I have received several requests for copies of the eulogy I gave at my mother’s funeral, recently. With tearful eyes, and hard to read notes, what I said exactly is not certain. The following is what was intended by the notes I can now read more clearly, and I believe I said approximately this:
Our mother, Jeanne, completed the circle of her Catholic life in the very place it began 90-years ago. Mom was born in West Palm Beach, and was baptized in this very building, St. Ann Catholic Church, a beautiful historic place that is now 105-years old. She made her first communion here. She was confirmed here, and on April 29, 2016, we celebrate her Mass of Christian Burial here – the same place her children and grandchildren received many of the holy sacraments.
Mom would have been very proud of this, but she was not a proud person. She wore pride as a subtle accessory, and never as a full suite of clothes. So, she would have been a little embarrassed over all the fuss. She was very aware of her smallness in relation to the greater good. Her accolades and accomplishments were not ends into themselves, but opportunities to connect with others, make new friends, and gather people into her loving heart.
She was proud to be a Kappa Alpha Theta and a member of the first graduating class of FSU, but the life-long friendships these memberships granted her were far more meaningful. She was proud to be a West Palm Beach native, and a survivor of the 1928 Hurricane, but raising her children in a place in which she was already deeply rooted was far more important. She was proud to be 30-year veteran of Cardinal Newman High School, but the impact she had on 1,000s of young-adults was far more rewarding.
The next thing I want to say about Mom may seem a little irreverent, but the day she died was very fitting. Mom and Dad’s home in North Palm Beach, for close to 20-years, had sold a few weeks earlier and the new family was moving in that morning. As Carrie and I, Matthew and Ethan drove past several times that day, the joy and excitement of a young family of 7 starting life in Mom and Dad’s former home was on display. Young children were playing in the front yard. Boxes were being carried in by smiling parents. Mom would have loved the symbolism.
It was fitting also because April 17th was the day before Federal Income Taxes were due. Tax season lasted for months in our home growing up. Shortly after clearing the dining room table after Christmas Dinner, it would begin a slow transformation. Receipts, and forms, and scraps of paper of every shape and size would be stacked and sorted under impromptu paper weights. Mom’s goal was to get a head-start on “the taxes” during Christmas Break, but we all knew she would be running to the Summit Post Office at 11:45 PM on April 15th. Each year she would amassed an impressive case file that proved our eligibility for every deduction and exemption possible, and probably a few more that were a little grey.
Our mom was not a math person. She could do math in her head better than most people, but she detested its finality; its black-and-white nature. Mom much preferred to operate in the pauses and spaces in life. She didn’t care for Wagner’s music because it “never takes a break.” She preferred the music of Mozart for its pauses that let you just feel, and allow the musical setting to wash over you and become more personal. She was most comfortable in life’s grey areas where multi-answers are possible, and discovery and mystery walk together. I think her annual assault on the U.S. Tax Code was her way of saying, I can do math, and do it very well if needed, but it should not be this important in life.
Mom was more Loren Eiseley than Albert Einstein because she valued universal truths like love, morality, and beauty over scientific, or mathematical truths. She loved explaining that love and morality can be very powerful forces of unity across humanity, if we allow them, but they operate outside the Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity because they only exist in time and not in space. A beautiful piece of music will set a mode that all people feel and understand, but it does so through a non-physical, non-spatial construct. Like her powerful Catholic faith, she cherished universal truths as the proper foundation for a life dedicated to the common good.
Mom loved words. She had an enormous vocabulary and she loved being asked to spell a word. She would deliver the spelling far too quickly to comprehend with a knowing smile, and then repeat it slowly. She loved words because, used well, they are among the most important binding fibers of a culture or community. A child learns language first as a naming skill – “ball,” “dog,” “Mommy.” Throughout our life time, our use of language grows to be more and more expressive of beauty, love, morality, and hardship. Those that excel at the use of language take it to an art form that Mom cherished. She loved poetry and prose from past and present for its ability to express with great beauty the joys and sadness all humanity has in common.
“Life’s not about you!” Is the one phrase I remembering hearing most as a self-absorbed teenager. They were just words to me then, but now I realize they were part of a life-long spiritual journey for our Mother. Her brilliant mind lead her deeper into faith, and not away from it. I used to think that Mom’s love for animals was the reason statues of St. Francis of Assisi outnumbered all others in our home, but he was more than that to her. Choosing to love over being loved, understanding over being understood; consoling over being consoled; giving instead of receiving; pardoning instead of being pardoned; and valuing the comfort of others over her own is how she chose to live her life.
Some of Mom’s most endearing qualities were clear manifestations of putting others first. She loved all life. Every animal, plant, and person was a beautiful creation, and worthy of her love and respect. Consequently, our home in Golfview was a virtual zoo, and it was not uncommon for Mom to rescue plants and animals from an uncertain future – sometimes at the most inconvenient of times, or at great risk to her personal safety.
Mom, was, of course, human, and she had delightful human qualities. She loved to laugh, and enjoyed creating laughter. She had a beautiful and genuine smile. She loved to socialize, and to gather with family and friends during any holiday, or, frankly, at any time at all.
In closing I want to embarrass my youngest son, Matthew, a little bit. He said to me the day after Mom’s passing that he had been thinking of her a lot, but he’d been thinking about all the things she missed while she was sick the last several years. But now, he said, “She won’t be missing anything anymore. She will be with us always.” Each of our boys has said amazingly insightful things to Carrie and me over these last couple of weeks, and it makes us very proud to see and hear that Mom influenced who they have become.
All humanity has an enormous capacity to love, and it is very special to have had someone in our lives who was an enduring example of how joyous a life can be when it seeks to love, console, give, and provide comfort; instead of wishing those things upon one’s self.
Thank you, Mom! We all love you very much!