What Will Your Legacy Be?

Michael Attias May 1, 2019
Michael Attias

Over the years, I have written an untold number of blog articles and newsletters. Those who have followed me know I have shared the good and bad in my life and maintained a level of transparency.

Saturday morning, April 13th, I received the call. My mom, Gaby Obadia Attias, had passed. After she fell and broke her femur last year, she steadily declined.
My mom and I had a very complex relationship, that I share with you below in the eulogy I wrote and delivered. 

It's my hope that this article inspires some to mend relationships or find forgiveness for those loved ones who have passed. Please feel free to share with anyone who could benefit.

My Mom’s Eulogy

As I was up at 4am this morning putting together the thoughts and memories I wanted to share about my mom, I came across this quote by Peter Strople: 

“Legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s leaving something in people.”

As I reflect on almost 54 years having my mom in my life, I cherish what she left in me, my siblings Oliver and Laetitia, and her grandchildren - Jerrod, Jordyn, Naomi, Noah, and Jacob.

It was the gift of love.

Some of you may be familiar with the book The Five Love Languages written by Gary Chapman. They are Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Quality Time, Physical Touch and Acts of Service.

Today I not only grieve the life of my mother, but the fact it took me over 53 years to learn she and I spoke different love languages. That blindness robbed us both of valuable time and memories.

Love by Acts of Service best describes the love that my mom mastered giving.

As a new bride, my mother served my father by moving to Paris to start a better life for themselves than available in Morocco. Not long after, when I was almost three, my father was offered an opportunity to work for Benny Sacharin, may he rest in peace, at Nylon Net on the banks of the Mississippi.

My mom left her parents and siblings in Paris to come to Memphis. Imagine moving from home twice in such a short period of time. Coming to a country where you had to rely on your handsome and super-intelligent three-year-old son to translate for you. Yes. I am referring to myself.

She taught herself English by pouring hours into watching Sesame Street and American soap operas.

Anyone who knew my mom knew an invitation to dinner was like scoring Super Bowl tickets. There was nothing Gaby Attias could not cook that people would not love…except maybe her Chestnut bread stuffing.

She was a master at taking any recipe and making it better.

Her brisket, couscous, baklava, stuffed cabbage, chopped liver, matzoh ball soup, homemade gefilte fish and my favorite - German chocolate cake - bring back such fond memories. The long and thankless hours she spent in the kitchen at home was an amazing act of love.

I learned to cook by observing my mom in the kitchen. Osmosis was my teacher, as to even to allow me to clean a spoon was unheard of.

What she didn’t know was that in eighth grade, while she was at work, I pulled out her cookbook and made my first dish:  chocolate almond crepes stuffed with Baskin-Robbins Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream. I’d have to say for someone who had never cooked, it was an incredible creation.

Today, parents hover over their kids like a Black Hawk helicopter, scared to let their kids go to the mailbox for fear of abduction. My mom encouraged us to go out and explore the world at a young age.

That’s a nice way of saying she kicked us out of the house at the crack of dawn, locked the door until dinner and told us to drink from the garden house if thirsty.

The adventures I had in the neighborhood surrounding Millbridge Lane... Riding my bike on the dirt trails, building forts, fishing at the Greenhouse Pond and Lausanne Lake, and lifelong friends I made like Stephen Sauer, Jeff Levine, and Jeff Lichterman. That’s where my wanderlust was born.

My mom and dad sent us to the Hebrew Academy, but the real act of service came from my mom. Being on scholarship, my mom was obligated to volunteer one night a week at Bingo. Every night she would come back with sinus problems caught in that smoked-filled gym. What a selfless act of love.

When my parents declared bankruptcy around the time I was ten, my mom’s love for her family really shone.

Overnight, she went from stay-at-home mom to working mom. Quickly she landed herself a job selling fragrances at Goldsmith’s, where her French accent contributed to high commission checks and bonuses.

With the miracles my mom pulled off on such a tight budget, you would have never known we had gone bankrupt.

She knew where to buy the best foods without breaking the bank. She dragged my siblings and I to factory outlets in Mississippi and Clover Days at the downtown Goldsmith’s Department store for nice clothes.

One time, when my parents couldn’t afford the meal plan at the Hebrew Academy, my mom cooked me lunch, pulled me out of school and fed me in her car. A fresh grilled burger and bottomless jar of Kool-Aid was much better than a rubber hot dog from the cafeteria.

She and her friends took over the Anshei kitchen and created a feast for my Bar Mitzvah.

Her love for us had no limits.

The love she showed our family through all of her acts of kindness never ceased. I could go on and on about the love and time she spent raising her grandkids, Naomi and Noah and Jacob.

My kids Jerrod and Jordyn came out of the womb being able to take care of themselves, but she showed them the same love. She was so proud of all of her grandkids.

My mom was always the first to volunteer to help a Jewish organization or a friend. Observing her acts of service was a model to me of the importance of giving back. There’s probably not a person here today who hasn’t been a beneficiary of her kind acts.

Probably the most touching display of love I saw from my mom was her love for my father over the last year when she could not take care of herself.

Unable to do for others, she was forced to abandon her love language of Acts of Service. She quickly adopted Words of Affirmation and showered my father with limitless appreciation, praise and love.

To see such a strong woman humbled by physical decline show such love for her husband was touching.

My mom, Gaby Obadia Attias, has left me, left all of us, the gift of love. Though we may all speak different love languages, learn to recognize and appreciate the different languages our loved ones use.

And may her memory serve as an inspiration to us all.

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