Sunday, September 28, 2014

In Memorium: Mom

Here's the eulogy I gave at Mom's memorial service:
(click to enlarge photos)

A Life Well-Lived and Well-Loved


August 4, 1924 - September 3, 2014

Good morning!
My sister, Linda, and I want to thank you all for being here today to celebrate the life of our Mom, Edith.   We also want to thank Immanuel Lutheran Church, which has been her home church since moving into the retirement home eight years ago, and to Pastor Phil who has been visiting her regularly.  She outlived all her family and friends except her brother, Otto, who is 95 and unable to make the trip from Louisville, but he sends his condolences through his daughter, Claudia and her husband, Bob, who are present.   Linda and I also thank all who sent Mom dozens and dozens of cards and well-wishes during her illness.

One of her greatest joys these last few months, as her body and mind were failing her, was to have family visits.  My godly sister, Linda, was at the hospice residence two or more times a day, and I got there four or five times a week.  But even more special to Mom were the visits from her three grandkids, Suzie, and Scott, and Steve and their wives, and the visits from many of our cousins who live in the area.  Thanks to all of you for remembering Mom and visiting her.  

But what Mom most enjoyed were the visits by her great-grandson, Elias.  Just saying his name always brought a huge smile to her face, and she’d always exclaim, “What a sweetheart he is!”   A lot of photos of her and Elias were prominent in her hospice room, and she was always anxious to see the latest photos of him on my iPad.  And it was a special day indeed when all the family and Elias celebrated her 90th birthday with a beautiful cake and a party with all the family in her hospice room.

Mom was a gracious, kind, generous, positive, humble woman and a fantastic mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, cousin, aunt, and friend.  She was deeply and firmly rooted in Christ and known for her servant’s heart, a heart that was pure and kind and always joyful.  She lived her life in a way that announced to everyone that she was a Christian, and today as we commemorate her life, we also celebrate her homecoming to God.

Robert Gibson said “A Christian is a keyhole through which other folks see God.”  This was certainly true of Mom.  Her exuberant spirit was always upbeat, uplifting, and optimistic, always happy and hopeful and exalting in the good inside people and the good things around her.   When life presented her with a lemon, she always chose to make lemonade.  At her retirement home, at the hospital, in the nursing home, and finally at the hospice, nurses and aides regularly told us how Mom always made them smile and laugh and made everyone feel welcome and important.  As news of her passing went through the hospice, all the nurses, aides, and even the housekeeping staff, came to say “goodbye” to her, and all commented on the effect she’d had on them over her 17 week stay there.  And our cousin, David, when I emailed him a photo of Mom and informed him of her hospice placement, responded, “Even though she looks tired, she still has that beautiful light in her eyes and radiance to her face.” 

Recently, Linda and I were with Mom as her lunch was delivered by an aide, and Linda began to assist Mom, moving things around on the hospital tray table.  Mom told her to move the slice of lemon meringue pie (her favorite dessert) out of the way, so Linda took it and was about to place it over on the window ledge, when Mom laughingly scolded, “Not THAT far away!”  The aide was still in the room and said to us, laughing, “There she goes again! Always making us laugh!” 

Friends have talked about the difficulties they faced when their aging parents had to be told they couldn’t drive anymore.  When Mom realized she couldn’t pass her driver’s license exam about age 82, she voluntarily chose to give up driving, and then realizing she couldn’t continue to live in her condo without her car for transportation, she chose to move to the retirement home, where she quickly got involved with their activities, made new friends, and even raved about the food — and never looked back — again making lemonade from lemons.

As I watch my son Scott interact with his new son, Elias, I'm reminded just how much parents influence their children, for that surely is one of the prime responsibilities of parenting.  Parents are charged with serving as good examples for their children, for steering their children in the right directions — in short, for influencing their kids in a multitude of positive ways.   And that got me to realize just how much I had been influenced by Mom over the years, and I came to understand that Mom certainly fulfilled that parental role for Linda and me — from our earliest childhood years right up through Mom’s retirement years.  And as I thought about how much I have been influenced by Mom, I was astonished at how my life has indeed been shaped by her examples.

At a very young age she got us both involved in her church on Chicago’s north side, less than a mile from our house.  Sunday School every week. Vacation Bible School during two weeks of every summer.  Attendance at church services every week, even from a young age.  Luther League youth group.  And she encouraged me to join the church’s first youth choir in 1959.  Mom herself was active in numerous church activities, like choir and Women’s Guild and teaching classes and bell choir and Women’s Circle, thus providing a strong example for us to get involved in church life.  Thanks Mom, for raising us in the church and influencing us to become immersed in church activities.

For years, Mom volunteered at the local food pantry back in the old neighborhood.  After she retired, Mom volunteered both at her church and also at the Lutheran Church World Missions office in Chicago, and her example has led Linda and me to volunteer in various capacities in our retirements, activities that provide both of us with joy and a way to give back to society.  Thanks, again, for your Christian example and giving heart Mom!  

And how Mom loved music.  She loved playing her own piano and organ, and she also enjoyed being a bell ringer in the church bell choir.   And of course, she also loved singing -- while sitting in the church pew, or singing Christmas carols at our family’s annual Christmas Eve party, or in the church choir, or with her beloved Sweet Adelines barbershop chorus.  Singing in a choir is yet another example of what she taught me to love, something I’ve done for over 50 years.  Thanks, again, Mom!

Mom had been the valedictorian of her high school graduation class and president of the Honor Society, and the expectation from both her and Dad was always that we would study and do well in school.  She was active in the PTA at our elementary school where Linda and I attended, and she was involved in other activities at the school like bake sales and open house nights, which was how Mom got to know the principal, Mrs. Fitzgerald.  And though it’s probably hard for you to believe, on one occasion (well, maybe a couple), I was sent to the principal’s office — for talking — and that’s how I got to know Mrs. Fitzgerald, and she and I would sit at her desk and converse about Mom for a while until I had been “disciplined” appropriately, and then I’d go back to class, completely “reformed” — at least until the next time!

My parents rarely spanked me as a child, and the few times it happened I suppose it was deserved, but as a result I developed a severe psychological condition — a condition better known as “respect for others.”  And I thank Mom (and Dad) for that, too!  And I believe, I hope, I have passed that same psychological condition on to my sons, too!

Though Mom and Dad had never had the opportunity to attend college, that expectation was always clearly understood by me — that I would be the first in our family to go to college.  And since the family had no spare money to pay for tuition, it was also expected that while in high school, I would have a paper route or other job during the school year and a full-time job every summer vacation, and that I would save my earnings for college.  And I’m so grateful to Mom for the doors that were opened to me thanks to that college education, and also for teaching me the value of earning money for what you want to purchase.

A good friend of the family was the Cub Scoutmaster and so Mom got me involved in Scouting, first Cub Scouts and later Boy Scouts, which fostered my lifelong passion for the outdoors and for Nature and hiking and camping and backpacking, another thing I thank Mom for leading me to, since these activities have proven to be highlights of my life and have brought me great joy.

Dad wasn’t big on vacation trips, and the only one I can recall as a kid was a drive around Lake Michigan.  But I got sick the second or third day of that trip and we had to return home.  I always secretly feared that my illness was what put a damper on our traveling as a family.  But even though Dad wasn’t keen on traveling, it turned out that Mom loved it, and she took me on a wonderful train excursion to Niagara Falls when I was about 12.  And then in 1959, she introduced Linda and me to the West as we drove with Uncle Fritz and Aunt Alma and cousin Sandy to Devil’s Tower and Wall Drug and Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills and Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  But the highlight of that trip was visiting Dad’s cousin, Uncle Jake and his wife Aunt Elma in Colorado, where Uncle Jake was the US Forest Service Ranger for the San Isabel National Forest.  He took us on a tour of “his” national forest, and seeing the magnificence of the Rockies made an everlasting impression on me, and ever since, the West in general and national parks and national forests in particular, have been entrenched deeply into my soul.  Thank you so much for that, too, Mom!

On that trip, I remember Uncle Jake driving us to the top of Tenderfoot Mountain in Salida, Colorado, driving up Spiral Drive which corkscrews around the mountain three times to reach the top. Now you may not be aware, but Mom was not comfortable with heights, and she was sitting in the front passenger seat as Jake drove that one-and-a-half lane dirt road to the top, so she was looking straight down hundreds of feet to the bottom.  Mom was obviously very nervous, and she reminded Uncle Jake that he had one glass eye and hence no depth perception.  And as Mom sat in the passenger seat with the steep drop off just a few feet from her, she feverishly let Jake and us know of her discomfort, and I recall Uncle Jake boasting to her that he felt safer driving that dirt road than driving on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue in Rush Hour.  And then he said, “Why, Edith, I bet you I can even make a U-turn right here on this narrow road.  Want to see me do it?” and he slowed and pretended to begin a U-turn.  Mom went apoplectic and Jake and the rest of us had a good laugh.

Mom also organized driving trips to Louisville to visit Uncle Otto and Aunt Mary and my cousins Cheryl and Claudia and Eric, and later, a trip down to Florida and then up the east Coast to New York City, and also a wonderful trip in 1968 to the World’s Fair (HemisFair) in San Antonio.  And she and I did a driving trip around Lake Superior through Canada.  Yes, she loved to travel!  After Dad died, Mom traveled a lot with her neighbor, Hazel, both in this country and Canada and also to Europe, and many times after she no longer could travel, she counseled me, “Chuck, go travel while you still can, so you never have regrets.”

And after no longer traveling, she enjoyed looking back at her numerous vacation albums so she could re-live her wonderful trips, and these last few months in hospice, we placed her dozen or so vacation albums prominently in her room, and she often reminisced about her travels and her good friends Hazel and Louise and all the joy that travel had brought to her life.  And as she’d been doing for decades, she still encouraged me to keep traveling and to always take photos to recall my trips.  And there’s no doubt in my mind that she imbedded deep within me, both the wanderlust travel bug and the photography bug.  Thank you very much for that sage advice, Mom!
During her months in the hospice, the brain tumor left her bedridden and paralyzed on her right side. So after a while of sitting up in bed, gravity would have her slide downwards and a bit sideways, necessitating the nurses and aides to pull her back up into position towards the top of the bed.  One time after doing so, an aide told Mom, "You are a traveler," and when I laughed, I had to explain to the aide that Mom had indeed, always been a traveler!

So I thank God for blessing us with Mom and her godly influence and Christian example!  And though she’s gone, she still lives within Linda and me and within many of you here today. 

When a loved one dies, people often say they "lost" that person.  Deep down inside, Linda and I know Mom’s not lost, for we know with certainty where she is. And she's not really gone.  We’ve just temporarily lost contact with her.

I love that brief story by noted author and educator Henry van Dyke, which I paraphrase now:   I’m at the seashore watching Mom depart on a ship.  I stand and watch as her ship skims the water’s surface towards the far horizon, growing smaller by the minute. And then she’s gone.

But gone where?  Gone merely from MY sight.

She and the ship are still just as large and real as when they departed this shore.  And just as I say the words, “She’s gone,” those who are already beyond the horizon on that farther shore are jubilantly shouting, “Here she comes!  Her she comes!”

For such is death.   A trip from here — to a far better there.

As Dr. Calvin Miller wrote: “Dying is but getting dressed for God.  Our graves are but doorways cut in the sod.”

Always remember:  Memory is one gift of God that death cannot destroy!  

So we will all cherish our personal memories of Mom.  We celebrate her exemplary life, a life well-lived, we cherish the lessons she imparted to us, we recall with loving smiles the good times and conversations we shared  — and though we mourn what we have just lost, we rejoice in what Mom has just now gained.

And as one of my favorite gospel songs says:  Now “I’ve got more to go to heaven for, than I had yesterday!”

God bless you Mom! And thank you for all the lessons you taught me and the example you set. We love you, Mom!

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