A few years ago I was challenged with writing my mother’s eulogy. Not necessarily a daunting task, after all I had 60+ years of experiences, anecdotes and stories to draw from. As I started to pull a few things together a dear friend made a suggestion that I eventually followed. I decided to print the full version here in honor of Mother’s Day and my mother.
I could spend time relating a few stories from growing up around my mom. Most would be very similar to the experiences you have had; scrambling to get dozens of cookies decorated for home room holiday parties in grade school, the time that she gave to the PTA and how disconcerting it was to have your mother on a first name basis with the principal of your school, the dozens of baseball games she kept score at, hundreds of trips to football or baseball or scouts that the old station wagon was packed with kids, the high school activities and dances she helped chaperone, the extra effort she had to give to my twin brother when he was diagnosed with diabetes and later on the letters that came like clockwork while I was in the Army – she kept mine neatly bundled up near the bottom of her cedar chest.
We all have stories to tell about growing up and then spending the holidays or joining the family gatherings as adults. Beyond that I have a more unique perspective about my mother than most might have. I chose to return home and spend time caring for her – much like she cared for my brothers and me. I became responsible for paying the bills, doing the laundry, cooking dinner, making doctor’s appointments, keeping her safe and clean and warm. During those years her mental health deteriorated to the point where I was forced to place her in a full time care facility. But during the time we spent together prior to that I learned a great deal about her and our family.
One of her daily rituals was to read the newspaper from front to back, keeping it neatly folded and placed beside her favorite chair when she was done. In the beginning I wasn’t sure how much she really understood and retained. Then during dinner she’d recount something she’d read that morning and how she felt about it. On good days we’d watch baseball or football games together. To my surprise she would know most of the player’s names and positions. Our conversations would drift to little league games that had happened decades before. She would always have this little smile and glint in her eyes as she spoke.
Occasionally she’d drag out the old photo albums with pictures from “the farm” in Littleton where she grew up. She’d relate stories I’d heard my grandmother tell many years ago. The next time it would pictures of my dad’s family or our family. Always there would be some anecdote that would reveal a side of her or dad or my grandparents that I didn’t know existed. She was most proud of the ballooning pictures that documented the hundreds of flights that she helped crew for my twin brother. She didn’t fly with him that often but she’d talk about how much she loved to watch all of the balloons “glide into the blue”. Few people knew how much she feared for my brother’s safety and how it scared her so much.
She loved going for a ride in the car after spending so much time in the house. We’d pick different routes to travel, passing by old landmarks that I hoped she would know or remember. Some she would recognize and how some had disappeared and had been replaced. She always marveled at the number of cars and people on the streets. “Where did they all come from? What do they all do?”
Through all of those years I gained a new and different kind of respect for her. A new insight into what shaped her, her life and eventually mine. As the “good” days dwindled away it became harder for her. And the frustration she suffered was enormous. Eventually she couldn’t tell me my name but sometimes that wry little smile would appear and her eyes would light up again if only for a moment or two and she’d squeeze my hand or give me a hug.
Below is the poem I’m Free – a framed copy of it appeared on her headboard not long after my dad passed away. She insisted on having it, a family portrait and a picture of my brother’s balloon with her when she moved into long term care. I never really understood the significance for her, but certainly if she could she would tell us not to grieve for her – because now she is free.
Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free
I'm following the path God has chosen for me.
I took His hand when I heard him call;
I turned my back and left it all.
I could not stay another day,
To laugh, to love, to work or play.
Tasks left undone must stay that way;
I've now found peace at the end of day.
If my parting has left a void,
Then fill it with remembered joys.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss;
Oh yes, these things, I too will miss.
Be not burdened with times of sorrow
Look for the sunshine of tomorrow.
My life's been full, I savored much;
Good friends, good times, a loved one’s touch.
Perhaps my time seems all to brief;
Don't lengthen your pain with undue grief.
Lift up your heart and peace to thee,
God wanted me now-He set me free
Take a few moments in the next few days and learn something new about your mom. If your opportunity has passed, like mine, rekindle a few choice memories and send her your smile...
Happy Mother’s Day Mom!