Sunday, May 13, 2018

#33Stories: Day 13, Remembering Mom

No. 13: “Mary M. Miller, 1919 – 2005: A Eulogy”
Context at the end of this excerpt.
Other entries in #33Stories at the Table of Contents. See you tomorrow!

Delivered at the funeral of Mary M. Miller, Wednesday, March 30, 2005, St. Joseph Church in Wakefield, Mass.
Originally published in 2005 on my website. 

Wedding Day: Mary (Maraghey) and Roger Linwood Miller.

MARY M. MILLER, 1919-2005
A Eulogy

More than two years ago, I stood here eulogizing my father. I spoke about how he was a wonderful man who worked uncomplainingly, was a good father, and who devoted his life to my mother and his three children. He was all of that -- but he was very different from my mother. He was more easily explained.

My mother was an extraordinarily complicated person, and many of the people here understand what I mean. I suspect her early life played a role. Mother never went on at great length to me about her background, but this is what I have gleaned. She was born many years ago -- she never wanted to disclose her age, so I'll simply say she was closer to 90 than 80 -- to parents who had immigrated in the early 1900s to Boston, the neighborhood of Charlestown specifically, from county Waterford, Ireland, home of a crystal manufacturer whose products she could only afford much later in life, and then only in limited quantity.

By any standard, Mother's early life was harsh. The Maragheys had no money, a plight that was compounded when my grandfather died, leaving Mom and her brother to a mother then forced to take a night job as a cleaner to support her children. My mother and uncle received their Christmas gifts from Globe Santa. Coal heated their small flat, and I remember Mom saying there were nights when the fire went out and they huddled under blankets to keep warm there in the shadow of Bunker Hill.

And then Mother contracted tuberculosis, at about the age of ten. She was sent to a sanatorium and for a year or more, she was an orphan, left to the care of strangers. She recovered and went home -- to a stepfather, about whom I know very little. Mother graduated from high school first in her class but never went to college, as she surely would have today. It was the Great Depression, and working-class women were rarely encouraged to seek greater advancement. Instead, at the time she met my father, she was a secretary at the John Hancock Life Insurance Co. Had she come of age today, I bet she would have become an executive, perhaps a CEO.

My mother as a young woman. She had survived tuberculosis.

Instead, she became a suburban mother -- what today we would call a soccer mom.

My sisters have their own recollections, but one of my favorites is of her helping me learn the Russian alphabet, with its many strange Cyrillic letters, as a high school freshman. I remember even earlier, as a third- or fourth-grader when we sat in the living room of our old house reading the dictionary, with the intent of studying a page a day until we were done the whole book. I don't recall that we ever finished, but I remember aardvark, abalone, and so forth. I'm guessing those hours spent with a Webster's are the reason my writing colleagues at The Providence Journal still sometimes ask me to spell words and correct grammar. The written word was sacred for my mother. Thanks, Mom: I have made a living out of it.

Mother taught the virtues of honesty, sincerity, sobriety, conviction, justice, hard work, higher education -- and of chicken soup when you had a cold. She loved Masterpiece Theater and the BSO and the Museum of Fine Arts, but also yard sales, which was one of her many contradictions. Until she stopped driving, she drove like Jeff Gordon, which I always admired. She liked the color purple.

She liked her cats -- although to be honest, I didn't much, and always harbored fantasies of putting one in the microwave. Mother made great casseroles and roast-beef dinners and, once upon a time, magnificent apple pies and currant jam. She always made breakfast and packed a good lunch. She liked talk radio, the late David Brudnoy especially. She had strong political opinions, mostly conservative -- so where did I come from? She valued reading -- all manner of books and the Boston Globe, which she, like my father, read cover to cover every day. Professionally, I guess Mom and Dad were my roots.

Mother also loved her grandchildren: one, Greg, who is MaryLynne's; two, Nate and Matthew, who are Lynda's; and three, Rachel, Katy and Cal, who are mine. They're all here today to commemorate the woman they called Seany.

Ironically, Seany wound up at the same nursing home where my father went. The last time I saw her before her hospitalization this month, I visited with Rachel and her incredible baby, Isabella, the first Miller great-grandchild.

Mother was delighted. I remember her smile. In her closing days, she could still appreciate beauty and goodness.

Mary Miller with grandson Cal, my son, age two.

As a younger woman, Mother was a strict disciplinarian. She was always blunt: this was not a woman with a poker face or a future at a United Nations peace table. Her waters ran deep. One waded through then at one's peril.

But she had many dear friends -- two of the best of whom, Kelly and Jerry, visited her daily for the three weeks after her stroke, and another two, Don and Blanche, who could not be here today. Although Mother never had much money, she was always generous in her contributions to charities, and the biggest of those was the Catholic Church.

I have no scientific basis on which to state this, but I bet, with the exception of clergy, she attended Mass more frequently than any Catholic here today. Her devotion grew, of course, from the old-world Irish traditions in which her immigrant parents were raised. As society changed and the church did, too, she maintained that devotion. By the end, she had her quarrels with her religion -- she would have liked women priests, for example -- and she was ashamed of certain events that have happened, but she still kept to the basic tenets of Roman Catholic Christianity. She believed in her Lord.

One thing, however, troubled her deeply -- I don't think torment is too strong a word -- as long as I can remember. She feared of her fate in the afterlife: despite her devotion, despite what logic might have told her, she just could not shake the old images of fire and brimstone. Her deathbed was not the time to ask where she stood on the matter in the final hours of her life, so I can't tell you where she finally believed she was headed.

But I can say that if you seek guidance in signs, as I sometimes do, it is no coincidence that she died on Easter Sunday, the day of resurrection, rebirth, and the promise of the new spring -- a day of hope and beauty like her great-granddaughter Isabella, that wonderful baby.

I believe Mother has gone to the good place, where even now she is enjoying the tranquility that sometimes escaped her in this life. Be peaceful, Mom, we love you.

-- 30 --


Since writing and delivering this eulogy, we have lost another mother in the family: my sister Linda, who died on May 5, 2015. But we also have been blessed with the addition of two wonderful new members of the family, who may be mothers themselves someday: Rachel’s second child, Olivia, and Katy’s first, Vivienne.

Today, though, holding good thoughts of my mother, and my late mother-in-law, Daisy Gabrielle, the amazing mother of my amazing wife, Yolanda. Happy Mothers Day!

Mom and Dad, WW II, when Dad was in the Navy.

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