Dear Family, Friends, and Community of Rachel,
Thank you for all your support through this extremely difficult time. Many of you have reached out to me offering support and kind words - especially about the Eulogy I wrote to honor her. I have heard that the words were healing to many, so I have written them here below. Please pass them on to anyone who was unable to physically be at the funeral, but who know my Momma’s spirit and love.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to me at any time with stories, laughs, tears, or love.
-Kirsten Oberoi, Daughter of Rachel Hallenbeck
Good morning. Thank you all for being here today to celebrate the life of one of the most amazing people I have ever known – my dearest Momma – Rachel Hallenbeck.
I see so many familiar faces here today coming together from so many different communities. Family members, friends from college, colleagues from Braintree, from elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and administration, singer friends from the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, music teacher colleagues from the south shore, current and former students, and more. I know that my mom would be so happy seeing you all together, from future, past, and present, all here together today lifting your voices in celebration of her life.
Today is a very difficult day for all of us – this past week even. While it is so inspiring looking out and seeing so many people here to celebrate my mom, it is also a terrible nightmare that I am standing here before you. My mom was my best friend and teammate. Our lives overlapped in so many ways – especially because I chose to follow in her footsteps and become a music teacher on the south shore. For the past couple of years, you could find us hanging together at music festivals on weekends, or turning pages in rehearsal. When I chose to start the South Shore Children’s Chorus, she stood right behind me, and even became a teacher this past September. (…and yes, I made her send me a resume and cover letter and formally interview for the position!) Even more recently, when my church position wasn’t working out this January, I came on board at Quincy Point Congregational Church where she was the Minister of Music. My official title was “Assistant to the Minister of Music”, or abbreviated to “Assistant to the Mom” as she liked to say. My mom and I were completely involved in eachother’s lives, and I thought that today I might share some of the lessons that my mom taught me through the past 28 years. In doing so, I hope I can capture my mom’s best and most unique qualities, to help you get a clear picture about the amazing woman this world has lost.
Every year, my mom had a unique quote, a sort of mission statement posted in her classroom. A couple years ago, her mission statement was ‘Perfection is in the Details.’ If you’ve ever had a moment to work alongside my mother, you’ll know that she thought about every detail of every event- ever. Whether it be the materials needed, where people are placed, or people’s specific jobs, my mom had it figured out before you even thought of it. Everything could be found, in a perfectly organized, color coded folder labeled with exactly what was inside.
This was a quality I did not naturally inherit from my mom. My rooms and desks are messy, and I can’t ever find what I’m looking for. I went to college in San Diego, California, and my senior year I moved myself into an on-campus apartment that she had never seen. One morning, we were having our usual phone catch-up date, and I was running out the door, frustrated that I couldn’t find my flashdrive. I was frantically searching for the flashdrive, while holding the phone in one hand and trying to hold a conversation with my mom. Frustrated, I told her that I couldn’t find it. Without hesitation, she said: “Did you look in the left-hand drawer of your desk?” Lo and behold, that’s exactly where it was.
That was the only time I hung up the phone on my mother.
I followed directly in my mother’s footsteps and became a chorus teacher - just like her. I say this again because I learned how to teach by watching her interact with her students when I was young. Over the past week, many of my mother’s current and former students have reached out to me, explaining that my mom’s classroom was a “safe space” for them. My mom would listen to her students’ problems, open her office for them to eat lunch, allow them a place to be when they needed time. She laughed with them, cried with them, fed them. In a day and age when teachers are increasingly encouraged to draw lines between themselves and their students, my mom was simply unafraid to show her students love. Sometimes, she showed this love by being tough on them, sometimes by embracing them fully. In fact, at departure every day, it was common for her to wave goodbye saying, ‘Love you- mean it.’ It wasn’t long before even the toughest kids would initiate the same response: ‘Bye, H.B.- love you, mean it.’ In fact, yesterday I was given this pin handmade by some of her students that reads that exact quote. The impact she had on her students was great. She took children and created adults. I am, and will always be, in awe of her ability to educate students in music, but more importantly, in life.
In whatever way you knew her, my mom somehow took care of you- whether you were a friend for whom she was a listening ear, a colleague for whom she advocated and fought for, or a family member for whom she provided. Often, she took care of you whether or not she asked you to. She always had your best interest in mind, whether you liked it or not. Sometimes she wanted to take care of you so much, but she didn’t know exactly what you needed at that moment. For me, this often manifested itself in gift boxes full of Harry & David chutneys, relishes, salad dresses or salsas. When my husband and I moved last summer, we discovered that our pantry was full of these unopened jars that Mom had given to me at some point, but I honestly had no idea how to use. Regardless, the thought behind the box of ‘pineapple onion jelly’ was “I love you, and I care for you.”
After teaching elementary school in Braintree for several years, my mom was offered the position of Director of Music for Braintree public schools. During her first few years of being Director, my mom made a point of dressing the part. She would curl her hair every day and wear a sleek business outfit, complete with a pair of high-heeled shoes. My mom was gonna make Braintree’s music program into one to beat, and she wanted everyone to know it. In meetings with colleagues and administrators, she was unafraid to speak up and stand up for her program. Just the sound of her heels alone could intimidate the entire room. The moment you heard those heels clicking down the hallway, you knew you were in trouble. The closer that sound became, the faster your heart would beat.
I speak from personal experience. One of my mom’s favorite stories about when I was younger is when I was 16 years old and had just got my first car. As most 16-year-olds do, I was testing the waters a little bit. I thought my mom might not allow me to go out with my friends after school one day, so I told her I had musical theater rehearsal instead. Not having much experience in the way of lying to my mother, I had left a huge hole in my story- I had forgotten my script on the kitchen table. My mom got home after school, and realizing that I had left my script on the table, and was presumably at rehearsal, she thought she’d do a nice thing and bring my script to me. Much to her surprise, the school theater was empty and dark, and no one was there. This being slightly before the age of cell phones, she decided to drive by my friend’s house to see if I was there. As she drove by the Friendly’s restaurant in Wollaston Center, she noticed my car in the parking lot. This wasn’t particularly difficult, as my car was bright green with the large, yellow bumper sticker she had bought me, reading: “CAUTION: DRIVER SINGING”. I remember sitting in the restaurant, facing the back wall and hearing the dreaded heel clicks coming toward me from across the linoleum floor. I knew for a fact at that point that I was in trouble. As the heel clicks got closer, I slowly turned to see her laser-blue eyes piercing into my soul. She put a 20-dollar bill on the table and simply said, “Kirsten needs to come home now. This should cover her.” That was the last time I tried lying to my mother about my whereabouts.
My mom had the gift of believing in people way more than they believe in themselves. She saw beyond faults and imperfections far into the future of who you could be one day. She was quick to forgive in moments where you didn’t live up to the person she knew you could be and she wasn’t afraid to let you know exactly when those moments were happening. I hope that if you’re here today and my mom believed in you in some form, that you continue to work hard in her memory to be the person that she knew you could be. She would want that for all of us.
For those of you who know me, you may know that I show love through creative projects. That being said, there are three ways that I’d like to honor my mom’s life, work, love and career. The first is a memorial scholarship fund in her name to be given annually to a Braintree High School music student. The second is a book of memories written by you, her family, friends, colleagues and students. You can find information about both of these on the postcards in your bulletin. Finally, I know that many people in this room want to celebrate my mom through song. In the coming months, we’ll be planning a memorial concert in her name, to which all of the proceeds will be donated to the scholarship fund. Should you be interested in participating in the concert, please reach out to me via the e-mail on the postcard, and I will be sure to include you.
Thank you for lifting your voice today, and always, in remembrance of my beautiful mom.