My mother passed away one year ago today at age 65 a short three weeks after the death of my father who was 67. The following is a version of their story that I read at my mother’s funeral. I pray it is a fitting tribute, offered in love, on a sad day…
In Memory of Joan and Warren Burger
I opted for the beige suit because my mother always
thought I wore a little too much black.
I’d like to begin by
thanking you all for being with us today.
I am sure I can speak for my brothers Dean, Danny and Warren and my
sister Jennifer when I say that your presence here is a fitting tribute to my
mother; a woman who touched many people in so many different ways. Nana, I love you.
As I reflect on my mother’s life, I can’t help but
think that it would make a great movie. There are so many vivid scenes and
stories, I am sure it would win an Oscar.
The only challenge would
be choosing a genre.
We could go the nostalgic
route. The movie could open with a close up on an attached house on E35th
Street and Avenue S in Brooklyn. Black
and white, of course–my mother was a sucker for a good black and white
movie. Filled with wholesome
scenes of simpler times, our heroine would hang out at the corner luncheonette
or act up out on the beach in Rockaway, all the while being be pursued by the handsome young
rogue from around the corner. Like
any good old movie, she and the leading man fall in love and get married at the
Of course, this movie
could also be a drama.
Set in the early 1970s, a
couple in their late 20s with five children risk it all for a better life in “the
country.” They leave the familiar
in Brooklyn and build a home from scratch on the side of a mountain in a rural
town where they know no one. In
this take, our heroine embraces country life, involves herself in activities
like 4-H and PeeWee football for her kids and keeps the home fires burning
while her husband works two and three jobs to make ends meet.
(Of course I’d leave out
the huge vegetable garden and all of that incessant weeding just because I can…)
As in any drama, things get
tough. When a serious injury
renders her husband unable to work, our leading lady manages to juggle the
demands of a young family and an injured husband while returning to college in
her 30s to become a nurse.
Never one to do things
half-way, she graduates, takes a job at Westchester Medical Center and moves
quickly through the ranks; eventually becoming a well-respected hospital
administrator whose keen mind for troubleshooting results in significant
improvements to processes and programs in many areas of the hospital.
Then again, we could opt
for a family comedy, filled with scenes of laughter, dancing, singing and fun. Set
in a beautiful post-and-beam house with an indescribable view of the Warwick
Valley or the O’Neill House or Eddy Farm, the budget for this one would be
astronomical. We’d need to hire dozens
of extras to play our heroine’s parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters,
brother, in-laws, children, grandchildren and family friends all of whom play key
roles in creating hilarious scenes and indelible memories over the years.
We’d also need to invest
in a tennis racquet–my mother’s favorite musical instrument…
And what about an epic
romance? A touching love story of
a couple of young kids from Brooklyn whose commitment to one another
transcended challenges (and by challenges I mean home improvements) resulting
in a marriage that lasted for 46 wonderful years.
Unfortunately, this movie
could also be cast as a tragedy–the story of a couple whose lives were cut way too
short by an unrelenting string of devastating illnesses.
But in the end, I think I
would write this screenplay as a story of inspiration…
Our heroine–our mother–living
every day of her life to the fullest against the backdrop of illness and the
untimely death of her beloved Warren just three weeks ago.
Despite it all, she spent
the last months of her life overseeing the renovation of a bathroom, planning a
new garden, throwing a Texas Hold-Em game at the house and making time to
connect profoundly with her mother, her sisters, her brother, her children, her
grandchildren and her friends.
A week ago yesterday she
was shopping for lamps, out to lunch eating enchiladas and making appointments
at the salon.
No doubt about it, Joan
Burger is an inspiration.
So, whether we choose to
remember the nostalgia, the drama, the comedy, the romance, the tragedy or the
inspiring example of my mother’s life, every movie, like every life, eventually
comes to an end.
And, as the credits roll on this one, I am sure
that there is only one song that fits.
That is because, after all the years of singing it, it’s onIy now that I
know how very true it is…I wouldn’t trade the silver in my mother’s hair for
all the gold in the world.