mm498: In her own words

September 16, 2008
© Constantin Opris |

© Constantin Opris |

So, on a beautiful, late summer afternoon, supported by family and some old friends, we buried her.

She was 81 years old, with four unique children, and lived long enough to see her nine surviving grandchildren grow into accomplished adults (the last three graduated college this past spring); and meet and get to know three great-grandchildren, the youngest of whom, born this past February, my lovely niece named for our long-deceased father.

Though made hollow by a disease whose terminal nature she was only slowly coming to grips with, she refused to give in to it, staying active and alert to the end, an end that was mercifully sudden.

She always told us that she would have to be carried out of that amazing lakefront home; and that’s exactly what occurred.

Yesterday, in the course of going through some old papers, my brother found an envelope from December, 1983, when she was a healthy 56 years old, marked “To my family.”

Once he read the handwritten letter to us, we realized that there was nothing more to do than to have him read it as her eulogy at the graveside service.

Turns out that there was more than one writer in the family.

“An unexamined life is not worth living.” Plato’s Apologia

Having reached the age and stage where one begins to think about how I would hope to be remembered, I write these words:

A very private person with a strong sense of self, I have always been inner directed. Yet because I’ve known what is most important to me, I have been a participant in a viable loving marriage and as my supreme accomplishment have raised children I am proud to know as friends. They will attest that, as they were growing up their mother frequently said, ‘it isn’t what one does that is important, but what one is’—and this I do believe! Core values—integrity, honesty, commitment have been a way of life for all of us. And in a world so readily torn asunder, the extended ties of family have been valued. Our differences perceived and accepted but a sense of loyalty extended. And it gives me pleasure to see my children’s good marriages and the transmission of an Ethical Code to their children.

Philosophically, I have never believed in a single answer, a single truth, a single solution, (nor, if pressed, a single God). Nor have I been paralyzed by crisis or confusion. That always has perhaps been my greatest strength: a quick assessment of the changed situation and an ability to decide upon a plan of action. I could make a decision. Between crises I have been content to retreat—perhaps to heal.

The recipient of a good education—I graduated from the University of Chicago at 18—provided by loving parents, I grew up as a person as opposed to merely a member of my sex. And without the need to advertise I have been comfortable with my Jewish identity. I have believed in understanding the world as I’ve found it, not only in the political sense but in more basic terms. Through a lifetime of extensive reading I acquired what one professional called “a gift of analysis”! This was sometimes helpful to my husband, but more satisfying to me.

We are all paradoxes; I’ve been no exception. I’ve liked stage center on my terms—and have always been happier leading a class than attending one. Yet, I’m equally content beachcombing and being alone with my books and garden.

‘Authorities’ have had little appeal in my life, as you might guess. I’ve always questioned. And I have always reserved the right to decide for myself what I do. That isn’t always noted by the world at large because I’ve never needed to lead the parade.

What I’ve had little patience for is the mediocre—in me or in others. Fine music (but well played), dynamic theatre and dance (not the second rate), good movies, exciting painting—all please. Above all, I love well-written books. However, I think I myself stopped painting when I realized that mine was third-rate stuff; the mere doing wasn’t enough.

I’ve had a good life. A warm relationship with parents and grandparents. Happily an extended period with my Mother. S___ has provided a stimulating life for us, filled more dramatically than most, plus such beauties as greenhouses in our home on the Lake and extended foreign travel—and such terrors as brain tumors and open heart surgery. I have come through a smashed hip and can walk (and indeed dance) again.

We have had special friends who have been valued because they have been equally ready to participate in our lives whether the days be good ones or horrid. And they have not kept us at arms length in their lives.

And it has been a distinct pleasure to know my grandchildren. There’s nothing I value more. With good luck I will see them grow and mature.

As I read what I’ve written, I’m not really sure I’ve scratched the proverbial surface. I’ll have to return to this later. How can one really explain one’s life?

And, remarkably, she wrote her own eulogy. In control to the end.

Goodbye, Mother.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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