I’m young, and I’ve been fortunate enough not to attend many funerals, so I don’t really know how to write a eulogy. I asked around, and it seems that no one else does either. So whatever this is, I wrote it in the spirit of my mother, and I hope you all will be able to laugh with me. Please.
A few months ago, I was talking with my friend Bobby about my mother and he said something about her that was perfect. He met her a year ago when she was in recovery from breast cancer and her hair had just begun to grow back in.
He laughed and said to me,
“Well, if I were to sum up Christine Ranelli in one statement it would have to be ‘the first thing she ever said to me was:
“Do you want to rub my fuzzy head?”
I had to agree that it worked, she was crazy in that way.
Over the years and especially in these last few months I have heard so many amazing stories about my mother. Just this year she and I were saying goodbye to Leigh Tyler, everyone was crying and hugging, and as we walked away Leigh yelled out,
“You know, your mom taught me how to ride a motorcycle!”
We received a postcard from a very old friend of hers that I read with her. It said:
“Every time I walk by the Guggenheim museum I have a distinct memory of you and me visiting there, and when we reach the top of the rotunda, you pulled a pair of roller skates out of a bag and tore down circular halls and out the door. “
I mean, tell me? Who besides my mother would do that? NO ONE.
My mother told as many stories about her friends and family as they did her. She was incredibly involved in the lives of people she met, because she genuinely cared. She could hear a story from a woman on a bus and come home crying. She was saturated with emotion in a way I’ve never seen elsewhere, and when she laughed it filled the house.
She always told us one story that our family simply refers to as “The Lobster Story.” My mother had an older sister named Diana, who she adored and admired and loved her entire life, but who passed away when my mother was still young. One year, for Diana’s birthday, she was given a pair of lobsters. My mother and Diana spent all day with the lobsters, even naming them. What my mother didn’t understand, and never could understand, was that the lobsters would become her sisters birthday dinner. So any time anyone mentioned lobsters…or birthdays… or sisters, my mother would tell this story and cry, and we would all laugh.
It was a classic moment of my mother’s. She loved Diana so much that with her passing she remained a very real part of my mother’s life, even into adulthood. I remember planning my high school graduation party, and writing out the guest list. Were sitting at the kitchen table and I’m saying
“So we’ll invite auntie Liz…and the cousins..and this friend, and that friend…”
And she suddenly says,
“Well, I guess we can’t invite Diana, because she’s dead.”
So I just stared at her.
A second or two passed, and then we laughed so hard we were crying and practically shrieking. Because that’s what my mother brought out in people.
She told me how she met my father, and he told me how he said to himself
“That girl is going to get me in trouble.”
And she did. I mean, She gave him Nick and me. Though she also gave him Emily to keep us in check.
I once asked her,
“What would you do if your boss was hitting on you?”
and she laughed, then looked at my dad and said,
“I’d marry him.”
It wasn’t uncommon to find her covered in paint and plaster, tearing out chunks of our walls, all part of her latest project. In a pair of old jeans and spotted shirt, her hair pulled back in one careless motion, it was her uniform.
She was born with an artistic ability and could never let anything be. She changed her surroundings until they provided what she needed, be it light, or comfort, or an environment for her children to adventure in.
My bedrooms were madhouses to the fantasies of any child, and the secret wishes of any adult.
I’ve slept in Morocco, beneath the flowing ivory curtains of a desert tent, reading by the light of a lantern.
My brother napped in an ancient Egyptian palace covered with murals and golden columns painted with Hieroglyphics (they spell out “Your sister loves you”).
We played with our toys in the middle of a jungle room, beneath plastic vines and stuffed-animals, in front of a giant photograph of a waterfall.
She was…crazy. But She made my life incredibly interesting.
Our pastor told me that with these speeches, it helps to think of it as if it is a letter.
If this were a letter, if it were possible, mine would read all the obvious things:
I love you.
I miss you.
I will never find anyone truly like you.
That even a short time with you was worth more than most mother daughter relationships.
I would say,
If you were here, you would have been the first to cry,
and the first to laugh.
You would have lost one of your earrings.
You would trip on the sidewalk.
The letter would ask,
Do you remember reading T.S. Elliot in the living room?
Do you remember Prufrock and how he said:
For I have known them all already, known them all
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons
I have measured out my life in coffee spoons
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
Do you remember how I read it out loud and you said
“Ugh, it’s too good!”
I know you would remember your sister’s pocket sized copy of the poem
And the words
“ If you can keep your head when those about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.”
And I would scream:
I am losing my mind and it’s all your fault!
Because you’re gone, and I don’t know what to do.
And none of us do.
I would say how there are so many stories I could tell, but that I chose this one and I hope you like it.
There is a giant rhododendron outside our kitchen window and in spring it blooms with thousands of light pink petals. I was in the kitchen at the sink and I looked out and saw my mother there under the tree, bent over in a pile of dirt and digging away. The way the light came through the branches was so stunning, and a few petals fell onto the ground around her. I ran upstairs to get my camera, but by the time I came back a giant gust of wind had blown most of the flowers away, and the moment was gone.
My mother was just like that, a moment in life so stunning it’s not meant to be captured. Yet the memory of her leaves such a vivid imprint on our minds it will never fade. She left behind her smile, and the sound of her laugh, and the smell of her perfume mixed with dirt from the garden. She left my siblings and me. She left us a beautiful garden. And she left me spring, and the memories of her that appear when the wind blows through the leaves.