We buried Mom today. It was a beautiful service, and we had our entire family back at our new house for hours of sharing wonderful memories.
I was also so pleased to see so many of my friends and my colleagues show up at the viewing and at the funeral. The support has been overwhelming, and I am grateful for all of your kind words, your support, and your love.
I also delivered the eulogy at today’s service. I’d like to share it here, so those of you who did not know Mom as well as others might know her a little more from these few words.
Ode to Mom, May 21, 2007
Well, Mom, what a long and magnificent journey it has been for you.
I don’t think that many on this Earth get the opportunity to experience so many different journeys, so fully, in one lifetime as Mom did. And, even if they do, I doubt many have embraced those journeys with such intensity and joy. For she certainly faced many events in her life where she could have simply turned away, given up, and let go.
There’s a reason why she didn’t, though, and I believe genuinely that it was in her celebration of life, in her celebration with God during her 81 years that made all the difference.
I remember during the late 80’s when Mom and I were having a discussion about Faith. We had touched on all the usual topics of heaven and belief in a higher spirit, but then she paused, turned away as if debating whether to go more deeply in the conversation. I waited patiently, wondering if she would decide to share, when she turned back to me and asked, “Why do so many Fear God? Why do they say I should fear Him? I don’t understand why I should fear Him when He does such wondrous things for us.”
I explained to her that I believed the word “fear” was actually meant to mean “to be in awe of” or “to have great respect.” At one time, it may have been used as a means of intimidation so that followers would be so afraid of God’s power that they had no choice but to bow down and show their respects to Him.
That’s not the kind of person Mom was. She didn’t fear; she loved. She saw God’s beauty in the outdoors on her many camping trips. I can trace them all the way back to 1959 where she kept notes on each trip: how well the weather behaved, how hospitable the hosts of the campground were, even how good the fishing might have been for Dad.
She saw God’s beauty in each of her children: Warren, whom she always saw as the great protector, the one who would defend her at all costs; Jim, who dedicated his life so selflessly first in the fire department, just like dad, and then in doing God’s work so that others may know love, comfort, and peace; Steve, whom she trusted unconditionally to provide her safety and security, both after Dad’s passing and after her own as well; and Cindy, her best friend, her shopping partner, her only daughter who knew how to make her laugh during the greatest challenges in her life, the one she drew strength from, even though hundreds of miles separated them. Mom always said that she could not have had five more different children if she tried, and that gave her the chance to love each of us that much more.
She also saw God as a provider of strength and courage as she decided to go back to school to get her Associate’s degree in Culinary Science. Here she was, approaching 50 years old, and returning to the classroom with students less than half her age. But she did this because she loved to learn. She loved to remain active. She loved to live. And she wrote about the strength that God gave her to pursue the things she most enjoyed.
And of course, sometimes that strength and courage spilled over to us. –Out of necessity. You see, even with Mom’s degree in Culinary Science, we sometimes found her food to be, well, more on the side of scientific experimentation than on culinary masterpieces.
I don’t think I will ever forget the day we moved Mom into her own apartment after Dad died. I remember most of my brothers were there, and we were working like ants, making a military march from the truck, up the steps to the third floor, then back down again to pick up the next load. It was like this for a good while, but everything changed the minute she defrosted the “mystery meat” and served us a complimentary dinner.
Now, we would never disrespect Mom by telling her that her cooking was a little less than worthy of the Culinary Science degree she earned. But what happened, rather naturally along the military march to and from the apartment, was that the word spread that a dumpster, clean out of mom’s sight, was just a few yards to the left at the end of the street. I don’t think she ever realized that we were a little slower in getting her belongings up to her new apartment, although she did comment on how hungry we must be, as she needed to refill our plates every time we came back upstairs.
All I know is that we were lucky she never peaked her head out to see that our military march had become a triangular trip from truck to apartment to dumpster, all in good stride.
We may have feared the food, but Mom never feared God; she embraced Him. Let Him fully into her heart. Let Him do His work through her so that others may benefit from such Excellence in Love.
On the day when Mom became a member of St. John’s in October of 2001, Psalm 100 was printed on the inside of the bulletin. This is the same Psalm that we all considered to be highly appropriate to share in her passing. How fitting that such a Psalm would capture the essence of Mom’s beliefs:
Psalm 100 begins,
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing;
Know that the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Isn’t this the way Mom embraced all of life, though? Her life with Dad was a magnificent journey in every way, and when he passed away in 1989, she mourned his loss genuinely and fully. I had the good fortune to take several trips with Mom after Dad passed away. We went to Florida, New England, and Canada. We talked about the essence of life, of seizing the day. Carpe Diem we would shout joyfully together in the mobile home, navigating the winding curves along the King’s Highway throughout Canada, having no idea where we were headed, but taking it all in nonetheless.
And when Mom emerged from mourning our father’s loss, she once again felt great joy that God had led her to begin a new journey with another individual who had also just lost a spouse of many years. Together, they forged a new relationship that strengthened so much that my own children saw Charlie as their grandfather, a great man who loved their grandmother very, very much.
Mom wrote about how happy she was listening to her grandchildren run the model trains with Charlie in the basement. The woops of laughter as they all enjoyed the simplicity of life in a full-blown city, scaled down to fit nicely on the smoother side of a 4 x 8 piece of plywood.
That’s all it took. A few smiles, some good laughs, and always a lot of love.
Then a few years ago, Mom started taking a different type of journey. In 2005, she was diagnosed with cancer, and from her hospital bed, we had to break the news to her that, without treatment, she had maybe three, four weeks to live. It was the hardest thing I think we might ever have to do, but my brother Steve spoke so strongly, so confidently to her, letting her know that she could still take control, still fight this, and still live maybe another year or two.
After Steve had finished, she looked around at all of us, firmed her upper lip, and said, “I’m going to lick this cancer.” And for those two years, that’s exactly what she did.
At first she set small goals: the first to make it to the day Kohl’s Department Store opened in Lutherville. Mom was a shopaholic. And when that day arrived in August of 2005, we covered the event like it was the Media Story of the year. It was her first milestone, and she laughed when we were all done, telling us that her next goal was to make it to her 80th birthday.
Soon after Kohl’s, I remember taking her to chemo treatment one day, and she and I looked around the waiting room. We were surrounded by individuals, young and old, battling cancer just like her. The difference was that, in many of these people’s eyes, you could tell that they had lost their fight to live.
She leaned into me and whispered, “Don’t they know that they are still alive? Isn’t that something to hold on to?” I nodded, and after Mom went into the room behind the blinds for her treatment, I peaked in every once in awhile to see her, getting chemo, looking patient, maybe even a little anxious. After her treatment, I asked her what she was thinking about that whole time, and she replied, simply, “Why, spending the evening with Charlie in Atlantic City, playing the slots all night!”
And that’s exactly what she did. From Chemo to Kohl’s, to Wegman’s to Slots, she spent each moment enjoying life to the fullest.
Even in her final journey, when the chemo treatments could do no more and Mom became too weak to leave her bed, she still reflected on the good, on a life well-lived, on her faith in God, where there was no fear, only joy for what God had provided her along the way.
Indeed, until the very end, she did Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. She did serve the Lord with gladness.
In her final hours, my brother Jim and I sat by her bedside and looked at how peaceful she lay there. Days before, she whispered of being with our Dad and with her sister Lorraine, and Jim and I wondered what this last journey from Earth was like for her, to be so peaceful in this parting.
Really, though, all we need to do is look at the second part of Psalm 100 to understand:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
And his courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him; bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And His faithfulness to all generations.
To all generations.
Finally, I offer this: Years ago, Mom wrote a note to me and asked me to share some important words at her funeral. I am honored to fulfill her request:
“If I’ve learned anything in my life, it is that we should never stop loving each other. My children are lucky to have such wonderful families, and I want all of them, especially my precious grandchildren, to remember to always cherish and enjoy life, to love one another without judgment, and for goodness sake, to always stay in touch with each other. I love you all. I always have, and I always will, from here, from heaven, forever.”