when you don’t, you ain’t!”
Mom doesn’t DO anything anymore, but that doesn’t mean she has lost her worth. It’s not the doing that matters, but the being. The being gets to live on forever. So, I want to tell you who we believed our mom to be.
First and foremost, she was very independent. And not just since our dad died. Always. She always worked. She always did things her own way on her own time. She never had a list of things we needed to do for her, because she always just figured it out herself. We could stop by her house and she would’ve completely rearranged a room, repainted, new wallpaper, ripped out the carpet and bought rugs. Things you assume most people would ask for help in doing. Les and I both left her house knowing 100% how to take care of ourselves. And others.
Because her independence didn’t make her an island. She was also a caretaker. Her little sisters, Kathy and Mary, can tell you endless stories of times their big sister helped them out. I can tell you the stories of all the times she’s helped me out. She was happy, always, to help, but the key was: you had to ask. She was not a swooper. Not an overbearing grandmother who showed up at my house every day to judge my parenting. Because SHE was independent, it was kind of like she assumed everyone else was, too.
When we were growing up, she didn’t really tell us not to do things. She relied on the natural consequences. She didn’t ground us for staying out late or sneaking out windows. She didn’t make us feel small or say “I told you so,” when we needed her help dealing with those natural consequences. She didn’t tell us where to go to school or even IF we should go to school. She didn’t tell us how to plan our weddings. When Leslie moved out of state, did she tell her to stay? No. Did she guilt-trip her into staying? Not at all. She shared no opinion other than enthusiasm for her new opportunity. And that is how it always was. She showed up when you asked her to. She shared nothing but praise.
She was also very loving and very loyal. But in this strong, stoic way that I could never relate to. Leslie got all those genes in the first go-round. My mom and my sister had this lovely understanding of mutual fierce love and loyalty, but they never had to talk about it or show it. Me, I needed them both to hug me and pat my head and tell me they love me. But they both only show their vulnerability when they relate to animals. The world would stop for a dog or a cat in need. Those two could start their own shelter with the strays and rescues they’ve taken in. I’m so lucky to be the sister who gets to keep a strong role model in my life (who no longer lives out of state, praise Jesus).
I would be remiss not to mention Mom’s incredible intelligence and passion for learning. These were the genes I got. We shared a love of literature and words, Scrabble and crosswords, conversations and writing. Scrabble was just what we did. Grandkids are napping? Scrabble. Waiting for the tow truck on the side of the road? Travel Scrabble. I would finish a book and immediately hand it off to her. She would do the same. I always thought one day we could write a book together. My advice, friends, is never wait for “one day” to come.
Finally, something we all shared, was a love of laughter. Our family didn’t play practical jokes or engage in rude and stupid humor. Both of our parents were soaked through with sarcasm and quick wit. So much so that Les and I had no chance of avoiding it. We can so easily think of zingers and one-liners, it has gotten us both into trouble. Just last week, less than 12 hours before she died, when she could hardly speak, she was rolling her eyes and winking at Les from across the room, because it took two night aides and two sets of instructions to set up a cot for me to sleep in.
One thing we know for sure about our mom is that she was very private. She was never the type of person to brag, she didn’t like to be the center of attention. And if you called her, she was always happier talking about what was going on with other people than with herself. In the last few weeks, however, she shared some stories with us that we had never heard before and we know there are many, many more. Leslie and I are very eager to hear any stories you have about our mom (and our dad, too, for that matter). We have provided journals on some of the tables for you to use this evening, as well as cards with an email address for you to share with us when you think of something on your drive home.
Every time we left the house from as young as we can remember up until last week, Mom said the same four words as we left, “Have fun. Be careful.” It was never lost on us that the fun came before the careful. To close, then, I implore you to have fun and be careful, but to Mom, who has gone where trouble never does, I simply say, “Have fun.” Thank you.