A lot of people have asked me to post the eulogies that Jacob and I did for Mary Frenchman's funeral on June 16. This is part 1 of Mary's eulogies and it is the one I gave right after Jacob. I'll post his after this so it is displayed before mine so you get the flow of how we
gave them on Sunday. As I said in church to the approximately 350 standing room only attendees, you are not allowed to cry until the end and please feel free to laugh early on.
Before I really get going, I wanted to talk about how a Jewish Guy with a Jewish Son and a Christian Daughter ended up speaking at his Wife’s Christian funeral that also ends at a Jewish Cemetery. This was all Mary’s doing. Mary tried something that none of us had ever seen; a family unit purposely designed like this. So if you feel uncomfortable, don’t understand, well Mary would just tell you, deal with it, this is the way I’m doing it - I want both.
Mary was a better Jew that most Jews out there and she wasn’t even an official member of the Tribe. She celebrated all of our holidays and even cleaned our house out for Passover, finding that speck of flour or bread with a flashlight and small brush, better than most Orthodox Jews. In fact, the only religious symbol found in the house was a Mezuzah on the front door, which surprised our Rabbi when he visited for the first time.
It all started when we first met at Rutgers. This was the end of our senior years. Throughout our separate 4 years at Rutgers, we had the same friends, went to the same parties, but never met; that is until the end - In fact, I was introduced to Mary at a party but at the time I was interested in someone else so I barely noticed. I believe my 22nd year of my life was my best year. I was a senior in College, had a lot of fun, and met Mary at the end.
After Rutgers, I ended up moving into the same townhouse that Mary was moving out of and that was when we met again. This time (surprise), Mary was the pursuer but she did it her own, slow, subtle ,methodical way. We went to a party together at Rutgers but blew it off because it was boring and ended up at the Tiki Bar in Point Pleasant for our first date.
We were rarely separated. One day in particular, we ended up at Passion’s Puddle on Douglass where the old tale was that if a Rutgers man and a Douglass woman walk around the lake 3 times they were going to get married. Of course before lap #3 Mary decides to tell me her plan, she said “if we got married and had kids, my father says that the boy has to Jewish but if we had a girl could she be Christian?” I said yes, because, well, who could think that far in advance but at that point and for the rest of our lives, Mary lived in both worlds.
We never once broke up, took a break, had any serious, relationship ending arguments. Never, once. Nothing was ever close. Neither one of us ever made a threat, threatened to sleep at Mom’s house or anything like that. On August 3rd it would have been 24 years straight without a break.
Mary was the nicest person I’ve ever met and was also the most beautiful creature inside and out that I’ve ever seen. Look at those early pictures. She was model/actress pretty and she married a dork like me; I still don’t know why. She would do anything for anyone it didn’t matter where. Once, my sister was on bed rest with one of her pregnancies, I forget which one. Mary drove round trip to upstate New York during Hurricane Floyd to make sure my sister and her family had Rosh Hashanah dinner.
Getting a gift from Mary was the most precious thing you’d ever receive. Besides taking the time to pick out a gift and never missing an important date, Mary had to have the highest quality wrapping paper and ribbons. You know, the wrapping paper that most people could care less about? Not Mary. She bought the heaviest stock, most expensive paper out there. PTA wrapping paper fundraising drive? not good enough for Mary. And the ribbons. Oh the ribbons. Nobody put a homemade bow on a gift like Mary. It didn’t stop there. When we would load up our truck, I just couldn’t throw the boxes in the trunk. They had to be precisely placed so not a single bow was malformed during the ride. As my uncle said to me the other day, “that must have driven you crazy.” It did, but it wasn’t like Mary was going to do anything differently; at least I had the best gifts arounds. And when Mary bought a gift, she spared no expense, delivering the most perfect gift. Mary once drove to three different malls in 3 different states in one day to make sure everyone got exactly what they wanted.
When we would host parties and holiday dinners, it became a marathon prep event. The china. The place settings. The center pieces. Matching napkins, napkin holders, etc. Mary would place the center piece and then walk by and move it like 1/4 of inch one way because she thought it wasn’t precisely positioned. After watching this for years, I’d often go back and move it back the other way, not to annoy her, but just because my analytical mind couldn’t process how that 1/4 of inch made any sense. It did to Mary. She moved it back that 1/4 of inch.
Often when I was dating, pre Mary of course, my grandmother would say to me “Eric it is so much easier to date Jewish women”. When I brought Mary to my Grand Parents house for dinner, they instantly bonded. My Grandmother never made a mention of Mary not being outwardly Jewish. Mary had a new set of Grandparents and they had another Granddaughter. When my Grandparents were much older their last residence was at the Masonic Nursing Home in Burlington NJ, about 2 hours away. After my Grandfather died, my Grandmother was really struggling with her health. It was too hard for me to see my Grandmother that way, but not for Mary. Mary would drive down multiple times per week to moisturize my Grandmothers feet and arms; in fact, she probably was with my Grandmother for one of her last good conversations before she died.
I have a large collection of Amazing Spider-man comic books. I own almost every one. When we were about to get engaged, I sold 5 of my most precious books so I had almost $5K in cash to help pay for her special Marquis cut diamond. As they were assembling the ring, Mary was starting to get a little nervous. We were living together in our rented condo in Basking Ridge but some of her work friends were telling her that I had it too good, that I was never going to propose. She cleaned (I cooked), shopped, plus more. So she started yelling at me one day. It continued until we fell asleep and then she continued when we woke up the next day. The worst part of that yelling was that I was actually going to pick up her engagement ring that day to propose, so I couldn’t fight back without ruining the surprise. So I called her best friend Karen and said “look I’m picking up the ring today, you have to call her to get her to stop yelling at me.” I got the ring. I had it in my pocket when I came home. By the time I got there, Mary had a sore throat and was sick. She saw the box in my pocket and asked me what that was, so I proposed to her right there while she was running a fever. Mary found out I sold these 5 books and over the next few years, she made sure I bought every comic book back.
My nickname for Mary was Flower. I always thought Flower was brilliant because her maiden name was Fowler. Mary loved flowers, gardening, shopping, the Caribbean, Avalon, Disney World, the Giants, Yankees, Springsteen, me, her friends, her family, and her kids. Mary wanted to retire to St. John. She loved it there. She also loved her house. When we were building it, Mary made sure we were here every week to watch it go up. She was worried how much input I wanted to give because the only other Frenchman man she knew was my Dad and he was very controlling. She decided to test me. She asked me if I wanted a room painted a particular color. I said, “my favorite color is black. Unless you are going to paint a room black, decide for yourself.” The entire house is Mary’s design. I can’t look at a crack, a plant, a drop of paint, a blade of grass, or the smallest molecule in it without seeing Mary and crying.
Last year I spent three weeks in Morristown Hospital with diverticulitis. It was painful but nothing like what Mary experienced. Right before my second attack, Mary was in St. Claire’s Hospital because her kidneys were failing because her ureters were clogged. She ended up with kidney stents, but in the meantime, I ended up with another flare up that came with a high fever. I drove myself to Morristown Hospital all the time speaking with Mary. The next day, Mary told her Oncologist of 10.5 years, Dr. Bari, that she had to get out of St. Claires because Eric needed her and that’s just what she did. Brand new stents, legs wrapped from her lymphedema, she drove herself to Morristown to be with me.
Mary treated her 10.5 years of Stage IV breast cancer, mind you there isn’t a Stage V, as if it she had high blood pressure. When I would tell people what Mary was going through there was always amazement. Nobody had any idea until the end. She didn’t want you to know. She didn’t want Cancer to control her. She went in every few weeks, got her chemo treatment, and made sure Dr. Bari didn’t take too long because she had to run an errand, pick up her kids, or buy someone a gift. Once Mary had to get some scans done at St. Claire’s and was rolling Kaela and Jacob up that hill while they were in a double stroller. She ran into Dr. Bari who had this puzzled look on his face as if to say “Mary, why are you bringing your kids to a bone scan?”. She saw him, waved, and said “hey kids, this is mommy’s Dr. Say hi.”
Mary taught us how to live. Cancer didn’t control her. She controlled it. Back in May, Dr. Bari was worried because Mary was low on Potassium and Magnesium. So he said, get her to drink Gatorade, eat more high Potassium foods. Not Mary. She drank unsweetened iced tea. Period. She wasn’t going to drink Gatorade. Dr. Bari said find something else. So I Googled high potassium foods and I found a ton of items. Did you know that 8 ounces of tomato paste has the USA recommended daily allowance of Potassium? If your Oncologist told you, you were low on Potassium, how many would just take a spoon and eat tomato paste out of a can? I would. Mary? No way. She ate what she wanted to eat, not what the cancer told her to eat.
Kaela and Jacob asked me a month ago, why did this happen to us? I said, “Our mission was to protect and make sure Mommy was happy. That was our mission and we did it. She was happy. She loved us. This was going to happen to Mommy anyway. If it was another husband or kids, she probably would have died 10 years ago. She wouldn’t have lived in Long Valley. She wouldn’t have done the things she did. She wouldnt have traveled, watched you guys play sports, and lived this long without us. That was our mission and why it happened to us.”
When it came time to pick a date for Jacob’s Bar Mitzvah, Mary picked June 15. The Torah reading for June 15 was Chukat; it was also the Hebrew calendar anniversary of my Father’s death. Mary didn’t study Torah so she didn’t know what that story was. In the fall, I skipped ahead and read it and couldnt stop crying. The Torah reading was Miriam, Moses’ sister and the provider of water to Israel while they wandered the desert for 40 years, dies. Moses and Aaron are overcome with grief and strike a rock for water. Aaron then dies and Moses is told he can’t enter than Land of Israel. Then Moses and Israel have to conquer two kings, one being an old evil biblical character named Og. I saw my Rabbi for our weekly Torah study and told him what I read and I couldnt stop crying. Miriam is Hebrew for Mary. The Rabbi’s name is Moshe, Hebrew for Moses. Jacob, the original patriarch, had another name received after wrestling an angel and it was Israel. Og represented the cancer. Our Rabbi said, “you can’t read it that way.” Unfortunately for us, Mary picked her Torah portion and it played out exactly as written thousands of years ago.
In 10.5 years I only heard Mary complain twice about the cancer - once at the beginning and once at the end. When she got her initial diagnoses, a very aggressive cancer that without the discovery of Herceptin a few years before was a death sentence, she said to me “darn, I thought I had more time.” Her other complaint was back in March. She said to me “what did I do to G-d that made this happen to me?” This is what I told her, our kids a month ago, and friends a day ago.
You didn’t do anything to anyone. You didn’t eat the wrong foods. You didn’t live in the wrong place. You didn’t forget to help someone. You didn’t speak wrong to someone. You were perfect. All of this was hard coded into your body when you were born. You were given a mission to touch all these souls, to rescue me, and to give birth to these kids. You loved us. We love you.