My mom passed away last year after an eight-year battle with Alzheimer’s. While the first six years were extremely challenging, my mom was in great spirits the final two years – and when the end came, she passed painlessly and peacefully, with my dad (her devoted husband of 64 years) and my sister by her side.
Here are some excerpts from my eulogy from almost a year ago today:
I learned a lot from Mom.
I learned what it means to be devoted to your parents.
Mom was an extremely devoted daughter. Sadly, her mom passed away very young, at 60. I have limited memories of my grandmother, but I remember my grandfather well. He survived my grandmother by nine years and Mom made sure he was an extremely important part of our lives. I remember taking walks with him to the candy store or around the neighborhood, visiting his apartment, having him over to our house, sitting with him at synagogue services, and, ultimately, visiting him in a nursing home.
I was 15 when my grandfather passed away and it was on that occasion when I wrote my first eulogy, which Mom asked me to write for the rabbi to read.
Mom was also a devoted niece. We visited all her aunts and uncles. We were especially close to her Aunt Helen and Uncle George, who became another set of grandparents for us. They lived in Florida and would come to New York for extended visits each summer, sleeping on the pullout couch in our den.
I learned from Mom what it means to be a devoted parent.
I walked to school at an age unheard of today – maybe 5 or 6 – and I would walk home for lunch, where a sandwich, usually peanut butter and jelly on white bread, was waiting for me – under a napkin so the bread wouldn’t get stale.
When we went to sleepaway camp, Mom wrote letters to us every day. Every. Single. Day. Particularly notable was one summer when my two siblings and I went to camp, allowing my parents to go on a trip – to Spain, I think. Before the trip, Mom wrote 14 letters to each of us, gave them to a friend of hers, and asked the friend to drop one in the mail each day. If Mom and Dad hadn’t told us they were going away, we would have had no idea they weren’t home. No calls home to your parents from camp back then, no iPhones, no e-mails.
I hated my parents’ rules when I was a teen. The curfew, the dress code, the haircuts. Mom would say the famous line, “You’ll understand when you have kids.” Once I had kids of my own, I told her several times, “I still don’t understand.”
But one thing I did come to understand – she had a huge smile we always thought was goofy when she was looking at her kids – I came to understand that “kvelling” smile when I started similarly smiling at my own kids.
I can still hear Mom’s voice the moment I called her around 5:30am on the day my first child, Jeremy, was born, to tell her and Dad they were now grandparents.
Mom wasn’t a “get on the ground and roll around” type of grandmother, but nothing gave her more joy than her grandchildren. The shelves and mantles in my parents’ house are lined with pictures of them and she loved hearing about their exploits and achievements.
Although, when my son got an 800, the perfect score on his Math SAT, I wanted her to understand how amazing that was. She knew I had been a very good math student, and I told her I “only” got a 730 which, while excellent, wasn’t Jeremy’s 800. She responded, “But remember, he had SAT tutoring and you didn’t.” I thought it was hysterical that she was defending me.
I learned about being financially conservative and not showy from Mom.
I’m sure this was from both of my parents, but it always felt like it had a lot to do with Mom. She valued experiences like travel and family vacations, over things like cars – she drove a Toyota Camry for as long as I can remember, and before that a Ford.
At one point, Mom decided to make a large donation to her synagogue – but she insisted they could only have the money if it remained an anonymous donation.
Like many parents who celebrate Hanukkah, she was frustrated trying to come up with eight gifts for each of us, year after year, especially because, like most suburban kids, we really didn’t “need” anything. So, one year she created gift certificates redeemable for getting out of household chores. For example, “Good for one week not taking out the garbage” or “Good for one week not doing the dishes.” Quite clever.
I learned from Mom about being a lifelong learner, and about being a healthy eater.
Mom read books and magazines. She took courses. She got a Mac and took classes at the Apple Store to learn how to use it.
When we were kids, she became a student of healthy habits.
The first time I recall a change in what we ate came after she learned, probably in Prevention magazine, that we shouldn’t eat foods with artificial colors, artificial flavors, or preservatives – that’s how I learned the importance of reading ingredient lists on packaged foods – and that’s when my siblings and I had to say goodbye to our favorite, sugary breakfast cereals: Quisp & Quake, Sugar Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops, Cap’n Crunch, etc.
Mom moved us from white bread to whole wheat.
Mom taught us about watching our cholesterol.
When we were little, we ate hamburgers with tater tots almost every night. Then she learned red meat wasn’t healthful, so we cut back on that. I still remember the first time she made fish for us. Probably filet of sole. She gave us our food, unrecognizable to us, and said, “Kids, tonight we’re trying something new. It’s called Fish.”
I learned from Mom what it means to help others less fortunate than yourself.
While she was raising us, Mom volunteered as a tutor for local kids who didn’t have the same privileges we had. And she would invite them to stay for dinner. Later, in her empty nest years, she was a literacy volunteer and taught ESL, helping immigrants make a life here as our ancestors once did.
I learned from Mom the importance of being assertive.
I don’t remember what the situation was, but I recall sitting with Mom and Dad at the breakfast table one weekend morning, maybe in my first year of high school, and Mom asked me if I knew what the word “assertive” meant. She then explained the importance of being assertive. As most who know me would likely say, I seemed to have learned the lesson.
Mom lived to 82 and, these days, with 80 seeming like the new 60, that’s too young. But Mom had a very full life, and a great life, and I’m grateful for that and for many other things.
Mom first experienced significant medical issues 35 years ago. My siblings and I, and especially our Dad, worked very hard to help Mom get through the very rough early years of that experience. I’m grateful for the generally excellent 24 or so years that followed that time.
Then came the dementia these past eight years, which started with six extremely challenging years, but then things took a turn for the better. I am so grateful that Mom has been in great spirits the past two years – an incredible gift for all of us – especially for Mom and for Dad – and, that when the time came, her end was painless and peaceful, with Dad and my sister by her side.
I learned an incredible amount during the week surrounding my mom’s passing. I learned about the acts of love that are a part of compassionate care – I learned from friends, from wonderful doctors, from an amazing hospice nurse, and from watching how Mom’s aides attended to her.
And I started saying things I never thought I would say. For example, that Mom knew it was her time to go. I have never been one for magical thinking, but as the thoughts kept coming, I realized how valuable those thoughts are. I’m grateful she was able to watch my son’s wedding on Zoom just five weeks before her passing, and that my Dad was able to attend the wedding. I feel like she knew about the wedding and waited until after the wedding to leave us.
I’m grateful for my extremely supportive friends, extended family, immediate family and, at the top of the list, Dad. It’s possible there are other people who have been as devoted to their spouses as Dad has been. But no one has ever been more devoted and dedicated to his wife than Dad.
Mom, thank you for everything you did for us. You have left a great legacy. We all love you and you’ll be with us forever.