In 2015 we had the good fortune to see Lin Manuel’s Hamilton on Broadway, and one of the enduring memories of that masterpiece for me is the finale song of Act 2 — Who lives, Who dies, Who tells your story? (…But When you’re gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame, who tells your story?…)
As I have written previously about my mother, Esther Goodman Miller, and “…as it gets further from her life and death, I want to keep her name and flame alive, alive for myself and my sister, alive for the rest of the family who is still living, and alive for the great grandchildren, only one whom she ever met.” And also for all those lives she touched with her selfless care taking and gentle love.
Esty died on Mother’s Day, May 13, 2007, and so I repost the Eulogy I gave at her graveside.
EULOGY – May 15, 2007
Some of us [here] are teachers; some are doctors. Some make news, and some report it. Some build bridges, or bridge tables. Some are lawyers, government workers. Some grow fruit, and some seek to make the country and the world a better place.
Esty was none of these, at least not directly.
She was a caretaker and a builder of families.
When you know a bit about her background, that’s kind of an amazing choice of careers — or maybe not so surprising. Esty’s mother died when Esty was four months old. For the next seven years she lived with various relatives and family friends as her father, Rob, was trying to earn a living and couldn’t take care of an infant and young child. She sometimes saw him on weekends but had no real family life of her own during her early, formative years.
When Esty was seven, Rob, Pappy to many of us, and a prince of a man, remarried and Esty suddenly had a family of her own. Along with her stepmother Ray came Arnold, the older brother Esty had always wanted and whom she instantly worshiped and who was so good to her.
From an early age Esty’s role seemed to involve taking care of others – grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Many of you here can attest to that. She baby sat for cousin Arthur, standing here, and claims she changed his diapers.
Esty finished high school not far from here (much to her relief) and started nursing school. Her patients loved her, but probably because she so identified with their cares, worries, and illnesses, she agreed with her father’s urging not to pursue that career.
She went the U of NH, met Sam at the opening night mixer, and thought he was a bit mad when walking her back to the dorm, he told her he was going to marry her (I think she had another boyfriend at the time).
Esty and Sam married just a few years later and had Janet and myself in rapid succession. After living in eye sight of Fenway Park (Pappy was a Red Sox devotee all his life) and in Brookline, they moved to Orlando for Sam’s citrus work. Sam soon left to protect his country (as a librarian in San Diego), and Esty devoted herself to a long and never ending career of mothering, care taking, and building of family. Not only taking care of her own, Esty found a circle of young friends with young families and became treasured for her kindnesses and ability to help and care about others.
When I went a few days ago to tell one of these good friends, a friend of more than 60 years, Ruth Esther, that Esty was nearing her end, Ruth Esther cried and cried, saying how Esty was like a sister to her and her best friend and how helpful Esty had been to her in raising her own family. I’ve heard similar stories repeatedly in the last week, many for the first time. I know everyone assembled here could tell about how Esty looked out for you, took care of you, was special in some way in your life, maybe healed a wound or gave you comfort. She just seemed to have a way of touching people and making them feel special.
I’m sure I’m not totally objective, but I spend much of my life listening to and observing people, and I have never once heard an unkind word said about Esty. I would hope and urge you over the next few days and weeks to tell us or to write us of your stories of Esty’s importance to you. We want to know and to remember these stories. It is part of her legacy.
Esty never put herself first. If there was a weakness, it might well have been that she may not have known or appreciated her own worth. Everyone, absolutely everyone’s needs – her husband’s, her parents’, her nieces’, her nephews’, her children’s, her grandchildren’s, her friends,’ whomever she came in contact with – came before her own self.
As most of you know, Esty had breast cancer 25 years ago, had a botched gall bladder operation that almost killed her eight years ago, and over the past three years was overcome by a cascading series of medical issues and crises. But none of these physical difficulties changed Esty’s basic nature. What most distressed her was that she could no longer care for herself. She hated being dependent on others for her care. Starting at 86 she was forced to rely on others. And though she hated this dependency, she did it her way. She kept her frustrations largely to herself (save an occasional harsh word with Sam, probably well deserved) and continued to worry and care about others. (Her sense of humor did seem to emerge and deepen in these later years; just 10 days ago, upon hearing Victor sing, she told him not to give up his ‘day job.’)
A few days ago Janet was asking her if she was afraid, and Esty nodded, ‘Yes.’ “About yourself?” Esty shook her head, “No.” “About your family?” Esty nodded, “Yes.” She told one of her wonderful aides that she worried about Sam especially, and also her kids and grand kids. We tried to tell her she needn’t worry (she was a world class worrier all her life, tho near the end she seemed to make some progress with no longer feeling responsible for everyone else). She had taught us how to take care of each other — by her example. Even on the day of her death, Mother’s Day, (a week shy of her 90th birthday, which she thought was entirely too many birthdays), she found a way to help her family – Sam, Janet, Victor, and myself.
And so maybe she was not only a mother, a care taker, a builder of family. She was also her own kind of healer, settler of disputes, teacher, cultivator.
While we have already missed Esty some of the last several years – and fear we will miss her even more in the days and years to come – we are glad she is returning to her Goodman family, to lie next to Arnold, Rob, and Ray. She has missed them so much these past years. She deserves to rest, and she deserves this resting place from where she came. And she has certainly earned over and over her maiden name Goodman.