Remembering Jackie Gothard

Remembering Jackie Gothard

The New Orleans native’s son celebrates her as a "master of love."

Jackie Gothard weeps at the burial of Congregation Beth Israel Torah scrolls in 2005.
Jackie Gothard weeps at the burial of Congregation Beth Israel Torah scrolls in 2005.

Atlantan Yaacov Gothard delivered the following eulogy during the funeral of his mother, Jackie Gothard, on Thursday, May 24, in New Orleans.

How did we get so blessed to be here? Before we even got to this Earth, did our souls rejoice when we heard the words — you are to be her father, her mother, her sister, her cousin, her friend, her grandchild, her son, her daughter, her soulmate?

We know why we are here because each one of us has a special place in Mom’s heart. She made each one of us feel special, loved, cared for, protected and secure.

As her life progressed and we realized her greatness, I, and I’m sure many of you, couldn’t believe our good fortune, that when this anchor, this spiritual giant, this force of nature, spent so much of her precious time with us, we each felt like we were the most important person in her world. And for those precious few hours, days, months and years she blessed us with, we were, for she took each one of us personally, and no one was left behind.

Like all the great ones in Jewish history, who first proved their ability to lead by shepherding and protecting even the weakest of their flock, this one was no exception. If you were a teen thinking of taking your own life, Mom would give you hope. If you were a cousin who couldn’t afford a headstone for your mother, Jackie would raise the funds. If you were aging alone at Willow Wood, Jackie would befriend you. If you were grieving, Jackie would console you. When we were demoralized after Katrina, my mother inspired us. We believed in the impossible because she believed in the impossible, and in the words of my eloquent father, “She willed Beth Israel to exist.”

This is the house that Jackie built, and we are her loving community, her very large family, that she created, breathing life back into us, emanating a light of goodness and humility that astounded us, that literally brought me to my knees as I viewed her for the last time on Tuesday, humbled by her serene goodness, by the purity that she maintained throughout her entire life and that she takes to heaven as she reports on each one of us: “They are doing good, G-d. They are learning. They felt your light in me, and I think the sparks that I planted in each one of them are taking and are growing brighter. Their love for us burns strong, and they are just starting to realize that they can love themselves as much as they love You and me because they are good like me, because we are the same soul. We are one.”

I love Mom because she is love. We are purified by her because she is pure. We are humbled by her because she is humble. We are strengthened by her because she is strong. I was born to this pure soul to help right her emotional ship after her firstborn, Baby Noah, died as a preemie.

Jackie Gothard was not a master architect, she was not a master scientist, nor was she a master painter. Jackie Pressner Gothard, my mom, was a master human being. She was a master of love. She is a master of life.

A woman who embodies so much life, while she can move on from the physical realm, cannot cease to exist, for energy is neither created nor destroyed; it just changes form. We can feel her energy and spirit here right now, just as we felt it during her physical time on Earth, and if we remain aware, we will feel her as she checks in on every one of us.

Just as G-d partially withdrew his presence from us during creation to allow us to exist, Jackie has partially withdrawn her presence from us to allow us to be strong, to fully internalize her qualities, to give credit to our own goodness and achievements, to love ourselves and each other as deeply and unconditionally as she loves each one of us, and to continue to evolve into the courageous human beings that she knows we can be.

One and a half hours after I found out that my mom, my emotional safety net, my first and last line of defense, had shifted back into spirit, while Andy and my plane was landing, I looked down at the lights of this beautiful, fun-loving city that she loved so deeply and that will continue to thrive in large part thanks to her legacy. As we landed, I felt hopeful and excited and happy and spontaneously started singing and quietly clapping to one of Mom’s favorite Hasidic melodies, knowing that this woman’s second line, while it may take a little while in coming, has already started and is going to be an explosively joyous celebration. We can feel it even now, even in our grief: her joyous, optimistic, simmering sunbeam of positivity!

The jock who threw down the 3-point shot to attract the man with the golden heart and get this whole game started has now thrown down her final challenge flag. “Be great like me,” I can imagine her saying as she stands her ground with her hand on her hip. “Be strong, give, love, grow, have faith in yourselves, support the wise children, play your part in making your heart, and this world, a place where G-d and I can come back and stay.”

Like Mom’s protégé and oldest grandchild, Ben Gothard, would say, every time he goes away, “Give me a hug, I love you, and I appreciate you very much.”

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