Our 92-year-old mother’s family gathered, to say good-by, and to honor and celebrate a life well lived.
Each such loss is grievous in its own way. We count ourselves fortunate that, because her malign intruder had not yet reached its tipping point, we had the special benefit of her lucid presence and participation.
With integrity, discipline and personal and family responsibility – amply leavened with humor and curiosity – she raised a family, inspired her students, re-invented herself in comunity service through both retirement and widowhood, and re-married in wonder and delight at age 85. The same principles have now been on full display. Her medical instructions were terse and precise -- "no intrusive measures" -- and her affairs and estate are in meticulous order.
That this should be so is no surprise. In February 2006, my letter recognizing the inspiration and character with which she embarked on her magnificent new marriage became one of my most-read columns in the International Herald Tribune.
That testimonial to the guidance of her life’s inspiring example is worth sharing here. It also serves to alert Saint Peter and the other gate-keepers – Michael and Gabriel and the whole team of angels: Elizabeth is coming – so be on your toes:
A TOAST FR0M THE KIDS
February 3, 2006 -- the International Herald Tribune
"Oh, Momma, get married today!
- "Gypsy," lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, 1959
Over Christmas dinner, my mother, 85 and widowed 15 years ago, shared with her assembled family the news that she and Don - until then known only as her "very good friend" - were engaged to be married.
Mom is fortunate: She is in good shape, given the vicissitudes of age and their toll on health and energy. Despite limited means, she kept us all fed and clothed and sheltered, yet was disciplined to do the planning and saving that now keep her in modest comfort. And she is grateful. She has found a companion her own age, and her four children were unreservedly delighted.
She and Don have insisted that there be no gifts. So instead I make this tribute, both as a wedding present and to pass along some of the inspiring good sense I was privileged to grow up around.
On behalf of all the children and grandchildren, congratulations on your wedding! We applaud and endorse your plans. We especially appreciate the grace and style with which you and Don are dealing with the many decisions involved in this grand venture.
For starters, you remind us of the importance of direct control of critical choices. When I jokingly suggested that Don should have asked me, the eldest male, for your hand, your reply - "Forget it, kid!" - made clear that you retain authority over your own business.
We offspring have always been grateful for the explicit and active role you have taken in the management of your financial affairs:
By doing the research and planning for your recent move into an extended-care facility, you have given us the confidence that your daily needs are well and professionally looked after.
Because you have kept up to date your estate plan, living will and medical-care instructions, we need never go through the uncertainty or undignified family disagreements over the intentions of a loved one.
And though, of course, you consulted with lawyers and financial planners, you and Don have kept in your own hands the hard and diligent work of writing your prenuptial agreement.
Hammering out that 40-page document can't have been easy, but you are entitled to some good form of celebration for documenting the undertakings and obligations the two of you are exchanging, and fitting them into the management of your financial resources. The details of the agreement are none of our business, except to have the comforting assurance that you have each other's interests both at heart and in view.
In all these areas, those much younger and more spry will put off or deny the value of the kind of work you have done. But having clarity for yourselves also means that none of us will ever have to worry about your well-being or about the dispositions you are entitled to make.
During recent years as an expatriate, I was separated from you physically over extended periods and thousands of miles. I have all too often seen our overseas friends forced under stress and panic, and for lack of your kind of planning, to make choices and take responsibility for the condition of their elderly parents.
As my middle-aged generation knows, those parent-care challenges are tough enough in close proximity; at a very great distance, they can be overwhelming. So for your investment of energy in meticulous self-care, we thank you.
We know, too, that you have deftly handled myriad nonfinancial details, especially in areas where sentiment intersects with good sense.
You have the same lively task as any newlyweds, to combine your households: furniture, accessories and, in your case, two separate nine-decade accumulations of memorabilia. The demands of selection and dumping surely vindicate your robust injunction, "No gifts."
And it was a creative touch to publicize the event by posting a wedding announcement on the bulletin board of your residence. You may have set tongues wagging in the cafeteria line, but you also saved lots of postage.
In closing, let me say how very classy it was of Don to celebrate your engagement over a bottle of Dom Pérignon. Although the vintage doesn't quite approach your own, any Champagne that retails in the high three figures a bottle makes an elegant reminder of the many experiences that remain vital and pleasurable at any age - including the well-timed splurge.
Again, congratulations, Mom, and Godspeed.
Your loving and respectful son,
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