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a final toast for mom

My mom died after a 15 month long battle with breast cancer at 3:37am on Friday, November 30, 2012. A week and two days later on Sunday, December 9, we gathered some family and friends at a local restaurant to commemorate my her. I wanted to same some words that day, but they never came. Here’s what I wanted to say:

Thanks for being here, everyone. I just wanted to say a few words about my mom… First of all, she wouldn’t want anything having to do with a eulogy as it would be far too pessimistic for her, so make sure your glass is at least half full (not to be confused with half empty) and make this a toast instead…

My mom was an amazing person. She touched many people’s lives in ways I think she never really knew, and certainly in ways we did not fully appreciate as kids growing up. I remember way back to our house in Mt. Greenwood, my mom was always running around the neighborhood checking in on the older folks who lived nearby. Nobody had to ask her. She just did it. She was always the nurse–thoughtful and truly caring.

My mom knew everyone she came into contact with by name and by the personal details of their lives. Even while in the throws of her battle with cancer, she would take time to make small talk, to ask her radiologist about his kids (whom she knew by name) or the office receptionist about her recent vacation. Under horrible circumstances, she was friendly when most of us would not be.

She was always one to send notes and cards to family, friends, and even friends of friends if she could get her hands on their address. I remember even in recent days, she had me drive her to the mailbox so she could mail a card of thanks. As I dropped it in the box for her, I saw it was addressed to me. I didn’t say anything. (She thought it was more special for a card to come in the mail.) When anyone in the family would visit my mom, there was always some kind of gift waiting–something she saw and thought you would like, a book she read and wanted to share, a special gift for one of her grandchildren… And the newspaper clippings…oh how she liked to clip articles to pass on–piles and piles of clippings: clippings of kindness, each and every one.

Even on her deathbed, she had a real interst in the mundane details of other people’s lives; she was never selfish, perhaps even selfless to a fault. She would ask me about work and my hobbies; she would worry that I wasn’t getting enough sleep; she wanted to know if I was eating well; she indulged me in all my petty concerns, while she lay their dying. While my mom had accepted her coming death, she continued to show kindness, hope, and enduring-optimism. These values–her values–are ones that have shaped my life.

This day is about my mom, but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge another person here today. A woman of great capacity for caring. While many visited my mom during her final days–coming and going–there was one person who was a constant presence at my mom’s side–my sister, Karyn. She took our mom into her home, took leave from her job, and put any self-interest on hold as she put everything into caring for our mother. I know this was not easy. There were many difficult moments–sometimes at 3am when there was no one but her to bring comfort to the pain and the fear. I think in large part it’s because of my sister’s presence that my mother was at such peace as she neared death and passed on. My sister’s capacity for love and kindness comes from my mother and she demonstrates it in a way that would certainly make her proud. Thank you, Karyn. I love you.

It is said, “We live as we die, and die as we live” (Edward Counsel).

Just days before her last, my mom told me that her final mission in life was to teach her children and grandchildren that one doesn’t need to be afraid to die. I believe she did this; she was a woman of integrity to the end and incredible grace. I will miss her. I think we all will.

To Celeste McGuire, my mom… and everything she was to us…

So, that’s it. The words are out there now–let loose into the universe. Maybe someone will hear them.

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