Wednesday, May 13, 2009

For Mom

I know, this blog is supposed to be about pop culture and stuff like that, and it will revert back to its normal levels of observational snarkitude shortly, but I just wanted to put this on the internets. This is the eulogy I delivered at my mom's funeral:

I want to start off by reciting my mom’s favorite poem: “Comment,” by Dorothy Parker. I think my mom was a sort of modern-day Dorothy Parker – they shared the same biting wit and dizzying intellect; short, fashionable haircut; and love of words, and my mom taught me this poem when I was just a little girl and had no absolutely no idea what it meant:
Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am the Queen of Romania.

And I just have this perfect image of her pausing dramatically while delivering that last line “ and I … am … the Queen ... of Romania.” The line was really “Marie of Romania” but my mom would always alter it and say “the queen of Romania,” but either way, it summed up my mom’s philosophy and also allowed her to use the word extemporanea, in everyday speech.

My mom’s vocabulary was blistering and she was the most clever and eloquent person I’ve ever met. My mom loved to talk – to anyone and everyone -- my mom could charm and fascinate absolutely everyone. No one worked a room like my mom. She was a champion schmoozer, and everytime I’m at a cocktail party or some sort of crowded event, I always find myself turning into my mother.

When you’re younger, you’re always so terrified of growing up and turning into your mom, but I think I’m more terrified of not turning out to be exactly like her. It’s true, we have the same dimples, and we both talk with our hands, and we share a love of cheap wine and shopping at Loehmann’s. My mom loved her chardonnay and she loved buying Carole Little suits at deep discounts. She always said that was the 11th commandment: thou shalt never pay retail. And when I was younger, I was always sort of slightly embarrassed that my mom would get a little tipsy at weddings and bar mitzvahs and insist on doing the bump with her patented “doing the bump face” which sort of involved looking surprised and saucy at the same time, while bumping hips with someone, often a gay man, -- and she would always find a man to dance with her if “Proud Mary” or “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” came on and my dad didn’t want to dance – and I was telling my best friend Noah about how that used to embarrass me and he said “but that is EXACTLY what you do every time you go out dancing.” So, maybe I’m on my way to beginning to start to approach the sheer awesomeness and amazingness that is my mom.

And as I’ve gotten older and my mom and I have gotten closer, our relationship changed from purely mother-daughter to just being really good friends. My mom always said that to my boyfriend John – that she was so proud that it wasn’t just that Adam and I were her children, Adam and I were her friends. And, it’s so true. We could talk about anything. I could call her any time of day or night with any sort of problem and she would talk me down off the ledge and listen to anything I had to say, and she always had the perfect solution or advice or suggestion. And she would do that for anyone – my mom would have marathon phone conversations with all her friends. My dad would say, “How can you have anything left to say? You just talked to her yesterday!” and still, she could talk to Cheryl or Sherry or Karen or Eileen or David or Sherry or Terry until it was time to switch on the local news and watch the weather. She insisted on watching the weather every night, and I can’t fall asleep unless I know what it’s going to be like outside tomorrow.

Mom was so dazzlingly bright – her mind worked so fast, it’s a wonder the rest of us could keep up. She was the master of puns, you might say the ultimate cunning linguist. And she was fiercely irreverent and would have been thrilled I just dropped that pun in front of a rabbi. During the last two weeks, she lost her voice and was only able to talk in a whisper. But that didn’t keep her from being as sarcastic and witty as ever, even if we had to strain to hear her. And even while undergoing really intense and aggressive treatment, her brain was as sharp as ever. She was so, so proud of her children and she remembered every details we ever told her about everything in our lives. She was so thrilled that Adam followed her footsteps into publishing, and I know that she watched every single show I ever appeared in, no matter how trashy, and everything I ever directed, even when I was in college and it was pretty pretentious. The highpoint of my career was when my mom appeared in the tv show I was directing as a character called Renee Paper Mache, sort of like a Cynthia Plaster Caster, but with noses – and all my bosses agreed that she was the best part of the entire production.

When my mom first got sick, I talked to some of my friends about when it was time to have “the conversation” – as in, the conversation where you tell your mom how much you love her and how much she means to you and how she is responsible for everything good and wonderful in your life. I wasn’t sure, because I didn’t want to be maudlin and I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable or make it seem like I was scared she was going to die. And I thought, we all thought, that we had so much more time with her. She went so quickly, that I think all of us are in shock and dazed and confused. And I held her hand and we said goodbye and told her how much we loved her but I never got to have the actual talk with her, and this is what I wanted to say:

Mom – I don’t know how I’m going to live without you. You are my rock, my guiding star, my beacon of sense and strength and power and love. You are such a powerful woman, and such an amazing role model, and I wish I could be even half as good of a person as you are. You are a truly good, decent, wonderful person who genuinely wants other people to be happy, and your commitment to doing good things in the world and telling everyone about the good things that other people are doing is so inspirational. I hope that someday I can be as good of a person as you are. Thank you so much for making me laugh, for cheering me up, for believing in me no matter what. When the mean kids in grade school made fun of me, thank you for encouraging me to fight back simply by being smarter than they were and helping me write parodies of all their favorite songs. When I took to my bed because I didn’t get into Brown, thank you for pulling me back out and telling me that Wesleyan was a better place for me to go anyway. Thank you for nursing me through mono, and a tonsillectomy at age 17 by reading to me from Winnie the Pooh and the Very Blustery Day in your special Winnie-the-Pooh reading voice. Thank you for not freaking out when I went vegetarian, when I pierced my nose, and when I got a tattoo. Thank you for making every one of my friends feel like they were part of the family.

When I was at Camp Ramah and I was sooo homesick that I cried every single day, thank you for breaking the rules and sneaking into camp with the temple’s prospective parents groups - I’ll never ever forget that moment when we were all sitting on the A-side field and I was sad and homesick and crying and someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around and you were suddenly standing there right in front of me, even though you knew you could get in trouble for it because you were supposed to stay in the van. Thank you for introducing me to the magic of the vodka gimlet – dirty rocks on the side. Thank you for teaching me how to be a powerful, intelligent woman who can walk into a room of strangers and leave with 20 new friends. Thank you for loving my dad so much, and showing me what it’s like to be best friends with your spouse. Thank you for staying together for 37 years of marriage and showing me what a real relationship looks like. Thank you for teaching me how to make fried matzah (perhaps the only dish you truly mastered). Thank you for showing me how to be fiercely loyal to everyone you love. Thank you for the love of show tunes, Barbra Streisand, and Judy Collins. I’m so sorry that when I was six and playing Monopoly with dad and he landed on Boardwalk that I stomped away and scratched the record right when Barbra was singing your favorite line of Send in the Clowns. Thank you for teaching me how to do the twist using a bath towel as an educational tool.

Thank you for being the most amazing woman any of us will ever know, and the most wonderful and perfect mother. Mom, I love you so much. When my Zaydee Hal passed away, I remember my mom sitting on the couch and saying she was so sad and that the worst part was, she just wanted to talk to my grandfather so he could cheer her up. Whenever anything hard or bad or scary happens in my life, I call my mom. And now I know exactly what she meant – right now, things are so hard and bad and scary that I just want to call my mom. But instead, I know that she taught me enough that I can look inside myself and find exactly what she would tell me to get me through this:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am the Queen of Romania.

So here’s to my mom, The Queen of Romania.


Esther Kustanowitz said...

Really sorry for your loss, Bex. This eulogy was heartbreaking, but really beautifully written. May you find comfort from friends and family during this difficult time.

Unknown said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. My sincerest condolences to your entire family. Donna Feigenbaum

Anonymous said...


This was so eloquent, beautiful and amazing.



Patty said...

Bex, I'm so glad you posted your magnificent eulogy. I almost felt as if I were there, hearing your voice as I'm sure it quavered and your tears escaped. My tears are flowing now, too.
Although your mother is gone, many other mothers love you. I am one.
Hugs from Noah's mom

Eliot said...

And now I'm crying. Ugh, so articulate and sincere.

So sorry for your loss.


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