A mother’s love
I had the honor last week of giving my mother’s Remembrance at her funeral celebration. She was a woman of deep beauty, strength and love. Words could never the tell the complete story of this amazing person. I would like to share this talk with all who couldn’t be there, and dedicate these words to anyone mourning the loss of a loved one:
Thanks to everyone for being here to celebrate the life of our mom, Marsha Cook. Your beautiful thoughts, prayers and actions have meant so much to us over the past 10 days.
And a big thank you to the nurses, caregivers and staffs at the Goddard House in Brookline, and the Harbor House in Hingham. Over the past few years your love, kindness and care was wonderful. It will always be appreciated by Martha, Julie and me.
Our mother’s heart kept beating for many, many years. It was a heart filled with love for her children, her stepchildren, her grandchildren, her parents, her brothers and sisters and her devoted friends.
Marsha Cook lived her life like nothing was impossible. She was a true survivor, a woman of strength, hope and faith.
She lived 96 and a half years. The woman literally just never gave up.
Marsha was the 5th of 6 children. Her parents, Anna and Vincent were both Polish immigrants who settled in Detroit, Michigan in the early 1900’s.
Marsha was 8 years old when the stock market crashed in 1929. Her father lost his job at a factory, and it would be mom’s oldest sister, my Auntie Blanche who kept the family alive with her earnings from a job at a local department store.
In the 1930’s Marsha became a star athlete at Murphy High School Mom was captain of the girls basketball and tennis teams and also voted ‘Most Popular.’ (No surprise there.) In 1997 Mom was inducted into her high school’s Hall of Fame at the age of 76,
Marsha’s best sport was tennis and she continued to play doubles well into her 80’s. Sometimes against opponents half her age.
As a young woman, Marsha decided to get out of Detroit and try her luck in California. She moved to LA, and who could blame her from running away from those dreadful Michigan winters. Mom nannied and took classes at UCLA, but decided to return to Michigan where she met my dad, Max Cook.
Marsha married Max and became an instant mother to Max’s three children- Susan, Fritz and John. Marsha loved her stepchildren as her own. Back then, and for the rest of her life. The family grew quickly when my sister Martha, myself, and Julie came along. Just like that, in the space of eight years, Marsha became a mother of six.
Sadly, my parents marriage didn’t last and Marsha became a single mother with no job and few skills. She signed up for secretarial courses at Lansing Community College and got a job at Michigan State University where she worked as a secretary for close to 30 years.
It was during this time that I became a competitive figure skater. Somehow mom found a way to pay for coaching, ice time, skates, and costumes. She woke up every school day at 4:30 in the morning to make me a hot breakfast and get me to the rink. Then she would return home, get my sisters off to school, go back to the rink, get me to school, then go off to her 9-5 job, come home, put dinner on the table, and get me back to the rink by 6pm. She ended her day by picking me up at 8:30.
To this day, I don’t know how she did it. Mom always figured it out. There were times when we didn’t have a dollar for gas, but we never felt poor. Marsha always found a way.
Mom lived her life with champagne taste on a beer pocket book. She kept her daughters looking stylish, and was undoubtedly a fashionista herself. Marsha discovered the cosmetic counters at high end department stores where she met some of her best friends forever. Estee (Lauder), Christian (Dior), Coco (Chanel), and Elizabeth (Arden) just to name a few.
Marsha carried her sense of style right into the 9th decade of her life, and she loved hats! Nobody could rock a beret better than my mom.
Marsha was fastidious about skin care, which is probably the reason she didn’t have a single wrinkle until she was 90. She washed, toned, and moisturized her face every morning and night her entire life until she went into assisted living.
Once retired from Michigan State, mom was able to travel, mostly with my sister Martha and her family. Mom fell in love with the colors of the French countryside, the food and wine in Italy, the gardens of London, and the Highlands of Scotland. She also became a big fan of whiskey drinking men in kilts.
Mom spent over 40 years living at our childhood home in East Lansing. She lived alone many years after Julie, Martha and I relocated to Boston and San Francisco. As time went on, her own brothers and sisters passed away, and many of her friends retired to warmer climates.
During these years mom was “adopted” by the family of my best childhood friend and her husband who lived just a few miles away. Teresa and Dean Miller would invite mom to family cookouts, birthdays, holidays, and even a Stanley Cup celebration where she had her photo taken holding Lord Stanley’s Mug.
Teresa and Dean would often drop by mom’s home just to see if she was ok. Dean sent this note after hearing of Marsha’s passing, and I think his words sum up my mom’s essence perfectly.
“She was an amazing person. Her view of the world and herself was so NOT East Lansing. I loved how she always offered ideas on how to subtly season a dish that literally transformed a meal. I’ll especially remember her unique sense of fashion that always seemed chic and moda. Conversations with her at our clothing store were always interesting as she spoke of fashion, food, politics, and you girls. She was a strong, beautiful person and fun to hang out with.”
In 2009 at the age of 87, we convinced mom to move out of Michigan. We mentioned maybe a place in Florida would be nice, and she said, “no way am I going to Florida, its all old people there!”
I don’t think there was a day in her life that Marsha considered herself “old.”
We decided that Linden Ponds in Hingham would be a good location so we packed up her home in Michigan and settled Marsha in Massachusetts.
The transition from East Lansing to Linden Ponds would not be easy. Mom missed her house, missed her car, missed her favorite shopping spots along with her favorite grocery and wine stores.
One thing Marsha needed when she arrived at her new home was a vacuum cleaner. Julie took on this shopping project which lasted for weeks. Any vacuum cleaner she would bring home was either too big, too small, too noisy or not powerful enough. After a relentless search, Mom finally found her perfect dream machine at Sears. Julie and mom were at the counter paying for it when the salesperson asked, “would you like to purchase the life time warranty?” In exasperation, Julie replied, “she’s 88 years old, no thank you!”
Mom enjoyed her wine. She really enjoyed her wine. She also developed a taste for fine food. For someone so slender, she could eat to her heart’s content. In that regard, she was definitely one of the lucky ones.
Through the years mom fell in love with her grandchildren. Kelly, Madeleine, Brendan and Mackenzie.
Kelly. Nana loved seeing you on the stage. From the time you were six years old in a summer theatre camp, right through your performances at Emerson, she was so proud of you. She admired your confidence and talent. Nana always encouraged you to never give up.
Madeleine. She called you her little Mariposa when you were a baby. She loved to travel with you and your parents and always talked about your artistic and adventurous spirit. She worried about you when you traveled to remote areas of the world, and was so proud of your devotion to story telling.
Brendan. You were the bless-ed baby boy she never had. Nana loved your big grin and blonde curls. She could finally buy clothes for a boy and couldn’t resist putting you in overalls with matching baseball caps. She cherished your fun loving personality, your kind heart, and warm hugs.
Mackenzie. We have a video of you jumping up and down in your crib singing about eating pancakes in Nana’s kitchen. She loved the times you spent together when she moved from Michigan to Hingham just as you were about to start high school. I found a card she gave you at your high school graduation which said: “I have many memories of you to keep me happy and am grateful to be your Nana. Keep up your studies and intentions. You are a winner in many ways, God bless you!
At the age of 88, mom lived her Cursillo. And she might hold the world’s record for being the oldest candidate to ever take on this three day spiritual retreat. An entry in one of her journals talked about how the Cursillo experience touched her heart and soul. She wrote:
“Women’s Cursillo, #408. DeColores! It was a wonderful spiritual awakening for me. A personal reflection on what I could “expect” and “accept” with the love and grace of Jesus. My new spiritual journey will be about study, action, and piety. I received 49 Polanca notes from a wonderful prayer group in Hingham, and have many new Cursillo friends.”
Mom, now the expectations are over. And “we” are accepting that you are in your eternal home of heaven.
And we pray that you were greeted with a fine class of Chardonnay upon your arrival.
Thank you for your endless devotion, and for teaching us that a mother’s heart holds enough love for a thousand lifetimes.”