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eulogy for my mother

Eulogy for beautiful mom: Rita Marie Marra Hurley

My mother passed away on May 7, 2018, surrounded by loved ones. This is the eulogy I wrote for her... 

My mother, Rita Marie Marra Hurley, mother of 9, grandmother of 16, great grandmother of 12, and second mother to so many of our friends and spouses. She lived a beautiful and full life. She was fun-loving, smart, hard-working, healthy, fierce at times, and so very gentle. She was deeply spiritual, anchored in her Catholic faith. Always welcoming others into our home, both in Jamaica Plain, and at Lake George, she created a rich life for our family.

My mother was beautiful, inside and out. Beautiful as that 19 year old young woman with remarkable posture that my dad spotted one summer evening as she walked by his porch in Watch Hill, RI. my mom in her 30sShe was beautiful as his bride, as our mother, through all her pregnancies, including twins. She was beautiful as a grandmother and a great grandmother—a role model to so many of them. It seemed to me that my mother grew more beautiful with age—at 70, 80, 90, and 100 years old. I am not just talking about physical beauty—though no doubt she was blessed with that too—but I’m talking about a deeper beauty that manifested in quieter ways: in the softness of her eyes, the warmth of her smile, the tone of her voice, and the kindness in her expressions. Right down to the the last week of her life as my family held vigil, we expressed so many times as we held her hand, stroked her hair and kissed her forehead: “Mom, you are so beautiful. Just so beautiful”. And she was, right up to her last breath.

This kind of beauty is hard won. It is a beauty born of sacrifice, perseverance and an incredibly deep sense of responsibility.

Yes, my mother had a good and beautiful life, but like most, if not all of us, it was not always an easy life. She grew up in a small town in western MA, with wonderful parents, who instilled strong values of respect, loyalty, kindness and responsibility into my mom’s heart. She had a brother, Jack, who she adored. Rita and Paul, 1941At 23 years old, my mother married a great guy, my dad, and together they traveled across country to San Francisco where my father was stationed as a Naval Officer. My parents were adventurous, courageous and full of aspirations. My mom loved my dad, and was deeply proud of him. Lieutenant Commander Dr. Paul Hurley. It was not just the titles that she was proud of, but the character of the man who earned those titles. For these newlyweds, life was good, but also frightening. It was 1941, World War II, and the US was bracing for war. After Pearl Harbor, my father was deployed, and my parents would not see each other for over a year. When they saw each other again, they had a 3-month old daughter—my beautiful sister Pat. Four years later came another child, and another, and another… until finally there were 9.

My mother loved her children and was proud of each and every one us. But it was not easy raising 9 kids. My mother was ahead of her time in so many ways, with aspirations and dreams of the modern era. But traditional values also pulled, and my mother put many of her own dreams aside. She was relentlessly responsible and made numerous sacrifices. She instilled in us the same qualities her parents instilled in her: respect, loyalty, kindness and responsibility. When my dad passed away, she struggled, and it was incredibly hard, but she didn’t complain. I wondered a lot about all the sacrifices she made, about her always putting others first. But then I look at the end result of all her sacrifices: I look at each of her 9 kids, at the thread of care and respect that runs deep in all of us. So at the end of the day, what she did with her life was no small thing. She cultivated a beautiful and strong family.

family photo, 2006, my mom in greenWhen I asked her one day if she had any regrets about her life, without hesitation my mother said no. She then glanced over at the family photo, and named each one of us, one by one. Pat, Mary, Danny, Carolyn, Peter, Tommy, Andrea, Gary and Greg. Maybe there were things she didn’t remember but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. My mother found true resolution, true contentment and true peace.

I spent a lot of time with my mother, especially in her last decade. My relationship with her was—and always will be—like no other in my life. With Rita, there was an endless supply of sweetness that was freely given—a sweetness that came directly from simple gratitude, and of wanting nothing back. For me, this relationship was not only a restful harbor, but it became an open field of inquiry into the paradoxes of life and love. Paradoxes that hold loss, sorrow and grief in the same quiet temple as joy, love and celebration. There was the loss of my mother as the youthful, active and spunky woman that she was—but somewhere along the way her life transformed into peaceful stillness and penetrating warmth. The more time I spent with my mother, the more I could feel new parts of myself awaken. Beautiful parts. In a world full of distractions and conflicts, my mother was a refuge and a sanctuary. Spending time with her was sacred.

April 15, 2018, as beautiful as everAt Waltham Crossings, the assisted living community where my mother lived for the last 5.5 years, the staff and my mother’s caregivers—all those angels—would tell me how strong she was. Strong, right up to 100 years old. They talked about her kindness, her humility and dignity. Everyone loved Rita—and loved her disarmingly beautiful smile.

My mother spent her life giving to others. Even up to the very last week, she gave us the gift of time with her, time to properly say goodbye as we struggled to let go. We pretty much moved in, slept on couches and the floor. All we wanted was to be close to her, and to each other. It was the hardest week of my life and I’m sure for my family as well. I just didn’t want her to go. I didn’t want her to go for all of the reasons I just shared. Because she was that beautiful sanctuary at the center of the storm. She was my mother. The perfect mother. She was not only my mother, but  she was one of my deepest friends.

But then in a moment of grace, when my inner storm calmed, I saw more clearly what was really happening. This was my mother’s death—her way—and it was beautiful and gentle and generous. It was peaceful and full and rich, just as her life has been. And that so many of us could be there with her was an honor and a privilege. I kissed her goodbye—with eyes full of tears—and promised her that I would be OK, and that we would all be OK. And that we would take care of each other, and all her grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I told her that we had her strength. And I thanked her from the bottom of my heart for filling my life with the greatest riches a daughter could ever possibly receive from a mother. And I told her she would remain my sanctuary forever, where she can continue to whisper her wisdom.

Forever in my heart

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