What I wish I’d said–Another Chance at a Good Eulogy

It has been a year since the accident.  After I gave the eulogy at Mom’s funeral, I knew that I had left out a thousand things, a hundred thousand things, that I should have said to paint a fitting picture of the person whose departure had just torn such a hole in the world.  When I recently had the opportunity to recognize someone who has been an outstanding mentor in my life, I made another attempt to capture my thoughts and feelings about Mom.  Of course, I still won’t get it right–how can any formulation of words capture the magnificence of a human soul?  But here’s my second attempt.  Thank goodness for “mulligans,” right Mom?

My Mom has been an outstanding mentor to me in many ways.  She brought me and my six younger siblings into the world, with only one epidural out of seven births.  She chose natural, un-medicated births, breastfeeding and babywearing out of her desire to give her children the very best start in life.  She made intentional choices about how to raise us, excluding junk foods for bodies and minds and turning us instead to higher and more wholesome things.  She carefully selected nutritious foods for our bodies, searched out the best in educational theory and hands-on learning materials–as well as excellent literary and musical works–to feed our minds, and fed us spiritually by immersing us in a rich tradition of personal and family worship and active service in our church family.

She knows the scriptures well, and hungers for the word of God with earnest intensity.  As I was growing up, she treasured solitude, and, particularly in the early morning hours, she was frequently found curled up in a quiet corner praying, studying the scriptures and writing in her journal.  She truly loves and worships God with her whole soul.  The intensity of her bright flame of a spirit can be seen in everything that she does, but one of the most beautiful demonstrations of her intense personality is the sight of tears streaming down her face as she leans eagerly into worship through song, her face bright with the rapturous joy she feels in drawing near to her creator.
Watching Mom serve in church has always been an inspiration to me.  I sensed that she saw the volunteer positions she was asked to fill in church as an opportunity to grow as a person and build God’s kingdom on earth, rather than as a drain on her already taxed resources.  Serving in church even seemed to renew and recharge her.  Her favorite job in church was to teach spiritual and uplifting songs to elementary-school-age children.  She carefully prepared each week, making her own visual aids and learning American Sign Language signs to help the children remember the words.  When she got up in front of the room full of children, she lit up.  She made eye contact, she moved back and forth across the room, she practically danced, and she beamed the most radiant smile.  She loved every minute of it, and the children felt it.  She cared about them; she established a deep connection with them, and they loved her for it.
Mom has a gift for seeing people as people.  In our world, this seems to be a rare and precious thing.  In our faith tradition, we visit the homes of other members and share a spiritual message each month, taking time to develop meaningful friendships, strengthen faith and help to relieve physical needs.  Sometimes people see this as a burden or begin to see those they visit as just a number to check off the list each month, but not Mom.  Because of my mom and her ability to truly love and care for others, at least three of the women she visit-taught over the years returned to church and to the enjoyment of active worship and fellowship with other believers, sometimes after years of allowing their faith to stagnate.  Because of Mom’s example to me, I have caught a vision of this inspired program and its true potential to knit believers together as members of the body of Christ, and draw us collectively closer to God.
Mom sees things differently than most.  She has her eye fixed on eternity, and makes decisions based on that vantage point with little consideration for petty concerns that often swallow so much of our time and energy.  Due, in part, to this long-range view of things, Mom chose to home-educate all of her children from the time I was a toddler until I went to private school in middle school.  She continued to home-educate most of my other siblings, several of them graduating from home school to college.
Mom is one of the most intelligent and well-read people I know.  She majored in English–with a minor in math–at Brigham Young University, speaks three or more languages fluently–including Mandarin Chinese, which she learned while living in Taiwan as a missionary for a year and a half during her early twenties–and loves philosophy.  She wrestles with the deep questions of life and, from my perspective, has entered into the “great conversation” of the brilliant minds of the world, studying the ideas of deep thinkers and responding to and expanding on their ideas in her own writing.  She loves to engage with other people on a deep level, and though she is capable of small talk, she deplores it as a waste of time.  She is skilled at drawing others out, in helping them to speak of their innermost selves and thoughts in a comfortable, I might even say sacred, space.  She is one of the most empathetic and skilled listeners I have ever met.  She loves to communicate clearly and seek answers to problems that transcend “my way versus your way” to work together to find the best way.  She is always devising systems to bring greater order into her life.  She is deeply curious and profoundly thoughtful.
After marrying my Dad and beginning a family, Mom filled our home with beautiful literature, and filled our minds with lofty thoughts.  Some of my favorite memories are of listening to her or dad read to us at bedtime from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of NarniaAnne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lambthe D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths, legends of King Arthur’s court and so many other favorites.  I also loved memorizing poetry with her, especially the way she made the lines flow so musically, with such great expression.
She also works hard to improve herself and is constantly learning.  One field of study she particularly enjoys is music.  She played violin in a community orchestra, trained in the Suzuki method of string pedagogy and the Kodaly method of teaching music to children, attended numerous church music workshops, is a certified O’Connor String Method teacher, and developed her own method of teaching music literacy which she used with great success in her large studio of violin, piano and organ students.
Mom is fiercely independent and has an unusual level of trust in the inspiration she receives from God.  Her innovative approach to life often seems audacious, but is rooted in her determination to do what is right, without taking for granted that the way things have always been done is the best way to do them.  For example, her unusual practice of preparing her young students–as young as six or seven–to play the organ for the Hymn just previous to the Sacrament of the Lord’s supper, the most sacred part of our worship service, at first seemed strange to me.  However, as I spoke with her about it, I came to understand that, like so many other choices in her life, this one was full of thoughtful significance.  I saw from her perspective what an honor it was for these young children to share their talents in such a sacred setting, and how it was laying the groundwork for future service in a church that still relies heavily on organ music, when few have any level of ability on that instrument.  In so many ways, Mom is a visionary ahead of her time.
Mom sacrificed to buy us quality musical instruments and give us lessons with excellent teachers, even when we struggled to practice and make it to lessons on time.  One week, when she apologized to my violin teacher for our inadequate preparation, Mrs. Duncan graciously replied that the people who learn to play the violin are the people who just keep coming to lessons.  Mom kept “coming to lessons”–doggedly persisted in doing the things she knew in her heart were right–even when our life looked tremendously messy and it seemed that her efforts were a waste of time and resources.  She just kept at it, in so many aspects of our lives.  I am finally beginning to understand and honor her tenacious efforts in the face of incredible opposition.
Unfortunately sometimes that opposition came from “within the ranks” at home, particularly when it came to food.  We didn’t always understand or appreciate the effort she put into keeping junk out of our hands and whole foods in our bellies.  Though much of our food was simple, she made the most delicious pumpkin-chocolate chip bread and whole wheat rolls that were light, chewy and buttery.  Like so many things, I didn’t appreciate what I had, and I always dove for the store-bought white rolls at potlucks, while everyone else raved about mom’s.  In addition to the hearty soups, refried beans from scratch, yogurt and other wholesome foods she served, mom made home-made pizza, turning it into a family affair as we all helped to add sauce and toppings to her whole-wheat dough.  In many ways, I find myself returning to the simple and wholesome kinds of foods Mom prepared for us.
Mom and Dad always had a garden, and I learned so many lessons from growing our own food and getting my hands into the soil.  After I was grown and gone, Mom was the driving force behind my parents’ and younger siblings’ move to acreage in the St. Louis area, where she set about establishing a small hobby farm.  In that, as in everything she does, she worked hard.  I have always been impressed by her level of intense effort once she sets her mind to something, and she tended her carefully-selected livestock with affection and thoughtfulness.  She also set about learning the best way to garden, thoroughly exploring permaculture and biodynamic agriculture and other methods.  Mom has always been one to seek out the best way to do something and move heaven and earth to ensure that she does things that way.
I didn’t always understand the ways she tried to do things, but I am beginning to.  I find myself more and more loathe to waste things, and her long drives to drop off recycling and her efforts to compost appear less extreme and more wise.  After reading Home Education by Charlotte Mason, I can see that the many hours of free play my siblings and I enjoyed in our large fenced backyard were likely a calculated effort to apply what mom had learned from that book, efforts to help us learn and develop to the fullest through much time in nature, as Charlotte Mason urges.  There are so many ways that I see Mom’s motives and understand her struggles so much more clearly now that I am a mother.  I am grateful that I have taken the time to call my mom a few of the times I have had such epiphanies, to express to her my chagrin for having misunderstood and judged her, and to express my love and overdue appreciation.  I am deeply grateful that I communicated those sentiments.
I am so grateful to be able to honor today a woman who, while imperfect, strives for perfection with zeal I have seldom seen equaled.  While she is not physically present to receive this award, I know she is here today, unseen, but powerfully felt.  Allow me to explain.  My mom has not only served as a model and mentor to me during her life, but also taught me much as she departed this world in March of this year.  After an accident on her farm, she remained in the hospital in a coma for two weeks, during which time my siblings, my dad and I watched in awe as a steady stream of visitors came to pour out their hearts in gratitude to a woman who had changed their lives for good.  We felt the power of prayer as hundreds of individuals, many of them strangers to us, but familiar with our situation, pleaded with the Lord on our behalf.  Though we did not receive the miracle of her recovery, we received exactly the miracles we needed.  I don’t know all the reasons Mom was called home after only fifty years of life, but I do know that I have received sweet and beautiful gifts from God to support me, that I have learned things through this refiners fire that I could have learned in no other way, and that Mom is with me and helping me, perhaps now more than ever.
Mom earnestly sought the best life had to offer and made tremendous sacrifices to live according to her convictions.  She threw herself into her endeavors with passion, and zealously kept the two great commandments, to love God with her whole soul and love her neighbor as herself.  I am honored to be her daughter.”
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