Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Memorial for Marilyn

This past Friday was the memorial service for the matriarch of one of my favorite families.  She left behind three children, who I love, and three grandchildren.  Here are some words that I wrote, and which I spoke during the service:

Hello.  My name is Fred Herrman, and I was Trish’s high school boyfriend.  Trish and I met during our tenth grade year, though I had already noticed her in middle school wearing her government sash at a lunchtime assembly, but that’s another story.  Pretty soon after we got to know each other, she invited me over to her house to meet her parents, Marilyn and Dugan.  Being that this was my first-ever real girlfriend, I didn’t know what to expect from my new sweetheart’s parents.

I wondered to myself, would her parents like me?  Would they be critical of this guy who was dating their youngest daughter?  Would I know how to behave around them? 

And then I met them.  Marilyn and Dugan were very kind to me and made me feel comfortable right away.  As I remember it, pretty much as soon as I walked into the house, Marilyn, who had stationed herself in the Varna house kitchen, offered me a little snack, along with some lemonade.

As time progressed, I found out that these two people were very generous and welcoming and took a genuine interest in me, and I noticed that they were like this with all of Trish’s friends.  These were good people.  And as more time went on, I was invited to beautiful Bass Lake for summer vacations and was made to feel a part of the family.  And there were occasional Jackman family arguments that I witnessed too.  “Wow! They even feel comfortable enough to argue around me? Good!  They’re a crazy Jewish family just like mine! Now I really feel at home!” 

I will never forget this and I have carried these experiences around with me throughout my life.  The litmus test for anyone’s relations that I meet are, “Do they approach the very high bar of love and sincerity that Marilyn and Dugan showed me all of those years?”  And, as expected from being around people such as Marilyn and Dugan, I quickly fell in love with them.  How could I not?  They were real, and they were fun to be around, and they were always “there” for everyone.  I always loved Dugan’s endless cavalcade of stories, especially the one where he described how he had applied to, but was rejected from the U.S. Navy, because he was just plumb too short.  So he kept searching varying armed forces divisions until he found just the right one that didn’t care so much about a person’s height; The United States Coast Guard, where he was accepted and served for our country. What tenacity he had!

And for every story that Dugan told, there was Marilyn right along his wing, while readjusting a hallway chair, fluffing up some sofa pillows, or untangling the vacuum chord, throwing in a corrected fact here and there to Dugan, or rewinding him back a bit to cover some appropriate and necessary additional back-story.  A story session could go on for forty minutes or so.  But it was always fun because Dugan had a punch line buried in there somewhere, and it was worth the wait.  They were quite the story-telling duo!

And when Trish and I finally went our separate ways sometime towards the end of high school, I not only suffered the heartbreaking loss of Trish, but also of this great family.  Because, you see, all of it went together;  Marilyn, Dugan, Susan, Mitch and Trish, their family’s way of life, and all of their collective experiences that one could live vicariously through.  And that’s a lot to miss out on.

With Marilyn’s passing, I have to think of Stephen, who I was never fortunate enough to have met, but of whom Trish always spoke with glowing admiration and love.  She told me in high school that she would never cut her hair because Stephen always liked it long on her.  And now I think to myself that Marilyn can finally be reunited with her eldest son. 

My dear Trish, your mother loved you so much.  It was just as obvious as the summer San Fernando days were sunny.  Marilyn lived her life around you and all about you.  And that’s a really nice thing for an impressionable sixteen-year old to witness.  It reinforced in me that family is everything.  Marilyn was her family, and so you are this very minute the living part of her and always will be.  Her absolute success as a mother and as a person are reflected in each of her children and their respective stellar characters and passions for life.  

Marilyn always talked about you, Trish, Susan and Mitch; what you were all doing, the funny thing you had said just the other day, how she loved your involvement in school and life activities, and how constantly picky you were, Trish, about matching your clothes to your Espadrilles. I truly believe that Imelda Marcos was taught how to collect shoes by Trish.  In fact, I’ll submit this fact to Wikipedia tonight.

Saying goodbye is not easy. And believe me, I am right here with you.  As you know, my mother passed away just this last February, and my father just two years before that.  And it’s a hard thing; a very difficult thing. Because when someone you love so much, leaves you, it takes a while to really understand what you have lost.  It’s a mother (like Marilyn), or a father (like my dad), or a sister (like Kim’s Karen), or a brother (like Stephen) who you could always go to and bounce an idea off of, or call when you’re feeling a little down, or lonely.  They are the people who you can confide in and the people who know all of your back history, and who know your complicated baggage.  All of that counts for a lot in a people you trust.  And when they are no longer here, it’s really like an appendage has gone missing, and it takes a very long while to get somewhat used to it, if nearly at all.  That’s what I miss the most in my own life; calling my mom and dad, or dropping in on them just to talk and work out my own stuff while they listened. 

And one of the things I experienced after I lost my parents was to constantly ask myself, “Did I do enough? Was I there enough for them? Did I give enough of myself? Was I present enough throughout their struggles? Was I too selfish with my own time?”  Trish, I know that you are struggling with a bit of this, and I can tell you that ultimately, the answer for all of us is, “Yes, we did do enough, and yes, we were present enough.”  Our parents have always loved us for who we are, and we did the best that we could given our own complicated and imperfect lives.  “Yes Trish,” it was enough in Marilyn’s eyes, among other reasons, most importantly because she has always known how much you loved her, which I and everyone in this room know to be, with all of your heart. 

What I know for you three, Trish, Susan and Mitch, is just how lucky you are to have one-another, both through this very hard time, and throughout your lives.  Because it is the knowledge of one-another’s confidences, and history, and baggage, that makes you the family that you are. And as I myself learned from my time with the Jackman’s, in the end, family really is everything, and trust me, y’all came from a good one!  

I love you, Marilyn.  I will always remember the hugs you generously gave out, that told me, “You are at home here,” and I will always remember your laughter, with great love and affection, for the rest of my years.