Obituary & Remembrances

Bruce Friedrich

Reflections on My Mom and Her Passing, for Memorial Service, May 28, 2006


I started off pondering what I wanted to say by typing up pages of reflections on my mom, trying to figure out what I should focus on. Pastor Eaton suggested telling a story that captures her, so I jotted down some stories that are quintessentially my mom. The problem is that every story takes a long time and only captures one aspect of her, and I end up wanting to talk forever. I keep thinking, “No, that’s not enough” or “That’s not right.” The other problem is that every time I’ve tried to think about this over the past week, I’ve ended up crying like mad—typing and bawling.

So instead of stories, I thought I’d just tell you the few things that I’ve been thinking the most about over the past few weeks—first the week that led up to her death, and then the week since.

First, I’ve been thinking a lot about how unfair and screwed up it is that my mom passed away at 65 years old. Every time I read or hear about older people, it makes me mad. And when I see an older person smoking, that makes me really mad, since my mom hadn’t smoked in more than 30 years. And I’ve been thinking, as my wife Alka and I went through all her art slides and saw some of the powerful and deeply moving drafts of work that will not be finished, about the potential that she had, which has been squashed. I’ve been angry and upset a lot over the past few weeks.

But then I’ve also been thinking about how lucky she was and how wonderful it is that she knew how lucky she was. In her final eight months, after she was diagnosed with cancer, she spoke often to my father, Alka, and me about how blessed her life has been and how grateful she is for what she’s been given and how she would not trade places with anyone.

It is a tragedy of limitless proportion that she was not able to live another 30 or 40 creative and engaged years, but during her time on earth she was one of the most engaged and engaging people who ever lived, and she has left some wonderful artwork behind—an eternal gift to the world. There are many paths that would not have allowed her to do what she did, and she was blessed, and she knew she was blessed, to be able to engage in the world in the ways that she did and to accomplish with her creative spirit the things that she did.

My mom left behind a document of her favorite quotes—typically of her, it was 44 pages long! There are two about dying and God that I’d like to share. First, Isabel Allende, in The House of the Spirits, wrote “Just as when we come into the world, when we die we are afraid of the unknown. But the fear is something from within us that has nothing to do with reality. Dying is like being born—just a change.”

And second, from Margaret Atwood in Cat’s Eye: “When we bend our heads to pray, I feel suffused with goodness, I feel included, taken in. God loves me, whoever God is.”

In her final days and weeks, my mother talked about the nature of death, and she did not fear it. As these quotes indicate, she knew that God loves her, and she knew that death is not the end, that it’s a simple transition, beyond our understanding for sure, but a transition nonetheless. For her lack of fear and sense of peace in the face of death, I give thanks.

And I’ve been thinking about how lucky I am to have had such an amazing mom for 36 years. My earliest memories are of my parents telling me how great I was—no matter what I was doing. She was the picture of affirmation, and not just to me but to my friends and my cousins and all kids. It’s been nice hearing from my cousins about how my mom was a role model to all the girls, because when they were little, she listened to them and treated them like adults. She had a way of making kids feel at home and important. When I first started babysitting, my mom taught me to treat kids as equals; my mom treated everyone as equals.

But the thing I like best about my Mom is that she had a spirit of compassion and empathy for everyone, as you can see very clearly in reading her philosophy of art and artist’s statements on the pieces here. Two more of her favorite quotes help to capture, I think, my mom’s devotion to social justice. In a novel that she loved called Caucasia, one of the characters explains, “My mother liked to tell Cole and me that politics weren’t complicated. They were simple. People, she said, deserved four basic things: food, love, shelter, and a good education.”

My mom was a feminist, and many of her works focused around that and the difficulties that women have in society; one of Alka’s and my favorites of her pieces is “The Judges,” and you have the artist’s statement in your memorial programs.

She also hated class distinctions. Another of her favorite quotes, from the Rev. Robin Meyers speaking about the deaths of Lady Diana and Mother Theresa in September 1997, was that “In the eyes of God, there is neither royalty nor rabble.”

And she hated the tendency in society to see other animals as less important than human beings. About animal experimentation, she had a Gandhian sense of justice. Who cares if you learn something from it, she said—some things you just don’t do; it’s simply immoral to use others of God’s creatures as a means to an end. Along these lines, another piece of art that she did uses another of her favorite quotes, from the book When Elephant’s Weep: “The standards for defining the existence of emotions in animals begin with those in common use for humans. One should demand no more proof that an animal feels an emotion than would be demanded of a human — and, like humans, the animal should be permitted to speak its own emotional language, which it is up to the beholder to understand.”

She was opposed to nationalism and war. After her neighbor was almost killed in the Murrah building, she wrote in describing another piece of her art, “One month before Mother’s Day, 1995, the Oklahoma City bombing shook my house, killed and maimed hundreds, removed the face of my next-door neighbor, and destroyed the innocence of her two young sons. Imagine the impact if more than just a few blocks of just one city were involved! And if we can imagine this, how can we condone war?”

I’m thankful that my parents gave to me their sense of justice for all, but today, I guess the thing I’m most thankful for is how lucky I am to have been able to say Goodbye to my mom over her final eight months, to have been their with her in her final weeks, to have been able to thank her for having been so perfect for my entire 36 years. I give thanks for my mom. I give thanks for all of you, her friends and loved ones. And I give thanks for her optimistic spirit and the fact that not only was her life meaningful, but she knew that it was meaningful. Mom, I’ll miss you.