Friday, July 29, 2011

A Eulogy for My Mother

My mother turned 69 a week or two ago. That means, she was born towards the end of World War Two. She grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, as a third generation Italian American. Her mother's family came from Rome. Her father's family was Sicilian. As she grew up, she came to love to love Elvis Presley -- although she never actually owned any of his records until later in life. She also loved The Beatles, Richard Simmons exercise tapes

Among the many things to do, she loved to dance. This was something I was reminded of on nearly a weekly basis, especially that she had once danced on television's American Bandstand. My father loved to dance too, especially with her. Once they met and started dating, they became high school sweethearts -- even attended prom together. She used to scold my lack of rhythm by pointing at her thighs and proclaiming, "These legs danced on Bandstand! What do you mean you don't know how to dance? It's in your genes, boy! Your genes!"

My mother and father had a courtship that lasted several years. It even persisted across state lines. For a time, my mother lived in South Carolina. Eventually, they married. My father did his Masters degree at the U. of Maryland. He took his first job at a predominately African-American high school in innercity Washington, DC during the racial tensions of the 1960s. He was the only white guy in the whole school There, he was considered a federal employee. After watching my grandfather struggle as a steel worker, through strikes, low pay, and an abysmal pension, he decided he wanted to pursue a career with the federal government. There, he saw stability. He was eventually hired as part of the Department of Defense Dependent Schools.

The first job took my mother and him to the Azores, a Mid-Atlantic island chain that is Portuguese territory. My sister, Catherine, was born there. The time in the Azores didn't last long. Eventually, my mother and father and sister moved to the Philipenes and the now defunct Clark Air Force Base. In 1970, my older brother Paul, was born. Eventually, the family moved back to DC for a year, and eventually, they moved to Germany as my father's career in the federal government progressed. My family moved to several different bases in Germany. I was born at Bittburg Air Force Base. From there, my family moved to United Kingdom.

During this time, my mother patiently put up with the globetrotting, the constant moving, and living in other countries. She was mostly a housewife during this time. She began to perfect her ability to cook, which was an amazing talent of hers. Her travels around the world also allowed her to try things outside of her comfort zone, meaning she moved beyond the Italian American fare she was used to, trying nearly everything. Her ability and prowess behind a stove or oven was well loved by every who knew her.

But, secretly, my mother wanted to be more than just a mom or a master home-cook. She began taking night classes from the University of Maryland on the military bases in Germany. Ultimately, she graduated with Bachelor's in Education and Social Work. This need for self enrichment countinued much later into her life. During the 2000's, she completed a Masters Degree conferred jointly by The University of North Carolina At Wilmington and East Carolina University. But, that's also getting ahead of things a little.

After my family left the United Kingdom, we moved to Bermuda. It was there my mother began her elementary school teaching career. She started with no experience, reasoning "I am a mother--that makes me a natural teacher." And she was that, a natural. And she loved this job throughout the years, as it took her to jobs in Belgium, The Netherlands, North Carolina, and New Brunswick, New Jersey, after my father retired. She was an exceptional teacher of children, both her own and others.

My father retired from the federal government in 1997. His last assignment was London Central High School, near High Wycombe, in England. During the 1980s, it was the same area my family lived in. At the time, my mother and father bought a house there. The plan was to return there, sell it, and move back the United States. At the time, I was at West Virginia University finishing my Bachelors and first masters degree. However, since my father claimed that he had "Dragged this poor woman all over the planet," he deferred the choice of where to go next to her.

My mother took a job in Jacksonville, North Carolina aboard a marine corps base. After a year or two, she turned down a reassignment to Iceland. She stopped working for DODDS and left the federal government, teaching at a semi-rural North Carolinian school. Essentially, my parents were growing old together, and their desire had always been to retire at the Jersey Shore. So, they moved to Ocean Grove, New Jersey. My mother took work in New Brunswick and commuted. My father lived as a working retiree, adjuncting a few classes.

In 2008, my mother developed a persistent cough. Her doctor at the time claimed it was related to asthma. He didn't order any chest X-Rays, and he prescribed an medical inhaler. It didn't work. One day, she became very disoriented at school. It got so bad, that her coworkers had to drive her home. She went into the hospital soon after. The earlier diagnosis of "asthma" was wrong. Deadly wrong.

Tumors were found in her lungs. They had spread to brain and her spine. The diagnosis of "asthma" had lost her valuable treatment time. In terms of cancers, her diagnosis started at "Stage 4." My mother had long given up smoking, and her type of cancer actually had nothing to do with tobacco at all. It is largely thought and alleged that industrial pollution, care of the United States Marine Corps in North Carolina, may have had something to do with it. However, this allegation is hard to prove. Yet, there have been a high instance of cancers related to people who have lived or worked around the land the Marines use in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Her health was a steady decline from there. She took that decline as the fiesty woman I always knew. She hardly ever complained. She never asked for anybody's sympathy or pity. Most of all, she kept up her independent spirit as long as she could. However, to the people who loved her, the effects were very noticeable. It got much, much worse, as time moved on. During the last six months of her life, she became bedridden. Dementia set in. She lost the ability to move. She passed away yesterday, July 28th, 2011, at 3:15 pm. Her breathing became extremely labored to the point where her body gave up.

But, honestly. If she were here, right now, she would ask everybody to not remember that part of her life. If she were in perfect health right now, she would demand that you sit down so that she could cook you something -- whether it was her beloved meatballs and spaghetti or an exotic dessert she had just thrown together "on a whim."

My mother was a vibrant woman. She would not want to be remembered as somebody who suffered. And, she did suffer, although she tried very hard to not show that to other people. Rather, she would want to be remembered as somebody who lived. Most importantly, she would want everybody who loved her to continue living, to love life, and to eat something. Essentially, we can mourn her passing, but I think we must be grateful that she enriched our lives. We were lucky to have known her.


  1. Beautiful, Rich. Lauren And I are so sorry for you and your family. Your eulogy made me wish I had known her the way you did.

  2. Thank you for sharing this moving tribute. My condolences.


  3. Helluva tribute, Rich. Sorry for your loss. For her, I wish a lasting peace. For you as well, my friend.

  4. Thanks, Laird and Bob. It's been up and down lately.

  5. I was touched and deeply moved Rich. Your Mother seems like she was an Amazing Woman. Something I know and take to heart as my Mother was the same. I feel lucky to have been able to read and share a small slice of your time with your Mom. Thank You.