My mother’s funeral Mass was on Monday, at San Rafael Church in San Diego. For me, ritual is healing, and I was grateful to listen to familiar Bible passages–the 23rd Psalm, Lamentations, and the Book of Revelation–and hear music I’ve listened to since childhood–Amazing Grace, Ave Maria, The Prayer of St. Francis, How Great Thou Art.
Friends from different areas of my mother’s life came–the “Needlework Ladies” from Palomar Hospital, dressed in their pink smocks and volunteer pins; three tap dancers she performed with often, still standing tall, even the one using a walker. Members of the Resurrection and Traditional choirs from San Rafael Church, who sang with my mother; neighbors from the old cul-de-sac in Rancho Bernardo, and the men who attended daily Mass with my father. Friends of mine from the museum world, and college, and high school, friends of my sisters and brother. Grandsons and granddaughters. Sons-in-law and children. Our cousin from Los Angeles. And the many, many people who joined us in spirit.
Afterward, we gathered for a reception in the church hall, where we reminisced about my mother while viewing images from her vibrant and well-lived life. Thank you to everyone for sharing your memories, and your condolences. They are a comfort. ~
Eulogy for My Mother:
Good morning. I’m Jessica O’Dwyer, Gerry’s third daughter. Gerry—and her husband, our father, Bob–had five children, eight grandchildren, and one great grandchild. On behalf of my father, and all of us, thank you for coming. And to the community at San Rafael Church. We’re very grateful.
Gerry was a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette, a lifelong performer. She would be thrilled to see everybody dressed to the nines and looking their best. And for her! Thank you for that.
Because, to use an old show business term, Gerry was a show-stopper. Even at the end, confined to a wheelchair in a memory care unit dressed in sweat pants and a hoodie, she was gorgeous, with her dancer’s posture and elegant profile.
Gerry had an expression she used often: “Rising to the occasion.” Which means, no matter what you might feel like inside, no matter how blue or achy or tired, you pull yourself together when the occasion calls for it and put your best foot forward.
Gerry was a master at that. She felt duty-bound to show the world her best self, always. To be joyful, and kind, and completely committed to whatever she was doing, to be attentive to whomever she was with. To be, as she called it, “ON.”
If you were ever lucky enough to see my mother dance, you understand she had a gift, a little something extra. She understood it, too. She had a gift, and she felt a responsibility to share it, to use it to make the world a better place. Because who can watch a talented tap dancer do a triple time step and wings and Shuffle Off to Buffalo, and not feel happy? Not feel joy?
My mother understood that she herself was a gift. We all are. Each one of us has something unique to contribute to the world, something only we can give. Ourselves. The best selves we can be.
Gerry took her first ballet lesson at age seven, but there came a time when her body failed her, when she could no longer high-kick over her head, or stand without help. That’s when she started singing. She never did learn to read music, and claimed she never could carry a tune. That didn’t stop her. She joined the choir of San Rafael Church and lifted up her voice, offering what she had.
One more thing about Gerry: In my life, I never heard her say a single negative word about anyone.
There’s a great quote by Saint Teresa of Calcutta: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
That was my mother. She was kind and she was good. And she was loved.
Gerry has taken her final bow and left this stage. Now, she’s dancing with angels.