Thank you all for coming to the funeral that Mommy decidedly didn’t want. I apologise in advance for this mess of a tribute. I’m used to public speaking, but it usually involves assigning homework, and doesn’t include Mommy watching from above and judging. Luckily, she’s probably not listening, and is just staring, shocked that I’m finally wearing shoes. It’s a convenient distraction from a eulogy Mommy didn’t want, delivered by someone with no clue what a eulogy is.
I think I’m supposed to say who Mommy was, and I guess that’s easy. She was Mommy. For decades Jeff and I have endured the bemusement of people hearing overgrown men referring to their mother in such a childlike manner. But that’s who she was, a loving, securing, motherly presence, from our births until her final day.
And probably long before our births. Mommy was born in 1928, just in time for the great depression, which helped make a mess of her childhood and the childhood of her brother Lee and sister Louise. From her early teens, Mommy took on the duties of a parent, working to protect them all from a loving but drunken and inept father, and a cold and irresponsible mother, and mercenary foster parents. That Mommy could emerge from this swamp so determined and strong, and still so loving says exactly who she was.
At 22, after having trained as a nurse, Mommy escaped her family, to marry the wrong guy. Then, she met David, our father, the right guy, sort of; true love discovered in one of America’s most notorious asylums. Mommy and Daddy soon moved from Pennsylvania to California, had Jeff and then me. And since California was not far enough from their families, we moved to Melbourne, which in 1961 was like moving to the Moon.
Once in Melbourne, the marriage almost immediately failed. Mommy found herself on a Victorian era moon, a single mother with two young kids. She devoted the next decade and a half to me and Jeff, to keeping us happy and healthy and safe. She became a teacher and later a nurse again, worked herself ragged to be able to buy us a house in Macleod.
In the late 70s, once Jeff and I had left home for our studies, Mommy looked hard for new social outlets. She joined the Hawthorn football club, a betrayal I’ll now forgive. She met Diane and Steve, and they remained the closest of friends for forty years. You were so, so important to her, and she loved you both so much.
In the early 90s Mommy found herself in Echuca, alone but settled and comfortable, tending her garden and reading about nazis. In 2004, Mommy wrote her memoirs: that’s your homework there. Mommy wrote of her extraordinarily tough life in a clear, honest and heartfelt manner. Mommy closed her memoirs by coming to terms with her past, her loves and her mistakes, and summing up. She wrote:
A psychiatrist once asked me what was the most important thing that ever happened to me in my life and I did not hesitate a second before answering, ‘having my sons’. They gave my life meaning and purpose as nothing else ever could.
Mommy thought of her memoirs as ending things, but there were sixteen more years to go, and they were sixteen of Mommy’s most content and happiest years. She was hugely comforted to have Ying and Jackie appear, sensible and loving souls to watch over her error-prone sons. And then there was Eva and Lillian. Grammy adored you both beyond words. You made her last years, as a proud, doting Grammy so happy and so rich.
As Mommy grew older, it became harder for her to take care of herself, but she refused to do otherwise, refused countless pleadings to live with us or just to move to Melbourne. She figured that it would be the death of her, and she was probably right. Three weeks ago, in Echuca hospital, I told Mommy she would be coming home to Melbourne with me and she immediately replied “Oh, I can’t do that.” It was heart-breaking to explain to her that there was now no choice. But Mommy nodded, and she understood. Better than me, she understood.
Yesterday, I finally got the courage to look at Mommy’s box of important documents. I found the instructions Mommy left for taking care of matters after her death. And, along with a reminder to cancel the newspaper, and the strategically placed advertisement for a cut-rate crematorium service, Mommy left a note for me and Jeff. The note is undated, but here it is:
For Jeff + Marty
My life has been like most other people – a series of ups and downs. I want both of you to know that my life was a happy one only because of you two. From the time when you were small boys right up to the present your love, consideration and basic goodness makes me very proud. You are so good. I am grateful for the love you have shown me over the years. You made my life a happy one.
There is plenty there with which to argue. There was plenty more that made her happy, including very much those here today. But it shows who she was. She was Mommy. Thank you for being here to say goodbye to Mommy, to Marian, to Grammy. Mommy didn’t want this, she didn’t want us here. But it is good and it is right that we are, to remember her and to honour her. Thanks.