Memories of My Mother
In Memoriam: Antonia Herweck (1918-2006)
When presiding at a funeral service, I have, from time to time, been asked if a member of the family of the deceased might speak. I have always been receptive to that request. But the results have been mixed. Most people simply aren't very good at eulogies, lapsing usually into general superlatives, adjective upon adjective. More often than not the sentiment of the moment is overwhelming and the speaker chokes up with emotion. Then I have been asked to read what has been prepared. I try to match the composer's cadence, overlook the document's grammatical missteps, and make the eulogy sound as if it were spoken.
Some rare times the family member comes shining through. Last night's experience is a case in point.
Barbara and I had driven a hundred miles to a funeral home along the Hudson River south of Albany. I presided at the funeral and committal service for Antonia Herweck, the mother of a bride at whose wedding I had presided some thirty-seven years ago in Brooklyn. Lynette Herweck Dalland and Edward Dalland Jr have taken their careers (speech therapist and veterinarian, respectively) and family of four from Long Island to the mid-Hudson region; and throughout that span of nearly forty years have called upon me for baptisms and a wedding, services I was happy to provide, the more so now in retirement with, perhaps, too much time on my hands.. In my message to the family and friends gathered at the Brady Funeral Home, I described Lynette's tribute to her mother as the appropriate "last word about Antonia... it is filled with insight, surrounded with affection, and expressed with grace." Be sure "to note," I also encouraged them, "the daughter’s fondness and awareness of their differences, not just an acceptance but a celebration of them... what truly matters in this life is what those who know us best think about us."
Memories of My Mother
Antonia A. Herweck
From my mother I learned that you can live to age 88 and still have beautiful skin, excellent hearing, good vision, all your own teeth and original body parts, and that canes have an enormous number of uses, if you are just a little creative.
From my mother I learned that fragrant roses were better than non-fragrant ones; that plants with no flowers have no practical use; that the food pyramid consists mainly of chocolate, sugar, orange juice, and English muffins; and to never trust a recipe that she had given me—she modified them all.
From my mother I learned that it is probably better to be patient and simply wait things out—that time is on your side; that it is better to give up driving when you’re no longer able to than to risk someone else’s life; to appreciate old dogs and cats, not just puppies and kittens; and that there is nothing nicer than picking violets in the early spring with your mother.
From my mother I learned to love classical music and figure skating; and how to write well, coaxed by her endless question, “Can you think of another way to say that?” I learned that I was capable of producing a look that could kill; and to always see what’s in the oven before turning it on.
From my mother I learned that it is better to do your own work, even if your best isn’t very good; and that “what doesn’t kill us makes us strong.” I learned that sneakers go with just about any outfit; and that all children’s deceased parents suddenly achieve sainthood.
From my mother I learned to see the humor in my children’s antics and to delight in them; to see them as true individuals; and to save everything. Although she tried to teach me not to give too much advice to my children, it didn’t work.
From my mother I learned to be there when my children needed me. Although she tried to teach me to listen more than talk, that didn’t work, either.
From my mother I learned that paper towels are better than tissues; that there are never too many towels, sheets, pillowcases, blankets, porcelain, pyrex, pots, glasses, rags, or sewing supplies that one can own; that a bar of soap in every drawer makes clothes smell nice; that clothes can never have too many pockets; and that food can never have too much sour cream, garlic, or parsley.
From my mother I learned that life lived in moderation, except for chocolate and carbohydrates, is best; that snakes are the only things scarier than vegetables; that applesauce goes with everything; that simple things like rainbows and sunsets give the most pleasure—and they’re free; and that family comes first.
From my mother I learned that emotions and tears make us human; that it’s OK to yell if no one is home; that it’s all right to ask for help; and that it’s nice to kiss and hug the ones you love.
I will miss my mother and her daily greeting, “So, how was your day?” We will miss her funny stories, big smile, and quick laughter. We love you, Mom.
The service concluded with this prayer:
Eternal God, in whom our lives are kept, beginning to ending and then for ever, who knows us through and through, numbering the hairs on our heads, counting the sorrows and joys which fill our souls, we go to you this night in our sorrow and our joy for and with Antonia, a child of yours, our mother and grandmother, friend and counselor, with whom we were privileged to spend many years. Please, God, take it as less a lack of faith and more as a celebration of life that we grieve Antonia’s passing. For we do not see life whole as you do, the seamless passage from here to there, from the shadows to the sunlight of the kingdom, from this familiar to that eternal joy, from the warm and perilous loves of this life to the embrace of your everlasting arms.
Give us again and again pause to remember, and to remember with gratitude to you, the excellences which Antonia brought into our lives, her cheerfulness, her humor, her wisdom, her motherly care wanting for us not only the best but willing to let us find it for ourselves. You were so very good to us in giving her to us for a long, long season.
Gather into your arms the grieving family. Give to them a stronger conviction than ever before, the words of Jesus, “I am with you to the end of the world.” Embolden their outreach with his love to each other and to all the world. And enable them and the rest of us to see with faithful hope the turnings of this life, for good or seeming ill, all within the framework of your good purposes. In the name of him who has shown us the way, the truth, and the life, our Lord Jesus. Amen.