Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Eulogy for My Mother

I offered this eulogy (hesped) at my mother's funeral last week:  

My mother was a brave woman. She did things her way. She left home soon after she graduated from high school to take a look at the bigger world – which for her meant first Detroit, and then California. She was a single working mom before the term had been invented. She lived through a tumultuous time with two tumultuous children.
The book of Proverbs asks eyshet chayil mi yimtza, which we usually render into English as “a woman of valor, who can find.” Chayil is translated here as valour, but we know this word chayil is not unrelated to the modern Hebrew word for “soldier” or “force.”
My mother Marian Harriet Goldish Kiener, Shivya Masa bat Shayne Bayle ve-Shmuel, was not only an unconventional woman of valor in the old-time religion sense of the book of Proverbs; she was also a kind of soldier and she was certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Any child can say this of his or her loving mother – no one has known me longer, worried for my welfare so thoroughly, took my side more often, and delighted in my accomplishments like my mother. My brother and I were rebellious young sons in a singularly rebellious time period. We defied our parents, and our mother in particular, at every turn. To paraphrase the GEICO commercial – “that’s what kids do.” 
She didn’t understand everything we tried or attempted, to be honest, we didn’t understand what we were doing half the time - but the love never wore off. More than 30 years ago my brother defiantly went off to California for a while to find his fortune, but my mother, a single woman in a time long before it was fashionable or acceptable, had already pioneered that path a further 30 years earlier. She acted like she couldn’t understand our youthful defiance, but she was a defiant youth herself, going off to Detroit, then to Minneapolis, then to Los Angeles. She was such a force of nature, a bit of the rebel herself, that even though she played the part of the baffled matriarch shouldered with two rambunctious and error-prone boys, she always forgave, and always found a way for us to come back to her embrace.
She was a soldier. She championed through a long career at Musicland and then earned her well-deserved retirement. She then bravely took off to Arizona to live the retirement dream. And she loved it. But she soldiered through her well-deserved retirement and outlasted almost every one of her friends, and then returned to the land where her two sisters lived.
Finally, my mother was a force to be reckoned with throughout her life and in her last home at Knollwood Place. You could be the CEO of Bristol-Palmolive or the local grocer - expect a long hand-written letter of complaint in wonderfully clear cursive script if you sold her shoddy merchandise or tried to swindle her. She made her expectations known to all, and had a sharp word for those who failed to meet them. But people loved her – because my mother had a marvelous sense of humor. She loved to smile and laugh.
Like a tough, hard-living, fun-loving rebellious soldier, for entertainment she liked to gamble. She ran the BINGO game at Knollwood Place, and helped convene the monthly trip to Mystic Lake. I remember childhood trips to Sioux City where we would bet on the ponies and buy a cooler full of oleomargarine to bring back to Minnesota. In her latter decades, she drew great joy from playing adult penny slot video games at Mystic. To paraphrase the Geico commercial – “that’s what old women do.”
So my mother was a woman of valor, a strong woman, a discerning woman, and a force to be reckoned with. I would not be the man I am today without her love and support. My brother can attest to the same awesome debt we owe her.
Sister to two remarkable women, mother of two, grandmother to six, great-grandmother to one – it’s really a beautiful story, a kind of fairy tale. It all worked out. It was a life well-lived.
Eshet chayil mi yimtza “Who can find a heroic woman?” All of us who knew her knows we saw the real deal. Yehi zikhra barukh– Her Memory has certainly been a blessing to all of us.