Eulogy for my Mom 12/18/10
Eulogy for Deena Baird 1925-2010
Delivered at her funeral at Roosevelt Memorial Park, Trevose, Pa
December 14, 2010
After the loss of my dad and Lise in 2009, it is hard to fathom losing my mom too. My mom was always there for me, especially after Dad and Lise died. From my earliest memories, she was an absolutely loving and caring presence devoted to her family. Over the last year or so, we talked at least twice daily, even if briefly. Unlike her daughter, Mom was not much of a phone talker.
She and Dad modeled the value of family and not in some phony way. My mom was a straightshooter with an acerbic wit and a dark sensibility. She and my dad were actually quite the contrast. My dad was ever the optimist, even when not necessarily justified. She, on the other hand, was more pessimistic and had an acute appreciation of the dark side of life. They complimented each other.
I do have a lifetime of memories and I did want to share a few that would highlight my mom and her sensibility. It is probably silly to bring up this example but I will. Mom loved sports and she was a diehard Phillies and Eagles fan. For years, Mom, Dad and I argued over the merits of Donovan McNabb as a quarterback. Mom hated Donovan. Dad and i were more forgiving and, I think, balanced. To Mom, Donovan was the guy who threw up in the Super Bowl. She cut him no slack.
Mom had x-ray vision and a low tolerance for, pardon the expression, bullshit. I would note that she taught me how to swear, a talent she passed on to others as well. She could hold her own in that department, especially when driving.
She and Dad suffered through prolonged humiliating and depressing reversals of fortune. They felt dropped and rejected by people who they previously considered their friends. Dad battled for years in the face of declining health and never got out from under. Mom handled it with grace and dignity. She always stood by Dad even in his darkest hours and he had some very dark hours. I respected her loyalty and her steadfastness. I think the experience made her more compassionate and empathetic to people who were down and out.
Mom was fundamentally a caretaker. Her life was about caring for her husband and her children. She and Dad had almost 60 years together, a remarkable span. I think there is a powerful message there about the value of devotion. When I look at the old pictures of Mom and Dad, they do look like movie stars. I am certainly not the first to say that. Mom was a beautiful woman. She was glamorous.
Mom was also a foodie. She was artistic and she had a unique skill in not just preparing delicious meals but in doing it with aesthetic flair and a sense of presentation. Anyone who sat down to a meal prepared by my mom was lucky. I won’t even go into her struedel. When I returned to Philly, Mom always prepared my favorite dishes. That was so typical.
While Mom was a product of pre-feminism, her politics were not conventional. She was a badass and a lifelong Democrat. Harry Keiser, her mom Molly Keiser’s second husband, used to call her “the Russian”. That was a joke but Mom was very liberal. She was strongly pro-choice. She loved Obama from after the Pennsylvania primary and defended him against my criticisms just last week.
Mom and Dad attended the huge Washington Moratorium march against the war in Vietnam in 1969. Lise and I always found it hysterical that the Baldwin School thought our parents were hippies. Whatever they were, Mom and Dad were not hippies and it seems beyond ridiculous that they could be pegged that way.
Mom and Dad loved the shore, especially their place at the Longport Seaview in Longport, NJ. As a family, we shared many wonderful times there. Mom loved the beach and bike riding on the boardwalk. Mom prided herself on frequently pedaling the entire length of the Atlantic City boardwalk, back and forth. That was 22 miles.
She and Dad used to fish both deep sea and in the bay near Margate NJ when Dad owned his boat Any Old Rags. I remember when Mom hooked a giant skate that she fought for what seemed like hours. Many surrounding boats in the bay watched as my mom surfaced the skate which turned out to be far bigger than our boat. My dad ultimately had to cut the line.
After Dad died, it was like the light in her life went out. Mom was stoic and self-effacing but watching Lise die may have been too much. Mom was and had been severely depressed. She drank more vodka and less water. I do not think she was happy about it when her doctors made her shelve drinking. Pep talks did not help too much.
I remain somewhat mystified at the avalanche of her health problems. Up until the last four months or so, Mom was completely functional. She was always mentally sharp.
Sometimes life can be unbearable. Mom derived great purpose from caretaking Dad and then Lise. Without Dad and Lise, I do think she felt purposeless although she never stopped caring for those around her especially my Aunt Arline and her grandchildren, whom she adored.
I was blessed to have a mom like Deena Baird. I have tremendous pride in both my parents. They knew how to live and I think they lived it up. They pointed the way in many good directions and I admire their example of living with zest and passion, even in the face of tough times.
Finally, i want to thank my brother Rob who stepped up and cared for Mom especially through this last period. I also want to thank Ben, Andy, and David Keiser for their support for Mom.
Mom, I will miss you enormously for as long as I live.