Friday, July 12, 2013
My mother recently died of complications from Alzheimer's disease. She played a huge role in helping to shape who I am. I would like to share with you my eulogy.
Jane Heller Frieden Eulogy July 11, 2013
Thanks to all of you for coming today. My sister, Nancy, brother Andy and I have many people to thank including our cousin Debbie Kaplan for hosting us today, the many care givers at Beth Shalom and Eldercare, especially Sabrina Williams, the “family” law firm of Faggert and Frieden and our friends who have offered humor and support, especially Mary Ann Wegstrom who alerted us to my Mother’s illness. I also want to acknowledge Nancy’s work in helping to manage my Mother’s care and finances over many years. Last but not least, I want to express my gratitude to my wife Katie for her kindness and generous spirit.
Given the pernicious nature of Alzheimer’s disease, which increasingly burdened my Mother for almost ten years, I have had the opportunity to observe and reflect on the many phases of her life. This offers rare perspective, because one can easily typecast and frame a parent’s role in just one category: Mom, or Dad. Looking at the span of my Mother’s life, there were episodes as student, apprentice teacher, wife and partner, accomplished Professor, dedicated community volunteer, late blooming pilot, genealogist and victim of dementia. One can easily overemphasize that last phase, but the ones that preceded it offer a better measure of her life.
My Mother embraced life and the many tasks expected of her and others she gladly embraced. She was a wonderful match to my gregarious Dad. My Father exemplified the word raconteur, the Man about town, but alongside him—keeping stride—was Mom. The two of them traveled the world and danced throughout the years. I have a fond memory of the two of them taking to the dance floor after a weekend hairdressing clinic my Father organized. In the late sixties he offered hair cutting workshops to his beauty and barber shop customers, each ending with a meal and dancing. In these days of Internet-mediated, “social networking” one can hardly envision such personal, high touch events, but they were cutting a rug.
I distinctly recall how my parents blended traditional and almost revolutionary elements in their relationship. My Father had the gift of gab, but my Mother could put him in his place if he overstepped. She started her flight training at the tender age of 52, when my Father and I traveled to Australia to find opals. She had no intentions of passively awaiting his return.
My Mother pursued lifelong learning and became an accomplished art educator. I recall with pride the number of times she would acquire an impromptu tour group as she explained the nature and history of art objects at several museums. Like my Father, she tried to establish a personal relationship with everyone, especially her students, some of whom achieved a greater appreciation not just for art, but for learning and living a purposeful life.
My Mother gladly would have continued an active and vigorous life in retirement had she not contracted Alzheimer’s disease. Step by step, she declined, giving up the computer and the Internet which had brought so much joy and tasteless jokes. In time she had to retire from a variety of community service responsibilities including the Chrysler Museum, the battleship Wisconsin, Meals on Wheels and Make a Wish Foundation to name a few. Her frequent phone calls to me stopped.
This unrelenting disease robbed her of so much, but remarkably it also provided us a perhaps a clearer picture of her core self—unvarnished and uncensored. Until near the end, she expressed so much joy with uncontrollable laughter. Chocolate, Katie’s and my Corgi Noo-Noo, and music from the 40’s brought unmistakable pleasure. Even as she lost her shortterm memory, she could remember the lyrics to War-time songs. She couldn’t remember Noo-Noo’s breed, or my name, but she could recite the lyrics and perform the dance moves to Al Dexter’s 1943 hit “Pistol Packing Mama.”
Today we grieve the loss of a truly renaissance person, who delivered on the goals of “giving back to the community” and living a purposeful life. Both Jane and Joe Frieden remind us to “seize the day”: carpe diem, because we simply do not know when and how our days fade to black.