This Sunday, we will be memorializing my 89 year old mother in a ceremony at her church of 63 years. She and I had a complicated relationship in many ways. I have spent my lifetime trying to peel back the layers of what was hers and what is mine. Ultimately, I found such hope and healing in bearing witness to the final days of her life. What follows is my eulogy. I figured there was no better way to kick off my site.
First and foremost, on behalf of my brothers and sister and the whole _____ Clan, I want to thank you for your presence here today in honor of the Extraordinary Woman who was __________. She was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, teacher, friend, neighbor, volunteer, 60 year community member, and the list goes on. Suffice it to say, she was loved and she is missed. We are so grateful that you have chosen to take this space to remember her, mourn her passing, celebrate her life, be together, support our family, and possibly learn a new Pat Fact!
My siblings and I all spoke at my dad’s funeral, and the act of putting words to a monumental figure in our lives was daunting. It is no less so now, especially with another 20 years of shared experiences to dive into.
Nothing prepares you for the death of your mother. Not the fact that you yourself are a mother. Or that you’re middle aged. Or that she hasn’t fully recognized you in almost a year. Or that you knew the time was coming to say goodbye. Nothing prepares you for the mixed bag of sadness, grief, regret, gratitude, peace and love.
When someone passes away slowly, deteriorating before our eyes, we often want to erase that end stage from our memory and instead replay a highlight reel of better times. We want to erase the look and smell of illness, erase the dementia and confusion. We want to erase the sting of not being recognized and the grief of not being known by our loved ones. We want to forget the dying part of living.
But for me, these last months, days, and hours have been an absolute blessing that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I’m sure my brothers and sister will speak to the many wonderful memories that we had as a family and individually with my mom, and there were many. But I want to paint a picture of this remarkable woman in her final weeks. I do this because I believe that what I witnessed was in fact my mother at her core; this was her very essence. Despite having lost so much weight, being so drawn and weak and fragile, she SHONE in a way that soothed my heart, gave me hope, and changed me forever.
The thing my mother valued most in the world was family. It was her most sacred core value. We grew up on stories of her mom and dad, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Farm life, military life, the responsibility of being the oldest. Together, she and my dad provided for the four of us through sacrifice, always putting their time and resources toward our futures. But perhaps the thing that made my mother happiest in all this world were her grandchildren, great grandson and somehow comprehending that there is another great grandchild on the way. When each of us had children, there was my mom, ready to rock, feed and change a baby. As those babies grew older, we parents got a quick peck on the cheek as she made her way to the grandkids and spent the day on the floor playing all the games they loved, reading books, and making crafts. She was a hands-on grandma and had no trouble getting dirty! She could not get enough of her grandkids and was a part of all of their lives. She attended everything they did and applauded their accomplishments.
When we first learned that she was in her final days, without hesitation every grandchild came to her bedside by train, plane, and automobile. Every one of them. She delighted in each, and despite needing to rest, she would open her eyes, take everyone in and smile. These people, HER people, were her happy place.
My brothers, sister and I saw my mom daily in her last three weeks. She talked nonstop of love and family and babies! She talked about what a wonderful and beautiful world this is. She thanked us for being there. She thanked every aide who came into her room, every nurse, all of whom loved her.
My mom was tired, she was sore, her body was shutting down. But her mind held on to the one thing that was easing her from this world to the next, and it was the one thing that helped me let her go. And that was gratitude. My mother was grateful for her long life spent surrounded by family. She was grateful for opportunities and experiences, grateful for the hardships and disappointments. She was grateful for the people and places who impacted her. Gone were the worry, doubt, concern, planning, and hypervigilance that marked her life as a wife, mother, grandmother and teacher. Her final days consisted of memories of joy, happiness, abundance, and love. Love that was given and love that was received. She shone with the true essence of who she was…a woman who had been blessed and knew it.
I believe in the power of the word AND, the word that allows two truths to exist at once. Today we grieve AND celebrate. Today we look back at a life well lived AND look forward to the many ways I know we will “meet” my mom again in the grandchildren who will carry her traits, mannerisms, and values.
I set my sights now on finding my mother amongst all of you here, the people she loved, cared for, helped and touched. My challenge to you is to take one of the traits you hear about today, make it your own, and spread it out in the world that she might live on.
Will you embrace her sense of adventure and curiosity, displayed in her travel both near and far? Or will you endeavor to be more flexible, a trait she honed from 4 kids, 11 grandkids, and a great grandchild? Will you practice her resourcefulness, literally making something from nothing so often? Maybe you’ll carry her soft heart for animals, which she never wanted, but always welcomed? Or maybe you’ll attempt the balance she displayed while caring for my dad in his end journey while still caring for herself?
Listen today and find the parts of her that you can make yours. Share them with your loved ones. And remember her always. Because _______ left our world knowing what was most important…gratitude. Gratitude for our messy AND marvelous lives that are being lived exactly as they were meant to be.
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