Same-Day Funerals, Very Different Lives
On Wednesday, May 17, my mother was buried on Long Island and Jeanne Samuels, editor of the Jewish Herald-Voice, was buried in Houston.
My mother was 83 and had dementia, which had begun showing its dastardly signs in her late 70s and fully conquered her being about a year ago. As the oldest of Mom’s children, I was the first of her family to speak at the funeral. My remarks were unlike the remarks of those who followed me: my two sisters, my brother-in-law, my brother, my niece, and four of my children (three of whom had flown in with me and Sarah, with the fourth sending in a recorded message).
All who followed me, to varying degrees and lengths, delivered traditional eulogies of my mother, recalling aspects of her life and offering a very personal appreciation of her.
I was emotionally overwhelmed by the juxtaposition of the two funerals: one, of a beloved friend who lived with all her wits about her until the age of 99 and who was physically in good shape until just a few months before that, and the funeral of my dear mother, a woman who was extremely vibrant and active into her 70s, whom everyone thought would continue to be so through her 80s. Rather than give a traditional eulogy, therefore, I felt an incredible need to speak of what my mother would frequently preach: carpe diem.
One of the last short videos that my mother made was in 2019. She told her family: “Always do nice things for people, and they’ll do things for you in return. Enjoy. Enjoy every minute of life.” In the spirit of my mother and in the spirit of Jeanne (whom I mentioned at the funeral though not by name), I said that “seizing the day” is not just about ticking off items from one’s foreign-destination bucket list or from one’s list of adventure fantasies (like bungee jumping, paragliding or windsurfing).
Seizing the day also means to seize every opportunity to do good and to spread love—that’s also carpe diem. In other words: Do not pass up a chance to make the world a better place or to make someone feel good.
Mom, I’m sorry if I shortchanged you on the eulogy front. I figured that you already knew how much I love you and how much I respected your positive, wonderful energy. You taught me the importance of physical activity, including introducing me to tennis more than half a century ago; you knew that musical education is important and started me on piano at age 6 and continued to support my musical education when I switched to clarinet at 12 and added saxophone at 15.
Twice a year, you schlepped all the way to Columbia University to hear my wind ensemble concerts, and 40 years ago you paid $1,000 for a top-of-the-line Buffet clarinet, which I still play. You welcomed Sarah into our home on the last days of Passover in April 1980, and Sarah’s love of you helped cement her love for me. When Sarah and I went on to have our five children, they so delighted in all of the arts-and-crafts projects that you would do with them and the games you would play with them, including the classic “motor boat motor boat go so fast.”
And surely, the love of Israel and Hebrew that you instilled in me ultimately fueled our decision to make aliyah.
Yes Mom, I could have gone on and on with a traditional eulogy for you at your funeral but I did not. Is it possible, though, that you might have appreciated my telling the folks at your funeral some of what I learned from you? I hope so. Just in case, I stuck in some traditional eulogy material into this column, a column that you, my very first editor, always loved.
Until mid-August, the video of the funeral can be accessed at https://client.tribucast.com/tcid/6290913376.
TEDDY WEINBERGER is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.