The Sorrow and the Joy, But Mostly the Joy

Mom's sleep maskMy Mama died a year ago today. It simultaneously feels like forever ago, and just yesterday. At the memorial service we held in her hometown, I had the privilege of giving her eulogy. Afterward I promised some family and friends that I’d put my notes together and email them a copy of what I’d said.

I had every intention of following through, but when I sat down to do it, I couldn’t. It felt too fresh, and I felt too sad. My notes didn’t make sense, and as is often the case when I speak publicly, I had no memory of what I’d actually said, how I strung my thoughts together, or even if I just stood in front of a church-load of people and spouted gibberish.

But a year has passed and even though it still feels too fresh and I sometimes feel too sad, I can hear my mother’s voice in my head. JUST DO IT ALREADY! So, I’m doing it already. As promised, here is my Mama’s Eulogy, by me.

Thank you for being here to honor Anita … my mother.  And thank you also for the love and support so many of you have shared with my family these past weeks and throughout the past year during her illness.  Your care and your kindness made the unbearable bearable for her and for us, and we thank you.

So, how about that Anita?  I knew my mother for 50 years and that’s pretty incredible considering I’m just 34.  Of course I’m kidding, everyone knows I’m only 32, but who’s counting?

The truth is that the number of years don’t matter.  What matters is the richness of those years and my mother and I had some pretty rich years with lots of great adventures.

・We traveled around Europe together.
・We went on lots of cruises.
・We stopped at every drugstore we ever passed because she loved drugstores.
・We went snorkeling together in Belize.

Wait a minute. That’s worth repeating. I got MY MOTHER to go snorkeling with me!

What I learned about my mother that day was that she was petrified of the water. Petrified! So knowing Anita like you do, and knowing she had a flair for the dramatic, you can probably imagine what a commotion that was. Our snorkel instructor told me later that he never had a student who scared the barracudas away. But she did. She scared the barracudas.

My mom and I did a lot of great and small things together, but what sticks with me most, what I’ll always remember, is a lesson she taught me during one of our adventures.  It was a lesson about joy, and she taught me not by her instruction, but by her example.

I was living in Manhattan at the time and she came down to visit as she often did.  New York wasn’t a new experience for her.  She’d been there hundreds of times, so she knew the city.  But it didn’t matter, because every time she visited she’d get excited like it was her first time.  I don’t mean normal or age-appropriate excited … she’d get crazy excited like a little kid getting a pony.

On this particular day we were driving around the city, and I don’t know … maybe she had too much coffee or had double dosed her Prozac, but her excitement was ratcheted way up. She was pointing out everything as if she’d never experienced any of it.

“Oooooo, Look at that post office!”

“Liv, Look … A billboard for Cats! The musical!”

Everything was Oh my God, this and Oh my God, that. And when she got really excited she’d switch to her Amsterdam accent … Oh my gaaaahd, wouldja look at thaaaaht!”

The last straw for me was when we were driving down 2nd Avenue and she gasped, “Oooooo, look at that fruit stand!!!!”

That did it. I was done! “MA!” I said, “It’s a fruit stand, What is the big deal?”

She started laughing. “I know,” she said. “I’m an idiot. I get so excited about the littlest things.”

And that was it.  That was the moment.

But that moment never left me, because there we were driving around one of the greatest cities in the world, and she’s taking it all in and allowing herself to be filled with the excitement, the life, and the joy of it.  And there I was. Just driving.  Not really seeing any of it, not feeling it, not savoring it.  So who was  the idiot? I was.

She was a genius. A joy genius.

My mother knew how important joy was.  She wouldn’t just enjoy things.  She would… ENJOY THINGS!!!

  • Neil Diamond
  • Lobster in Maine
  • Cursing
  • Pete’s Hot Dogs
  • Dancing

And speaking of dancing, the day my mother got her cancer diagnosis everyone went to dinner at Dom and Lisa’s. That night ended in a famous Tejeda family dance party.  It was wild,  festive, and joyful.

Who does that? Who gets a cancer diagnosis and ends the evening with a dance party?

Joy genius does.

She loved life and laughter, and she went after those things with great passion.  That’s not to say she walked around like a happy idiot all the time, as she would have said.  She didn’t.

She fought a lifelong battle with depression that nearly did her in at times, but she kept fighting.  Every single day.

For 30 years and beyond, she lived with the excruciating heartbreak of my father’s illness and she kept going.

She kept going because of the things that sustained her.  First and foremost was her faith.  But her ability to seek out and feel joy was essential. It was an integral part of who she was and what she shared with the world.

And of course there was her family.  When my mother’s days were winding down and becoming more difficult, she’d say, “I’m ready to go but how can I leave you guys?” And I’d tell her, “Mom, you’ll never leave us.”  When I said it then, honestly, it felt like a platitude, but I wanted to give her some comfort. Now that she’s gone though, and I look at my family, at my nieces and nephews, her grandchildren, I know it wasn’t a platitude at all; it was absolute truth. Her person isn’t here anymore, but she’s right there, and I can see her when I look at her grandchildren:

In Julia, I see her wisdom and her dedication.

Lucas carries her wacky fantastic sense of humor and her kindness.

Jackson has her sensitive, compassionate heart and her lust for life.

In Lily, I see my mother’s deep intelligence and her supernatural grace.

I hear my mother, when I hear Autumn’s deep wonderful laugh, and she’s got her strength, too … her tenacity

Manny’s got my mother’s generous spirit and a heart overflowing with love.

In all of them, the rest of my family, and all those whose lives she touched, her joy carries on. If we let it, it will carry us through this and whatever the future holds.

Whether it was Neil Diamond, lobster in Maine, or a fruit stand, my Mama looked for, found, and felt joy.

Mother Teresa says in her book IN THE HEART OF THE WORLD, “A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love. She gives the most who gives with joy.”

Anita Maria Palma Coloni Tejeda, my mother. She gave joy, and she gave with joy.  She had a heart burning with love … and she gave with joy. In that joy, she’ll be with us always.

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8 thoughts on “The Sorrow and the Joy, But Mostly the Joy

  1. Beautiful!!! Thank you so much for sharing your mother with us, your readers. What a magnificent woman!

  2. Your words are wonderful. I especially like…
    Whether it was Neil Diamond, lobster in Maine, or a fruit stand, my Mama looked for, found, and felt joy.
    I’d like to point out that you’re the same. Reading your words, I realize this.

  3. Olivia,
    Lael here, thank you for this. I loved your mother and you have honored her so joyfully here. I even laughed out loud! Happy Mothers day to Anita this Sunday.

  4. That was a beautifully crafted tribute. It made me cry with joy for your mother! I never knew her, but I’m a friend of Dom’s from years ago. I haven’t seen or spoken to him in years but he certainly shares your mother’s joy in life! Simply based on my familiarity with Dom I know your mother was a tremendous gift to the world!

  5. Olivia, I can feel you and your mother both throughout, this is absolutely gorgeous! And how wonderful that you had so many great years with your mom. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. This is so moving and beautiful. Describes so well a life well lived, and a person you loved. I feel privileged to read it. Thank you for posting it.

  7. Olivia, your tribute is beautiful. Although I had only met you briefly a few years ago, I can honestly say, you are your mother’s daughter and a very special person. Your mother lives on inside your heart forever. Thank you for sharing your special memories.

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