I shared this at my mother's funeral on Saturday, December 31. An unseasonably warm day to say goodbye to warm woman who will forever claim a corner of my heart.
After the funeral, several people remarked, "How could you get through that?" Or, "I don't know how you did it."
My only answer - even now, days later - is "I guess it's because I couldn't not say it. It's my Mom."
I hope in some small way you feel her joy and kindness in every word. Please hug your Mom tonight, or call her or write a note. If that can never be, just think of her with all the love you can. I'll do the same.
You may not know these two things about my Mom: her bathroom closet contains dozens and dozens of bottles of lotion. A kitchen drawer has a plastic bag that holds hundreds of twist-ties. I know both of these facts seem kind of random and unimportant but you never know: she definitely has more than enough for the entire neighborhood to be well prepared for any kind of hand-lotion or twist-tie emergency.
I share this because it’s exactly what made my Mom laugh. We would come across these kinds of things from time to time and begin to comment about it and I can just hear her: “Don’t make fun!”, or “Go ahead! Make fun!” laughing while she said it, knowing that we loved her all the more for little habits like this. She made us laugh but was always in on the joke at the same time.
One of the many reasons my Mom was so easy to love was her sense of humor. Beyond her ready smile, her laugh, and her kind disposition, her good-nature meant that she accepted with incredible good-humor the teasing we all dished out to her, especially when we teased her about her household.
Look around her home for the small testaments to the woman she was and what gave her joy. A small Boyd’s Bear in a Marine Corps uniform stands at attention in her bedroom. Her jewelry box holds six or seven rosaries. Into a framed photo of her and my Dad, she had tucked a few smaller pictures: her engagement photo, my dad at about age 18 and another of them on the 50th anniversary. An entire lifetime on display with just a couple of snapshots.
But you don’t have to look very hard to see her piano. Having the piano in our home, or hearing my mom play it, even during afternoons of mayhem according to my Aunt Kay, meant her love of music found its way into the lives of each of her children. The only thing my Mom loved more than music: her family and friends. And when she could combine the two – music and people she loved – she was in her glory. She loved playing for us; playing with us, and sharing her music with friends. She adored playing Christmas music and listening to carols; she loved the concerts at the beach house every summer.
We looked at the piano this past week and noticed the stack of music nearby, about a foot high, made up a few books but mostly of single song sheet music pieces, many of them seventy years old. I like to think about my Mom buying a new song every week and then learning it and playing it for family and friends. When she bought the Marine Corps hymn, I can imagine how excited she was to play it for Dad.
I looked at that stack of music and thought:
For every sheet there, she made so many people smile throughout her life.
For every sheet, she helped scores of people feel welcome and loved in her home.
For every one, she offered friendship to strangers. Over her decades on Ferry Street, neighbors moved in and found a second mother, or second grandmother when they met my Mom. I guarantee you she hugged them goodbye the first time they met.
For every song, someone can tell a story about her endless optimism and positive thinking about almost any situation. It was remarkable. How many of us heard this? “I have faith. You’ll see. It will all work out.”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve sobbed on the phone or in her kitchen, dumping many of my life’s challenges into her always accessible lap. I wasn’t quite looking for answers or advice, although she often offered insight I valued. No, somewhere along the line I discovered that I did it for one reason: To hear her tell me, “It will work out.” The days I would cry about some situation as a wife or as a mother and she would say, “I have faith in him. And in you. I do. Everything will all be okay.”
I’m positive many people here today did the same with my Mom for the same reason.
It’s her certainty and her faith that inspire me daily. You could call this her view through “rose-colored glasses” or quite frankly, an inexplicably and relentlessly positive point of view, when almost none of the facts would seem to offer reasons for good cheer. You could say that choosing to believe in one good scrap of promise when the reality of a situation is telling you something quite the opposite gets you nowhere.
Or does it? When she learned of her cancer just two months ago, she broke down quietly with me and said, “I’m not ready.” We held each other and I just cried along with her because if I spoke it would have been to say. “I’m not either Mom. Don’t leave me.” Then she moved onto new doctors and new procedures and what could be. And also filled those two months with concerts and shows and family visits, parties and holidays.
But it was her time. She did leave us. As Rob said so beautifully on our last afternoon with her, “You’re in your living room, Mom, looking at your beautiful tree and all the lights and decorations you loved. Everyone is with you and we’re all fine. We’re safe, and together and happy. When you’re ready, turn off the lights and go to sleep. We’ll all be okay.”
Despite the enormous emptiness in our lives, in thousands of ways, she’s here and always will be. In her children and grandchildren, in the family and friends who felt her love and kindness. I’ll feel her in every fall day she used to love. I’ll find her in every concert I attend; in every bit of music that I know would bring her joy.
If there’s a celestial piano somewhere, I guarantee you God led her to it and sat her in front of the keys. And everyone who was waiting for her looked up with great joy and said, “Marge is here! Let’s start the party.”