My amazing mom, Edith M. Fee - better known as Edie Fee - passed away from Leukemia-Like Burkitt's Lymphoma on August 4, 2012 after a 5 month battle. Mom's illness came on very suddenly: we were at the hospital on March 2, 2012 for the birth of my nephew; the next day Mom started to feel sick. We thought she had the flu, but after a week of being sick, we went to urgent care. They diagnosed her with a stomach flu, but 10 days later she was having trouble breathing. I took her to the ER on March 20, 2012 and within a few hours they had diagnosed her with leukemia. Her white blood cell count was 250K; normally it is 1K.
Mom fought bravely, with strength and humor, for many weeks. Unfortunately, the type of cancer she had was so rare and so strong that the best chemotherapeutic agents couldn't kill it. Around the middle of July, we started to realize that the cancer was not completely gone, after 4 rounds of intense chemo, and that her white blood cells were not going to recover. She passed on August 2nd, surrounded by family and love in a hospital that she worked tirelessly to support during the last 20 years. We are deeply grateful to Dr. George Miranda of Mission Hospital and Drs. Ronald Paquette and Kristina Vander Wall of UCLA for giving us these last precious 5 months with Mom.
Several friends have asked me to share the eulogy I gave at Mom's service and I am happy to do so. Please find it below. I like the idea that someone may see it years from now and know just how loved she was.
In Memory of Mom
How do you properly eulogize someone like Mom? My sister and I struggled with this question as we sat down to write our thoughts out for today.
Mom was a fearless, fabulously complicated, extremely interesting person who filled the lives of everyone who knew her with love, laughter, and joy. And food! Lots of amazing, wonderful food.
So the simple answer to the question is: you don’t. It’s just not possible to properly cover everything she meant to us or everything she taught us in 5 minutes. We decided to just cover the tip of the tip of the iceberg – three golden rules that Mom lived by and that she instilled in us.
Rule 1. If it bothers you, you fix it.
Mom was not a subtle person. In fact, I suspect that most of us would say she was quite the force of nature. This is largely because she lived by the rule that if something bothers you, if something isn’t right, you should take it upon yourself to fix it or make it better somehow. This principle affected three major areas of her life: her relationships, the charity work she did, and her work ethic.
With respect to relationships, I bet you can think of how Mom was not quiet about what she thought was right. I can recall her advocating for change in almost all of our lives – how she told Nickie not to move to Mongolia, how she told Shannon to fight for everything she deserves, how she told Linda to get a dog sooner rather than later, how she told Lyndie to apply for that job. She loved us so much that she wanted to pay us the honor of being honest and candid. You never had to wonder how she felt or what she meant, she was always very clear.
Mom was especially passionate about her charity work. Those of you here today from Mission Hospital, Habitat for Humanity, WISE Place and Faith know that she cared deeply about making the world a better place for other people. Homelessness really bothered her, probably because she and her family came to this country with almost nothing and succeeded because of the graciousness of a sponsor family. She wanted to make a difference for these people, she wanted to be the change that these folks needed to start their lives over, just like someone had done for her. She succeeded in doing this on large and small scales. Large scale, she truly helped Mission Hospital and Camino Health Care Clinic thrive; on a smaller scale, she helped support dear friends and family restart on new and better paths.
Thinking about the workplace, I think my Mom had the strongest work ethic I’ve ever seen. She was passionate about doing high-quality, thorough, high-integrity work. So much so that her laptop was a frequent companion on our family vacations, holidays, and even the birth of her youngest grandson: Jo was going into labor and Mom was typing away on the computer. She did this because she wanted people to know they could count on her to come through. And come through she did, every time.
Rule 2. Always make them proud they invited you.
Another golden rule Mom lived by was to always make people proud that they invited or involved her in an activity or project.
Coming to the US from Poland at age 3 was a special challenge. As I mentioned before, our family were political refugees and they came to the us through the graciousness of a foster family – Mr. and Mrs.Dorothy & George Williams. My grandfather told my mom early on, “Always make sure they are glad they invited us to come here and proud of you.” That sentiment powerfully impacted Mom and shaped her into a very loyal, selfless, gracious person.
My mom was fiercely loyal to the people and projects she loved. I remember her going to bat for me during a board meeting and how protected and loved I felt in that moment. Mom was very protective over Chris and Robert. Chris was one of the people she respected most in this world and she would have followed him into battle for any cause. I recall Mom defending all of us kids when we made poor choices; then later at home she’d explain to use how we should have been more appropriate.
In addition to being loyal, mom was also profoundly selfless. She gave so freely of her time, her talents, her resources, and her energy to anyone in need. She heard about one of my friends going through a very hard time and asked me if she could join me in buying Christmas presents for the friend’s children. She gave money she didn’t have to causes that touched her heart. She opened her home to friends and strangers when they needed a safe place to stay. She took great pride in helping to make the world a better place for others and it gave her great joy to see the difference she made in the lives of others; especially Freddie and Piotr.
Mom was also very gracious. One of the most common phrases heard around our house when we were growing up was, “Girls, be appropriate!” She really prided herself on being both gracious and appropriate. I recall the dinner parties she had with the Cousyns, the Rombergs, the DiCostanzos, the Shapiros and so many others, where she was so excited to treat her guests to a wonderful, exotic meal. She loved giving gifts and finding just the perfect thing – I remember her delighted smile when she found the ideal fossil cases for Daryl’s birthday gift this year. She wanted people to feel loved and special when they were with her and I think she succeeded at making them feel this way.
Rule 3. Who could do it better?
The third rule that guided my mom was the sentiment of – who could do it better? My mom was the daughter of an immigrant family eager to prove they had the right stuff, the stuff that America was built on. It was scary and uncomfortable for the family to come to a foreign land where they knew no one, did not speak the language, and had no idea how to fit in. They navigated these rough waters very well by doing what they’d always done: going to church, caring for others, being generous, and being kind.
When it was hard to stay the course, my mom would tell herself – who could do it better? Could anyone do this better than you? Could anyone perform better than you? Could anyone make someone feel better than you can? She’d always reason that the answer was no and by asking herself that question, she performed amazing things. Through living by this rule, she became an incredibly successful business woman, a motivational friend, and an empowering mother.
Thinking about Mom’s business accomplishments, there are simply too many accolades to list. She was the first woman to be named a Vice President of AVCO Financial Services. She worked as a consultant to several Fortune 50 companies. She served on more boards than I knew existed. She was named by OC Metro as Businesswoman of the year. Most recently I was very proud to have her join my company as a life coach. She had the kind of career many of us only dream of and I was always proud that she was so successful. Candidly, not many people could have done it better than she did.
Mom was also a motivational friend and force to many of us. I recall her encouraging Dad to leave his job in aerospace engineering so that he could focus on launching his consulting business and do more photography. Mom supported Jo’s going to New York to pursue a music career and was always beaming when she’d tell people that her daughter was a jazz singer. Mom encouraged Tina to teach ESL, practice driving, and use the ATM – she always wanted to push her big sister to do more. Mom also was a huge advocate of Kelly going back to school to become a PA and told her that she’d be an amazing Mom while maintaining a meaningful career. Mom encouraged Bill to follow his passion and make changes in his career that would lead him to happiness. She was often advocating for change!
As a child of Edie’s, I can tell you that you couldn’t ask for a better mother. She taught us to be brave, strong, thoughtful, powerful. When something was hard, she encouraged us to trust our instincts and push through it. She embraced our differences and pushed us to pursue work that was meaningful. She had clear standards – we knew we had to go to college, or else! We knew that if she ever found us doing drugs, she was going to shave our heads. She had rules and boundaries, but she always made us feel very special and very loved. She made every day special, even when she was so tired herself. It was always very clear that we were the most important things in the world to her.
This legacy of amazing parenting lives on in my brother, Robert, and my sister, Joanna. Both, along with their spouses, are exemplary parents who made Mom so proud. Rob and Jo, I know Mom will continue to guide you through each step of the way and will always be looking out for Dex and Billy and all the grandchildren yet to come. I’m personally planning to carry on the legacy of threatening head shaving for the children.
In closing, I can do my best to tell you what she meant to me: she was the rock I built my life on, she was the strongest pillar that supported my pier, she was both the sail and the anchor to my boat. The sail that helped me move in new directions and have the energy to go far; the anchor that always helped me know when I was home. I loved her as much as I have ever loved anyone or ever will. I will miss her every moment of every day for the rest of my life.
Family and friends are invited to visit the website we created in honor of Mom: Caring Bridge - Edith Fee. You will need to sign in, it's free and easy, just provide an email address and password.