Tag Archives: eulogy

My Mom’s Farewell

As some of you know, I am working on a couple of memoirs, as well as my autobiography. In doing so, I’ve been slowly going through all my photos and files, culling out items that I can use in these documents. While I am hopeful I can make a little money from these efforts, I’m hardly depending on it and I am mostly working to preserve my memories (which are beginning to fade) for myself and my family, especially my two daughters.

Annette Ladd
My mother at about 18 years old. This is one of the pics I used for her funeral program

What follows is the funeral service I wrote and gave for my mother, who passed away over 15 years ago. I had not seen this since I recited it that day. It was a little difficult to read. Although I did not give it attribution at the time (I may have mentioned it, though I didn’t write it in the “script”) the first paragraph is the section “On Death,” from The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran.

I am not a religious man, though I believe I am spiritual and have a deep and awesome relationship with the universe as I understand it. I did attend four years of Hebrew school and am bar mitzvah. I am also an ordained minister in the First Church of God The Father. I claim no special connection to, or knowledge of, the infinite and received this ordination in order that I might perform weddings. I have performed around 50 of them. I’ve also done a couple of funerals, but they were all in the family. Here’s the text from one of those funerals:


You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life? If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath form its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

On behalf of Steve and Angela, their daughters Blaire and Erika, Brooke and Paul, Myself and Linda, and our daughter, Aimee, thank you for being here today to honor the memory of our Mother and Grandmother. I must tell you I agonized for a while over using the word “welcome” in the little pamphlet we prepared for this day. I thought “Is it appropriate to welcome someone to what is a sad and solemn occasion?”

However, the more I thought about it, the more it became apparent to me this is a very intimate moment for our family and, in reality, you are more than welcome to be here to share it with us. We are profoundly grateful for the love and respect you show to our mother’s memory by being here today. What I really want to do, what I’m going to try to do, is speak not so much of my mother, though I will certainly be speaking from my experience of her, but more of our mother. I want to try and express just a little of what she meant to all of us.

How does one sum up a life of over 80 years in just a few sentences, especially when ours is so intimately intertwined with hers?

First of all, let me say this will not be a traditional Jewish funeral service, though there are two prayers that will be recited in honor of our mother. For our family, you might say Judaism was like the sun; you didn’t have to believe in it for it to shine its warmth on you. Our early life was filled with a great deal of Jewish observance and celebration. We belonged to the Sun Valley Jewish Community Center, later to be renamed Valley Beth Israel. Mom was, for a time, quite active in the Temple’s Sisterhood and counted many of her friends among the congregation.

She was not, however, (at least in her later years) an observant Jew. Despite this, she held on to her Judaism in certain, small ways which had meaning for her and which gave her comfort. For instance, she always had a mezuzah on her door, and she couldn’t help but utter a Kenahorah (Kayn Aynhoreh – no evil eye), whenever she remarked on something good that happened.

When my maternal grandmother died, my mother took it very hard. I had never seen her so upset and the memory of her distress stayed with me – at times haunted me – for years. As I grew older and began to contemplate the mysteries of life, I felt a need to know that she would grow old gracefully and that she would, when the moment came, be able to peacefully accept and embrace her death.

When the opportunity would arise, I would find a way to discuss death with her, so I could figure out how she saw things. We also talked at times about religion. When I asked her if she believed in God or an afterlife, she always responded with one of two expressions. Either she would just shrug her shoulders and give me a look, as if to say “I don’t know. Who does”, or she would wave her hand dismissively, as if to say “Why bother thinking about those things?”

Most people elicit, at one time or another, virtually every emotion we are capable of, and our mom was no exception. She could be endearing, warm, and comforting, and she could also be tough, uncompromising, and infuriating.

All of us have weaknesses and frailties. If I had to point to one of my mother’s, it would have to have been her bluntness; her habit of telling you exactly what was on her mind. Sometimes, it was hard to remember she was also a kind and thoughtful person, who was capable of giving a great deal of her self for others.

In many ways, her habit of speaking her mind was not necessarily a bad thing. When Stephen’s Sister-in-law, Erika, called the other night to express her condolences, she told me of a conversation she had with her father, Wence, shortly after he had learned of Mom’s death. She said he told her something she had not thought of before. That the one thing you always knew for certain with Annette was where she stood. That she was incapable of artifice or, in many ways, subtlety. What you saw was, indeed, what you got. I believe this honesty of hers caused her a great deal of heartache over the years, but it is, I also believe, a good quality; not a bad quality.

As I think back on my mother’s life, I can point to what I consider to be three wonderful achievements she is responsible for. They are, of course, my brother, my sister, and (I like to think) myself.

To be sure, none of us have become famous or wealthy. But I think each of us has become what she had hoped for us; responsible adults, striving to fulfill our dreams and accomplishing many of the goals we’ve set for ourselves. We couldn’t have reached the point we are at today without the values she instilled in us. We couldn’t have become the people we are today without the lessons we learned through her guidance.

She brought us into this world, and it is now our solemn duty to help her leave it. Her passing marks the end of a large chapter in our family’s life. I, personally, do not believe in an afterlife; at least not in any way that I have learned from the many religions I have studied. Nevertheless, I do believe in some sort of continuation of her life, if only in the hearts and memories of those who she loved, and who loved her. I came across a wonderful quote, which I think concisely states my feelings about this.

Death does not extinguish the light; it merely puts out the lamp because dawn has arrived.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’ sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

Mitzvot (plural of mitzvah) – Shoveling dirt on the casket.  This mitzvah is known as hesed shel emet, true loving kindness. Traditionally each person at the graveside, beginning with those closest to the deceased, puts three shovels of dirt into the grave – replacing the shovel in the earth for the next mourner, rather than handing the shovel directly, to avoid “passing on death.” This mitzvah demonstrates our continuing concern for the deceased as we make sure their final journey is completed – some say we should use the back of the shovel to signify this is different than any other use we make of the shovel.


An Eerie Sense of Loss

Wedding in the Grove

A really beautiful ceremony in the Avocado grove of the London home – Nipomo, CA

I attended a really nice wedding this past Saturday. The groom is the only son of a long-time, childhood friend. Amazingly, I never had the opportunity to get to know this young man. For numerous reasons, he just didn’t come into my life. Part of it was they lived on the East Coast during his early years and I never made it out there. There are surely other reasons, but I’ll be damned if I can clearly articulate them . . . at least not without straying from the message I want to convey in this post.

After the ceremony and after we’d all sat down and eaten dinner, the Best Man and Maid of Honor presented their toasts. They were good. Actually, they were excellent. Heartfelt, somewhat revealing, and occasionally quite funny. Afterward, they opened the mic up for anyone who wanted to speak and several did.

What was strange for me was I had this eerie feeling I wanted to speak. As I said, I know virtually nothing about the Groom. I have not spent more than a moment in his presence as far as I can remember. Of course, I didn’t (and wouldn’t) get up and take the microphone. I know what I was feeling was, in large part, about me – not him. However, in that moment I was reminded of how similar I have felt at funerals.

Now, before you think I’m getting all macabre, let me explain. I have written before of my feeling attending funerals of people I never had the opportunity to meet. The situation was somewhat similar – at least as far as the having never met part goes. I did not know the son of a long-time friend, someone who had been my roommate more than once. Someone I had spent many years with and with whom I shared dozens of friends. Someone who I feel very much is family.

As those toasts were taking place, and the Bride and Groom were being hailed and revealed, I felt a sudden sense of great loss, much like I have when listening to eulogies. I suppose that’s what made it so damned eerie – as they were very much alive and, in fact, at the very beginning of a special journey. I almost felt guilty.

I had my daughters with me, it was getting late, and we had a nearly three-hour drive ahead of us, so we left shortly after the speeches. Actually, although they wanted to go (it was also getting a bit chilly and we weren’t adequately prepared for it – mea culpa), they wouldn’t leave until they’d had a piece of the wedding cake. I managed to grab a cup of coffee as well. As we were leaving, I remembered something the Best Man had said. He talked about how he and the Groom had spent many hours discussing religion and politics. As we took our leave, I took the Groom aside and remarked about the reality we had never gotten to know one another. I also told him of the many hours I had spent with his father discussing religion and politics and how I hoped, perhaps, we could still get to know each other. He reminded me I have his cell phone number.

I don’t know if we’ll communicate much, but I hope we do. There are so many important things we miss in life, frequently because we’re a bit overwhelmed by all the little things that vie for our attention. I don’t like the sense of loss they bring. On the other hand, I’m reasonably certain this will continue in other ways. There just isn’t enough time and there are too many obligations we all face. <sigh>


There Are No Ordinary People

Ordinary PeopleBased on the amount of traffic I’m seeing about the tragedy in Connecticut yesterday, I’m reasonably certain the fallout from this event is not going to soon subside. In fact I’m wondering if, now that the election is over, all the energy that had gone into finding ways to communicate and share in order to affect the outcome of the November contests isn’t looking for another avenue to express itself. We’ll see.

There’s one particular aspect of this tragedy that struck me recently and I wanted to quickly share my feelings about it. It has nothing to do with guns and violence, but it definitely has to do with death and loss. A Facebook (and real life) friend of mine shared this article from the New York Times and, in a comment later, said the following: “Ordinary people are much more courageous than we give them credit for being.”

This reminded me of something that has long intrigued me. I’m curious to know if others have felt the same. I have been to quite a few funerals or memorial services in my life for people I either didn’t know at all or knew very superficially. These include members of my wife’s family, spouses of co-workers, employees at a favorite venue, etc.

One of the things that stands out in my recollection of those experiences is the feeling I always got that I had missed something; that a special person had slipped through my fingers and now I would be forever barred from appreciating their existence and the particular light they shone out into the world.

Now, I know I can’t possibly get to know everyone, yet listening to friends, family, and co-workers reminisce and reflect on the life of the person for whom we were gathered together in memory of, always seemed to leave me with a feeling of incompleteness, of having missed something wonderful and extraordinary.

I’m of the opinion there’s no such thing as an ordinary person.


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