Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Eulogy for my mother

Delivered by me this past Tuesday, in Galloway, NJ, at Wimberg Funeral Home.

A couple of years ago, drinking beer with Mom outside Smitty’s Clam Bar, Somers Point, NJ.

A week and a half ago, on Friday December 8th, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend, mentor, and role model Mollie Amelia Dickert Wochner passed away.

I say “passed away,” because that’s what she did: She passed away. Only 1 in 10 people actually die in their sleep, and most of them have heart attacks. But Mom, in her last remarkable act in a remarkable life driven by determination, decided her time had come, and lay down and simply passed away. She said that she thought the good Lord had forgotten her, and so she took it upon herself to go see Him.

She believed in Heaven, and I believe in her, so I’m sure she’s there.

She was born on September 11, 1925, making her 98 years, 2 months, and 28 days old. That is, unless she was born on September 10, 1925 — a day earlier — which she started claiming after the attacks of September 11. Mom could be, um, insistent. About September 11th, she started saying, “Hey! That isn’t my birthday!” She said back in her youth, the church would wait a day until registering your birth, in case you didn’t make it. Never mind that we have her birth certificate. But she was a rock and we were movable objects.

As a rock, she raised everyone to be strong and resilient, her children and her grandchildren alike. You can look around us today and see all the strong people she raised and inspired. The resilience, the tough but caring attitude you see in this room, is a testament to her own Depression-era upbringing and the matter-of-fact way she performed child rearing.

Complaining and crying were actively discouraged; the lesson was that if you’ve got a problem, you should just deal with it. If you were a child and you hurt yourself, she offered a mild, “Let’s take a look at you. … Oh, you’re fine.” If you wanted to cry about it, you had to go cry on the steps — and the steps were outside. Where nobody would have to hear it. 

My mother was always strong for her children. Once, when my sister was having a challenge in school, Mom went to meet with the teacher and said, “Show me how you teach my daughter.” The teacher started to write on the blackboard, her back to the classroom, and my mother said, “You have to FACE my daughter when you talk – she reads lips!” When I was ten, Mom insisted to my father that we move to a different area so there’d be other kids around for me to play with, and so I learned to have friends. Thank you, Mom.  

She was feisty. She loved to play cards — mostly pinochle and 500 rummy, solitaire and double solitaire — and would look askance at you if you were her partner and playing badly or, worse, not paying enough attention. Her scowl was something to be dreaded, and her judgment could be quick, her humor sharp.

One time my college friend Jim Markley was over, lamenting the latest passive-aggressive actions of his girlfriend Ashley — was she in the relationship, was she out? — but after listening to him, Mom was decisive:  “Dump her, Jim! Dump her!” … … So he did. 

When I was 19 and Mom got wind that I was going to move out, her immediate reaction was, “Hey! I’ll help you pack your bags!”

But months later, when I was really really broke and would sneak into our darkened house late at night to steal food from the refrigerator, I could see she’d always cooked extra for me to steal. I remember one time sneaking off with probably half of a pot roast.

Feeding people was first nature to Mom. Her first question, always, to everyone, was “Didja eat yet?” Because she would always feed you. As a child of the Great Depression in her native Johnstown, Pennsylvania, when not everyone had enough to eat, she learned early that you shared. She told the story that when she was a girl in the 1930’s her mother, my grandmother, would always take pains to feed anyone who came by, including the man who delivered heating oil because he didn’t have enough to eat. If the soup my grandmother was serving had ham in it, the man, who was an observant Jew, would talk himself into it: “This is some good beef soup!,” he would say. “Thank you!” 

No matter who you were or where you came from, my mother would feed you.

She befriended and embraced and tolerated people of all sorts — me when I was an oddball teen printing God knows what with my amateur publishing empire in her basement, my offbeat pack of oddball friends (some of whom are here today), whom she loved and lit up for whenever she saw them, the Chinese family who moved in down the block, all sorts. 

In her younger years she worked and kept house and raised children and learned Chinese cooking. In her retirement years, she traveled the world with my father — Egypt, Germany, England, even California (!) — kept beating people at pinochle and rummy, and was active in her church. My father noted with pride that during the Great Depression, he and all his friends would pool their money, so that everyone had a dime to get into the movies. My mother said of her own childhood friends and siblings that not one of them had even a single dime to get into any movie. So she spent a lot of her retirement catching up on all those movies on TV. 

While those  movies were on, she crocheted. In fact, just a few years ago, she crocheted lap blankets for “the old folks” in the retirement home — old folks who were mostly far younger than she was. How many lap blankets? SIXTY. That’s a lot of lap blankets, and a lot of old movies and episodes of “Law and Order.”

I’ll miss my mother. Nothing goes on forever, although at times she seemed likely to. I asked my brother Michael how much longer he thought Mom had to live. “A good 10 years,” he said. That was 25 years ago. 

Mollie Wochner outlived all her siblings and all her close friends, except one. She is survived by perhaps her greatest friend, the one who has done the most to repay the service received — my sister Lorie. When you grieve my mother’s loss today, think also of my sister, who with my beloved brother-in-law Steve set aside so much in recent years in her own life for our mother. Lorie has lost not only her mother but also her best friend. 

Yes, at age 98, Mom was the last of her parents’ 10 children, our last family member in that generation. There are no more grandparents or aunts or uncles from that group. My siblings and I are now the elders. Now it’s up to us to carry on, with quiet strength, good humor, an open-mindedness that accepts people for who they are, an impatience when you’re taking too damn long to play your card, and a heartfelt determination to feed you.

We’ll be fine. We’ve been trained for this.

5 Responses to “Eulogy for my mother”

  1. Kelly Carruolo Says:

    It is a shame that everyone who is reading this didn’t get the chance to hear you deliver this unbelievably beautiful.eulogy in.person. I feel lucky and blessed that I was there. We will all miss your mom, Mollie Wochner. She was a singular human.

  2. Dan Says:

    That was really moving.
    Funny, when my Mom was dying, she wondered aloud too if she’d go to Heaven.
    I said, “Mom, if you’re not getting into Heaven, then somebody’s just not running things right.”

  3. Jim Markley Says:

    Thanks for sharing. My first thought upon reading this was regret that I didn’t know her and spend more time with her. A remarkable eulogy for an exceptional woman. As we get older, I think we wonder what what is our legacy or “Did I make a difference?” Your mom did in many ways. In just one phrase, she changed my life for the better! I am deeply saddened that I could not make the funeral. But the important thing is that she was honored and remembered. I’ll always remember your Mom and the life lessons that she taught. Miss you, Mollie 😥

  4. Joe Stafford Says:

    Modestly I’ll credit myself for that photo above taken on September 18, 2018. Just another one of the hundreds and hundreds of unforgettable moments that I was privileged to be with and see and talk with Mollie Wochner. Plus, another example of what I may have written somewhere else: if you thought you had something going on with Mollie, it’s because you did. It’s like she had this talent to stop time, and make you honestly feel special. Sail on, Mollie, you’re unforgettable to me.

  5. Paul Says:

    Words don’t convey the sorrow of losing a loved one. There is sadness in knowing that the person has left us and no new memories or experiences will happen.

    We were lucky to know your mom and dad. Both were incredible people. I can see where you got much of your personality from. You just don’t have your mom’s writhing look look down yet when playing rummy 500 and your partner plays a bad card.

Leave a Reply