I’m going to wander a bit afield from my normal topics (writing, publishing, etc.) to talk about a topic that affects us all: the loss of a loved one. In my case, that loved one is my mother, Peggy Hogan. I’m the executor of her estate as well as the one who will be delivering her eulogy this Saturday in Manhattan Beach. Here’s the eulogy:
Our mother, Peggy Hogan, was a true force of nature. She lived 102 years and lived each of those years entirely on her terms, including dying at home in her bed surrounded by family. Everyone here knew and loved her, each in our own way. She’ll be missed.
As a military wife, Mom signed up for a life of travel and support. As a family, we traveled the world, from the Philippines to Germany and finally here to Manhattan Beach. During one span, we moved four times in four years—from Germany to Denver to two California towns—each time seamlessly.
Her marriage to our dad was Mom’s touchstone. They were two independent people who found each other and stayed together for six decades. Dad and Mom were the rocks of our lives. Home was always available to us, no matter our age—if we needed it, it was there. And when you were there, sitting around the table after dinner swapping stories, commenting on each other as well as the world, there was no place you’d rather be.
They also shared a great sense of humor, as everyone here can attest. Michael remembers the time he was hospitalized with an emergency appendectomy. He received a gold-leafed card, perfectly calligraphed by Mom, with Dad’s words: “There once was a lad named Mike, who fractured a bone on his bike, and then for some more kicks they took his appendix, lord knows what come next down the pike”. I had my own version, which I received when I was living in Israel. It was a gold-framed photo of me in 2nd grade with a black eye. Again in Mom’s calligraphy, it read: “Happy birthday, son of mine. Glad to know you’re doing fine. Bombings, hijacks, make me skiddish. But what the hell, you’re learning Yiddish.”
Mom was a woman of many talents: most of us know her for her paintings, which many of us own; others for her woodcarving work. But she also built the china cabinet that you’ll see in our living room when we head down to her house for our celebration. For myself, my earliest wonder of her was marveling at how she could throw equally well with either hand. That ambidexterity extended to painting and writing as well.
Mom could be judgmental as well, with opinions on everything from large delivery trucks on city streets to how black women journalists wear their hair. Someone who’s here today once noted, “You ever notice that when your mom starts a sentence with ‘You people’, it never ends well?” The best ‘You people’ story came from when my sister and Bob treated my mother to a week in Hong Kong, followed by a vacation in Thailand. They were staying in a six-star resort and sitting out on the veranda, drink in hand, looking out over a spectacular landscape. And my mother turned to Bob and Tina and said, “You people spend money like water.” Anyone else would have at least waited for another time and place to make that comment. But that was Mom: if she thought it, she said it.
One last story about her harsh judgments: Just last year we were watching the news and Jarod Kushner came on the screen. My mother turned to me and said, “You know, just the thought of that man naked makes me want to throw up.”
In her later years my mom was blessed with 3 wonderful caretakers: Mona, Kathya and Learna. They were not only a part of our family, helping at every turn, they also became good friends with Mom, as witnessed by their presence here today.
My mom’s greatest hope as she neared the end of her life was that she would be reunited with Dad in heaven. I hope that she and Dad and their dog Sam are together now and having a helluva good time.
Goodbye Mom. We’ll miss you every day.
Since my mom was so old (102!), we/I had lots of time to prepare for her death. And my only advice on this front is: be clear-headed. My mom was a wonderful woman, but she was far from a saint, which seems to be the tendency (to eulogy and sanctify) in circumstances like this. The problem is, if you sanctify a person in those tender moments after they pass, and then you have memories that are at odds with the saint you just depicted, you’re confused at best and conflicted at worst.
So my advice on this front: honor without exaggerating. Help those (at the funeral or celebration) have a clear picture of the deceased, warts and all. That’s the person you’re mourning, not some air-brushed person who never existed.