My mother’s memorial service was yesterday, and it went as well as we had hoped. Over 150 people came to pay their respects, and the service lasted over two hours because so many people wanted to come up and share their memories of my mother. She had wanted her funeral to be a time of joy and remembrance, not grief and mourning, so we ordered brightly colored flowers and offered people food and a chance to mingle afterwards. I saw people laughing and talking all around the funeral home afterwards, more like a dinner party than a funeral. For my mother, who was so full of life and joy (and always throwing parties), it was perfect. She would have loved it.
Here’s the wreath I ordered for her – I wish I could have gotten brighter flowers!
And here is a photo from her 70th birthday party. (She insisted that I make the cake, so I did, and I decorated it with petals from a blazing orange rose. She loved it.)
Here is the eulogy I wrote for her.
My mother was the most blazingly alive person I know. Her energy, her creativity, her keen intelligence, and her remarkable zest for life made her memorable. And her generosity of spirit made her well-loved.
My mother was brilliant. She had a wide variety of careers and succeeded at all of them, whether it was biochemistry, teaching high school, or raising her children and making a home. In her spare time, she was equally brilliant. She wrote for the local community newspaper and for a Chinese newspaper, painted and sold T-shirts at local craft fairs, and was a tireless advocate for gifted education. And much more.
My mother was a trailblazer. She got a PhD in biochemistry at a time when most women were not expected or able to get an advanced education. She worked as an X-ray crystallographer when most women were expected to be homemakers. She taught me that despite what people might say, women could do anything, and, particularly, that I could do anything. And that she darn well expected me to.
She was a creative spirit. She succeeded at every craft she set her hand to, and there were a lot of them. She sewed her own clothes (and many of mine), she made wonderful beaded and wire-wrapped jewelry, she crocheted her own placemats and hot pads. She made exquisite Christmas ornaments at her annual ornament-making party. She had the best, most gorgeously decorated Christmas tree I’ve ever seen, every twig covered with miniature works of art – most of them hers.
She was an unabashed geek. She made beaded beads – constructing big beads from smaller ones, and was very proud of having created a set of beads demonstrating all possible symmetries for a particular crystal form. When I was in sixth grade, she encouraged me to do simple experiments to see how fast carrot tops grew in bright sun versus in the shade. She didn’t just believe in the scientific method – she lived it, and she taught me to do the same.
She was very active in the community. She was an essential member of a ski club, a bridge club, and two lapidary clubs. She hosted a weekly wonton-making gathering in her home. She kept in touch with many friends, even over long distances. She organized trips with her high school classmates even though they were scattered all over the world. When she visited me in California, she would also visit twelve of her friends in the area. Just reading the itinerary for her visits exhausted me. At 76, she still had more energy than most twenty-year-olds. She was a real force of nature.
She wasn’t perfect. She was an impatient driver. She carefully planned her routes to maximize the number of right turns and minimize the number of left turns, because she hated wasting time at stop lights. And she drove like a maniac. (Of course, that might just have been because she learned to drive in Manhattan.)
My mother could also be extremely stubborn, especially if it was something she cared about. But that went with the territory. You don’t expect a force of nature to do what you want all the time, do you? I loved my mother and her tenaciousness – it was one of the many things that helped her accomplish all the wonderful things she did.
She loved her children. She decorated the walls of her apartment with our finger paintings and childhood art. But she didn’t cling to us. She supported us when we needed it, without question, but she encouraged us to stand on our own, to be strong and independent.
My mother took great pride in our achievements, but I don’t think she really understood how much she contributed to them. She was an inspiration to me, setting an example and an expectation that I could do anything. She encouraged me in my endeavors, whether they involved studying mathematics, bicycling from San Francisco to Los Angeles in outrageous costumes, or becoming a serious fiber artist. She taught me how to work in a broad range of crafts, she taught me to think analytically, and she taught me to be just as stubborn as she was. Without her, I could never have achieved those accomplishments she was so proud of.
My mother wasn’t afraid of death. She was very practical about it. She knew her health was precarious, and she knew her time was limited – whether it be ten years or ten days. She didn’t let that slow her down – nothing could have slowed my mother down – but she did do her best to prepare us for her passing. While I miss her terribly, and wish I’d had another decade or more with her, I’m grateful that she kept her energy, her zest for life, and her brilliant mind to the end of her days. It’s exactly how she would have wanted to go.
Goodbye, Ma. I love you, and I will miss you for the rest of my life.