(Today my mother and I are holding a Celebration of Life service for my stepfather who died this past July. Below is the eulogy I am delivering in appreciation of the important gift Michael gave to me.)
I was a sophomore in college when my mom and Michael married. To be perfectly honest, Michael was much more enthusiastic about getting me than I was about getting him. I was nineteen: prickly, defensive, and full to the brim with my own opinions. I didn’t need anything from anyone, especially a new stepfather.
Yet, I couldn’t shake Michael. He wanted a family, and that family included me. With characteristic good cheer, he ignored my rebuffs and kept returning for more. He made enormous efforts to understand me, despite the fact that we approached life from opposite directions.
One memorable shopping excursion sums up our relationship nicely. While browsing through a run-down antique shop with my mom and Michael, I found a vintage cashmere coat that I absolutely adored. It was in great condition and fit me perfectly, but I was stymied by the hefty $79 price tag. Michael looked somewhat horrified that I was even trying on a used coat let alone thinking of buying it. He announced in a loud voice, oblivious to the presence of the shop owner, “Melis’, you don’t want that. I’ll buy you a new cashmere coat from Saks as soon as we get home.”
My mom put a restraining hand on Michael’s arm and then uttered the words I’m sure she said approximately a million times over the past twenty-six years, “Michael, this is how Missy does things.”
Michael shook his head, but he didn’t say another word. Instead, he followed me up to the counter and when it came time to pay, he pulled out four twenties and despite my protests, handed them to the clerk.
That is how it went with us. Michael wanted to give me Saks, while I wanted to dig for vintage bargains. But in the end, it didn’t really matter. On the back of Michael’s good will and persistence, we forged a steady friendship. Despite our differences. And with time, we became a family just as he always wanted.
This summer, after Mom called and told me Michael had died, I spent a week with her in Henderson. We made necessary arrangements, laughed over old memories, and dug up photos she’d stashed around the house. On the fifth morning of my stay, I completely fell apart. Crying hysterically with my mom’s arms tightly wrapped around me, I asked over and over again, “Did Michael know how much I loved him? Did I tell him enough?”
I knew Michael loved me, but what I couldn’t bear about Michael’s death was wondering if he knew how much I loved him. Did I tell him enough that I appreciated his endless generosity, that he really would have bought me a brand new cashmere coat? Did I ever mention that I loved him even more because he swallowed our differences and bought me the coat I wanted?
Since that day in early July, I have done my best to understand and embrace this last gift Michael left for me. I have done my best to make sure that my parents as well as my daughters, my husband, the rest of my extended family and friends, know how very much I love them. I want to make sure I tell them enough so they or I don’t have to wonder later. I want to overlook all the ways we are different or difficult, and focus on loving without even understanding. Just as Michael did with me.
About a month ago, as I began to write the words I wanted to say today, I remembered a gesture Michael used to make when he was particularly touched or pleased. He would spread his fingers apart, and then lay his palm gently over his chest. It was as if he wanted to hold in place the love his heart was receiving. I recalled him making this gesture often, and those memories comforted me because I realize that he did know. Michael knew that I loved him. Just as he knew that he was loved by my mom and my husband and my children and his friends, many of whom are sitting here today.
Michael Hirsch loved easily. He loved me easily, and in doing so, has helped me learn to love with ease. So Michael, wherever you are, thank you. I put my hand on my heart and touch your love.