Monday, April 14, 2014

Memorial





This past Saturday, I held a memorial for my mother, and for my father, both of whom recently passed away.  I really didn’t want to do it at first for a number of irrational reasons.  I thought about the amount of work that it would take to do it well was one of them.  I thought of the trouble it would cause all of the family and friends to fly or drive in for the memorial.  The other thing that I was hesitant about was writing and reading my own speech.  Where would I begin?  I just wasn’t sure how all of this would be accomplished or if anyone really wanted to.  Luckily, a friend of the family sat with me at lunch one day and made some suggestions.  I wrote a few down and ran off with them, in the next few days calling and researching how all of it would be done.

And as the weeks passed, and this and that got done, and as I discovered that along the way, I witnessed people stepping out to help, that it wasn’t so hard.  Just like writing my eulogy; a rough draft of what I wanted to say, then hammering it together in a few more writing sessions, the whole vision eventually came to fruition.  The perfect venue, the perfect preparations, and the perfect group of people.  And on the day of the memorial, when people I had not even thought of inviting had reached out to me to see if they could attend (of course they could), I was happy to see many of my cousins there, and my mom’s cousins, the Schneiders for example, who I hadn’t seen in years, and more extended family. 

The family friend who had sat with me at lunch, Carol, had said something that took a few days for me to digest.  It was a truth about our society’s life these days; that the only time there are large family gatherings are when something big happens.  A wedding, a funeral or memorial, a graduation to a lesser extent.  And as the weeks went on during the planning, it made me think of how important family gatherings are.  And how the memorial would be one of these.  And she was right, not only about the magnetism that an event like this has, but also as to what I think she suspected all along; that I would end up loving it.  And she was right. 


The day was a wonderful tribute to my parents and to their legacy as people who cared and watched out for their family and friends.  I enjoyed each and every speech that family and friends made, and I felt honored that they would all show up to pay tribute to my parents.  And so the closeness of the family continues into 2014.  I’m one of the lucky ones.

And here now is the eulogy wrote and read for my parents:

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I’d like to thank you all for coming today to this memorial for Marcia.  I know that looking back, the years go so fast.  At one moment, someone is so much a part of your life, and then in what seems to be just the next moment, they are gone.  And so when we gather together like this, it helps us to remember those who have left us as they were for so long in our lives; a constant presence as a friend, an aunt, a sister, a teacher, or a mother who most definitely shaped us and how we view the world. 

And so, I’d like to start by quoting a recent episode of the show, Parenthood, in which there was a family gathering at the dinner table and one of the siblings said, “Any reason for the family to get together is a good reason, no matter what it is.” 

At the time my dad passed away two and a half years ago, we had a lot going on with my mother, and there was no memorial for Bill.  So today, I will speak about both of them as they were to me; my parents. We’ve got a few people on the memorial program that would like to give a remembrance, followed by some written condolences, and then we’ll open the floor up to anyone who would like to say a few words.

Marcia made a great an impact in so many areas; from her unending commitment to children and their families who needed advocacy, to her devotion to her own family and friends. 

The way I remember her, from very early on, was as a mother who tried to help me understand myself and my world around me. She had as spectacular gift in being able to fully listen.  For instance, she would sit our little round breakfast nook table, eating her salad, while I might tell her of some current struggle.  And she would listen.  She often tried to have some sort of suggestion to give me a push off with at the end, which was always helpful.  But the important thing is that she was all-ears and all-heart when it came to being there for someone.  I hear so many people sadly talk about how their parents were either absent physically, or psychologically, and that their feelings were not taken seriously.  This was not the case with my mom.  She valued other people’s feelings and validated them, which helped a person move to the next step.  And I always felt that she cared.  Even after I moved out of the house to go to university, whenever I came home to visit, my mom always wanted a private catch-up session in her den to find out how I was doing.  My own in-house therapist.  Thank you mom!

Marcia was so psychologically minded that she always looked behind what was being said and done by people to better understand their behavior.  Motivations in people were a key factor to her.  This ability she had to understand what was going on behind the curtain so to speak and where to look, took a kind of mind that thoroughly empathized with the deep needs that people had from their own youth.  This helped me to realize that when people act in ways that are not necessarily their high water marks in life, there may be extenuating circumstances beyond what is obvious to the world that may be leading to their behavior.  In other words, she taught me compassion.  And it was the compassion she had throughout her life, for which all of us in this room loved her, and for which we found her irresistible.  We were magnetized to her in order to get the “Marcia” take on things.  Inevitably, it was often during a talk with her about some topic, which would realize some new nugget of insight, that one could walk away with and ponder for a few days, and could lead one to some self-resolution. 

But it wasn’t the political issue, or the latest news item, nor the latest trend that would really interest her.  What lit Marcia up was a discussion about something personal, something human, emotional, and problematic.  For this was my mom’s sweet spot of passion and this is where her genius would kick in. She had the ability to somehow hone in on the real issue underlying whatever problem one was discussing with her.  And that is a rare gift, and a very fortunate one for those around her. 

Marcia was of the opinion that one should find things out for oneself.  Now, I didn’t always appreciate this so much growing up, because I would have loved for someone to just give me all of the answers, from which I could pick and choose what seemed to be the best option from a stance ‘observation.’  But it was her insistence on the idea that one should learn by trial and error rather than cerebrally guessing at choices that gave me the sense that I had to discover things out on my own, and that the phenomenon of failure is absolutely an option and is to be expected along the path of finding one’s way.  This was completely in line with her Master’s Thesis, “Play as Adaptation,” in which she and her research partner, Ruth Pierce, put forth that active, hands-on, learning is the most useful experience in a human’s development.  Her theory that, the only way you will know if you like something is to try it, would help me discover music, art, running, and the pursuit of learning just for learning’s sake.

When I was interested, yet cautious, about doing something that would stretch my experience, my mom would motivate me, saying, “Find out how you can do it.  There is a way.”  She would say, “You’re a very good looking, energetic young man, so just right off the bat you have a lot on your side.  Just find out who you have to talk to to get in.”  She knew to remind me to use my strengths in my life, which has been helpful ammunition for me to carry with me.  Her view of the world was one of expansion and self-awareness, and about broadening one’s self, and that the discovery of introspection will always lead to growth. 

I was very fortunate to have a mother who was also a child development specialist.  And her work with other children never interfered with our relationship.  For a child who from his very early life experience was sensitive to feeling “left out,” an adoptive mother who was giving a lot of attention to other children could have caused some problems of confidence, and yet, she navigated this expertly.  She constantly talked about various children’s cases she worked on at McLaren Hall and other facilities with the utmost passion and dedication, and yet, she always somehow made me feel that I was her prize.  And I was always deeply touched by how much she loved all of her nieces and nephews, and all of their children. 

In 1984, when I decided to completely dedicate myself to finding my natural sister, a situation that could have been awkward for many adoptive parents, my mom and dad were supportive of my efforts and regularly asked me how my search was going.  And after six months when I found my sister, my parents were proud of me and were excited to meet her.  I am very thankful to them for that.  They were selfless in this. 

And my dad, Bill.  He was such a fun dad to have!  Every time I’d walk into the house, he’d greet me with, “Well, hello Fred,” as if I had shown up to some convention he hadn’t expected to see me at.  He was always curious about everything, and I think that when he adopted me, he started to see things through a child’s eyes.  I remember him squatting down with me at the Museum of Natural in New York, as we were looking at a monstrous blue whale that was suspended from the museum ceiling, and appreciating how it must have appeared to me from the point of view of a small five year old boy.  He had an interest in how things worked; puzzles, gadgets, and other quizzical dilemmas, which later grew into an interest in past societies.  He said that when we all went for a week-long trip with my elementary school to see dinosaur remains in Arizona, something got sparked in him with regard to a sudden interest in paleontology and archeology.  He always loved that this interest in him arose so incidentally.

Do you know that when my dad was a boy in New York, his dad, who was a doctor, would say the most outrageously scientific sounding things to him.  For instance, if my dad skinned his knee and his father was putting ointment on the wound, my dad would invariably ask what it was he was applying, and his dad would say, “Well son, this is Compound Refrigerated Fluid Extract of Effervescent Ecoromaboli.”  I’m afraid my dad was doomed to be curious about everything after that.

Having this engineer, journalist, archeologist father was beneficial to me in that if we started talking about pretty much any topic, instantly there were a couple of encyclopedia volumes and a map splayed out on the family room table so that we could research together the facts and locations of where all of this had occurred. Though we didn’t travel together at all out of the United States, my dad and I went around the world many times over with his atlases and his descriptions of other cultures.  I literally can't look at a city-grid, or an abandoned structure, without intuitively sensing where the railway ‘right-of-ways’ were, or wanting to know what the structure’s earlier usages were.  Thank you dad!

And as for the sweet part of my dad, when he felt emotional, he would tell me.  Weather it was a story in the paper that he saved for me about some extraordinary situation, or a movie he had seen that made him tear up, he would say, “Fred, you have to see this!”  He often told me that his favorite moment in a movie was in the 1946 film, “Stairway to Heaven”, in which David Niven, in order to cheat death, goes up to heaven to argue his case before a heavenly court.  When Niven arrives in heaven, he sees a hound sitting nearby, and he says, “I always HOPED there would be dogs (up here).”  If that’s the case, then I know my dad is on a heavenly beach somewhere throwing tennis balls for Willie to chase into the ocean surf, and I know that my uncle Jeff Herrman is also riding cousin K.C.’s mini-bike into that same ocean surf.  That actually happened, by the way.  

Bill made the sweet part of himself accessible to me, and I appreciated this in him, for I haven’t come across a lot of fathers who were like this with their sons.  His love for me was very strong, and I always felt it.  I’m sure that people in our midst must have felt like he talked about and doted on me WAY too much.  My ears were always burning, and I didn’t mind it at all! 

I have one regret of my own regarding my father.  During the time that I was working at Disney Feature Animation, he was always trying to get me to do a docent tour of the old historical buildings in downtown Los Angeles.  I won’t bother telling you about the extraordinary pressures of being in crunch time on various feature productions, but the result was that I never found a good moment to accept his invitation.  And for that I am sad; I would love to have done that tour with him.  But it’s just one of those things that I will remember as to how similar we were in our interests and curiosities. 

I was just extraordinarily fortunate to be given the gift of these two people. 

My first realization of how strongly I bonded with Marcia and Bill was during the time just before my adoption.  As many of you know, Marcia had been my nursery school teacher when my natural father died, and then she and Bill decided to adopt me.  During what would seem to me to be a somewhat lengthy battle between the Herrman’s and a social worker who wanted to adopt me as well, I was enrolled in an elementary school on Crescent Heights Boulevard due of it’s proximity to the social worker’s home, where I was to stay during the weekdays.  With all due respect to the social worker, and trust me, she is due a lot of respect for what she had previously done for my natural father and I, I remember how much I didn’t like living with this social worker, and inversely, how much I enjoyed being with Marcia and Bill when I would visit them on the weekends at their Crestview Drive home during this temporary arrangement. 

One school day during recess, I was standing in an elevated portion of the school playground, which overlooked directly onto a small residential street, when Marcia and Bill drove by in their blue convertible Fiat Spider, with the top down.  I suppose they had been curious to see the school was that I was attending during the weekdays.  They stopped, looked up and saw that I was standing on the other side of the fence above them, and they waved at me.  I waved back at them listlessly, and then, they drove away.

I remember how desperately I wanted to be with Marcia and Bill in that moment.  I was in love with them, and I wanted to drive off with Marcia and Bill in that little Fiat to go exploring the city together.  And as you know, in short enough time, my wish came true.  I gained two parents who loved me, plus an aunt Lane and uncle Jack, an aunt Isabel and Uncle Roger, and an aunt Mary and Uncle Jeff, each of whom have very strong families with some of the most interesting, motivated, and respectable people I’ve ever met. 

The funny thing is that occasionally throughout my relationship with my parents, I used to tell them how thankful I was that they adopted me.  It may sound corny, but I really did.  I would just blurt it out, “Thank you for adopting me!” In return, my parents would say how much I invigorated their lives; that when I became their son, I brought a whole new dimension into their marriage.  I’d say, “Yes, but you SAVED MY life!,” and then they’d always give a laugh and an, “Oh well, we all came out the better!” 

But I don’t think they ever really got it; that they had such an impact on one particular child’s life, the trajectory of his future, the richness and fullness of acquiring knowledge and the everlasting sense that one always has options, in being given the gift of a family full of love, being shown what a good friend is and in my being able to seek out my own true friends that would last a lifetime.  My experience and my parents’ experience in that way don’t seem comparable.  I intuitively know that I experienced the greater impact in the whole transaction. And I don’t really know if anyone can understand it like I do since I lived it first hand.  But I have my mom and dad to thank for all of that.

And so the last six? seven? eight? years have been very tough for me and for all of us who loved them.  To see two smart, vibrant, complicated people who used to travel the world, work hard, and indulge their respective passions and hobbies, and to then at first slowly, and then rather quickly lose their faculties.  It was a hard thing to see because the rapid declines they experienced seemed so unlikely happen to such smart and worldly people.  But they did, and being there with them, and for them, was the best that I or anyone else could do, because that’s what they would have liked.  They wouldn’t have wanted to be alone through it all, and they weren’t, thanks to a lot of you’re here today, especially Carol Cole.

And lastly, a couple of special moments with my mom. 

One time, back when Marcia was my teacher at the nursery school and I was four and a half years old, I remember that it was raining, and I was looking out the classroom window, gazing at how everything was getting wet outside.  She came over to me, knelt down, put her hand gently on my back and asked me how I liked the rain.  I didn’t answer because I didn’t talk much in those days, but rather, just kept looking out. It was a quiet, private moment for both of us. 

Then recently in 2013, I was visiting her small assisted living home in Westwood while all of the other residents were out on a field trip.  Marcia was in one of her uplifted moods, and she and I were sitting on the front room couch looking out of the window together.  It was windy outside and it reminded me of that day forty-four years earlier, another quiet moment together and watching nature do it’s thing.  And as she looked out of the large living room window, she reacted to the wind exclaiming, “My goodness!”  I said, “Yes mom, it’s very windy today, isn’t it?”  And she said with wonderment, “It sure is.” 

And I looked at her and thought to myself, “What a sweet women you are.”

Thank you mom and dad for everything you did for all of us who knew and loved you.  I will miss you both forever.



-And now, cousin Jeff Golden would like to say a few words...

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