I am not ready to share this eulogy. We talked with mom just one weekend ago about having a living funeral, where all those who loved her could gather to brag about her to her face…rather than to an urn or casket. She agreed. And yet here we are, in the overwhelming absence she left behind, saying these things.
When I think of my mom, I think of place. I think of her home in West Virginia. My mom grew up very poor and very rural. She walked long distances to get water, got on in her knees to scrub porch floors, and looked for pennies on the ground to buy sweets. Despite her utter poverty, when she told stories of her childhood—which she did often—her face would light up as if she were the richest child of them all. And in many ways she was…rich in story-telling; rich in laughter; rich in elbow grease, tenacity; rich in creative play and innovation. The strength in my mother lied not in her ability to be defined the place she grew up in, but to define it herself.
One way she defined the place she came from was to leave it for a better life. Leaving it led her through some Southeastern states to the Chicago land, where she eventually met and married my dad. Not even 2 years ago, we gathered to say good-bye to him in this very place. And just like her mother with her husband, my mom has not been the same since he passed. And now her place is with him, and I find peace in their reunion. As my mom passed, she smiled, so tenderly and purely, as if overjoyed. I can only imagine that smile was reflected in my dad’s soul.
When my mom made this place her new home, she made sure to have a lot of food. She remembered from growing up the emptiness of her cupboards and her belly, and she was incessant to not let that happen in her home. She loved to feed her family; she loved to feed anyone. Please raise your hand or stand if you have eaten at least once at my mother’s house or an account of my mother. Look around. Those are full belly memories because of my mom. She gave from a place of abundance.
She gave of herself as well. I remember her telling a story of a friend who fell upon hard times. When the church she attended refused to organize a fund raiser to help that friend, my mom placed it upon herself to find another church, musicians, and volunteers to run a fund raiser that brought in a lot of money for her friend in need. More quietly and privately, my mom gave like this in the place of her home…wiping our tears, listening to us, holding us with those strong and sturdy hands of hers, ensuring we were without need and with love.
My mom’s place was with giants and champions. She is the hardest worker I have ever met. She was deeply connected to her productivity—at the factory, in the home, in her relationships. She is absolutely the strongest woman I know. In her life, she had surgeries, sicknesses, aches and pains, breach birth, pneumonia, a sick and unremembering husband, poverty, legal complications, strife, church scandals, ignorant bosses and nurses…the list goes on. Through them all, she fought. Through them all, she focused on of others, especially her children… Are we eating enough? Do we have enough money? Are we ok? How’s so and so? The beauty of my mom’s strength was its selflessness. Her place was beside others: cheering, supporting, loving.
My mom was an epic traveler. Some of the places she traveled are around this place via postcards she has saved…and those are only the ones we found by today. She loved to road trip. We grew up in vans, and we would pack them from tip to top with all the gear necessary to visit places around the country. She loved to explore. She took small trips to Wisconsin and Indiana, trips back home to West Virginia, trips to casinos, and grand trips to places like Niagara Falls and Yellowstone National Park. I will always cherish her trips to see us in Colorado; we traveled on mountain roads through rock formations and atop 14,000 foot peaks, and found deer and elk and moose and joy. I will forever attribute my love of travel, nature and God to her, for anytime she saw something grand like a winding road through a rising red mountain canyon walls, she would say “how can someone not believe in God after seeing something like this?” I imagine she said that when she went into his place of glory as well.
My mom was an artist. This place reflects her. The paintings, the jars, the post cards, the prayer card all represent how much she created…whether in crafts, in words, or in images. We see her and reflect her in the jewelry we were today. She brought beauty into the place of our lives. I think one of the reasons I am an English teacher is because she passed on to me her creativity, her love of words and images and stories.
I am not ready to end this eulogy. Ending it brings a conclusive finality to my mom’s passing. I can only find small hope in her eternal place in my heart. That her story was the best of all, and I am still telling it…and always will.