It was before she had to wear the oxygen mask most of the time, it was when she could still communicate fairly easily. But, it was after we all realized that this was not going to end well. So she started to make requests and plans for the funeral service and the future, in general. And one of the things that she said to me was “I just want you three girls to go up and say something.” It seemed like she was trying to keep it simple for us, as if any of it would be simple. I agreed, casually. But, my casual response was all fake. My mom was asking me to give part of her eulogy. She was asking because she was going to die. We had moments of hope between that moment and the end but I knew early on and was not surprised when she passed. Devastated but not exactly surprised. This was a sharp contrast to my dad’s death that no one saw coming. We sat with my mom in that hospital room for almost two weeks, seeing it coming. Who’s to say which is worse?
Anyway, I was honored and terrified to speak at the funeral. I can’t think of any time in my life that it felt so important to get it right. I wanted to do right by my mom and I wanted people to know what kind of person she was. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I think she was pretty great. And not being known for my public speaking skills, I was particularly terrified that I’d mess up, talk too fast, or talk with my voice too high as I do when I get anxious or excited.
The writing came easily. I had plenty of good “material” to work with. Then I started to practice. I read it for Brian who listened to it as many times as I needed him to. (Thanks, Brian!) And when it came time, I found strength from my mom. You see, she always encouraged me to leave my comfort zone. I didn’t always appreciate that, but I do now. And when I had to take a speech class in school, she was there to support me. She listened to my speeches, gave me feedback, occasionally added content because she just couldn’t resist, and always, always told me that I could do it.
So knowing that she believed in me, it wasn’t so scary. Still scary, mind you, but not quite as scary,
Flash forward to the day of the funeral.
My sisters and I walked up to the altar like we were all trapped in the same nightmare. My sister, Sharon, shared sweet and funny anecdotes about mom and her sense of humor, including some stories that I hadn’t even heard. My other sister, Monica, read a poem that she had written for mom on mother’s day. It’s a great poem and had been on my mom’s dresser, in a frame for years.
Then it was my turn. I remembered my mom’s words of advice. I took a deep breath, I spoke slowly, I looked up and I told everyone what kind of person my mom was.
And, I wanted to share it with you, too. I want everyone to know how much I loved her, how much we all loved her and how amazing she was.
My mom was very kind.
Although, no one likes to focus on the end, I do think that her final days illustrated who she was perfectly.
She was in the hospital for 13 days. A few days in, she asked Monica to go into her wallet at home and get $50 for each of us three to cover the money that we were spending on gas and fast food.
As the reality of it all was starting to become painfully obvious, she started to make arrangements. There was the obligatory discussion of well, today, but there was also this. She made sure that money was put aside to cover all the family members’ birthdays for the rest of the year. Facing death, she was thinking of her family. Because that’s who she was.
Through the whole ordeal, she thanked the nurses often. She told them that she didn’t want to be any trouble. She brought an Internist to tears when she told her that she hated to be a hassle for her. She reassured the Pulmonologist that he did everything that he could and shouldn’t worry that he did something wrong.
In short, my mom died like she lived. Thinking of others. Taking care of others. She cared.
My mom also kept her sense of humor to the end. She was funny. She had a sweet, sarcastic, sense of humor that she definitely passed on to all of us. She used humor as a defense mechanism and also, just for fun.
When I left one day to go pick up the kids, my heart was heavy after talking to her about all of those things. And when I came back, a little while later, she said to me, “I finished planning my funeral. (She paused for effect.) It scared me to death.”
Like I said, she was funny.
When I was in high school, due to circumstances, three Japanese exchange students were scheduled to arrive in Jacksonville without waiting host families. I asked my parents to agree to temporarily host one of them. They needed a place to stay for a few weeks but could stay for the summer if it was a good match.
They said yes. My mom said yes. With very little information, they welcomed a 15 year old girl who spoke only broken English into our home. Yuri, as we called her, not only stayed for that summer, she stayed for eight years. My mom later told me that she had always assumed that she would stay for the whole summer. I’m sure she didn’t expect eight years, though.
And during those eight years (and after), she was embraced as their daughter. She wasn’t just an exchange student, she was a member of the family and she was treated like that in every way.
I think it shows how big my mom’s heart was. Both of their hearts, really. They were a team, after all. But, who are we kidding, Mom ran the show.
Mom made an impact on people, she cared and was always there when she was needed.
I will forever be proud to be her daughter. I will always be grateful for the life lessons, the car singing, the hugs, the support. But, most importantly, the love.