My Mom’s Celebration of Life

Thank you all for your calls, texts, emails, cards, hugs, and comfort sent to me and my family. My most fabulous Mommy passed away on October 20th after a 2 year battle with aplastic anemia. I wanted to share a few memories from her celebration of life we had a few days ago.

My cousins and their children


My family


I was lucky enough to have the best Mother in the entire world. There’s no way I could have said everything I wanted to on Sunday, but here’s what I did share.

I don’t think that one would describe me as a person of very few words. Like my Mother, I am blessed with the gift of the gab. My Mom and I were best friends – something she made clear that would happen after my childhood. “Jeannette,” she said, “I’m a Mother first, friend next.” I could be up here for days thinking about all of the memories of my favorite lady. I thought I’d share a few stories that really define Mary Ann.

First off, a totally incomplete list of my Mother. She was a lifeguard, swim instructor, teacher, coach, avid reader, synchronized swimmer, painter, dark chocolate consumer, french language attempter-er, sassy housewife, baker, volunteer extraordinaire, voted most athletic in high school, cal grad and sports fanatic, president of the local alumni group, Hostess with the Mostess, most fabulous witch at Halloween, team mom, room mom, Grandma, Auntie Mimi, and as Erik and I called her as toddler, “the best mommy in the world of London”

As the nursery rhyme goes, “Mary Mary, quite contrary!” She wore red in her wedding dress, which was definitely “not done” in those days and she claimed that since she was part Russian and Russian brides wore red, it was totally appropriate. My Mother also sported Cal beads and wore her “Beat Stanford” shirt any time she could at Stanford Hospital.

My Mother had a heart of gold. A self proclaimed “dog person” who on more than one occasion was attacked by a cat. A stray came in her backyard and the lady fed it and named it! To this day, I don’t know where this cat lady side came from.

She wanted to push people to their full potential by showing them how to do the work themselves. She completely prepared me for motherhood with this next story. When I went into labor with Patrick, he was about 2 weeks early. She rushed over to my apartment with my Dad to build the crib and changing table, but she told me when we came home that she wasn’t there to do my laundry, dishes, or shopping. She was there to teach me how to rock him to sleep, bathe him, take us out for walks and enjoy being a Grandma. This helped me tremendously when I had Alice. I checked myself out of the hospital early and went home and cooked french toast while nursing Alice. She wanted me to enjoy motherhood with all its crazy moments and not expect her to be the maid. And that made for a great attitude and expectations I have with my own children.

Mary Ann was a true kid at heart. At our last Disneyland vacation, Alice and Patrick wanted to go on the teacups over and over with James and my Dad. My Mom and I bailed (delicate tummies don’t enjoy that ride over and over) and we had the park to ourselves! We could have picked any ride, but we ran to the carousel and giggled and waved at everyone and shouted, “Woohoo!” as we went around and around.

This lady was always ready for an adventure – taking Erik and I camping as infants. Going back each year even though there were horror stories from the previous year when Erik had to get stitches in his finger or we had to locate the ER when I thought I broke a bone in my foot. When she was about to go in the hospital for the first time, we sort of snuck in a trip to Pinecrest for the week with my Dad and Alice and Patrick. Her doctors said, “Weeeeell, we’re not exactly saying no, but we’d like it if you weren’t around dirt.” She of course took that as a heck yes! She was about making memories as we went for walks every day, learned about nature, and then painted while enjoying a wine and cheese plate.

She also planted the travel bug at a young age. When I was 12 and Erik was 10, my Mom and Dad were thinking about a trip to Europe for the Olympics in Barcelona. We were there for 5 weeks and then she sent us on our own when I was 17 and Erik was 15. This summer we took Patrick and Alice to France and England. Not once did she say, “Oh heavens, that’s too young – they won’t remember a thing!” She knew it would plant seeds in them to become more aware of the larger world. After our trip, I took Alice to visit my Mom at the hospital. There was a large picture of the Mona Lisa near the front door and Alice was pleased as punch that she remembered seeing that at the Louvre and told my Mom immediately when we walked in. My Mom winked at me and said, “See, she gets it!”

One of her favorite sayings was about character. She defined it as, “What you do when nobody is looking.” She taught this to me near the end of high school and always reminded it to me in college. I think this truly defined my Mother; as most of the wonderful stories I’ve heard from others seem to have a theme of her giving soooo much while nobody was looking.

My Mom loved coaching the IHS tennis team. She did this not because she enjoyed the sport, but out of necessity. Erik didn’t have a coach one year, and the team couldn’t play without one. As an ex-physical education teacher, she knew she could get by and help keep the boys playing. She did this for several years after Erik graduated also. I will never forget one day when she was talking to my Grandma and I about the team. Kids weren’t turning in forms on time, lots may not play because of their grades, and there were a few pre season matches that may not take place because of scheduling problems. My Grandmother and I both asked her why she was still coaching. She said there was still nobody to coach and that she wanted to be there for her boys. Her kindness and thoughtfulness towards others is always a gift I will treasure.

Speaking of the tennis team, my Mother of course had to show those boys who was boss. One day when the athletic director drove over and shouted at her from his car while she was on the court to come over to talk, she replied with, “I ain’t no holla back girrrl!” My Mother, the feminist who wants you to speak to her like a real person!

She once told me that her biggest fear was dying while her children were young. She said she always wanted us to have memories together. Not only is her fear something that didn’t happen, but as you know, her kind and giving spirit lives on with my family, and all of you. When you see a rainbow, think of my colorful Mom. When you are at a Cal game, shout, “Go Bears!” When you see some chocolate, do what Mary Ann would do. Enjoy it all at once!

I wanted to end with a sunny memory because my Dad always called her his sunshine. My Mom believed in God. She knew His teachings would bring her peace and understanding in her toughest times. She joined Pinterest several years ago and didn’t have many things pinned, but loved finding new holiday ideas and commenting on what I found. This is a quote from her inspirational board from C.S. Lewis “I believe in Christ like I believe in the sun – not because I can see it, but by it I can see everything else.” Thank you for letting me share my sunshine with you.

My brother wrote a great poem for her to the tune of Green Eggs & Ham.

That son-I am.
That son-I am.
I am a happy son-I am.
I have a mom named Mary Ann.
I am the luckiest son-I am.
I always felt comfy in the house.
And watched the cartoons, Mickey Mouse.
So many amazing books to read.
That mom of mine she’s great indeed.
I will play outside today.
Any sport, my mom will play.
Let’s go swimming, learn to float
Or on the lake out in a boat.
What’s that amazing smell?
I think I just heard the dinner bell.
Wow, mom, this is amazing food.
The food the food…puts me in a good mood.
Have a Fenton’s sundae or two.
It’s huge! It’s huge! We’ll make it through!
Would you come to the Cal game?
If you don’t, it’s a shame.
You may like them, you will see.
You may like them, but not the tree.
Say, on the courts!
On the courts.
Would you, could you win your match on the courts?
Yes, coach, I will persevere.
You taught me so much, I have no fear.
Looks like you like the watch, my treat.
You’ll need shoes to match, don’t miss a beat.
Zip Line! Zip Line!
Could you, would you do a zip line!
I know your fear of heights.
But would you give it a try?
Grandkids come here and come and play.
Remember the game we played yesterday?
We play and play and play all day.
We jump in the pool and have some fun.
We never ever want to say we’re done!
Blood disease..Blood disease?
I’ll get over it, you’ll see.
Let’s try this, and let’s try that.
Chemotherapy and transplant.
I am strong. Bryant’s never quit.
I’ll get through this, won’t hurt a bit.
I like these things that I was taught.
Caring, sharing, giving a lot.
Read to children, show them art.
Raise them with a Mary Ann heart.
Thank you!
Thank you, son-I am.

We had so many fantastic people come up and share what Mary Ann meant to them. My Dad hired the Cal women’s octet as a surprise for the end. Here is a link to the entire service:

One memory of camping trips is listening to wonderful music in the car like John Denver. My Dad always called my Mom his sunshine, and this song is for her:

Big thanks to my brother for recording and to my Auntie for these pictures. She also spent a tremendous amount of time collecting all of the pictures for the video of my Mother’s life. I truly have the best family.