Frances Wanderman eulogy

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.

My almost 99 year old mother watching me take pictures

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.

My mother passed away last night

Frances is 101 today


Frances Wanderman. Born May 26th, 1915. Died June 17th, 2016.

This was taken on May 26th, a little over two weeks ago in Los Angeles, California on my mother’s 101st birthday.

Since then she’s been eating and drinking less (and she was already eating and drinking very little) and two days ago she stopped.

She passed away last night at 8:30 pm. Her helper Marta and my cousin Mary were with her. It was peaceful and easy.

She’ll be buried sometime this coming week at Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Queens, New York where her parents and siblings are.

Images of my mother


My mother not only lived a long time, she lived a very full life. Here’s a collection of images I posted on her 100th birthday.

My great grandmother Leah's tombstone


Here’s one of the earliest images I have of her at her Grandmother Leah’s funeral at Mt. Zion Cemetery, New York, 1918. She’s the youngest child on the right. Her maiden name is Dick and that’s her father, Samuel Dick behind her brother. His father, David Dick, is the old guy with the beard.

My mother and her siblings


Here’s a professional portrait of my mother (third from left) and her siblings. We’re guessing she’s about 17 here which would make the year 1932.

My mother interviews Dorothy Lamour


My mother (center) interviewing the actress Dorothy Lamore at “21” in New York. My mother wrote for a movie magazine.

My parents and me


My father, mother and me in about 1953 (I’m 2, my parents 38).

My mother and me at Crater Lake, Oregon in 1972


My mother and me at Crater Lake in 1972. I was 20 years old here, my mother was 57. My hair came off for good the next year and I grew a beard which I have to this day.

My mother's a Mac Geek


This is my then 90 year old mother who was a Mac user for years. She loved all the t-shirts and swag I used to bring home from Macworld and from my years consulting for Apple. This picture is in the documentary, MacHeads.

My mother inside a Richard Serra


I’ve been traveling out to Los Angeles at increasingly regular intervals to check up on my mother and on these trips we’d almost always go to a garden, a museum, out to dinner with relatives and friends, and cram as much in as we could. Here she is in 2009 inside a Richard Serra sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of art.

Marta and Frances


This was taken two years ago at Descanso Gardens in Flintridge, California, one of the many gardens we took my mother to. Her helper, Marta, was with her for eight years.

I can say for sure that my mother would never have lived to 101 had Marta not been in her life. We were lucky to have the resources to have this kind of help which enabled my mother to continue to live in her own house until the end. This was her wish: no assisted living, no old age home, and she had an explicit DNR (do not resuscitate) statement and told me, no hospitals. She watched what my father went through dying over two months in a hospital and she did not want that for herself.

An aside and an example of my mother’s humor. She’d say this on each of my visits as she became less independent until the last few years.

Frances: “Why don’t you give me the pillow job.”

Richard: “Mom, if I do that I’ll go to prison for murder.”

Frances: “What do I care, I’ll be dead.”

This was her morbid yet funny way to talk about her own death and as she got older and dementia set in, this kind of humor became my test of her cognitive capacity which was pretty amazing until recently.

I give my mother tremendous credit for making good choices along the way. I might have thought she’d be happier in an assisted living place but in fact, she enjoyed her independence and her routines and kept both up as long as she could. I’m quite sure those routines helped her live as long as she did. Marta and I used to joke that a half of a tunafish sandwich and a blended mocha must be the secret sauce that kept her going. I’m guessing it was the routine of getting out of the house and down to her little sandwich place for lunch out almost every day that kept her going. She enjoyed it and it gave her a reason to live.

She will be missed by many people although she’s outlived so many of her friends and relatives that the number is smaller than it might have been.

RIP Frances, I’m glad you were and will always remain my mother.

Frances at lunch

Frances at lunch

Santa Monica, California.

I haven’t been able to get and post recent shots of my now 100 + year old mother because it’s tough to get her to open her left eye (she’s nearly blind in it) and she’s been sick. So, the past few trips out here to LA haven’t been fruitful for mom portraits. I managed to sneak one in at lunch yesterday.

Frances is 100 today

Frances is 100 today

Los Angeles, California.

I’m in LA for my mother’s 100th birthday and while she’s definitely not as with it as she was a month ago, she’s still with it enough to know it’s her birthday. We have a small group coming over to celebrate and I’ll give each of them one of the albums I made for her.

100 years old. Wow, it’s quite an amazing thing and tough to wrap one’s mind around.

Making a photo album for my mother

On May 26th my mother will turn 100 and while she has serious macular degeneration and can’t see well anymore, I thought the best way to acknowledge and celebrate her long life would be to scan and put together a book of images from the various eras that her life has spanned. Our family has accumulated boxes of photographs, some from Europe before my grandparents came over here and an increasing flood of them as the years went by.

I decided against using MagCloud or Blurb or other book-making services for this project although will certainly revisit them later. My mother can’t hold a book anymore so for her I made about 50 8×10 prints and put them in sleeves so she can easily hold and look at them.

Images of my mother

For the relatives and friends who will come to her party (the few who are left) I made a small book of 24 4×5″ prints using a simple and inexpensive Pioneer flexible photo album. I pulled the generic covers out and made front and back covers and put an index inside the front cover with dates and captions for the images. I made 20 albums. It was a fun project and being immersed in it is one of the reasons I’ve not been posting to this site in a while.

Photo album for my mother

I could have easily posted all of these images to Flickr (still may) and made a set and pointed people to it but, many of the people who will attend her party are old enough so that posting images online isn’t the most accessible way to share them. And, given the fact that I found most of these images in boxes that we’d saved over many (well over 100) years, the idea of having analog copies of things to preserve them seemed like a good idea. Plus, I like printing and I like making things so this was as much for me as my mother and the folks who will come to her party.

I leave for California tomorrow with a suitcase full of memories. Hopefully United won’t lose it.

Frances at NYU

Frances at NYU

New York, 1934 (maybe).

My mother went to NYU (New York University) and I’m guessing this picture is from that time. Tough to tell for sure but it seems that way.

She was an English major and when she graduated she worked at various magazines and publishing houses as an editor. She wasn’t career driven although my guess is she did well at whatever she did.

I’ve been scanning old pictures for a photo album I’m making for my mother for her 100th birthday, coming up on May 26th.

My parents and me

My parents and me

I’m guessing this was taken in 1953 (I’m 2, my parents are 38). Walter, Frances, Richard. This was shot by a professional portrait studio in New York and printed on very nice rag paper. The texture on the paper makes a nice, soft print although makes it tougher to scan. I didn’t correct the color on this one; it was no doubt printed as a monochrome but I’m not sure if the sepia tinge is age or was in the original print.

I’ve been scanning old pictures for a photo album I’m making for my mother for her 100th birthday, coming up on May 26th.

My mother and her siblings

My mother and her siblings

My mother is about to have her 100th birthday (May 26th) and I’ve been scanning old photographs and putting together a small album of the arc of her life (so far).

This is a professionally shot group portrait of my mother and her siblings. Anne and I are guessing she’s about 17 here which would make the year 1932.

L-R (oldest to youngest): Irving, Bertha, Frances (my mother) and Lillie.

My mother is the only one still alive.

This very nicely shot portrait was beautifully printed on textured rag paper. The texture on the paper made the contrast take a hit in scanning so it took some work to get the image contrasty enough to reprint successfully. It was also a faded sepia print and keeping it sepia didn’t work well so it got converted to black and white.

My mother plays anagrams

My mother plays anagrams

Los Angeles, California.

My 99 year old mother has been slowly declining for many years now. In her prime she and my late father played a game with other couples called “anagrams.” My parents were so good at this game that they never took the same side, it was usually men against women. The game didn’t come in a box and I’m sure they took an existing game and re-wrote its rules to suit themselves. It was over 100 tiles with letters on them, like scrabble tiles with no numbers. They honed the set based on letter frequency in words: 10 of the letter “E” and 1 of the letter “Z” etc.

The game they played was simple: turn all the letters face down, mix them up, then start turning them over. Here’s an example of how it went:

Turn over letter 1: “A”

Turn over letter 2: “T”

Whoever says the word “AT” first gets it for their team.

Turn over letter 3: “P”

Whoever says the word “PAT” first gets it for their team.

You can make new words out of the loose letters or use the loose letters to change any words already made, either yours or your opponent’s.

No proper names, words have to be in the dictionary (they had two book dictionaries on the table) and unlike my example above, they played with a rule that words had to be 5 letters long.

My father died in 2000 and my mother hasn’t touched this game since. Know that my mother, who is in the throws of serious dementia now, has a BA in English from NYU and was an editor at Viking Press and proofed many of John Steinbeck’s books (she knew him). In other words, she was and in some respects still is literate. She was also an extremely fast thinker and while my father was a very literate guy as well, my mother was the “one.”

Her old anagrams set was so broken down that it was impossible to use, and the tiles are too small for her to see now, so I made her a set of laser-printed tiles that I laminated to make them more durable. I made exactly the same set that they played with (same number of each letter).

We let go of the 5 letter word rule and once I got her going on it she came out of her dementia and started really cooking, using up all the letters making a variety of words, some complex with complex changes that blew my mind.

My mother’s helper, Marta had no idea my mother had this in her and her jaw dropped when she saw my mother in action.

Know that my mother cannot see all the words in front of her but I read them and from memory she used loose letters to alter them in creative ways. Most of us would need to see the words to work on anagrams, she was able to do the reconstructions in her head.

I only wish I’d started her on this sooner as she really enjoyed it and it’s a great brain exercise for her.

Moral: it’s not just about physical exercise, it’s also about cognitive exercise: Ya gotta keep your noggin working to keep your noggin working.