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Eulogy of Toby Wilgoren

by Rachel Wilgoren

For more than five years now, since Mom was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis,
I have feared and dreaded this day…
My own personal apocalypse, a seemingly limitless sorrow which I know is shared by all who are here.

What can I say about my mother I have often thought that could possibly be adequate, that could even approximate the depth of my love and admiration for and gratitude to her?

Those of you who know me well may know that I think in terms of music…there’s a song in my head for everything.

I will share two of these with you today that hopefully will put into context my feelings about Mom.

I have had the great fortune of having wonderful teachers and mentors throughout my life — people who helped mold my character and make me who I am today. Teachers, youth group advisors, elder statesmen, friends and relatives in academic, religious, professional and social contexts.

What I failed to realize until too recently was that the greatest teacher, mentor and all-around formative force in my life was with me since birth. She listened, she lectured, she exuded strength and warmth and, above all, she served as a doogma — an example — of the type of person I hope to someday be remembered as.

Growing up with a father who was a teacher, we watched a lot of teacher-y movies,
And my favorite of all time is “To Sir With Love,” with Sidney Poitier…I love both the song and the movie and, I believe Mom was quite fond of them also.
So…please forgive me as I take artistic license with the words of the song Lulu sings to “Sir” at graduation…

Those schoolgirl days of telling tales and biting nails are gone
But, in my mind, I know they still will live on and on…
But how do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume?
It isn’t easy, but I’ll try…


If you wanted the sky, I would write across the sky in letters
That would soar a thousand feet high…
To Mom with love.

The time has come for closing books and long last looks must end
And, as you leave, I know that I am losing my best friend
A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong…that’s a lot to learn
What, what can I give you in return?

If you wanted the moon, I would try to make a start…
But I would rather you let me give my heart
To Mom, with love.

What can I say to express the depth of the emotion I feel as I lose my loudest cheerleader, my most trusted confidante, the woman who would have done anything for me and my brother?

A woman who, as a nurse for 30 years dedicated her life to helping others who were unable to help themselves….

Who volunteered whenever a Mom was needed, like when I decided to give Mrs. Phelps, my 2nd grade teacher, a going away party…

Who kissed every boo-boo…

Who made every tummy ache, sore throat or cold better with popsicles or magic chicken soup…

Who instilled in me a lifelong love of reading and learning…

Who taught me the importance of extended family…

Who showed me the meaning of tzedakah and gmilut chasadim — charity and acts of loving kindness…

Who always found the time and the money for whatever we needed even when those did not exist and it required sacrifice on her part or, at the very least, a super-human effort to do so…

Years ago, I used to make fun of Mom for talking to Nana what seemed like a hundred times a day…until I started to do the same myself with her.

My moon, my North Star, my compass…Mom, what shall I do without you now?

As Mom lay in my arms dying, I repeated to her again and again how much I and all of us love her.

And, after she passed, before she was taken from her room, I told her how happy I was for her that she was ho longer suffering, and that she was on her way to see Grandpa Harry, her beloved father, whom she had missed so dearly for so long…and that she would be in the company of many people we have loved and lost…Aunt Fran, Aunt Roz, Ellen Hermanson, my cousin Elli, Estelle and Mandel Locke, Papa Max…and I told her I hoped that Grandpa Harry would be waiting for her with open arms.

Of course, I also told her to say hello to Jerry Garcia for me, too.

I wish I knew why G-d chose to take her now, at the age of 59, before she could live to see me get married and have children of my own, before she could fulfill all of her hopes and dreams.

I thought to myself, I hope G-d has a damn good reason for this, because it makes no sense to me. Unless, of course, the nursing shortage extends to heaven…then maybe it makes a little sense…still blatantly unfair though.

Through my feelings of grief and anger, however, I feel pride and gratitude that she was my Mom and I got to have as many years with her as I did, years longer than the doctors predicted. Years that were a hard-fought physical and psychological battle for her until the last breath she took. Years of unforgettable moments and lessons that will stay with me forever, regardless of the fact that her body is no longer on this earth.

I doubt that I will ever know a more loving, giving, beautiful soul.

And, with that, I leave you with the words of two far more eloquent writers than myself, Lennon and McCartney, the authors of my favorite song ever, “In My Life.”

There are place I remember, all my life, though some have changed…
Some forever, not for better…
Some have gone and some remain…

All these places have their moments with lovers and friends, I still can recall…
Some are dead and some are living…
In my life, I’ve loved them all.

But, of all these friends and lovers, there is no one compares with you…
And these memories lose their meanings when I think of love as something new…
Though I know I’ll never lose affection for people and things that went before…
I know I’ll often stop and think about them…

In my life, I love you more.


I love you infinity, Mom.