Robert R. Fenichel


Memorial Service for Emily at Studio Theatre, 13 October 2006

Studio Theatre graciously donated its facilities for the memorial service.  Zero to Three provided the logistics, catered refreshments, and the program:

my slides and text

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What would Emily say here?  It doesnít help to ask, ďWhat do people usually say at their own memorial services?Ē  Still, ďWhat would Emily say?Ē is not a new question for me.  I used to have a strategy for dealing with questions that fell outside of my areas of geeky expertise:  Ask Emily what to do.  Sometimes I could predict what Emily would say, but often she surprised me. 

Today, I think I know what Emily would say here, and separately I want to tell you what Emily wanted to say here, even rehearsed in preparation for saying here, although certainly not for this service.  Finally, I want to try to tell you what Emily might not have said, but what perhaps should be said on her behalf.

What Emily would have said is easiest.  Emily was fond of the old leftist folk songs.  Today her choice would have been to quote from the Joe Hill song, ďDonít mourn for me, organize.Ē  Saying that, she would have been referring not to the unionization of every mine & mill, but to the songís broader notions:  The need continues.  The work must continue.

Looking first at the largest society, we are not the only bereaved these days, nor the most recently bereaved, nor the most numerous.  Since Emilyís death, there have been many other deaths, many of them deliberately induced by people we have financed, or even by people acting directly in our names.  Emily would have said this: The country is in bad hands.  The need continues.  The work must continue.

In Emilyís specific area of young children and families:  Their need continues.  So the work must continue, and now there are fewer hands to do it. 

So: Donít mourn for me, organize.  Thatís what Emily would have said, but itís misleading.  Itís too severe.  It says look beyond yourself, look even beyond those who are closest to you, spend your time on the larger social cause.  The same old leftists who taught us the Joe Hill song might have called it Stankhovite. Emily was subtler than that.

Let me tell you what Emily would not have said here today, but wanted to say from this very stage in another context.  

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Emily was an understudy in Trudy Blue, a play by Marsha Norman that was produced here in Studio Theatre in early 2001.

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The central character of the play is Ginger.  Sheís a young middle-aged woman who learns early in the play that she has a cancer that will kill her within a few weeks.  In the course of the play, Ginger tries to come to terms with her own mortality, and she begins leave-taking from her husband and from her 13-year-old daughter.  Itís not easy.

Ginger seeks advice from various sources, notably from her mother.   That sounds unremarkable, but Gingerís Mother has herself been dead for some time before any of the action of the play.  Even so, the mother comes forward from time to time, sometimes called forth by Ginger but more often unbidden, like Hamletís father.  Emily was the understudy for Gingerís Mother.

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Emily loved the part of Gingerís Mother, and some of Gingerís Motherís lines seemed to come directly from Emilyís own phrases.  For example, 

Ginger: Is there life after death?

Gingerís Mother: No.  Well.  Unless you call this a life.

Ginger: What do you mean?  This what?

Gingerís Mother:  This talking to people the way they remember you.  I wasnít like this really.  I was much nicer than this.  I could be pretty funny sometimes.  I gave away a lot of godamn fruitcake.

Thatís not the part of the play I most wanted to quote to you.  In a dream or a flash-forward, when Ginger is at the very point of death, she speaks only to her mother, although her family and best friend are present.

Ginger: Now what?

Gingerís Mother: What do you mean?  After you die?

Ginger: Will I be able to talk to them?  Touch them?  Can I communicate with them in any way?

Gingerís Mother:  No, Ginger.  Thatís what your life is for.

Isnít that a great line?  Emily loved that line, but the primary actress in the role never failed to appear, so Emily never got to perform it.  

ďThatís what your life is for.Ē  It is a great line, but it still has an air of duty.  Not the severe demand of ďdonít mourn for me, organize,Ē but still all for others, and nothing for oneself.  Itís too simple.

Emily might have been satisfied, if she were here, to refer only to the messages of social responsibility and then family responsibility.  She often quoted Hillel, ďIf I am not for myself, then who will be for me?  And if I am only for myself, then what am I?  And if not now, when?Ē Her stress was always on the altruistic part in the middle, as if the last part, ďIf not now, when?Ē did not apply to being for oneself.  She talked a hard game.

For example, she often said that she was going to work until she was 70 ó in a pejorative sense of work, as in ďThatís why they call it workĒ ó  and only then ó after 70 ó to spend any real time acting and enjoying herself in other ways.  But thatís not how she lived.  As an editor, Emily would say ďShow, donít tell,Ē and now I want to remind you what Emily showed, but did not tell, and perhaps would not have told.

The message is about what to do with time.  Thatís pretty abstract, and I want to make this as concrete as I can. 

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I want to tell you about what Emily did on one specific day.  The day was June 8th of this year.  Thatís the day she died.  You knew that.

Emily & I woke up together on June 8th.  We made love.  We showered together ó we had started doing that when we were young and cute, and we continued it even after our bodies had become attractive only to each other.  We dressed, we had breakfast, we read the papers.

Earlier in the week, Zach had come over in the mid-morning with Emilyís grandson, Leonard.  Emily got to take care of Leonard for a couple of hours, taking him to the park, maybe changing him, and Zach got a respite in which to do some work on his laptop.  That didnít happen on June 8th, even though it would have made the story better.  On June 8th, Emily had only me to play with, so she spent the late morning doing some Zero-to-Three work at home.

A little before noon, Emily went down to Zero to Three to work in her office.  She came home at the end of the workday, cooked dinner, from scratch ó we never had takeout, never ó and we ate it and shared a bottle of wine.

After dinner, I drove Emily to Silver Spring, to the shooting site of Contingency 4, a new film in a Donald Westlake style, coming soon to an independent film festival near you.  Contingency 4.  Look for Mrs. Henderson, the character played by Emily.

At the end of the shoot, Emily headed toward home on public transportation.  A few blocks from the house, things got out of control.  You knew that.

Iím not going to talk about the out-of-control part.  Iím skipping that, because we think differently about parts of our lives that are under our control, and parts that are not. 

Focus on the part of June 8th that was under Emilyís control.  Can you do that?  If you can, you will see this: It was nearly a perfect day.  Emily was enjoying herself.  Thatís an idea that is missing in Donít Mourn For Me, Organize, and missing again in Thatís What your Life is For.  For all of that day, Emily was enjoying herself.

Emily spoke of having fun only after 70, but she knew ó as all of us under 70 must know ó that 70 might not come.  If not now, when?  So Emily, whatever she said, was having fun when she could.  Sometimes it was nothing but fun

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(Nepal, 13 years ago)

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(in Arts Unitedís PhŤdre, 2 years ago)

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(in the Grand Canyon, 19 years ago)

sometimes the fun came with meeting the need, doing the work

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(demonstration, 2 years ago)

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(demonstration, 39 years ago)

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(for ZTT, about 10 years ago)

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(Hughes for Senate, 44 years ago)

and sometimes Emily was with us, which for her was always the most fun of all.

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(with Leonard last year)

It all hangs together, and it is about time.  Emily knew some things about time that she never talked about, perhaps because she found them so obvious. There is no time when Emily seemed to learn these things.  The pictures I just showed you were in no special order because Emily was not a bureaucrat who finally mellowed, or a geek whose corners finally rounded.  She always knew.

So let me try to pull it all together, with what Emily would not have said today, but what we know from her example.

First, Emily did not waste time.  She knew what Alan Watts was referring to when he called his book, This Is It, and again the words of Hillel, ďIf not now, when?Ē  She didnít read trash, because there are too many great books.  She did not watch television, because there is too much great theater.  She didnít do crossword puzzles.  She knew that time would be limited.  She didnít know just how limited, but neither do you.

And second, and this is the punch line; this is the message that I would leave with you, on Emilyís behalf.  Emily discovered that for her there was a best way to use time, to milk time of its potential, and always to enjoy it.  What Emily found was, that the best way to use time was to give it away.  

S'dremlen Feygl, as sung (and now translated) by Rhoda Bernard

Sídremlen Feygl (Birds are Drowsing)

Words by Leah Rudnitski, music by Leyb Yampolsky


Sídremlen feygl oyf di tsvaygn,

Shlof, mayn tayer kind.

Bay dayn vigl, oyf dayn nare

Zitst a fremde vos zingt.

Bay dayn vigl, oyf dayn nare

Zitst a fremde vos zingt.

Loo loo, loo loo, loo.


Síiz dayn vigl vu geshtanen oysgeflokhtn fun glik.

Un dayn mame, oy, dayn mame

Kumt shoyn keynmol nisht tsurik.

Un dayn mame, oy, dayn mame

Kumt shoyn keynmol nisht tsurik

Loo loo, loo loo, loo.


Khíhob gezen dayn tatn loyfn

Unter hogl fun shteyn.

Iber felder iz gefloygn

Zayn faryosemter geven.

Iber felder iz gefloygn

Zayn faryosemter geven.

Loo loo, loo loo, loo.


Birds are drowsing in the branches,

Sleep, my dear child.

Near your cradle, on an old wooden bench

Sits a strange woman who sings.

Near your cradle, on an old wooden bench

Sits a strange woman who sings.

Loo loo, loo loo, loo.


There was a time when your cradle had been woven with happiness.

And your mother, oy, your mother

Isnít coming back anymore.

And your mother, oy, your mother

Isnít coming back anymore.

Loo loo, loo loo, loo.


I saw your father running

Under a hail of stones.

Across the fields flew

His far and lonely wail.

Across the fields flew

His far and lonely wail

Loo loo, loo loo, loo.

The texts of some of the other speakers' remarks will be posted as they become available.

Emily's home page                            next


Page revised: 01/19/2017 11:58