My Talk at Mom’s Memorial

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A sketch I did of my mom - from 1996

Below is my reconstruction of the talk I gave at my mom’s memorial service last Saturday.

My piece is a little shorter than others, so I feel like I have to give some context… sort of in my defense… not that there’s any competition between us siblings… any more.

At the point I spoke, Tustin Presbyterian’s Reverend Rebecca Prichard had introduced things beautifully. My brother-in-law Reverend Tom Gastil, the pastor of Aliso Creek Presbyterian Church, gave a great meditation that ranged from his initiations into our family, to humanity’s relationships with each other and with God. My tears kicked into full strength when Tom proudly mentioned marrying my sister in the sanctuary where we were assembled.

Tom was followed by Michael Oppenheim, mom’s closest friend, with whom she enjoyed countless afternoons and evenings – attending theater, movies, art, television, dining out, and more. Michael, then Paige, Garrett, Liz and Fletcher all gave moving talks, well-structured and far-ranging, full of grace, humor, and stories that invoked all sorts of wonderful qualities in Marge/mom.

I think I was the only one who took the suggested about 2-minute time limit seriously (reflects on me as an excessively rules-following person, no?) How does one sum up Marge’s rich life or one’s rich relationship with her – into only a couple of minutes? Others wisely ignored this inadequate limitation… so… I feel like my piece was perhaps too short… though I get to write about mom here… and I have a few things to write that I had thought about including, but didn’t.

Here goes my piece, reconstructed from my notes. It’s definitely not any kind of exact transcript version of what I said, but more-or-less the same points – with a few things I meant to say that made sense now in writing:

I want to start off by thanking Tustin Presbyterian Church and Reverend Prichard. This church was really instrumental in providing support to our family – socially, spiritually and yes even financially – while we were active here, especially during our high school years. Thank you TPC for supporting us and for hosting today’s service.

Mom was a great fan of the arts – especially plays, but also film, music, museums, good books. When she encountered something she liked, she didn’t just enjoy it and move on. She’d get passionate about it  – sometimes, to use a phrase of hers, “to wretched excess.” She would go back and see her favorite plays two, three times. When she’d read a book that she really enjoyed, she’d track down all the other books by that author, and some about that author. She passed this along to me – I enjoy tracking down entire series of books that I enjoy, many of which my mom introduced me to. 

Mom would pack the four of kids into her car, which sometimes was barely running – and would “drag” us – sometimes complaining, kicking and screaming – up to Los Angeles to see art exhibits, films, and theater. Though I wasn’t quite ready for much of it at the time… I think it has made me who I am. I am comfortable in these creative settings. I became an artist with so much of my mother’s encouragement.

As an adult, I got the chance to talk with mom about this. I told her that I really appreciated her taking us to plays and museums. I thanked her for doing this for us. She responded that, while, yes, she had done it for us, she was really doing it for herself. She enjoyed these cultural outings and we were a family, so we did it together. She said this pretty nonchalantly, like it was no big deal… but I think it’s perhaps a big lesson in great parenting. Kids will pay attention to what our parents value, what our parents demonstrate – not just what they say.

I think that mom’s life followed a rich arc. She worked really really hard – as a single mom raising us four kids, going back to school. She established herself in her career as a librarian. Then she retired… and got to rest a bit and enjoy spending time with her grandchildren, going to plays, reading…

She definitely lives on in me, and in the lives of my sister and brothers, and our families. She lives on in the lives of her friends, co-workers, library patrons, neighbors… but I think that the place that I see her most in the energies of her wonderful grandchildren. [At this point my eyes were filled with tears – I was glad I’d written down all their names.] 

  • Matt and Liz’s kids: rambunctious Daniel and imaginative and sweet Lauren.
  • Fletcher and Laura’s caring, sharp and fun Owen and Rachel – both voracious readers!
  • Liz and Tom’s children – now emerging as precious young adults – Paige is so full of poise and caring. Miles – strong and sensitive. Garrett so smart, creative and full of enthusiasm.

Mom was really proud of her family. I am glad that she got to spend so much good time with all of you grandchildren… and I look forward to her living on in you all.

I was followed by my elder brother Matt, whose piece was funny, touching, and full of love.

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3 Responses to “My Talk at Mom’s Memorial”

  1. Joe Linton Says:

    My friend Marcelino commented via facebook: “Joe, I’m sorry to hear about your loss. I enjoyed reading your remembrance. It gave me an understanding of what made you. Props to her for for raising you into the wonderful humanist artist being that you are today! You were blessed to have her as such a wonderful parent (everyone should be so lucky)! My prayer filled thoughts are with you brother.”

  2. Royd Hatta Says:

    Such an beautiful and elegant memorial for a mother who lived life fully and loved so deeply.

    I’m reminded of a dog-eared library book that I picked up once. It documented near-death experiences where a handful of those interviewed had said they were asked a variation of these two questions:

    How much have you extended love in the world?
    And..What did you learn?

    Your mother has inspired love in more people than we will ever know; through her own encounters, and certainly through her children. And, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that you are a great example of your Mom’s curious spirit and love for people. It’s an example, even a philosophy, that is worth living by.

    I’m glad I had a chance to meet your wonderful mom.
    May she rest in peace.

    Royd & Shu-Hsien & Kay;)

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