What a time, what a year. I wanted to let everyone who follows my site know that my mother Alice Kulhawik passed away this week peacefully overnight in her sleep at the age of 92. She died on the solstice, the first day of fall, a time of transition.
I saw her just the week before, and though she couldn’t quite place who I was, I had her smiling by the end of the visit and she didn’t want to leave the familiar stranger with the mask and dark curly hair to go back to her room. She had been suffering with dementia for many years and at that last visit and perhaps for the first time, she may not have recognized me or what my calling her “mom” meant.
I will tell you what it meant to me. My mother more than anyone had the most profound effect on my life. She was a full-time working mom, as was her mother, both women of and ahead of their times. My mother also did the cooking and shopping and cleaning (with my help– which I still love doing to this day!) She and my dad worked HARD. They were devoted to family. My mom especially introduced us to fine food, fashion, the arts– ballet, music, movies, theater. She made our home beautiful. She adored all animals. She loved anyone and anything Italian. She was dramatic, loved celebrations, parades, spectacle, had big enthusiasms, was opinionated and outspoken. She’d challenge anyone– doctors, teachers, town hall — which is where she finally took our trash one day when they had stopped picking up our garbage. She was the one who told me to quit a job I didn’t like and go out and find another one. I did. She had more confidence in me than I had in myself– and that gave me confidence. She and my dad raised me and my brother Richard to the same standard and that was revolutionary.
Many of you in the arts community may remember that she often accompanied me on special assignments. She always went to JULY 4rth on the Esplanade. She was there in the audience when I emceed the annual Elliot Norton Awards and as I peeked out from behind the curtain before the show, I cracked up when I spotted her in the audience hugging Al Pacino– our special guest that evening! I remember the year I snuck her onto the red carpet at the OSCARS– I gave her a clip board and told her to blend in with the international press corps of still photographers-who instantly befriended her. When security came by checking ID’s, one photog named Fabrizio from Italy immediately said, “She’s with us.” I still can’t believe we pulled that off.
My mom had one special request: she wanted THE BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC sung at her funeral. We are not sure when we will be able to gather for a service, but when we do, we will sing the strains of that rousing and fitting tune, lyrics composed by abolitionist and women’s rights activist Julia Ward Howe as the Union went to war. I had no idea just how timely that hymn would be now as our union is again tested and we fight to hold it together. As I honor my mother who always stood by me, I am encouraged and propelled by her love, her example, and relentless energy to move forward.