Today, May 4th, marks six years since my mother died.
Below is the eulogy I read at her funeral.
“It’s Just Mom”
Since August 1994, the first night I went to college, my dad has left the same message on my answering machine and voicemail: “Hello, my favorite daughter, this is your favorite father.” As many of you know, I am an only child, so I’ve always told my dad he was awfully lucky his only daughter ended up also being his favorite. This was our ritual. But it took my mother’s passing to make me realize my mother also had her own ritual when she called.
“It’s just mom.”
After I heard the news on Sunday, I began to prepare for my trip to New Orleans. I decided perhaps it was time to pull off the messages from my answering machine, as Anthony and I have a tendency to let them accumulate, certain they’re just more telemarketers calling for the people who owned the number before us. This was a lucky happenstance, as it so happens, because I heard mom’s voice again.
“It’s just mom.”
I checked my voicemails, too—my apathy for checking my messages extends to cellular ones, as well. There, of course, were several messages from mom.
“It’s just mom.”
That’s what she said, you see, every time she called. “It’s just mom.” Because with daughters, fathers can be favorites, but moms are “just moms.”
But mothers are never “just moms,” are they? They are sisters and friends, enemies and allies. They are wives and workers, even daughters themselves. And we children of mothers forget those other aspects of our mothers because for us, they are “just” our moms.
I never thought about what it meant to be a mother, but I certainly thought about what it meant to be a daughter. That was my role, and it involved strength and weakness, love and annoyance. It involved learning to exist separately from parents as a youth, a teenager, a young adult, a grown-up. But throughout all of those stages in life, we daughters knew our mothers would be there, because when you’re “just mom,” your role is always set. In stone.
“It’s just mom.”
Mom and I did not have a perfect relationship, and I will not dishonor her by pretending otherwise. We fought, as my father always said, like cats and dogs. But that’s just mothers and daughters, everyone always said. That’s what mothers and daughters do. See, we do these things because we know, we know, that mom will always be “just mom.” There’s no other option available in the world. I could rage and scream and be angry with Mom and no matter what, no matter if we needed a break or some time apart, I knew she would still be “just mom.” What else could she be?
When I was a child, I couldn’t stand being swaddled, covered in cloths and blankets. I would overheat, mom said. Even as a baby, I didn’t like being held while I slept. I’m still this way, throwing off blankets in the night and then accusing Anthony of stealing them from me.
I share this with you because one of my favorite memories is of my mother, coming to me in my feverish states, putting her soft, cool hands on my face.
Some children associate mothers with scents, but my mom couldn’t handle perfumes, not with her sinuses. So instead of scent, I associate her with touch, those cool hands soothing my burning forehead. When I was in graduate school at LSU, I contracted a terrible flu and mom came up to take care of me, to put those cool hands on my head, to bring me to the doctor and give me sprite with a straw.
Because she’s “just mom.”
I’ve thought a lot about writing this eulogy, since I heard the news. Both plane rides home, I sat in my seat and cried, thinking over the words I wanted to say. I don’t have my mother’s gift of speech. I am a writer. I am most comfortable in front of a computer screen, typing away at a keyboard. This is my natural space, the place where I am most myself. And I knew, for this last gift I would give my mother, it had to come through words. That is a writer’s gift, after all. We can memorialize and slay with a single line. But I forgot, you see, that non-writers can slay with a single line, too:
“It’s just mom.”
As I sit and write this, in a public café, there is a small child behind me, screaming, “Mommy! Mommy!” and I thought, “how appropriate, because I, too, am screaming, screaming ‘Mommy! Mommy!’” and we the both of us are experiencing loss, just for a moment, connected together, me and this young boy.
It is those small connections that are making this difficult time a little less terrible to bear.
And I realize this is a eulogy more about me than it is about Frances Montz, about my experience of her rather than her experience of the world. I feel I should apologize for that, to say, “I’m sorry,” to scream it out into the void because I am not honoring her memory; I am honoring my memory of her. But that’s what I have, because she was mine, my mother, and your experience of her is radically different than mine.
Perhaps you knew the sister: the funny, loud, obnoxious sister who told inappropriate jokes to which someone would inevitably say, “Frannie!” in a laughing and admonishing tone.
Perhaps you knew the daughter: the dutiful, dedicated daughter who was your strength and weakness both.
Perhaps you knew the friend: the kind, generous friend who laughed louder than anyone else in the room and belted out an opera libretto when things were too quiet for her liking.
Perhaps you knew “Miss Frannie”, Amy’s mom: the one who let you into her home and her life, who took us to Shoney’s and made us fudge.
Or perhaps you knew “Aunt Frannie”: who was the life of any party, who always remembered your birthday, and your children’s birthdays, who never hesitated to bring you comfort in your time of need.
Many of you knew her as “Nanny”: her godchildren were numerous and well-loved. She remembered them all, and wanted to help each and every one.
But only one of us knew her as “Wife” and only one of us knew her as “Mother.” And for us, there are so few words. She was our everything, the glue that held us together, the one that made us laugh and roll our eyes, sometimes at the same moment.
She was my dad’s love, over 45 years together forging a life that certainly had ups and downs, as any good life will, but the laughter far outweighs the tears. She was always and eternally his “Bride,” many, many years after their marriage.
For me? Well, she was “just mom.” And she wasn’t perfect. But she was mine. And I miss her like the stars miss the nighttime sky.