Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ebb and flow.

Here's the eulogy for my mother that I gave at her funeral yesterday.

That old line about imagining your audience in their underwear doesn't work for me. Instead, I'm imagining you're all 17 or 18 years old. I get nervous speaking to my peers, but talking to high school seniors? I can handle that!

I’m anxious to talk to you about my mother, but first, please indulge me for just a minute. Throughout Mom’s various hospitalizations and especially as her dementia escalated, we have been overwhelmed with support. Brett, Ryan, Katie and I have been blessed abundantly by some unsung heroes, many who are in this room today.

  • When Mom could no longer drive, we put out a call for help. And we got it! Mom had a loyal fleet of drivers who made sure she got to dialysis or church or even to her beloved Cotton Patch CafĂ©.
  • When we had to move Mom to a nursing home this spring, we feared that would doom our summer vacation, but some more heroes volunteered to visit Mom, checking on her throughout our much-needed 11 days away from home. And that’s in addition to all the friends who visited her at other times, too.
  • When we felt like we were mired in one impossible situation or another, many of you were our sounding boards. You listened to us when we needed to vent, you cried with us as we mourned our losses, you prayed for us when we could no longer find the words.
Thank you all.

I knew this part might be really hard to get through without losing composure, so I wanted to go ahead and just rip off the Band-Aid. I just couldn’t stand up here without acknowledging the heroes who have shown us Christ’s love through their love for my mom.

If I look at them right now, I’m sure to lose it, but I have to say thanks to Ryan and Katie. Their Memaw loved them to the moon and back, and they returned that love to her. But they also gave plenty of their own blood, sweat and tears as we dealt with hospital stays and apartment clean-outs. They were so patient and kind with their Memaw—and with their cranky and tired, Mom, too! So thank you, Ryan and Katie. Your dad and I are so very proud of you.

Of course, if you’re on Facebook you’ve probably seen me go on and on about my ridiculously amazing partner, Brett. This man exemplifies “for better or for worse.” I haven’t even seen pictures of my mom’s colon, but Brett has! He’s been on colonoscopy duty! What a model of selflessness and strength he is.

So as I’ve been saying all week, I may be an only child, but I have never been alone. All of you here have shown so much love to my mother. May God bless you for your generosity and kindness.

OK! So…

I have this image of my mother from years ago that has followed me into adulthood. It’s early morning, and as I walk across the living room toward the kitchen, I can see her clearly, her head and shoulders framed by the pass-through kitchen window, as she washes dishes in the sink. The water’s running, but over the splashing, I can hear her singing:

(Now. Before I go all American Idol on you, let me just say that my students learn to tolerate my singing in class fairly quickly. They survive my warbling; so will you!) Anyway, my mom would sing:

There’s within my heart a melody;
Jesus whispers sweet and low,
‘Fear not, I am with thee, peace be still’
In all of life’s ebb and flow.

What a perfect song for my mother! You see, Mom’s life was all about “ebb and flow”—highs and lows, ups and downs.
  •  Early in my parents’ marriage, they moved several times, all while my mom continued to work on her education degree. She often joked that her college transcript looked more like a passport, littered with credits from numerous campuses. It wasn’t easy for her to earn her bachelor’s degree when each move meant new course requirements, but she did it. Ebb and flow.
  • Teaching was not Mom’s job; it was her ministry. Therefore, she was never off-duty! Mom was constantly making manipulatives or retooling her lesson plans. She used to love long road trips because those gave her time in the passenger seat to trim all of her laminated materials as we drove along. She worked hard, but she loved it. As a kindergarten teacher, she spent her days corralling 5-year-olds. If you’ve spent much time with ONE 5-year-old, you know how quickly your fortunes can change as that child vacillates between happy and sad, or from content to bored. Take that uncertainty and multiply it by 20, 21, 22, and you have an idea how a kindergarten teacher’s environment changes through the day. Mom was a master of riding those emotional waves, of capitalizing on her young pupils’ energy and passion to create enthusiastic learners. Ebb and flow.
  •  To fully describe the incredible bond that was my parents’ marriage would take far more time than we have here today, but I have to mention that they both were excellent models of devotion. In Mom’s case, being married to someone with chronic health problems, she had to quickly find her “sea legs” that allowed her to adjust to the rough waters, the tempests that came with the territory. Late night ER runs, the midday scares, the constant threat of crisis, uncertain financial implications... It might’ve been easier for her to give in to the fear, to succumb to the “what ifs” related to my dad’s health, but Mom fought to keep disruptions to a minimum so all three of us could enjoy life to the fullest. And we did! Ebb and flow.
  • As a widow at the young age of 49, Mom was forced to restructure every aspect of her existence: her finances, her social life, her daily routines. But she did it. Her grief did not steal her smile. Her sadness did not silence her song. Ebb and flow.
  • Mom loved teaching kindergarten, but there was no job she loved more than being Ryan and Katie’s grandmother, their Memaw. If you look up the word “doting” in the dictionary, you ought to see her picture! Ryan and Katie, you don’t need me to tell you how much she loved you because you SAW her love for you—as did everyone else! About 10 years ago, Mom began to face her own physical challenges, and you know, she very rarely complained, but on the rare occasion that she did, it was often because she could no longer play with her grandkids like she wanted. Still, she adopted routines that kept her going. She lived with chronic pain, pain that slowed her down but did not tie her down. She fought to maintain her “whatever it takes” attitude, always careful to convey kindness to the health professionals who kept poking and prodding her. She was a model patient. Just this week her sister was telling me that Mom had such a good attitude in her dialysis unit that sometimes she was moved next to the more ornery patients so they could see what a good patient looks and sounds like. Ebb and flow.

Truly, through her life’s ebb and flow, Mom was able to “keep on the sunny side,” to smile through her pain, to keep singing. Just in the last few months I’ve met pharmacists and bank tellers and others who are quick to tell me how very sweet my mother was to them. But if you spent any time with my mother, you knew exactly where that sweetness came from. Her childhood wasn’t always rosy, and in spite of her PERFECT grandchildren—AHEM!—her life wasn’t always easy, but she placed her hope in her Lord, her savior:

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
Sweetest name I know.
Fills my every longing,
Keeps me singing as I go.

Both of my parents loved to sing. Daddy led singing in churches for years, and Mom was lucky enough to get to sing on the job, too. You know, when I sing in my senior English classes, I get some pretty weird looks, but in her classroom, Mom could sing with impunity. And she did! She sang instructions ("Clean up, clean up...") and she sang reminders of instructional concepts (like “days of the week *snap* *snap*"). After her adorable grandchildren were born, she sang nursery rhymes to them. But she really didn’t need an occasion to sing. Even when she was just tooling around her house, she would sing, sing, sing.

Mom died Wednesday morning, just two days after she was placed in hospice care, but as most of you know, we really began to lose her months ago. Dementia stole her personality, her sweet nature, and yes, her song. This person who looked and sounded like Mom said and did things that we knew were not coming from her true self. And wow, did that HURT! On top of that, we really missed her! We missed our conversations, we missed her smile, we missed that great laugh of hers. When she “slipped away” in her sleep early Wednesday morning, that was just the last formal step in what we’ve considered “the long goodbye.”

So on that morning, as we woke up to a world without her in it, we tried not to focus on where WE are now but instead on where SHE is. As another song says, “I can only imagine” what she did when she came into our Lord’s presence, what she’s doing now, face to face with Jesus. But you know, I have to think:


And oh, I am so very, very thankful that because of Jesus, we can look forward to hearing her sweet voice again someday.

1 comment:

carleecraig said...

What a perfect way to honor your mother. I know how hard it is to get up there with all your emotions. Praying for you. Cindy M