A Eulogy from a Chosen Daughter

Can We Play in the Photoboth?

I wrote her obituary…

“A beautiful eulogy!” “I could tell you wrote it.”

Those words…

… an outline of a person.

A collection of moments – of milestones. Not the person. Never the person.

Not a eulogy. An obituary.

This is a eulogy. Random memories.

On August 28th, I lost my parent.

She wasn’t related to me by blood, but that never stopped her from proudly boasting to anyone who would listen, “this is my chosen daughter” as a loving arm wrapped around my waist and she’d beam up at me.

For 40 years she was a major figure in my life. For the good times, the bad times, and everything in between. From belly-splitting laughs to Dad’s pleas of “can you both stop fighting?”

She had the worst memory of anyone I’ve ever known. Stories usually based in a truth, but the details a bit smudged, taking on a fresh new life. It wasn’t an aging thing – just a her thing.

“Honey, did you bring your epi pen?” “Why do I need an epi pen?” “We have bee hives, and I want you to be safe.” “I’m not allergic to bees.” A suspicious,”Hmmm…” would follow any story corrections. “Well, bring your epi pen.”

“Beth is afraid of mice.” “Wait, what? I am?” “Don’t go into Dad’s workshop, have Daddy go if you need anything.” “Ok?”

Hearing a story about yourself was usually an eye-opening event and typically ended with pulling people out of earshot to say, “soooo… here’s where that story came from and no, I’m not allergic to bees.”

She was my champion. I’ve seen her go toe-to-toe with other parents, with schools, with friends and family whenever she felt I might be slighted.

She loved books – no matter where she was, one was in hand – from the the livingroom to the tub and then to bed. When I walked into the house the morning after she passed, an audiobook sat on her desk. Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime” – a great book – one I recommended she listen to instead of read so she could hear Trevor Noah tell his own story. I didn’t think she took that recommendation. She had. She listened.

She was my mom, my confidante, the woman who ensured I got to participate in summer music camps and showed up every weekend for String Project where I learned music history and composition. Yes, to a small degree I have been trained to compose music. Still waters… She showed up for every concert, every graduation, every major event often times insisting she go instead of Dad, especially if there was a party where we got to dress up. Trust me, it wasn’t a Dad thing.

She and Dad usually traveled independently; someone had to watch the property and mind the various critters, so when she had to miss Jay’s memorial, she sat on the phone and wept. She felt she’d let me down as a parent. She had not, but a hug from her in those rough moments were definitely needed.

I love bad action movies and bad SciFi – really bad SciFi, so she introduced me to independent films. My world opened. (Although, when she refused to take me to see Krull, there may have been an epic early teen girl meltdown. I still haven’t seen it. I’m sure it’s glorious, and I can continue hang onto that belief as long as I never see it.) While everyone shopped for Black Friday, we’d head off to the movies.

I’ve lost my day-after-Thanksgiving movie buddy.

I will miss the times that she wouldn’t let me let obstacles get in my way. The city shutting down because of ice on the roads? Why shouldn’t we go to the movies? She was skilled at driving on those treacherous roads! We had the streets and then the theater to ourselves. We sat and watched Ghandi.

There was a time I was laid up in a hospital bed unable to leave because thinking about moving made me nauseous and then actually moving was even less pretty. It was supposed to be a day surgery, and the hospital staff were considering admitting me overnight. She breezed into the recovery room and went from mom-mode into nurse-mode. She snapped up my chart, grilled the nursing staff., and then looked me in the eye, “You want to get out of here. You’re not going to get sick in my car. C’mon, let’s go!” Assertions – not questions. I went from feeling puny to let’s hold hands and Thelma and Louise it out of this joint.

She taught me…

  • How to drive
  • How to be safe by setting boundaries
  • To write thank you notes
  • To not shy away from using my voice

She drove me crazy – saying all the wrong words, and then all the right words. She embarrassed me and made me proud. She was perfectly and beautifully flawed – perfectly human – with a huge heart and a bigger laugh, and she was loved because of it. And in return she accepted and loved me for all of my flaws.

She defined my voice. She’s the “why” when I tell stories.

These stories have always been for her.

Letters to my #1 fan who just wanted to hear an anecdote about my day.

When I was in New Zealand she went into the hospital. “Honey, I don’t want to worry you. You have a great time and tell me stories when you get back.” It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get to share those stories – to make her laugh at the adventures and misadventures – to show her all of the pictures. To be really listened to and enjoyed as only a parent can.

The last message I received said, “…hope to feel like talking soon.” and then a few days later she passed – a week after her birthday, two weeks before their 40th anniversary, and three days ahead of her own mother.

When people say I’m like my Dad or my Mom, they forget that I’m very much my other parent’s daughter. She shaped me. She is part of the DNA of my soul.

I love you, CJ!

Your chosen daughter.

3 thoughts on “A Eulogy from a Chosen Daughter

  1. Kate says:

    Beautiful… your chosen mom and you …a shared history that I hope will sustain you.

  2. Pam Cunningham says:

    Beth, thank you for this beautiful story. I loved Charla, too. She was a wonderful friend. I love you, too, and am so glad that you had her as your chosen mom.

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