In celebration of my mother’s birthday this week, I’m going to share with you the hardest thing I ever had to write – her eulogy. For those who knew and loved her, it’s a wonderful reminder of all the best things about my mom. And for those who weren’t fortunate enough to know her, it gives you an idea of some of the many reasons why we loved her. (Some details have been omitted for privacy)
Throughout our lives, any time my sister and I met someone who knew our mom, they would always say something to the effect of, “Your mom’s the best, the funniest, the most generous, so wonderful…” – the adjective might change, but the sentiment was always the same – our mom was special and she left an impression on everyone she met.
Last week my sister and I were looking through boxes of photos at the house and one of the things we kept commenting on was the sheer joy on our mother’s face in many of the photos. A big goofy grin or excited smile kept looking back at us as we saw our mom as she was years ago – sitting on a pony as a child or tanned on the beach of Oahu, writing a term paper at the kitchen table or racing ducks with my sister in the desert. She was always smiling.
Diane was born to Barbara and Bill in —- on —-. They spent the first three years of her life living there while her father finished up his time in the Navy. Eventually the family relocated to ———— and fell in love with this wonderful burgeoning town. Soon David and then Brian joined the family and they settled into a happy California life in the big white colonial we all know on —— Drive.
Diane was a member of the first kindergarten class here at Corpus Christi School. She attended Marymount High School and went on to Marymount College, majoring in her favorite subject – History. One of her college pranks earned a brief mention on the local news when she and some friends covered the dolphin statues outside of Marine World in toilet paper. Her mother was furious, but her father, a known prankster himself, laughed proudly because they shared the same devilish sense of humor.
Eventually, mom fell in love and married, leaving her degree unfinished to become a mother to Eugene, Christina and myself. When she wasn’t working in our father’s dental office, she enjoyed spending time at home cooking her delicious spaghetti sauce or flan. Our mom also had an obsession with ironing and the ironing board was almost always standing in the living room. If it was fabric, she ironed it and she loved a sharp pleat on her jeans. Her lemon or cranberry bread was a favorite gift of everyone at Christmas time and her needlepoint projects decorated both ours and our grandparents’ homes (and a few denim jackets). Her Halloween costume creations were famous here at Corpus Christi, winning best costume several times.
When her marriage ended, our mother really seemed to come into her own. She blossomed with the freedom of making her own decisions and started to live life on her terms. She got a job at a local school teaching P.E. and driving their school carpool van. The job allowed her to see us kids as much as possible. She started taking classes at Loyola Marymount University, determined to complete her B.A. in History. She’d often come home from work, give us dinner and study after we went to bed or on the weekends. She never once said “I can’t do this” or “This is too much”. Instead, she told us what she was facing, how we could help with chores or being quiet and we all worked as a team to get through the days.
She was over joyed to complete her degree and she was proud to have earned an award for literary excellence for her senior thesis. Our mom didn’t opt for a personally satisfying career where she could use her hard-earned degree, instead she decided to work as a bank teller because the hours were better suited to parenting. She attended every school play my sister and I were ever in, every sporting event she could and had a hot meal on the table every night.
But Diane wasn’t just a lady with a great smile and a strong work ethic. She loved to celebrate everything. From the time I can remember, our house was decorated for every holiday – from Valentine’s Day to Christmas, there were signs, pillows and little tchotchkes celebrating “whatever” the day. As the years passed her collection grew and anyone who ever visited her house will remember the wonderful and crazy decorations adorning anything that stood still.
From friends, books, dogs, cactus or Santa lamps – if Diane had one, she had a hundred. Our mom loved to collect any and everything. If she loved something and it brought her joy she made sure she was surrounded by it and often gifted it to the people she loved. Her passion for parrots and all things avian is the best illustration of this. She had pins, shirts, bumper stickers and of course more actual birds than you could imagine. She loved to care for, read about and speak about birds at schools and public events. Incidentally, if anyone here is looking for a keepsake, we can hook you up with a lovely feathered friend, courtesy of our mom.
One of the things we remember about our childhood was our mom’s spontaneity and her sense of adventure. If she felt like ice cream, she’d pile us in the car to get a cone in Malibu, or off to Hollywood for Pink’s hot dogs or to the beach for a sunset picnic. We rode camels in the Australian outback, she overcame her fear of small planes and took a tiny prop plane to a small atoll just so we could see the sea life of the Great Barrier Reef up close. We explored the tidal pools of Cambria and climbed Diamond Head. Everything was interesting to her from the crafts of the Vallermo monks to the glittering jewels in the Tower of London.
We’d spend many nights watching movies together in her bedroom, eating popcorn or cake. She introduced us to her favorite old movies like “Now, Voyager”, “Rebecca” and the entire James Bond series. We took road trips with other single moms, driving out to the Grand Canyon or up and down the California coast – just two women outnumbered by a band of rowdy kids, but nothing fazed our mom. A lover of reading, on one trip, she forgot her book, but she made the best of things and read to us kids from a Harlequin romance novel like it was a story book, tears pouring down all of our faces as we laughed at the corny writing.
Even though we couldn’t really afford it, she took us to Disneyland about four times a year because she knew how much we loved it. But we all knew she was just a big kid at heart and loved it just as much as we did, always insisting we go on “It’s a Small World” one more time before we left the park. We’ll never forget her terror when we convinced her to ride Thunder Mountain with us. Even though she hated roller coasters, there wasn’t anything that she wouldn’t do for us kids so she got on that ride and screamed her head off, just to make us happy. But no matter how many times she drove to Disneyland, we got lost every single time. Our mother was a master of many things, but directions were not her strong suit. We never once got to Disneyland on the first try.
It was a dream come true for Diane to establish a home in the Cotswolds and she was truly at peace when she was there. She fell in love with English countryside through her love of reading and grew even more fascinated with the British as she studied their history. She loved every minute of our first trip to England so much that she kept going back every year, eventually finding the perfect village to settle in. Every piece of furniture and artwork in her cottage, The Hollies, was carefully chosen as she drove the narrow country roads, picking up friends at every shop and town she visited. She loved participating in village life – from the safari dinners and the annual church cleaning to the pub lock-ins where the villagers would literally lock themselves into the pub all night to drink and tell stories. She embraced her role as the eccentric American in the village. She was always telling us stories about her English friends and neighbors. Her cottage was open to anyone who wanted to visit the Cotswolds. Whenever we stayed at The Hollies, all the people in the village knew us on sight by how much mom talked about us in the pub and from sharing every photo we sent to her. They knew about every wedding, grandchild, great-grandchild, graduation and happy event that happened in our lives and she took the opportunity to celebrate every joyous occasion twice – once with her family here and again with her adopted family in Shipton Moyne.
Diane loved to celebrate moments. Any accomplishment was an occasion for a cake or a bottle of champagne. Our mom knew how to celebrate and commemorate people or events. After visiting a chocolate shop in British Columbia one summer in 1986, my sister and I received a box of chocolates from that same shop every Christmas going forward. She gave the family silver bells ornaments every Christmas to commemorate one she had received from her grandfather when she was a child. She loved to spread joy.
And one more thing I want to mention before I end is our mother’s loyalty. While she might not agree with someone about every little thing, she was one loyal lady – standing by the people she loved and taking care of them when they were in need. I know that every person in this room has been on the receiving end of mom’s support, encouragement and love. And we are all better for it.
None of us was prepared to say goodbye to Diane. But I know that she wouldn’t want us to cry, or be sad. She’d want us to pop open some wine or champagne, maybe enjoy a good dessert and share our memories of her. Laugh at all the funny things she did and said, think of her every time we see a bird or cute animal and live our lives like she did – never giving up and always doing what we loved.
Thank you for loving our mother. She loved us all very much.