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In the Suburbs / Naomi Gaynes' full life, well lived

Published 9:01 am, Friday, December 28, 2012
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My 90-year-old mother passed away Dec. 14 in Chicago. She died at 8:30 a.m. Central time, 9:30 Eastern -- about the same moment shots rang out in the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Unlike the violent deaths of 20 first graders and six educators in Newtown, the passing of Naomi Gaynes came peacefully and after a long and full life. My dad, 92, was at her side.

Her death and the celebration of her life were beyond bittersweet for me. Each anniversary of her passing will remind me that I share grief with the families of Newtown victims.

My mother was a determined business woman with a generous and loving heart. She had been ill for a brief time. Had she been healthy, she and my father -- her husband of nearly 70 years -- would have wanted to go to Newtown to lend a hand, offer hugs of support and be there for people.

That was just how my mother was -- sometimes stubborn in business but one of the most caring, giving and loving people who walked this earth. She was special that way, and the rabbi reinforced that at her funeral.

During the ceremony, my two brothers and I shared our perspectives this woman of multiple talents and skills who volunteered to lead many civic organizations. We wanted the funeral to be upbeat.

With five years between the oldest and youngest, we brothers provided a large group of mourners unique views of mom. Each of our eulogies drew from more than 60 years of experiences with this woman -- in my case, 68 years.

Mine opened with a touch of humor about one of mom's signature behaviors -- taking control, whether one liked it or not. "Well, mom," I said with my lips trembling a bit, "This is one event you couldn't plan, control or cater."

Almost all of the mourners knew about my mom's take-charge attitude, and their laughter spread throughout the chapel.

For me, here is what stands out the most about her life. My mother touched so many people in so many different ways, it would be impossible to name them. A consummate networker who passed along that legacy to me, she kept in touch with relatives, friends, acquaintances she made through my dad's packaging business and through the synagogue, charities and various organizations.

To make special occasions truly special (for mom, everything was a party) she mandated that my two brothers and I create a skit. No matter that we protested, that two of us lived out of state and none of us had time, if mom wanted a skit, she got it. Of course, once we were up there performing, we knew how happy mom was so we forgot about all the arguing and always had a blast.

My youngest brother, the ham and the real talent in the family, brought mom's love of music into the funeral by belting out "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at the end of his mini-eulogy. There wasn't a dry eye in the place, and we knew mom had to be smiling someplace out there.

My mother and I hardly agreed on everything (a theme echoed by all three brothers), but we had an understanding. After mom had enough of arguing, she would stop, tell us we'd never win the battle and said to accept that she had more experience or had done something more often than we had and move on.

Mom was a wonderful and caring grandmother, and our daughters Stacey and Jeri had the long-time benefit of her caring, insights and patience. She called them every week until she was too weak and was there for them in their worst and their best times, offering a warm hug if she was nearby.

My beautiful mother loved music, dancing with my dad, books, politics and fighting for a cause or a person in need. Two images will be with me always.

No matter where she and Dad were living and whenever I visited, I would walk into Mom's kitchen and smell the heavenly aroma of fresh brewed coffee from her old percolator. It meant I was home again.

And I will never lose the image of Mom and Dad taking to a dance floor -- anywhere or anytime -- and toddling back and forth to their own rhythm.

I hope you'll save a dance for me, Mom.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: steven.gaynes@yahoo.com.