As is typical of Jewish funerals, the members of Roz’s family shared loving memories of the truly special person she was. Above all, her generosity, was a theme. Her home was the site of all the family gatherings and she extended this warmth to our book group. We met at her apartment monthly for about ten years and were always welcomed with a hug, a lovely set table, and tea after dinner. Her relationships with her son, step-children, and daughter-in-law were clearly central to their lives. How meaningful it was to hear from the people who loved Roz. I remember being so disappointed in the Rabbi’s predictable words at my own parents’ funerals, but of course, he did not know them.
But then I started to wonder, when we are honouring a life and the reality of the death, should we only capture the good, the happy, the joy? This idea led me to thinking that maybe I should compose my own eulogy and have someone read it at my funeral. What I would want recounted would be what I made of my life, the joy, the sadness, the rebirths, the challenges, the moments of survival. It certainly would not be as positive as many eulogies, but it would be an honest reflection of the life that I had lived.
Would it be too revealing? What would I care, I would be dead! And anyhow, those close to me had lived through the traumas with me, big and small. I would reflect on what I considered my greatest personal achievements, which would not be the Ph.D., or the students I taught, or the children with developmental challenges and families I helped. Yes, those are proud parts of my story, but the hardest work I ever did was living through the internal struggles that caused me angst for a good part of my life. My greatest achievement by far was the feeling of emerging from the wear and tear of periods of anxiety and/or depression, with a hard won wholeness, replacing the fragmentation I had felt before.
The more I think about it, the more I think writing my own eulogy is a great idea. We should hear from the deceased on that day, of their troubles and triumphs. I would talk about the chaos of marrying a childhood sweetheart when there was very little sweet about it. And the unmooring I experienced when after being together from ages thirteen to thirty, we parted. As traumatic as that was, it led to my first rebirth and the euphoria of living as I didn’t know was possible. The apartment on Christopher street in Greenwich village, surrounded by a tight group of friends, finishing a Ph.D., living alone and joyfully wasting time and money decorating my rental apartment. I was anxious, but I was making my way through my first therapy, nurtured by my therapist in a way I sorely needed.
And eventually, I moved on to a second marriage to another lovely man who I admired but maybe did not love in the way that could sustain a long term relationship. That divorce sent me into a very dark period. With the help of my second therapist and my circle of compassionate friends, I did it again–recovered and blossomed.
Along the entire way, there were friends—the chosen family rather than the given one. I felt so loved and so loving toward them and they were key to my recoveries. All that talking, analysing, problem solving, gossiping, crying and laughing. The joy of it all!
My day-to-day life was filled with the conscientious teaching of aspiring speech-language clinicians and the caring for saddened families. I was consistently grateful for the path I had chosen in my life and never doubted that it was right for me. At the same time, I considered it a miracle. I chose to be a speech-language pathologist when I was about eighteen at someone else’s suggestion and what it morphed into was hardly recognisable from what I thought I had chosen.
Some years after my second divorce, when I was approaching my sixties, I decided no more men, no more relationships. I missed out on a lot and I knew it, but I lived more happily and relished the freedom of singlehood. My spirits were more consistently upbeat and my attitude sunnier. And although I was pretty sure that this joy in being alone came from some neurotic place, I didn’t care. I accepted and sunk into it.
So at my funeral, I think I will have the last word. I will ask the mourners to dwell on the enormous gratitude that I had for my life, which despite cultural standards, I saw as a tremendous success. I overcame, I was resilient, I reinvented, and I survived . . . well up until this point that is.