On behalf of my brothers, sister and father, I want to say how grateful we are to have so many friends and loved ones with us here on this sad and happy day, to say good-bye to my mother.
My family has asked me to stand up and remember the life of Elizabeth Anne Morin Boraks, a woman we knew as mother, wife, sister, aunt, and friend. These are their words, and the words of many of you whom I talked to this week about my mother’s life.
She measured her life by those relationships and gave herself to them fully.
She enjoyed life, while recognizing its impermanence. As the gravity of her illness became clear in recent months, she resolutely accepted it. Her closest family members talked about possible further treatments – I for one secretly hoped she would choose that course, in hopes of prolonging her time with us.
But she said no, worried about the likely side effects. Instead, she chose the course that would allow her to maintain her quality of life as long as possible. She was comfortable in her choice, and was able to tell her oldest brother on the phone in July that she was dying.
Betty was born in Springfield, Vt., in 1935, the only girl among five children. She was the quiet sister, the “brain” in a family of jocks, struggling to get a word in – but succeeding, adding her opinions, her ideas and making herself heard. This was the pattern of her life: operating quietly in the background, but gently nudging, guiding, teaching those around her.
As a girl, she loved sports and music. She played the French Horn, and basketball. She sang in the church choir at St. Mary’s Church in Springfield. But she also spent a lot of time reading and studying, displaying a curiosity and a passion for knowledge that lasted until her death.
She attended Westbrook College in Portland, Maine, training as a medical technologist. After college, she moved to Boston and took up that career. As a single girl in Boston, she lived an independent life. She sang in an all-girl a capella group, giving concerts for charity and even making a recording.
Born into a family of engineers, she chose an engineer as her husband in 1958. She met Dick at a party in her apartment building on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston in 1957, but didn’t remember him later when he called in search of a date. He persisted, she accepted and they began courting.
“I’ll tell you what clinched it,” my dad told me the other evening. One night in December 1957, during a big snowstorm, he called to suggest she come over to his apartment. She resisted, suggesting her apartment. “Why don’t we meet halfway,” she told him, in a sign of compromise she was so good at. (they ended up at her place) … They were married in 1958.
My mother was a woman of her time: Raising her family and supporting her husband were her primary occupations. She was well suited to the tasks.
Mom was a teacher, a business partner, a volunteer, a counselor and organizer – a do-er. She taught us about life so we could wring as much from it as possible. She could be serious, but had a sense of humor as well. She always seemed to have a witty comment in the conversation.
Her proudest accomplishment, she told my brother Peter in July, was “my family, my children.” Everyone I’ve talked to this week recounted how she bragged on her kids. And she was proud of – and a partner in – her husband’s accomplishments.
She was never first in line or at center stage. She never made headlines. But because of her unfailing support, we – her husband, children and many of her friends – can claim those kinds of successes.
When Dick gave up engineering for insurance early in their marriage, she had concerns about the move. She quizzed Dad briefly but mostly kept her worries to herself. Instead she threw herself into ensuring his success. The general agent wanted Dad to assemble a list of 500 sales prospects before he started the job. She helped him identify and write those out on index cards.
She never was ready to settle for second best for her family. During those first few years, despite having three young boys, she endured Dad need to spend several nights a week at work. In the years after his career change, when his confidence wavered and he considered returning to engineering, she was there with just the right words of encouragement. Together they had met some successful veteran agents. She told him, “If they can do it, you can do it. I know you can do it. I have confidence.” It kept him going.
How many of us here today heard similar words of encouragement from her over the years, whether for a major life decision or something smaller, such as a quilt-making technique?
She was the biggest fan of her children – showing up to watch track and cross country meets, soccer matches, cheerleading at games. She was herself a game player and puzzle solver, and passed a healthy competitive spirit along to her children.
If she had misgivings about our choices, she never mentioned them.
In the midst of all this, she was humble. We talked about humility, about its importance. Incredibly, she told Peter recently that the most important thing she had learned about herself was the need to be a kinder person.
I can’t say what it was about her younger life that would cause her to say that about herself. It’s not how I knew her, or how she was known by her friends, to whom she remained intensely loyal. She helped her friends through illnesses, family crises, divorces. “I couldn’t have done it without her,” said one friend said this week.
She was a lifelong reader and learner. And she used her knowledge as a teacher, too.
More than 20 years ago, she took up quilting, an activity she pursued with a passion that many of us reserve for our careers. She studied, practiced and mastered the craft, prompting one of her teachers to marvel at how far beyond her she had gone.
Quilting was Betty’s specialty, one where she could show her skills. But in her altruistic fashion, she used the craft to benefit others, too. She and her fellow quilters – some of whom are probably here today – made quilts for charity. For many years, she helped lead a quiltmaking effort to raise money for Mercy High School.
Meanwhile, those of us fortunate to be close to her were endlessly blessed with her work – a quilt or several quilts. She always thought of others first, and for much of her quilting career she never made one for herself. It wasn’t until recent years her own bed was dressed in one of her quilts.
She cared deeply about her family, and showed it, even among her extended family. She religiously remembered birthdays with cards or gifts. A year ago, although already in poor health, she and Dick drove to Maine for the 75th birthday of her older brother George.
The end came sooner than we wished, but we shared one final family reunion in July. She reveled having her family and her grandchildren around her. Even then, she wouldn’t let herself be the center of attention. She organized meals and helpfully suggested activities. Despite her weakened condition, she insisted on a trip with her granddaughter Emma to buy a birthday gift.
She was mostly unafraid of her own death, because she believed death is not an end, it’s a beginning. She always knew there was something else coming, a new journey.
I choose to believe that she is sitting at a kitchen table somewhere in the great beyond, playing Scrabble – a game she loved. She’s just laid down a 50-point word. But instead of lingering on that success, she’s leaning over, looking at the letters of the player next to her – and helping.
“Wait,” she must be saying, disregarding her own score, “you’ve got a better word than that.”
David Boraks, 24 August 2000