Mother’s Day Without Mom

I am an orphan. My father passed away fourteen years ago and this will be the first Mother’s Day without my mother, who passed only five months ago. I decided to honor her by posting the eulogy I gave at her funeral. Mother’s Day is about giving thanks and expressing love for our mothers. In writing this eulogy I hoped to accomplish both.
 
I’ve edited in places for a variety of reasons, including recent memories, regretted omissions or to protect privacy. I am pleased so many came to bear witness to her life and support my family in our grief. It pleases me that more will come to know what a remarkable person my mother was by reading. To all who were there, and all who read now, thank you for helping my mother live on.
 
My sister and I have long known this day was coming, and yet it is still shocking to be standing here. How could I ever begin to tell you what kind of person Mom was and what she meant to us? Beginnings, and endings, are sometimes difficult.
 
Mom was one of the strongest women we’ve ever known and a tremendous force in our family. She’s the one who held everything, and everyone, together. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize this until we grew up, and didn’t fully appreciate her strength until we tried to accomplish a fraction of what she did everyday. She set the bar very high. Gratitude is often long overdue when you take for granted what you’ve always known. Over the years, we were able to thank Mom for many things. It is with great honor that we do so publicly today.
 
Mom grew up with her younger sister in the tenements of East Harlem. Their depression-era upbringing, as for others, was marked by poverty and struggle. They learned at a young age how to be self-sufficient and persevere through difficult, lonely and sometimes frightening times, but they always had each other and stuck together. My aunt adored her big sister who she called Budgie when they were little, and thought of Mom as her protector and rescuer. The nuns referred to my aunt as Josephine’s little sister and she considered that a proud title.
 
Then Mom met my father. Both were working at “the phone company” as AT&T was called at the time, and from that point on, her life centered around him, and soon after, me, and then my sister. Together my parents worked hard, often working two jobs each, to give us the things and opportunities they never had. We had many different kinds of lessons, summer camp, braces and college because of their teamwork and sacrifice. In addition, Mom did everything around the house. How did she do it? I realize now how heroic that was, and the energy it required. For all your hard work and sacrifice, thank you Mom.
 
Mom gifted us with a love of learning. She valued education highly and spent her working life in school settings, first as a teacher’s aide in a kindergarten class, and then as a school secretary. Her expectation was clear; that we would get good grades, go to college, and have professions that allowed us to be self-sufficient. So we did, and we are. Thank you Mom.
 
Mom loved to read. She took us to the library every week for years, and spent hours reading to us until we caught the fever. Book collecting and reading bring me tremendous joy to this day (although even Mom thought I’d gone a bit overboard) and for that, I thank you Mom.
 
Mom loved to garden, grow her own vegetables, cook and bake. Mom and my sister would spend hours together in the kitchen trying new recipes and making their favorite dish; lentils and escarole. Mom often baked her own bread, and during the holidays spent hours and hours making all our favorite desserts. I’m so grateful to have grown up in a home with savory smells and nutritious meals, and that my sister is the official keeper of Mom’s recipes. Even when mom came to visit, they would cook up a storm. I know my sister will always treasure those hours in the kitchen with her. Thank you Mom.
 
In many ways, Mom was way ahead of her time. She believed in healthy “organic” food when other people thought that was only for hippies (this was the 60s and 70s after all!). We had Sugar-In-the-Raw in our sugar bowl and we’d beg her to buy “real” sugar. We ate granola for breakfast, turned our noses up at tofu and wondered why we weren’t allowed to eat fast food or drink soda like our friends. My father had a sweet tooth so he’d hide Mary Janes and licorice in the little compartments of his work bench in the garage. Melanie and I would sneak downstairs and find his stash. We were all in collusion and never told Mom, yet somehow she knew, because mothers always do.
 
Mom loved and felt the need to exercise. She walked to and from work everyday of the 27 years she worked. Two miles each way. She was like a mail carrier – snow, sleet, rain, she walked. She took up tennis and yoga in her sixties and remained active at both until well into her 70s. She taught us that it’s never too late to learn something new and to take care of ourselves. Thank you Mom.
 
Mom loved to knit. After she retired and moved to Florida, she enlisted all the knitters she knew and wrote letters to the yarn companies who donated boxes of yarn for her project. Her group knit hundreds of tiny hats for the preemies in the NICU of hospitals in NJ and Florida. She demonstrated determination, ingenuity and perseverance in pursuit of a cause. Lesson learned. Thank you Mom.
 
Mom has three grandchildren that she adored. K, the oldest, remembers Mom’s hearty and contagious laugh, and later, letting K out her back door onto the golf course in Florida to catch lizards, even though it wasn’t allowed. Mom was known to ignore “silly” rules.
 
My nephews M and R, remember the trips to Disney World they took together, and how Mom taught them to play cards, dominoes and tennis. They say she gave the best back scratches. Mom also adored her niece L who remembers the many laughs and mischief they got into on drives to Florida and their collusion to keep their mutual cigarette smoking habits a secret. Her nephew D fondly remembers all our New York Thanksgivings and Christmases together, and said Mom was a good listener; always fully present and engaged. Mom lived in Florida and was ill by the time she moved up here so she never really knew my stepchildren B, S, and E, but I know she would have loved them as much as I do.
 
One of Mom’s deepest wishes was to see the world. She so wanted to travel with her grandchildren and hoped to take them to exotic places but unfortunately, became sick before it could happen. Carry Granny in your hearts as you live your lives and travel the world. She would be thrilled to finally take the trip with you.
 
Our parents were married for 41 years. They’re together again and that brings us great comfort. They loved each other deeply. When my sister and I were packing up Mom’s apartment in Florida, we found cards and love letters that Dad was writing her up to the end. And speaking of Dad…from the time we were young, we watched Mom care for him through one health crisis after another. She relentlessly advocated for the best care possible, researching the best doctors and treatments and all before the internet. We know Dad would not have been with us as long without Mom’s tireless devotion and unwavering commitment to keeping him well. Thank you Mom.
 
And one more thing. Mom returned to the church and God later in her life. She accepted Jesus in the months before the disease’s final assault on her mind. But I know that God has always been watching over her and calling her to Him. And now she is finally with Him in heaven, at peace, free and completely her true self.
 
Although Mom is gone, she has left us a legacy to uphold, fulfill and honor. And we’ll spend the rest of our lives doing just that. Thank you Mom, for all you did, all you taught us, and for the example you set for us. Thank you for being you. We love you dearly and will miss you always.

 
 

Whether or not your mom is with you today, it’s never too late to give her love and thanks.
 
Feel free to leave a comment and share a special memory about your mother.

6 Comments
  • Kathleen Banks
    May 9, 2016

    Beautiful Jo-Ann..just beautiful!! xoxox

    My mom too is a strong woman who pushed my sisters and I to be educated so we didn’t have to struggle as she did growing up. She is one of 12 children and had to drop out of school after 8th grade to help her mom and dad care for her younger siblings. She started working in a pickle packing factory at 13 years old just to earn money for her family. And she has worked hard ever since so my sisters and I could have the things she didn’t. I am truly grateful for her sacrifice and I tell her that often.

    Mom is “number 5” as the aunts and uncles called her..lol..so she learned to be self reliant and persevere since she was among the oldest. I think those years prepared her to take care of my Gramps whose health started declining about 2 years ago until he passed away 2 weeks ago. When she retired in 2014 she took care of her dad 24/7/365 refusing to put him in a nursing home even though the family asked her too. She wanted Gramps to still be at home surrounded by his grandchildren and great grandchildren which gave him great joy. He loved that and was grateful to my mom. Mom endured all the funeral arrangements with decision, poise and strength. I don’t know how she did all that mostly by herself since only one of her siblings offered to help her with anything, especially financially. But mom persevered once again as she always does and made everything happen and now Gramps is at rest. I know she misses him even though he drove her crazy at times.

    I’d like to think I can weather any storm as my mom does…with selflessness, compassion and a little humor! I don’t know if I’ve succeeded much there yet but I strive too. I’m blessed to still have her around to teach me even more about forgiving and loving people unconditionally even if they don’t love you back. She just always sees the good in people and never holds grudges even against her siblings who didn’t help her with Gramps. I thank God that he gave me my mom, who is teaching me to be more like Jesus everyday. Maybe one day I’ll have half her strength if not more!

    • Jo-Ann
      May 9, 2016

      Thanks for sharing the story about your Mom and the strong woman she so clearly is! What a privilege to have a mother like that. And thanks for reading. 🙂

  • Tom P.
    May 9, 2016

    Thanks for posting this – You did a wonderful job delivering your mom’s eulogy that day. I remember how you conveyed her as a strong lady and as you stated above “a tremendous force for your family”. However as the weeks go by some of the details for that memory start to slip. It was nice to be able to combine the memory with those details once again. Hope you had a good Mother’s Day.

    • Jo-Ann
      May 9, 2016

      Thanks for being there then, and for reading again now. It was truly comforting to have so many there to bear witness to her life. Yes, it was a bittersweet Mother’s Day, but she will always be with me. Thanks for commenting Tom!

  • Wendy
    May 24, 2016

    That was so beautiful , Jo-Ann!

    • Jo-Ann
      May 24, 2016

      Thank you for reading, Wendy. I appreciate the support. It gives me great pleasure that people would come to know my Mom better by reading the post. 🙂

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