Grief 201: Max and Paula’s Memorial in Vancouver


Yesterday we held a memorial for my parents at the Spaghetti Factory in Vancouver, WA. If you didn’t make it, don’t feel bad, because I got COVID, gave it to Rita, and so we didn’t make it either. We did get to Zoom into part of the event that involved sharing thoughts and memories of my parents (Max and Paula Sommers).

A big thanks to my sisters, Gayle Klein and Peggy Lotz, for organizing. Additional big thanks to everyone who attended. From a Zoom distance, it looked like a pretty fabulous time. To the people who spoke . . . thank you! I loved listening to your memories.

At the memorial I got to speak for a few minutes via Zoom. Below I’ve pasted a script that I was generally working from.

Three Things We Learned from My Parents

One thing most of us share about loss and grief that’s especially hard, is all the triggering. Every day and sometimes several times an hour, things happen that remind me of my parents. When I cook, I often think of my mom. I didn’t realize how hard it is to do what she did every day. Each morning Gayle, Peggy, and I were greeted with breakfast. Every evening there was dinner. Every meal was an event. For special meals my mom got out the famous “lace tablecloth.” The only conflicts that arose in the Sommers’ family meal routine came if someone tried to sit in “Gayle’s spot.” We all quickly learned to NEVER do that😊.

After my dad died nearly everything triggered memories of him. One simple, painful, and joyful memory was triggered by eating cold cereal in a bowl. As I finished my first bowl of cereal after his death, and only milk was left in the bowl, I had a flashback of what my dad liked to do in that situation. Because my mom considered it “uncouth” to drink the remaining milk from the cereal bowl, my dad would look up, point out the window, and say, “What’s that?” By the time we looked back at him he was grinning; the milk in his bowl was not so mysteriously gone.

My mom loved sending and giving greeting cards. She signed them, “Love Always.” That, among many other fabulous qualities, was her signature gift. Together, my parents created a home where love, connection, and support were present. Everyone was welcome. One afternoon when I was home from college I saw her cleaning up from having coffee. I asked, “Who was over for coffee?”

She said, “Mario came over.” Mario was the Gay, Black teenager from up the street. Being insensitive and curious, I asked, “Why did Mario come over?” She said, “He had things to talk about.”

My mom never told me any details about her conversations with Mario. Being a Gay, Black teen in a predominately White, heterosexual suburb, I don’t know and can only imagine the pain and turmoil he needed to talk about. What I do know is he found the right person to talk with. My mother listened with her heart.

My dad was equally accepting. I can only recall him being mad at me once in my life. Once. He didn’t yell; he didn’t hit; he coached me in sport and in life and modeled integrity in all things. I will never recover from losing him and our unique shared memories. Never.

Our parents were different in many ways. My mom was Catholic. My dad was Jewish. My mom loved musicals. Just the other day while at a dinner party, I broke out with “Singing in the Rain” in her honor. My dad loved comedies. Barney Miller, Cheers, Seinfeld . . . and of course, Get Smart. His love for Get Smart inspired my sister Peggy to briefly imagine that she might be an undercover detective with a sixth finger.

Three big values I learned from my parents.

  1. Work hard
  2. Love always
  3. Have fun

I have a 45 second video clip of them to share. It’s from almost 19 years ago. They were 67 and 64 years-old. Two things as introduction. On birthdays, my parents always called and sang Happy Birthday. They liked to leave voice messages. Sometimes we’d have to hang up so they could call back and leave the message. They really weren’t very good at singing and would sometimes stop and start and be off-key. They also loved to watch movies together. In the video (linked below), they’re singing Happy Birthday to Rita (for a video I made for Rita’s 50th birthday) and then they began replicating a scene from the movie, Bandits, when Billy Bob Thornton “loses the beat.”

Thanks for coming to the memorial.

Be sure to work hard, love always, and have fun.

11 thoughts on “Grief 201: Max and Paula’s Memorial in Vancouver”

  1. A beautiful and moving tribute, John. My good thoughts and condolences to you and yours. Robert S.

  2. Thank you for sharing your parents with us. You’ve consistently told what loving, accepting, and fun people they were. I can only imagine the hole in your heart now that they are both gone from your physical presence. May you continue to share them in the way you live your life, which inspires me and so many others.

  3. Thanks for sharing your warm memories of your two parents. Their compassionate ways of life have stuck with you. Loss like this hurts deep. There is a monk saying like the hurt you feel is same loving passionate feeling you had when present with them. That feeling connects you with them forever. Take care over, John.

  4. Sending consolation, condolences, and comfort John. I wanted to say that I understand as I lost my mother, godmother, and grandmother 2012 to 2013.

    1. Hi Suveni, Thanks for your kind and thoughtful message. I’m sorry for your loss too. You had lots of loss in 2012 and 2013. Very sorry and I hope you are keeping the meaningful memories in your heart. All my best, John

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