mother, sister, tete
March 5, 1930 - June 8, 2015
"She was a big deal to a lot of people"
presented June 12, 2015 by Nathan Zaru
Thank you to the friends and family of my tete who are joining us today in celebrating and remembering her life. Thank you to the Shamieh, McDow, and Zarou families for their continued support. And a special thank you to Autny Donna for caring for tete in her final years.
To start things off, I have a quote from the eulogy of another great woman, Eleanor Roosevelt. "We lost an inspiration: for she would rather light candles than curse the darkness. And her glow had warmed the world." My tete was -- and still is -- an inspiration, and now I want to share with you how she was an inspiration for us all.
This was her secret recipe: FOOD + FAMILY + LOVE.
You already know that she was an expert in arabic classics. She has probably fed the majority of this room. But what some of you perhaps have not seen is what she has done in the past 15 years or so. This is the Food Network phase of her life. The best way I can describe it is that she is a food magician. Having no formal training whatsoever, she could invent and learn dishes instantly. All she needed to do was glance at a dish in a restaurant or in a magazine and then go home and make it the next day. Her ability to pick up new foods was amazing.
She couldn't stop feeding and nurturing. I used to say that tete would ask you three questions every day. "1) Are you hungry? 2) Do you want to eat? 3) Do you want to eat again?" This was an instinct that stuck with her until the very end. She spent alot of time in the hospital and, even though she is the one that was sick, and the one who needed to be nurtured, every visit she would ask "akalit?" ("have you eaten" in arabic). Often, when feeding her, she would turn down the food and ask us to eat it instead.
The second ingredient in her recipe is family. She was a lifelong family builder. At age 7, her mom died and this was one of the biggest events in her life. She quit school and became the mother figure of her large family. She took care of them for decades and then, later, her own childern. I was not there for that, but I did get first hand experience with her most recent accomplishment -- her granchilderen. She was not just a grandmother to Laura, Jason, Oliver, and I, she was literally a second mother to us all. We cannot remember a time when she was not there. She had a critical role in every holiday, first day of school, birthday, and any big day. She fed us, helped when we were sick, fixed our clothes and toys, played games and watched tv with us. She was a super tete.
As we got older it has become time to build families of our own. When Laura asked tete for her blessing to move Robin in to the compound, it was a simple and immediate YES. No hesitation or thought. And when I did finally bring a girl home earlier this year, tete loved her. Even as the dementia took over and her memory of people and places deteriorated, she managed to ask me to bring her over again. And then, again.
Her third ingredient. She loved everyone, all the time. Laura described it as "consistent and unconditional". But the key to her love was selflessness. Jason remarked to me "I can't remember a time when she ever asked me for anything". She gave everything without wanting anything in return. I asked my mother's parents what they thought of my tete, and even though they are from a different place and culture, their experience is the same. My grandma says "If I was older Jamileh would have been my best friend". And the last sentence my tete said to my grandpa George last time he visited was, of course, "I love you".
Tete taught me that love can be big or small. She taught me that sitting with someone and sharing coffee with them is one of the most important things you can do in life. No wonder why she drank so much coffee.
Before I tell one last story, I want to invite you all to the Food of Mercy. It will be at my house. Please do come, it will make tete happy.
In closing, a story about how tete waited for Oliver to come back from his trip so that she could see the entire family before she died.