My mother’s memorial service took place last night, and while I can’t say that everything went off without a hitch, it went well compared to the worst-case scenarios I had running through my head. 

My boyfriend and I had discussed several of those scenarios in advance, and most of those discussions ended with me saying something like, “… and then I’ll need you to calm that person down / break up that fight / ask that person to leave / tackle that person at the podium.”

So while we were on high alert all evening, for the most part we were overprepared in the problem department.  Although there was one small crisis that came up during the speeches which totally came out of left field and surprised everyone.  On the plus side, that very brief WTF??? moment became the talk of the evening (and now, the next day).

In honor of my mother, I wore one of her prettiest tops (well, one of the prettiest ones that fit me) and a pair of her opal earrings:

Opal Earrings

We selected some lovely and peaceful classical music for the beginning of the service while people were standing around talking and looking at the pictures (Yo-Yo Ma performing Bach’s 6 Suites For Unaccompanied Cello).  And then after we shared some prayers and memories we played some Billie Holiday music from my mother’s CD collection.

We had a lovely display of flowers, including the ones I bought on behalf of my brother and me, plus flowers that were sent by Cara, Judy & William, and my library coworkers:

Flowers From My Staff

The chapel was set up very nicely, with a podium, room for flowers, and easels where we could display the photos I’d assembled of my mother’s life:

Photos and Flowers

My original idea was that I wanted to have a table with a bunch of my mom’s stuff for people to take.  But then my boyfriend convinced me that that would make it seem like I was having a “fire sale,” so I eventually saw the light of reason.  However, I still wanted people to be able to take SOMETHING with them.  So while the little tables at the front of the chapel would usually be used to display the person’s ashes and framed photographs, in our case we used them for a basket of flowers and … Latvian postcards!

Latvian Postcards

Many thanks to Dan for making a donation to my mother’s charity (more on that in a moment) and to everyone who attended the service last night.  I really appreciated all of the good wishes and the company. Thank you also to everyone who shared their condolences and their own family stories with me on this blog, through email, and in person.

Here is the content of the program that I wrote for the service:


In Memory of Our Mother


(Riga, Latvia)   –   (Yonkers, New York)

Our mother was born to Latvian and Russian parents in Riga, Latvia in 1940.  She and her family left the country when she was four years old.  They lived in a displaced persons camp in Germany for a decade before coming to the United States.

When she got to New York, she improved her English language skills with the help of Archie comics.  She later had to practice tongue twisters about Theophilus Thistle in order to get the “th” sound just right (it doesn’t exist in Latvian, German, or Russian, you see).

Over the course of her life, she worked for many different organizations including the New York Public Library, St. Bartholomew’s Church, Columbia University, and the City of Yonkers.

She was a big fan of food, and especially enjoyed eating SPAM, herring, eels, sausage and peppers, eggplant, apricots, blood oranges, and key lime cookies.  She was often surprised when other people didn’t share her tastes.

She enjoyed the music of ABBA, Joan Baez, John Denver, and Billie Holiday.

She loved walking.

She loved reading, especially mysteries, science fiction, history, biographies, and humor.

She loved movies, especially dramatic black-and-white movies about Swedish people discussing what life really means.

She was also a fan of Woody Allen movies and Downton Abbey.

On behalf of our mother, thank you for attending this memorial service and honoring her memory.

If you would like to make a donation on her behalf, you can donate to the Latvian Relief Fund of America.  They assisted our mother with her medical expenses at the end of her life, and she would be pleased to know that your donations were supporting the needs of immigrants like her.

Latvian Relief Fund of America
P.O. Box 8857
Elkins Park, PA 19027