For those of you following along, my mother passed away last Friday night.
I had made a pre-arrangement ten years ago with a funeral home in Los Angeles and they handled everything including getting her safely and on time to New York for a service held graveside for her burial.
I flew her remaining first cousin and his wife out as well as my mother’s helper for the past eight years so they could take part in her burial. Many relatives came who I’ve not seen in 20 plus years as well as friends and my own extended family. It was a nice group.
Members of the group told stories about my mother, and her cousin who is a spritely 87 played his ukulele and sang a song he’d written for her.
I knew I’d be a bit wiped out and upset so I wrote and read a eulogy which is below.
I can say with little doubt that my mother would have been very pleased with this service and on her next birthday (May 26th) we’ll put a stone on her grave.
Frances Wanderman Eulogy, as read by her son Richard at her burial
It will be debated whether my mother was manic, ADHD, or just driven by high energy and insatiable curiosity but she had an unquenchable thirst for experience. What my wife calls “whiplash of the senses” my mother might not even notice.
She wanted her gravestone to say: “She loved life” and when we make the stone it will include those words.
Speaking of words, my mother loved them and it would flatter her to hear that people thought she had great character but it would not offend her to be called “a character” which she certainly was.
My wife taught me how to live, my mother tried but it didn’t take, but my mother taught me how to open myself up to experience the world and to value my own experience and it did take and I thank her for that.
Living 101 years can give a person perspective and my mother took great advantage of that perspective every chance she got.
She experienced the birth of commercial airline travel all the way to men routinely walking on the moon.
She didn’t walk on the moon although if it would have been possible she’d have been the first person to sign up. She did travel the world and loved every county she visited.
She experienced Russia and Ukraine turning into the Soviet Union which she couldn’t visit and then back into Russia and Ukraine which she did visit to see the town her mother was born in.
She proofed and edited John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row on a pile of yellow pads while at Viking Press but also got to experience reading on an iPad.
She experienced the birth of the interstate highway system and the birth of the internet.
She visited every national park, her favorite was Death Valley, and she connected with friends all over the world via letters and postcards as well as email and she had a large worldwide fan club on Flickr.
She experienced and took part in the early civil rights movement and she lived long enough to vote for and experience two terms of Barack Obama.
She had a finely honed intuitive sense of what would be good, dragging me to Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts at Carnegie hall, seeing Hair at the Aquarius theater, Rent on Broadway, Doubt at the Forum, the King Tut show at the Met, the Picasso show at MoMA, hundreds of other plays, hundreds of movies, hundreds of books, gallery openings and almost anything that looked like it might be interesting. She was there.
The few times she visited us at our house in rural Connecticut she would remark: “How can you live here, there’s nothing to do.” We did take her canoeing on a lake near us once and she liked it, but she couldn’t wait to move on to New York.
She was a loyal daughter, sister, wife, mother and aunt who believed strongly in actively keeping family and friends together which she did through correspondence, phone calls, frequent family dinners at her house and frequent trips to New York for as long as she could travel.
She was a creature of habit: up early, breakfast of cut orange, Special K, prunes and decaf, then into bed with paper and the daily morning phone call to cousin Doris.
Frances to Doris: “Are you still alive?
Doris to Frances: “Yeah, how about you?”
Frances to Doris: “Barely.”
Then they’d go on talking for an hour.
Her indulgence was lunch out almost every day, the same half tuna sandwich and blended mocha.
She routinely saw Saturday matinees with cousins Bob and Mary, even after she couldn’t see the picture or hear the sound. And, always remarked at the end, “that was the best movie I ever saw.”
She had a great sense of humor and wasn’t ashamed to say she enjoyed The Three Stooges but also cartoons in The New Yorker. In fact, she enjoyed being outrageous and her use of language, while sophisticated could be colorful.
It was her wish to stay in her own house until the end of her life and as she got older and lost the ability to drive, she hired Marta Daniel to work for her. I was concerned about this because to say my mother could be “difficult” is an understatement. But, they made a great life together and Marta was with her for the last years of her life.
Marta was there when my mother needed her but still allowed my mother to do her own routines and run her own life for as long as she could. There is no question that one of the reasons my mother lived until 101 was that Marta was there for her.
My mother gave me explicit instructions on what she wanted done at her passing:
“I want to be wearing this white dress and this yarmulka Anne made.”
“Send me to Brooklyn and don’t bury me next to my sister Bunny or at my parents’ feet, I want to be next to my father.”
In typical fashion, she would then follow up with:
“Listen, once I’m gone do whatever you want. If it’s too much trouble to send me to Brooklyn cremate me. I’ll never know the difference.”
My mother led a terrific life and was a terrific mother to me and it’s only right that her last wish be granted: she’s right next to her father wearing Anne’s yarmulke and the white dress although Mt. Hebron is in Flushing, not Brooklyn.