by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Thank you for coming here in honor of my mom  and to comfort us at this time of loss.
Your presence is especially significant because my mother despised funerals and she probably would not have come to your funeral – or even mine.
I only knew my mother as a mother. I did not know her with the perspective others had as her friends, her cousin, her brother…
My first and perhaps strongest impression of my mother was that I thought she was the most outrageously beautiful woman on earth.
Many children think this about their mothers -- when they are two years old.
I ALWAYS thought this, even when she had lost all her hair and was frail from dying.
It was also clear to me early on that my mother was unconventional and irreverent and wanted to live life her way.
She understood that certain credentials were critical because of how they greased the skids in life – a healthy IQ, good manners, an impressive education, nice legs, a good backhand, etc.
However much of the world’s conventions she cast aside.
She called her mother…Hank. She let her hair go gray in her early 30s. She breastfed her children -- in the 1960s when no one did that. Every summer she took us to an isolated, rural farmhouse in New Hampshire rather than some chi-chi resort with a pool and waterslide. She allowed us to have as many pets as we wanted– turtles, fish, parakeets, snakes, horses, cats, chickens, raccoons, a skunk. She let us wear sneakers to church – the few times she actually made us go to church.
She never cared about a person’s social standing or accomplishments – which was particularly important given that we grew up in Washington DC where people can get obsessed with such credentials. She had a unique ability to see only the person, not their trappings. She always said “You have to have a few friends you cannot explain.”
Having an irreverent MOTHER was particularly important to me as a young girl, and later when I became a woman and mother myself. She absolutely believed that we girls were as smart and capable as the boys in our life – probably a bit smarter and MORE capable, actually. She knew how important it was for a woman to be strong and independent and to be able to take care of herself. I watched her take care of us children with high standards and ferocity.
I wanted to say a few things about what I experienced caring for my mother since her cancer diagnosis. My mother often quoted Robert Frost, who described family with these words: “Home is the place that, when you have to go there – they have to take you in.” So it felt natural for me to take her in to our home when she was dying and needed 24 hour care.
However, one of our…interesting…family dynamics is that my parents always pressured my older sister and me to be responsible caretakers and high achievers. They did not seem to expect the same of my younger brother and sister.
Both sets of expectations had their pros and cons.
So when Mom got sick, I assumed my older sister and I would do the heavy lifting in terms of caring for Mom. I was wrong. To my surprise, the younger sibs quickly stepped forward. My sister was the first to travel to my mother’s side on many occasions, despite a very demanding job in DC where she is on call 24/7. Once Mom moved in with us in DC, she was there almost every day, and many nights as well.
My brother, despite living 3,000 miles away in California, made two long, extended visits to Florida to care for my mother when no one else could be there. He would call me excitedly to tell me how he got Mom to eat a WHOLE McDonald’s cheeseburger and to be sure I knew what flavor milkshake she liked best. He also came to Washington two weeks before my mother died to be with her and with all of us at the end.
Along the way, I realized that Mom was reaping what she had sowed – she raised us kids with the understanding that we would be there for each other when it mattered most. I am proud of my brother and sister’s selflessness, and grateful to them for making such a painful experience more bearable for all of us.
In one of my books, I made a dedication to my mother -- “because she was always there.” My mother had her faults, certainly. She wasn’t always the mother I wanted. She wasn’t always there in precisely the ways I wanted or needed.
But she was always there.
I hope that I will carry that feeling with me for the rest of my life – that in spirit this strong, brilliant, beautiful, iconoclastic woman is there to protect me and help me navigate the decisions, losses and joys of my life.