My mother died in July.
Times like that are always busy, and I don’t think you really have any perspective on big things like death until later, but I was forced to reflect on her passing right away because I was asked to do the eulogy.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I wanted to share it with you.
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Near the end, my mother asked if she’d done enough, if she’d made the right choices. I said yes – except maybe for that time with the underwear.
Let me tell you a story: when I was in first or second grade I was sent to the nurse’s office because I couldn’t stop scratching. It turns out that my mother had washed my underwear with the drapes — and the drapes, they had some sort of fiberglass or something in them. So there I am at school, scratching uncontrollably — down in my underwear area.
So I got to go home.
But that’s just one of the things your mother does when you’re little — washing your underwear. When you’re a kid, you don’t think about it — and this is very typical — I only remember the day I was itchy, not all the days that I wasn’t.
There were a million things she did for us. Just think about school lunches. 180 school days. A sandwich every day between, say kindergarten and sixth grade? For five kids? That’s like 63-hundred sandwiches. That’s a lot of peanut butter and jelly.
I’m sure some of you are saying that’s a lot of baloney.
But as a parent, you try to do your best. What does anybody really know about that job — except what we learn from our own parents.
And what was growing up like for her? A small apartment with six kids on Tiebout Avenue in the Bronx. It was the middle of the depression – but that probably didn’t make a huge difference to people who really didn’t have much to begin with.
But those had to be hard days. They were humble beginnings, and like so many people from those neighborhoods, it gave way to the suburbs and the nice house, and all the things you only imagined growing up. So, it must have really been something to hear us kids complaining about things – we had no idea what it was to struggle. And she made sure of that.
I can’t stand up here and not mention my father.
Some of you may remember that he was… a polarizing figure. Not everyone appreciated his sense of humor, for example — but those who loved him loved him a lot. You wonder sometimes what brings people together, but in the last few days looked through a bunch of photo albums and I could see it. They were a striking couple – beautiful together — and obviously very much in love. It was a great blow to lose him so young.
The last few years were hard. Getting older is a roll of the dice, so easy for some people and so hard for others. But while her body failed her, she remained very sharp and that’s a great blessing.
A couple of years ago I visited my mother and she stopped me as I was leaving and said, “Robbie, I love you. I don’t think I ever told you that.” This really surprised me and I mumbled something back like, “Oh, and I love you too.”
Everybody talks about love. What does that mean, anyway? I think one way could be how much you worry about people – you don’t worry about people you don’t care about — and she worried about us endlessly. In fact, if love is measured by how much you worry about someone, her love was immeasurable.
So, yes, it’s how much worried about us. And the million little things she did. Her attention to little things. That may not be saying “I love you,” but they are certainly the signs and the symptoms. She couldn’t have loved us more.