My mother, Billie Pepper Trachtenbarg, died early Thursday morning, July 18, 2013. She had fallen about a month earlier and fractured her sacrum. She spent the last 2 1/2 weeks in skilled nursing doing rehab, which wasn't going well. She had been in a lot of pain. She died of kidney failure. We held her memorial service on Sunday, July 21st. It was conducted by mom's longtime friend, the Reverend Carol Fincher, and it was a beautiful tribute to her. My brother, son, and I all spoke. Here is what my brother said:
We’re here to celebrate Billie’s life. Naturally, I’ve been reflecting on that quite a bit recently.One of the first words that comes to mind when I think of Billie is “independent”, and she certainly taught me to be independent as well.But today I want to talk about a different lesson that she taught me. She was naturally very proud and supportive of any accomplishment of mine – doing well on a test, winning a debate competition, getting good grades. She was just as supportive, though, when I lost a competition, or did not do well on a test. What she taught me is that accomplishments are important and good – but that they did not define me, or make me more worthy as a person.Furthermore, she reminded me that any accomplishment – winning a competition, getting an A, earning a higher salary – did not make me a better person than anyone else, just like someone else’s accomplishments did not diminish me as a person.In short, what I learned from my mother was a fundamental tolerance for other people, that we are all worthy of respect for who we are. What we have done, what we have earned, what we might have, does not change that. The fact that we might have a better house or a faster car, or graduated from a better college, or have a higher status job does not make us any better as people than those who do not have those things.I believe those lessons from my mother have helped make me a better son, brother, husband, and friend, and I thank you, Billie, for that lesson, and everything else you’ve done for me.
This is what I said:
When Carol asked me if I wanted to speak at the service, I said no. I've never considered myself much of a public speaker, and I often have trouble putting my feelings into words. But after reading what Charles was planning to say, it got me to thinking, and I decided I had to at least try.As many mothers and daughters do, we had our differences at times. But no matter what happened between us, I've ALWAYS known that she loved me.She taught me many things, but I just want to share a couple of them here today. She taught me to always be myself. Don't put on airs, don't try to be someone you're not. Who you are is enough.And she taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be. She was always supportive and encouraging of me. She always wanted to see the latest project I was working on, and she loved the quilts I'd made for her. When we were going through her desk yesterday, I was touched to find that she had saved all of the cards I'd made for her over the years.Even though there were some difficult times, I always knew she loved me and wanted the best for me, and I loved her too.
And here is what my son said:
Unfortunately, I never knew my grandfather, who died before I was born. So for me, my grandmother was always a solitary figure. And in this way, she was a very important person in my young life, because I was often solitary as well. I was an only child who lived in the country and was very shy by disposition, so Grandma's independence and self-reliance was a kind of beacon for me. Her life was a demonstration of how to confront the world on one's own terms, forthrightly and honestly.This wasn't something she taught me directly--the way she taught me how to use a typewriter and how to play solitaire and cribbage and canasta--but something I simply picked up by being around her. And its these things about my grandmother, her independence, self-reliance, and honesty--along with her sense of humor, her love of words and games, and our many conversations over dinner at Leo's Chinese Restaurant--that I will remember most.