New York Times Portraits of Grief

Catherine Ellen Chirls

What better tribute could a mother ask than a eulogy by her eldest child? That was the send-off for Catherine Ellen Chirls, at a memorial service in Brooklyn Heights, where her family lived for 15 years until a recent move to Princeton, N.J. The eulogy was delivered by 16- year-old Nick Chirls, the country's No. 1 squash player in his age group and his mother's partner each night when it was time to wash the dishes.

Mrs. Chirls, 47, was a banker at eSpeed. Yet at the end of her workday, and her long trip home, dinner was a special time. Best of all, her son said, was the nightly cleanup, his chore while his two younger siblings were let off the hook. His mother did most of the work, while the two talked about politics, sports, schoolwork. Once, he wondered aloud what difference it made if he got an A or a B. His mother's answer was "Never limit yourself," words that Nick said would inform the rest of his life.

So will a sparrow that joined him at the lectern on this most demanding of days. As Nick said the word "mother" the first time, the bird lighted upon his head. With hundreds of mourners gasping, the boy took the bird in his hand, then set it free. "I'm not a religious person," he said later. "I don't believe in things like that. But there is no other explanation than that my mother was with me."