Eulogy for Mom

I buried my mother this morning on a beautiful day in the late fall on the peaceful side of a hill in southern Middle Tennessee. I was overcome by the goodness of my mother and her deep impact on so many people through the simplest but most profound ways. I was moved by their stories, but I also wanted to share my own stories of Mom and how I came to see both her life and her suffering. This is an excerpt from my Eulogy:

A Scripture reading from Ecclesiastes 5:19-20:

“To enjoy your work and to accept your lot in life – that is indeed a gift from God. The person who does that will not need to look back with sorrow on his past, for God gives that person joy.”

Henry David Thorough said that he went to Walden Pond because he wanted “to suck the marrow out of life”. My mother was born to seize every goodness and to point out the beauty in every moment. She sucked the marrow out of her life until there was no more. Tonight I want to share my memories of her journey.

My earliest memories of my mother was her smile. I certainly have seen her displeased with me, frustrated with her body, or saddened by the suffering of another person. But it was her smile that stayed with me. It was not a fake kind of smile but one that welled up from some deep sense of joy and love of life. Over the past few days, many of you have commented about how positive Mom was, and how you noted that she never complained about her circumstances. In fact, most of the time, she would lie about them so that you didn’t have to bear the pain. It was often difficult to know exactly how badly Mom was doing. Arthritis had crippled and gnarled Mom’s body for forty years, and she had endured unfathomable pain from fractures, swelling and bone loss. She viewed herself on a different scale than most of us. So if you asked Mom how she was doing, she often would say, “Oh, fine I guess. Not bad for the shape I’m in.” If I had been in her shape, I would have prayed for God to take my life. But Mom didn’t think that way. She insisted on having a life anyway, and she would push hard to be with her family, to visit me in California, or to take care of dad even when she was unable. Even in her last days, as we fought hard to keep her life as she knew that she was dying, she tried hard to please.

There is one truth that always will undergird my life: God loves me, and my mother loved me. Even on my hardest days, and even when I’ve doubted my own self, it is a foundation that can never be taken from me. Mom had miscarried twice, and I was her only child and the source of her deepest pride and joy. My friends from elsewhere that would visit our home would often comment on the “Todd Hall of Fall” in our home. One single wall had nothing but pictures of me. Anyone who called her knew to ask about me because she was going to tell you how I was doing anyway. I loved her too, and we had a special bond. Even though our two strong wills would occasionally lead us to spat and argue, we always apologized, we always forgave each other and things were quickly back to normal. I loved to call and share my life with her, and it has been the inability to call her or to share with her that I miss most during the past four weeks. Mom’s approval meant more than anything to me, and the greatest joy of my life was being my mother’s son.

The rock of my mother’s life was my father. My mother and father were a beautiful young couple, and they began a life together in marriage over forty four years ago. My father vowed to her on their wedding day that he would be faithful to her in sickness and in health, and “to death do us part.” Dad embodied that vow. He never forgot it, and Mom trusted that dad would never leave her. Through endless ordeals, hospitalizations and recovery, dad was at her side. He retired early to care for her, and he often put his own life and health at risk to do what she needed. Because of it, Mom had a much happier and full life than she would have had otherwise. Together, they were witnesses of the significance of loyalty and faithfulness in a world that has little of either. Their love was not merely a sappy emotional love. It was a love based in a choice to love, and to love always.

No mention of Mom would be complete without a mention of her suffering because all of the color of her life was painted against the landscape of this darkness. Though we all know that she was so much more than her disease, it is the one thing that preoccupied her and many of us for most of her life.

I have heard many of you articulate my question over and over again this week, “Why did Carol have to suffer so much?” We may feel that it was unfair for Mom to suffer that kind of pain. From my human vantage point, it certainly seems that it was. I also choose not to believe that God caused her pain. But I do believe that God can redeem pain and suffering for God’s purposes. That in fact is the whole meaning of Death and Resurrection. As I stood near Mom’s bedside during recent weeks, I have begun to wonder if Mom’s struggle did not in fact reveal the awesome truth of God’s love.

Some of us are more able to hide our pain and our wounds than others. Mom’s wounds were out in public for all the world to see. Her twisted joints, her gnarled fingers, her swollen feet and legs, and the bruises on her body all bore witness to her humanity. Her visible ailments were a living reminder to all of us who knew her that we are all but human, all weak, and all but dust. Yet, her unyielding determination and her cheerful spirit pointed to an even greater truth: that God is greater than our frailty, and that hope is more powerful than despair.

Despite her weakness, Mom never gave up. She received this will of steel from her own mother who too suffered much and who always found a way to miraculously recover from the most threatening of traumas and diseases. Mema had nine lives. Mom had ten. For that reason, my cousins recently affectionately named her “Mema, Jr.” But just as the Grim Reaper finally had his way with Mema, so he did with Mom too. She knew Death was coming to visit, and she did not resist it. For several weeks and months, she had spoken of her readiness to die. Her body was wearing out, and she was tired. During this last hospitalization, she never quit saying that she was ready to go Home, and then she would be even clearer that it was to God that she wanted to go. Even in her death, Mom showed a bit of her determination and mischievousness. She insisted on dying, but dad would have none of it. So she waited until dad was asleep in the chair next to her to give up her fight. She was going to have the last word.

As much as I wanted her to stay with us, I sensed in the past few weeks that it was time to let go. Mom had given herself totally to me and to my father, and many others, for years. Many times she had given way beyond her capacity to give, and she kept on fighting for life over and over again so that she could share in our joys, our sorrows, and our lives. Now it is our time to give back to her by allowing her finally to rest her weary body and to receive the healing of God.

Though I am sad, I have been surprised this week at the peace and calm I have about my mother’s death. I think it is because I embarked early in life on a long farewell, and I have enjoyed most of my relationship with my mother in light of the reality of this day. I knew how I would end this eulogy for twenty years. I distinctly remember driving across the flat plains of Abilene, Texas and listening to a song that came on the radio by a Christian music artist, Wayne Watson. The song is called “Ultimate Healing”. I thought then of how much I wish my Mom could be free and whole, and I often have turned in my mind and prayers to the words of the song when I would look at Mom’s frail body. I decided then that I would end this tribute to her with this song that speaks to the promise of God that all that is broken one day will be made whole. Mom will run, and dance, and play again. On this day of God’s great healing, Mom finally is free.

2 Responses to “Eulogy for Mom”
  1. YanxChamps says:

    Beautifully said, my friend. Blessings.

  2. MLW says:

    Well said. You and Don are in our thoughts and prayers.

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