Tuesday, September 27, 2016

We are Less Without Her

Two weeks ago yesterday, my mom died. One week ago yesterday, I read the following words at her funeral. I have so much more that I want to say about her, and I'm sure I will in time, but for today, here's a glimpse at the amazing woman that she was.

Thank you all so much for being here this morning. My family and I are completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and sympathy that has surrounded us all this past week.  My mom would be overwhelmed too.  As I preparing for today, there were two things that I knew would be really difficult…the first was getting up to speak after hearing my favorite hymn, On Eagles Wings, and the second (which won’t come as a shock to anyone here who knows me), would be limiting my remarks to five minutes. It takes me longer than that to say hello.  But I promised I would, so here goes.

Our mom, Dot Gavel, was an amazing woman. I know this, and my family knows this. But what this past week has shown all of us, is that you all knew it too.
My mom was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. I know that she regretted never going to college, and having a chance to pursue a “career”. I have no doubt that she would have excelled at whatever she choose to do. One of her dear friends said this week, that Dot was a woman ahead of her time. Born in another era, she felt she might have run a large business. I always pictured her in medicine, maybe as a doctor or a nurse. But Dot didn’t follow that path, and instead leaves behind a legacy that I would argue means even more.
When I was 8 years old, Dot started caring for children in our home, following in the footsteps of her dear friend, Kay. This quickly grew into mom’s vocation, and Dot’s Tots was born. For the next 30 years, my mom helped to raise dozens of children, some from the age of 6 or 8 weeks old until the day they started preschool. Lots more stayed even longer, and would come home to Dot’s off the school bus in the afternoon. Our home, 14 Prouty Road,  even became an official Fox Hill Elementary bus stop! These children and their families became like our extended family. So many families became lifelong friends. There has been a lot of talk this week about Dot’s fabulous lunches, like macaroni and cheese with hot dogs, or a “nice grilled cheese sandwich”, but it’s the comments like this one that I received that sum up the lasting impact my mom had on so many families.
“She was always so smart and generous, so kind, so hilariously funny. She gave such great advice and always knew when to set you straight or pull you in for a hug. I was always impressed by her deep understanding and empathy for people and her seemingly boundless capacity for love.”
I agree with all of that, and wish I could take credit for those beautiful words,
And while Dot was able to be there for all of these families for all of these years, she was also able to be home for us, ready to listen and share our day when we came home from school or work.
So now to the harder part of my story…what my mom meant to OUR family.  
We have a long running joke in our family that “it’s all about the food.” This stems from my mom’s love of food and her need, over the years,  to hear all of the details of the meal we had at  a restaurant or the food at a wedding that I catered, or the brunch someone was planning. But in recent years, we’ve all come to realize that the food has just been the backdrop of our lives.  It was really about the open door policy at our house – friends always welcome, day or night, always room for one more at the table or at the party. Dot showed her overwhelming love for her family and friends by feeding us, whether it was her famous fudge, or a pie at Thanksgiving, Saturday lunches out at Jimmy’s on the Mall, or 5 pounds of Grammie’s famous chicken wings at a cookout.  My mom taught me all about making my home a welcoming place, a place where people wanted to be, and she did it by example.  She also taught me that people are not the mistakes they make. She could dish out the best silent treatment in the world (which was terrifying) if she was upset with you, but when it was over, it was over. Because you could talk to her and ask her advice, without fear of judgement even when she didn’t agree with you, many of our friends even sought out her counsel when they couldn’t talk to their own parents.
Because time is running short, I want you to know that she also taught us to always have a dime for a phone call, that bra straps shouldn’t stick out of clothing (boy do I wish she could have taught this to everyone!), that you should always be on time, and that there was nothing we could ever do that would make her stop loving us. I hope that last one is a lesson that I have clearly passed on to my own kids - (that and the bra strap thing).
Perhaps the most important thing Dot taught us all was about living with grace and courage and strength. My mom faced more than her fair share of adversity in her life. She had to bury her child, my brother Donny, something that is inconceivable to me.  She battled and survived lung cancer, and she lost my dad so quickly nearly 8 years ago, and yet she managed to go on and forge a life for herself. The last few years have been so hard for her. She struggled with nearly constant health issues and slowly lost a lot of the independence that was so central to the woman that she was. Yet through it all, her main concern remained how we all were, what was happening with her kids and her grand and great grandchildren, and making sure that we were all ok.
But I can’t end on this sad note, because my mom would hate that. She’d never want anyone to feel bad. Instead, she would be much more concerned about what we were serving later on at lunch…because after all, it is all about the food.

Thank you for loving my mom along with us. We are less without her.