My mom passed away on June 12 at 11:50 PM. I was at her bedside when she passed. That’s a moment I’m not ready to write about, but the experience of writing the eulogy for her funeral was a significant moment of reflection for me. The italicized portions are excerpts from the final draft of the eulogy.
Formally, I wrote this on June 20, two days before the funeral, but in truth it had been rumbling around in my head for months, and I was struggling. Truly warm, positive memories of my mother simply were not imprinted in my brain. She wasn’t a bad mom, just an intense woman who thought keeping everything clean all the time was her most important mission in life.
As my sister and I spent a mind-numbing week dealing with funeral preparations, I sought her out, her memory of our childhood being so much better than mine. I came to find that she likewise was having trouble remembering Leave it to Beaver moments from our early years:
When my sister and I sat down to talk about this eulogy both of us felt some discomfort over not being able to recall many warm anecdotes about mom from our childhoods.
Oh, there was the time when she was playing with us all in the back yard pool, and ran to answer the door at the front of our house clad only in her bathing suit where she was greeted by one of our parish priests who was out visiting parishioners. That may have been the moment when her hair began turning gray.
But I think my mom struggled a bit with motherhood, exhibiting a certain rigidity and devotion to cleanliness that we messy children could never quite achieve. I attribute at least some of that to her having been raised by a strict and demanding father.
We both agreed that dad had been a mellowing influence on her and that she evolved over time, especially as she embraced her role as grandmother:
But if she had some challenges as a mom, she was lucky enough to pick the perfect mate, my dad, Jack Waldron. My dad’s innate kindness and his unqualified love for her, certainly softened her rough edges and helped her become the loving woman that most of you knew. Down to his final day, my dad, the man who knew her best, referred to her as “my angel.”
As a grandmother, she lavished care and love on her five grandchildren. When the kids didn’t want to go to school, they would pretend to be sick just so my mom or dad would pick them up, watch The Price is Right with them, and spoil them rotten for the whole day. Mom rarely missed a softball game or soccer match and all of the kids got chances to accompany mom and dad on camping trips.
Then in sorting through her stuff, I came across the picture above and was just startled by her radiant beauty, a nursing graduate at 25. That picture seemed to show her so full of happiness, energy, and plans for the future. It is exactly the way I want to remember her, and it made me wonder why some of that had gotten lost on her way to motherhood:
In going through old photos I discovered the picture of my mom as a radiant 25 year-old woman, just graduated from nursing school that you may have noticed in the lobby of the church. My mother loved nursing and attending to the needs of other. For over 25 years, she did so in hospitals and in doctor’s offices. To me, that picture embodies the spirit of love that she shared not only with her patients, but also with her friends, and within the church community.
While the last three years with her at the board-and-care home were painful and torturous for me, every person who worked with her or attended to her would comment to me on how sweet she was and what a beautiful smile she had and how happy they were that she was there. This was even when she would growl out demands for food and keep them up all night, insisting on walking around the facility or sitting up in her chair at ungodly hours. Three of her attendants were there at the funeral and were weeping throughout
In her last three years at her boar- and-care home, the attendants, the other residents, the extraordinary ministers from Santa Sophia that brought her communion every Sunday, all spoke to me about how much they loved spending time with my mom. This was true even from the beginning when she was prone to break into her own peculiar renditions of “Amazing Grace” or the “National Anthem” her own personal favorites. There was a love and light inside of her that everyone responded to, even as her body and her mind began to fail.
I decided to end on a fanciful note, thinking that, if there were a heaven, my dad might well have been enjoying the bachelor life for the past seven years. I looked up toward the rafters of the church, and raised my voice as if I wanted to be sure my dad could hear:
Dad, if you can hear me up there, I’m giving you a heads up. You’ve had a seven-year vacation, but mom is on her way to re-join you. So you’d better get someone to run the vacuum around and wipe down the kitchen counters—twice. Oh, and have them put an extra chair out on your back porch where I’m sure you’ve been watching the sunsets by yourself for all these years. Your angel is coming home.