“I’m not going to die, I’m going home like a shooting star.” –Sojourner Truth
Here are my remarks from my mom’s Celebration Of Life. Somewhere in the middle, you will find a link to the video tribute–Gabriele, in her own words, speaking about living, loving, and dying. Thank you to everyone who spoke so eloquently and all who attended–the support was invaluable–and also to those of you who’ve sent cards, notes, and love from many corners of the earth.
I look around this theatre—a perfect place for my mom’s celebration of life, since she certainly had a bit of drama queen in her—and feel overwhelmed. So many familiar faces—and so many I don’t know–which proves just how wide was my mother’s reach. She left a beautiful footprint in all of you. And I assure you, she was not a “normal” person and did not want a “normal” send off. What she wanted was a big celebration, so I encourage you to laugh, to applaud, to cheer–and to cry when you need to. Because I believe my mom is right here with us, watching from the wings.
My mother, Gabriele Rico, was a collector of people. She had strong arms and a big heart and she always kept both wide open. She was a haven—a port in a storm—and a wise sounding board for her family and friends. We used to tease her that she attracted broken people—hurt people—people in crisis—and that her inability to say NO when someone needed her was a weakness. But now I know it was a unique strength—this willingness to GIVE without expecting anything in return, much in the way of an old soul, a yogi, or a seer. And my mother was definitely a seer–she saw the good in everybody—and she radiated love. Is it any wonder we all flocked to her, in a world where being loved is not always a given?
And my mom loved life. She was an adventurer—and there were not many things that didn’t interest her. If you said “skinny dip” she was the first person to strip—and even if you didn’t say it, she was liable to get naked. At the age of 75, she had 40 pairs of short-shorts in her closet and loved to show off her perfect, ageless legs.
Gabriele took up windsurfing in her 60s and was a wonderful photographer. Once, while traveling in Japan, she became so engrossed with what she was photographing in a fancy hotel lobby that she backed up and fell into a koi-pond. Rich wasn’t happy that his fancy Nikon was toast—but my mom loved to tell that story.
Gabriele didn’t want to die NOT because she was afraid of dying—hell, she characterized dying as an “adventure” too!—she didn’t want to die because she didn’t want to miss anything. And the time we will miss with her is the saddest thing of all.
But my mother was happy. “The happiest time of her life” is how she characterized her eighteen years with Rich. She died with her four grandchildren loving her deeply—they were never put off or afraid of her disease and stayed brave and positive and amazing throughout. She died surrounded by her three sons-in-law, who loved her like a mother and spared nothing to make sure she was well taken care of. And she died after watching her three daughters bond more closely than ever before over nine long, difficult months. Yes, it is excruciating that she is gone, but my mom was a glass-half-full kind of person, so let’s not forget these precious, priceless gifts.
My mother lived her life in color. And if I closed this celebration without mentioning her last months, it would be a disservice, as in many ways, they were her finest hours. She never indulged in self pity—and she fought like a tiger, a fiery, determined whirlwind of reds and yellows and oranges. And when she understood she could no longer win, she surrendered with honor, accepted defeat gracefully, and then did her best to dance with her disease.
And Gabriele never lost her sense of humor. One night in January, she had a near death experience at the hospital. She was sure she was dying—we were sure she was dying–and The Stroke Team came rushing in with their crash cart. But she did not die. Hours later, around 2am, my sisters and I were sitting with her in the ICU, talking and giggling about the whole experience, when suddenly my mom closed her eyes, head lolling to one side, and made a gurgling sound. I yelled “Mom! Mom!”–convinced she had just bit the dust—but then her eyes opened and she burst out laughing. She had just been practicing her “fake dying skills,” she said–like in the movies!–and we all cracked up. But all along, Gabriele knew dying was not going to be that easy.
And it wasn’t. Cancer is not a fair opponent, stripping life away long before it actually kills. But even in her final days, my mom continued to see color and beauty. “Dying is hard”—she would say, in moments of lucidity, and then she would focus on a hawk flying through blue sky or the glorious sunrise above her beloved Silicon Valley.
Two days before she died, I slept in her room. Things were so precarious that I tied a string between her wrist and mine to alert me if she woke up. Sure enough, just before dawn, I felt a tug. When I got to her side I could see that she was 100% there. “How you doing, mama?” I asked. And her face, which had taken on a luminous, translucent glow, broke into a huge smile. “I’m doing great!” she answered. Seeing her like this, I could not stop the tears; it was as if she had returned, whole and perfect for one brilliant moment–and she saw that I was crying. But she didn’t speak or try to wipe the tears away. She simply opened her arms—those strong, familiar, comforting arms—and enfolded me in one last hug. I lay there with my head on her chest, listening to her heart beat–and when I finally sat up, she reached out and placed her hand over my heart. She looked at me, and then her eyes roved all around me, full of curiosity and wonder. “I love the colors you are wearing, honey,” she said. And then her eyes closed and she was gone again.
But my mom’s colorful soul still sparks around all of us—she neither lived nor died in black and white—and as long as we allow ourselves to feel her playful, guiding presence, she will never truly leave us. Thank you all for coming to celebrate her life. And wherever you are Mama, I wish you good luck and God Speed.