I’ve been avoiding dealing with Mom’s memory in any conscious capacity for more than a month now, trying to get back to a normal rhythm of life. I’ve even felt guilty at times because I have actively avoided anything that would make me think too much of Mom, especially all the papers and photos I brought back from Puerto Rico. I’ve relegated her to the wallpaper on my cellphone and iPod Touch, and the picture of her I keep in my journal marking the next blank page where I’ll write.
Not today. I know this will come up at dinner, so I rather work through it now than at the table. I’m talking of course of the “What are you thankful for?” question at every Thanksgiving dinner. Well, I’m thankful for my mom, Wanda I. Robles Ortiz. And this is my eulogy for her.
The easiest way I can find to describe Mom is by way of Psalm 15:
A Psalm of David. Lord, who may have a resting-place in your tent, a living-place on your holy hill? He who goes on his way uprightly, doing righteousness, and saying what is true in his heart; whose tongue is not false, who does no evil to his friend, and does not take away the good name of his neighbour; who gives honour to those who have the fear of the Lord, turning away from him who has not the Lord’s approval. He who takes an oath against himself, and makes no change. He who does not put out his money at interest, or for payment give false decisions against men who have done no wrong. He who does these things will never be moved.
Now, Mom wasn’t perfect and I have no interest in making her into a saint after her death. My mom was a human being, fallible, with quirks all her own who nevertheless strove every day to be the best she could be, accepting each night that she had failed in some things, and knowing that, with G-d’s help, tomorrow would be another day for her to try again. If there is one great lesson I learned from her it probably is, “Lo mejor que hizo Dios fue un dia despues del otro,” (the best thing G-d made was one day after the other) for in that phrase is encompassed the way in which she lived her life and how she taught us to live ours: know that whatever you do today, good or bad, tomorrow is another day; you’ll either have a chance to see the results of the good deeds done and be inspired to do more, or see–and deal with–the consequences of your not-so-good actions done and have a chance to learn from them and perhaps make amends. I don’t know that it was this well codified in her mind, but I don’ t think I’m too far off the mark either.
Mom led by example. Through ups and downs, through the thousand-and-one juggling acts she performed raising three kids as a single mother, it was always her actions that taught the big lessons, and yes, at points the lesson was ‘don’t do what I did here.’ More often, however, it was more a guide on how to behave properly for us then to apply according to our own way of life. I learned to be patient from my mom, as well as easy-going, accepting, honest and diligent. I learned to treat people with respect, as well as a few choice curse words for when your respect was answered with rudeness. I learned to laugh at everything I could, to be happy and thankful with the most trivial gift, to be loving and caring and affectionate. Some people say I’m touchy-feely and clingy, and you can thank Mom for that.
Living apart from Mom was always a bit difficult for both of us, though we managed by always being in touch by phone (she even tried email a couple of times over the years just for me) and she would visit as often as she could. When she fell ill the first time in 2007, I went to PR to be with her for some of her hospital visits. And when she fell ill again at the start of this year, I dropped everything to spend what eventually would turn into four months at her side in Puerto Rico. How could I not? It wasn’t easy, both because my life has changed in the past few years and the realities of spending long stretches of time in a place without a large Jewish community and all that entails made things difficult for me, but mostly because it was torture seeing Mom decline as she’d go through the stages of her illness. This was also when I saw the awesome strength of will she had inside.
It was also during this time that I realized the magnitude of something I already knew. My mom had been a teacher for 19 years, most of them at the same elementary school in a low-income government project (“caserio,” in Puerto Rican), a place that most people avoid like the plague. There, Mom taught wave after wave of young kids, earning their affection for years after they’d gone out of school. Even though many of her kids were tough to deal with, she did not give up on any of them, going to lengths I didn’t even know to help them out (I’m talking facing off with drug traffickers and the like). She was my mom, our mom, but she wasn’t ours, and she wasn’t her own; she belonged to others, to her students, fellow teachers, friends, family, and pretty much any and every one that needed her in any slight way.
So today I am thankful for my mother, for the time I did get to have her, for all that she gave me and taught me, for all the love she bestowed upon me from even before I was born. I am thankful that I was able to give back to her a tiny fraction of what I owed her. And I am thankful for the legacy she left behind in me, my sisters, and my nephews (and any that may later come). I miss her with every ounce of life in me, and that will never change.
Lastly, I am thankful that I have this video of her, the only recording of her that I own. This is a message she recorded for the school graduation, which was dedicated to her and which she could not attend because she was in the hospital. It isn’t a video I can watch often yet, but I have it and I treasure it.
Farewell, Mom. I love you.