For her 80th birthday, one of my mothers-in-law* asked that we each write a eulogy, telling what she has meant to us. The convention is to prepare a eulogy after death, but a post-mortem eulogy is not much good to the deceased, and Naomi is anything but conventional.
I first met Naomi when Joe and I were courting. I was 49 and she was 62, so we began a friendship rather than a quasi mother-daughter arrangement, a friendship that started with food. We share a love of eating and feeding people.
It’s a five-hour drive to Deerfield Beach. When we arrive at Naomi's it’s too early for the big dinner we know will come, so she serves us crackers, cheese, nuts, olives, prosciutto wrapped around mozarella, and of course a welcome glass of wine. Dishes of candy ambush me throughout our visit. Bagels and lox isn’t enough for breakfast: you need egg salad, tuna salad, salami, pickles, breads, coffee cake, strawberries and bananas with sour cream.click At Thanksgiving or Passover, one dessert isn't enough. You need five.
Naomi has a generous, adventurous heart. She has had three marriages with two husbands. (If a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience, what can you say about a second marriage to the same man?) She raised five sons, and once told me that she loved raising children - it was all she ever wanted to do.
I have struggled so with my various motherhoods; I envy her the perfect fit she found. But a generous heart is bound to be broken, and I don’t envy Naomi her grief. She has suffered the worst, not once but twice. Her third son died at 33 after a long illness. Her fourth died suddenly at 50.
Naomi’s big heart warms to a large extended family, many friends, and the world at large. She offers rides to destitute strangers, and all the protests from her family won’t stop her. She becomes passionately engaged with the children whom she represents as a volunteer guardian ad litem, and is tireless in finding resources and exploring possibilities for “her” kids.
A dozen years ago, when I told Naomi that my daughter was pregnant, she understood my distress. My daughter was nineteen, unmarried, and unemployed, with only a high school education. A moment passed, and then Naomi said, “It will be my first great-grandchild!” and her good cheer made me break down. It was wonderful to know this baby would be welcomed into the family.
And Naomi has thoroughly welcomed Amanda. Her school pictures adorn Naomi’s refrigerator. Whenever we visit, Amanda heads straight to Naomi’s dresser, where a pretty box contains the little gifts Naomi has set aside for her: maybe a colorful dollar bill from her latest trip abroad, a tiny doll, glittery stick-on nails. For all her grandchildren, Naomi has been a source of love and fun. She offers a welcoming ear, and they confide in her.
Naomi lives large. She has traveled, alone and with family, all over the world. (I believe she skipped the Arctic and Antarctic.) She has many of the ailments of old age, but she doesn’t let them stop her. Several times a year she flies to New Jersey to visit Irma and Al, her sister and brother-in-law, and paints the town in Manhattan. She jumps at any opportunity for a luxury cruise with her friend Linda.
As I leave middle-age and enter old-, Naomi is an inspiration. If I make it to eighty, I will be glad to have her courage, spirit, and energy.
*Though I lost my mother when I was young click, I have been blessed in middle age with two top-notch mothers-in-law, Naomi Childers and Annette Jackson.
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