Six months ago today, I got out of a particularly gnarly string of Monday-afternoon meetings to a frantic message from my mother’s neighbor:
Lara, please give me a call ASAP !!! There were 4 ambulances at your moms house and there are still 3 cop cars there !! I have no idea if anyone went in the ambulance or whats going on
My heart stopped for a second, and a chill washed over my skin. Immediately, instinctively, I reached for the phone and called my mom’s house.
Next, I dialed her cell phone.
Then I dialed my stepfather Mark’s cell phone. It rang for a long time and I thought I was going to get another voice mail message. Instead, he picked up on like the sixth ring.
“Your mother,” he said through obvious tears. “Lara, she passed away.”
“What?” My question came out sharp, loud, panicked.
“She passed away,” he said again. “In her sleep. I’m so sorry.”
My mother was 61 years old. She’d celebrated her birthday two days prior. I hadn’t seen her then because she had another one of her colds. She was starting to get better (she was always getting sick, getting better, getting sicker, getting better-er), but I felt like I was coming down with something. I didn’t want to make her sick again, plus she and Mark had been without water at the house for days, something to do with the well pump. When I spoke to my mom on her birthday, she’d been pretty miserable about the situation. No water meant no showers, no way to do dishes, no working toilets. Our last conversation, as I later recounted during the eulogy, got cut short because my mother told me she needed to go poop in a bucket.
I left work and drove myself from Newark to North Wilmington. On the way out to the car, I called my husband who, by some small miracle, had taken the day off. We agreed to meet at my mom’s. Then I called my best friend to tell her what had happened. Then I called my aunt. Each time I told someone what had happened, the words made even less sense.
My mother wasn’t supposed to die for at least another twenty years. At least, that’s what I thought. No, she wasn’t in the best health. She was a lifelong smoker (even though she’d finally traded cigarettes for one of those vapor thingies) with COPD. She’d been in a horrible car accident several years prior, during which she’d inhaled the contents of a malfunctioining airbag. For a while, parts of her lungs were turning granular. She was never the same after that. Lots of inhalers, nebulizers, monthly IVIG therapy. Lots of colds and the flu and generally feeling crappy. But she wasn’t dying.
There were still police at the house when I arrived. Joe, my husband, was there too. He walked with me into the house. He stood by me when I walked into the living room, to say goodbye to my mother. I held her hand, smoothed her hair, kissed her too-cool cheek.
I made calls. Lots and lots of calls. I cried for a couple of short jags, almost like hiccups, but mostly I was in a daze. I told the story over and over: she’d had another cold. Her breathing wasn’t great. She fell asleep on the couch using her nebulizer. She never woke up.
Six months ago today, my mom died. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her, or miss her, or wonder what my life would be like if she were still in it.
There’s so much I want to say about my mom, so much I want to write about her, but every time I try something inside of me starts to close up. I just can’t do it. I’m ashamed to admit that, even though six months has gone by, I still haven’t written the dozens of thank you notes I needed to send to all of the amazing people who stepped in and helped me and my family. I’ve tried so many times, but I can never get through more than one before I shut down again.
Because to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to think about those days surrounding my mother’s death. I don’t want to think about her death, period.
I’ve debated with myself whether or not it would be totally tacky to post the eulogy I wrote my mom in this blog. But here’s the thing: when I sat down to write her eulogy, the first thing I did was Google “eulogy mother.” To see how others had done what to me felt like an impossible task. Besides, my mom always loved it when I wrote about her. So. Here we go.
Eulogy for My Momma
November 10, 2013
I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to say about my mom until I sat down to write it all out. And that’s when I realized I didn’t even know where to begin, let alone how I was going to encapsulate her life in a thousand words or less. So I’m not even going to try to do that, because I don’t think it can be done.
But what I am going to do is talk about my mother. Here’s what I know about her:
My mom could make friends with just about anyone, anywhere. She was super outgoing and people just adored her.
She had an amazing smile and an even better laugh. I mean, it really was infectious, wasn’t it? And there were, like, a thousand variations—everything from the seal honk to the soundless body-shaking, tears-streaming-down-her-cheeks variety.
My mom had no filter. She said what she thought, even when you wished she wouldn’t, and she didn’t pull any punches.
She loved a good joke, especially a good dirty joke, but she could never deliver the punch line.
My mom was great in a crisis. She was the Olivia Pope of moms. It didn’t matter what it was, when Nancy got involved, it was “handled.”
She was fiercely protective of her family. When it came to Mark and me, she could say whatever she wanted, but if anyone tried to mess with us, it was on. I mean, she would cut you.
My mom was a total babe. I have this picture of her from when she was in high school—I tore my house apart looking for it this week—but it’s black and white and she’s wearing this empire waist dress, with her hair parted in the center and flowing down her shoulders like black water. It’s gorgeous. Going through pictures this week I was reminded again and again of how beautiful she was.
She loved playing games, all different kinds of games, and she was so competitive. I totally got that from her.
There were a lot of things I got from my mom. Ask me any other time and I’ll deny it but today I will admit that my mom and I were a lot alike. We’re both really stubborn. We both think we’re right 90% of the time (or, in Mom’s case, more like 97% of the time). We’re overly sensitive and sometimes get our feelings hurt really easily. But that’s partly because we wear our feelings on our sleeves. We both love so fully and completely that it leaves us raw.
I learned a lot from my mom. She taught me how to make the world’s best Thanksgiving turkey. She taught me the value in sending hand-written thank you notes. She taught me how to deal with customer service representatives—and how to get what I want from them almost all of the time. She taught me how to find the best deals on just about anything. You think I’m a good shopper? That was all Nancy.
She was also a great gift-giver, a very thoughtful gift-giver. I think this is one of the reasons why she loved Christmas so much. And yes, my fully Jewish mother celebrated Christmas—albeit a secular one—every year. She wasn’t happy until the tree was up and engulfed in lights. Our ornaments told the story of our family. Everybody had a tricked-out stocking, even the dogs. And there were certain rules that I still follow—shopping in categories, and using wrapping paper in every possible color, and one person opening one gift at a time, because her favorite part was seeing your reaction.
What else did I get from my mom? She was a total TV junkie—we had that in common. We had a lot bonding moments over TV, too. The night before I left for college, we watched the series finale of The Wonder Years and just bawled ourselves silly.
She shared her love of musicals with me when I was a kid. Bye Bye Birdie, The Music Man, Mary Poppins. Her favorite was Mary Martin’s Peter Pan. She also shared her love of reading. I always say that my mom was the world’s best preschool, because she read books with me and sang songs with me and we made crafts and put on plays and puppet shows. I actually started reading before I turned three. Because of my mom I fell in love with everything from Nancy Drew to Little Women.
My mom loved that I was a writer even before I was a published one. When I was young and she was working as a property manager at Coffee Run Condominiums, I’d spend summers at her office. Mostly at the pool, but when it was raining out she’d set me up in front of an ancient type writer and I would bang out these stories, these knock-off Nancy Drew mysteries (set in Delaware) and Sweet Valley High rip-offs (also set in Delaware).
She was so proud of my career as an author, and so excited that I started writing again this summer. And it’s so stupid but I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement for the book I was working on and I couldn’t tell her anything about it. But I really wish I had and that she’d gotten to read it. It kills me that she’ll never get to read it.
Last night I was talking to my godmother and she said, “I just know someday you’re going to write a book about your mom, and boy, are you going to have a lot of material to draw from.”
So here’s one my favorite Nancy stories: A few years back, she and Mark were headed out to California for a vacation around Thanksgiving, and my mom was freaking out about how pale she was. So for her birthday that year, I took her to get a spray tan. And my mom had never had one before, and she didn’t know what to expect. So she took some packing tape, lifted her boobs up, and wrapped it around herself like an adhesive bikini. The tanner happened to be a woman in my writing group and I thought she was going to pee her pants when she saw what my mom had done.
My mom had a funny habit of mispronouncing things and mixing up her words. She once talked about putting the skybox on something (although Mark swears she said skybosh)—at any rate, none of us ever puts a kibosh on anything anymore, it’s always a skybox or bosh. She kept talking about this Ron Paul Surf Shop. She called the Mexican restaurant El Tapatio El Tapayshio (making it Italian), she called tiramisu tiramitzu (making it Japanese), and she called bento boxes benito boxes (making them Mexican).
My mom didn’t like getting older. In fact, she hated it, and because of that she started to hate her birthday, too. This year was a really hard birthday for her, not only because she’d been fighting a really bad cold for weeks but also, as many of you know, the well at her house had broken and they’d been without water the whole week prior.
Anyway, the last conversation I had with my mom was on her birthday. I’d called to sing her special “Happy Birdle Dadle Toodle You Dadoodle” song to her, and we talked for a bit, but our conversation got cut short because—and I swear this is the truth—because she said she had to go poop in a bucket.
I am going to miss my mother. She was my favorite person to swap recipes with. She was my go-to whenever I needed advice on home ownership. She was the first person I’d brag to whenever I snagged a crazy-good deal on something and vice-versa. And she could make me laugh until my stomach would literally cramp up.
When someone close to you dies, everyone tells you how sorry they are for your loss. But here’s the thing: I didn’t lose my mom. She is in my head and she is in my heart. She is so much a part of who I am, and of who I will always be. Nothing can take that away from us, not even her death.