September 4, 2010
These are the words I plan to say at my mother’s memorial service on Sept. 8:
Martha “Bunny” Miller Burger
Dec. 1, 1920 – Sept. 1, 2010
The obituary started out: “ATHENS, GA — Martha Jane Miller Burger, known to friends and family as “Bunny,” died Wednesday morning, Sept. 1, at Athens Heritage Health Care in Athens, Ga. She was 89……”
And so it went on for 200 words or so. A brief summation of a life.
Newspaper obituaries tell you the dates of birth and death, the names of parents, survivors, where the person went to school, what they did for a living.
They tell you very little else.
I have probably written a thousand or more obits in the past 25 years. When you work for newspapers, as I did until recently, you get to where you can do them in your sleep.
It took me all day to write Mom’s, and I had to call back with a couple of tweaks.
The hardest part was deciding what to leave out.
You would not know how much she loved to get in her car and just drive around, looking at new homes, exploring back roads – despite our pleas to her to be more judicious in where she went – and to look at trees. Mom loved trees so much that her oldest sister used to joke that she must have been a dog in a previous life.
You don’t read that in her last years, unable to get around very well, she discovered and reveled in the deer and rabbits that populated that part of the back yard she could see from her chair in the kitchen.
You would never hear how her eyes would light up as she told the tale of her beloved hairdresser, Judy, who would occasionally stop in the middle of setting Mom’s hair to step to the salon door to shoot a squirrel that had dared trespass at the bird-feeder.
When you read or write an obituary, what you never get are the stories. You did not read about her growing up in a hard steel town on the wrong side of the tracks during the Great Depression. You didn’t hear about the tough little girl who beat the dickens out of the boys who were bothering her younger sisters.
In the lofty and often flowery language of an obituary you would not hear about having to fetch Dad out of a local tavern before he drank the rent. You would not learn of the little girl who was told if she would agree to let the drunken old doctor drain blood from her arm into her ailing mother’s arm, it would save her life.
She did that, but her mother died anyway. Nearly 80 years later she would still weep about that.
Neither could a normal obit teach you about how, serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in San Francisco, she warned her immediate superior to stop berating her best friend. When the woman started in on Mom’s buddy again, she laid the woman out on the floor with a good right hook, earning herself a transfer to New Orleans.
There was also the tale of her introduction to a mixed drink called a Zombie at a bar in that city. After downing several of them she boasted that she didn’t feel any effect at all….until, of course, she stood up.
I like to think that she had a lot of fun in those years. I am sure she had a lot more fun than she ever told any of us.
That makes me happy, because the last half of her life was no picnic; the long struggle of our father’s illness and death, followed by her own painful decline.
Sadly, the occasional ineptitude of the medical field that helped kill her own mother sometimes plagued ours. A day after her death, my brother David and I decided that she had lived to be nearly 90 mostly through the force of her own will, rather than through any miracles of modern medicine.
And so, here we are, some few friends and family in a little corner of the world, to say goodbye to another imperfect human like ourselves, somebody whose story intersected ours for awhile, and then moved on.
We are each left with our various of memories of her. Those are what we have gathered to honor today, not these poor ashes of her earthly home. Please cherish those memories.
© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
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