Today would have been my mother's 72nd birthday. While she passed earlier this year, she's still very much with me. As I celebrate her birthday and life today, I thought it fitting to share some of my memories of her with others. The following was originally presented as a eulogy at my mother's funeral on April 6, 2010.
The temperature was 81° degrees when I got to the hospital on Friday afternoon, shortly after I received a call that my mother’s condition had taken a serious turn for the worse. It felt like a collision of opposites: my mom on her deathbed and a beautiful and unseasonably sunny day.
But then I remembered how much my mother used to love being outside and it all began to make sense. Whether it was planting or pruning, weeding or walking, or just enjoying the sunshine or a mild breeze, my mom came alive when she was outside. So it was no surprise that my mother’s last day was also the warmest day of the year to date. It was as if the Earth and all of the outdoors came forward as if to say, “Welcome back, Diana.”
As I made my way into the hospital, I found myself remembering more of what my mother held dear and what I had learned from her over the years. In tribute to her, I’d like to share some of that with you.
Some of you may not know this about my mother, but she used to be an avid reader. Growing up, I vividly remember her reading through paperback after paperback. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but this made a big impression on me. I ended up identifying reading as more than important, as something essential that everyone does at home. Among other factors, this influence helped guide me to a graduate degree in English. Thanks, Mom.
In Defense of Food
Ah, the days of lemon pie and baked macaroni. I never knew how good my mom’s cooking was until I was out on my own and regularly eating TV dinners and Chinese take out. And it wasn’t just the food, although it was undeniably better. It was the labor of love that went into the meal preparation and the custom of recipes passed down generation to generation. My wife and I have recently begun returning to these roots in our diet and organic food choices, and there’s no doubt that my mom’s invisible hand is in the kitchen, helping us.
My mother smoked for most of her life, from her early teenage years, I think. I’ve no doubt that her health was adversely affected from many years of smoking and that smoking directly contributed to her cancer. I won’t dwell on this except to say, if any of you smoke, please think of my mother and consider quitting.
Kind and Loving
If I had to pick two terms to describe my mother, I would, without hesitation, say that she was kind and loving. If these sound a bit obvious and characteristic of any mother, I would suggest that you should ponder further.
I say this because my mother loved her family unconditionally and was kind without filter or reservation. She always put her children and her husband first, sometimes before her own happiness.
My mom only wanted peace and harmony in our family. When my father and I would start off talking politics and end up arguing and name calling, my mom wouldn’t take sides and instead gently suggest that we switch subjects.
She saw the best in everyone while overlooking their shortcomings.
Belief in the Goodness of People and Redemption
This leads to my final point about my mother: deep down she believed in the goodness of people and second chances. This is best illustrated with an example.
When I was young, we had no contact with some members of my mom’s family. I never learned the reason for this, but it had the feel of an old family grudge, where someone said or did something years ago but no one could remember exactly what started it, and the only way forward was to continue the standoff.
This continued until my mother’s brother Sam got sick and my mother and her family made peace and came together. It was a remarkable lesson to me and I learned for the first time that love and forgiveness can overcome pride and selfishness.
I will always respect my mother for this and, though I lack her compassionate nature, try to live by this example. One sign that her lesson might have taken hold is that, since we’ve been adults, my sister and I have never had a meaningful quarrel.
All of us here today, at one time or another, benefited from my mom’s loving nature or actions. We are better for having known her, and her children – my sister and I – are who we are in no small part because of her love and guidance.
I will miss her, will do my best to impart her story to my little girl, and will remember her always.
In Loving Memory of Diana Gullo (1938 - 2010)