The following is the eulogy I read at my mom's funeral on February 26th, 2011 at P--- Church in Dallas, TX. There is audio of me reading it at the service if you want to listen while you read it. I've also included images of her California Trip journal which I read from.
First, the audio...
And the text...
First I want to thank everybody for being here today. My sister and I are very honored that you are here, and I know my mom is as well.
As most of you know, I'm a writer and I've written some thoughts down, and I'd like to read them to you now. When you're doing one of these, your mind races through all these things you want to say. All these stories you want to tell. And there are lots of them I've thought about over the last several days. And I could stand up here for hours doing that. I think probably most of us could. And so I'll do a little of that, now, but we don't have hours, so I'll make it as brief as I can. We can do more storytelling afterwards. I think she would have liked that. The being together. The storytelling. The talking. Mom enjoyed being around the people she loved and chatting and having a good time. So us being being together and doing that would have made her happy.
There are the obvious things about my mom, like how she was a caring, loving person who always thought the best of everybody she met.
Like how she was honest and hard working.
Like how she sacrificed for her children, Kim and me, but how she did it in a way that made it seem like it wasn't a sacrifice at all. Because honestly, I think for her it wasn't.
Like how everybody loved her laugh and how it would fill your heart to hear it and how it made you laugh with her.
Like how she was smart and wise. How she loved to read books. And how she reflected on things carefully. And when you asked her for help or input, she took it seriously and said what she knew and she said what she felt.
Like how she was beautiful and always carried herself with a certain elegance and grace.
Like how when she decided to do something, she put her entire self into that thing. And owned it and made it hers. And how she was creative that way.
There are a couple of stories I want to tell. They are more like little vignettes than full-blown stories. I can't tell you exactly what they mean or why they keep popping into my head, but to me they offer glimpses into what she meant to me.
The first one isn't so much a story that I
remember, but one she would tell me. It was about the time I put my rain boots on by myself at daycare. And how I came stomping out to the car all proud and smiling...and with the boots on the wrong feet.
And I got into the car, and I said to her, Mom, I put my boots on by myself
. And she said, I see that
She knew I messed it up. But she never said anything. It probably wasn't the first time she did that. It definitely wasn't the last.
And what I know now is that it's good to have people you can make mistakes in front of. And she'd let me do that. But she'd always be there if I needed a hand getting things back straight.
In junior high and high school, a big chunk of my life revolved around swimming. And I don't know how many of you know this, but it's been written somewhere that swimmers are to get up at the crack of dawn and practice early in the morning. And since I couldn't yet drive, it meant she needed to get up too. And she would. And she never complained about it. Even when I did. And sometimes my swim practices were far away, and driving home and back to pick me up would have been impractical. So she'd just sleep in the car while I swam.
The other thing about swimming is that when you're doing it 5-7 thousand yards a day, you also need to eat a lot. So she would also cook me huge breakfasts each morning. Two eggs. Six biscuits. Grits or Malt-O-Meal. I had courses for breakfast. And while I ate she'd pack my lunch. Two sandwiches. An apple. Four cookies. Wheat thins crackers. Coke.
And you know...I have no idea what she ate for breakfast. I have no idea what she ate for lunch.
In college, I used to call her nearly every day. And a lot of the time it was when I'd be up late torturing myself over a paper I was writing. And I'd reach that 11th hour and I'd suddenly realize that the paper I'd been working on wasn't the paper I should be writing at all. It was this other paper. It always seemed to happen that way. And so I would call her in a panic and I'd say, What am I going to do? There is no time
. And she would remind me that I'd written before and I would write again. And that some part of me needed that kind of pressure that I put on myself. And that it would come out. And I just needed to take a deep breath and it would be okay.
And it would....and I'd write the paper I needed to write. And it would be great.
I would read my papers to her on the phone ... because there was no email then. And she would listen on the other end and tell me whether or not they made sense. And she was tactful when she'd tell me.... sometimes ... that they didn't. And I probably got my feathers ruffled a little bit. But then I knew what parts I needed to work on.
I stopped needing her in that way in the years after college. And other people came into my life who'd give me feedback on my writing. And that was probably bittersweet for her. I know she liked helping me. But I'm sure she also liked knowing I could do it on my own. And that I didn't need her anymore.
When I picture my mom, I remember the elegance she carried around at my wedding. When we danced that night, she cried. And she said, "I'm so happy." And she was. I like to picture her just like that. I think we all should.
Being in that place and having mom and the rest of my family with me was one of the best moments in my life. Sometimes being in a good place is all about the people you're with.
But sometimes you feel a bond to a place for no reason in particular. My mom understood that about certain places. That sometimes there was this affinity you had that you couldn't explain. The Bay Area around San Francisco was one of these places, and my sister and I had the fortunate opportunity to go with her and tour that area.
My mom kept a journal from that trip, and I found it recently. I love being able to hear my mom's voice in these words. It's probably the best treasure I could hope for. I wanted to read the first page of that journal for you now...
As an "Associate" employee of the C--- Church for ten years, I have been given the very nice gift of one extra week vacation and compensation in the amount of approximately $1200.00 to take a trip wherever I choose.
It has been a long time dream of mine to make a return visit to California. I lived there over thirty years ago and have been back a number of times since, but not for many years now, due to my limited financial situation. Making this trip is like a dream come true.
In addition to my wanting to make this trip I've always wanted to have my children with me, because I wanted to show them the places I love. That is the best part of this whole trip—they are with me.
She wanted to show us "the places she loved
." I love that. I love that she felt that so strongly.
I share the connection my mom had to certain places, like Northern California. And I always liked talking to her about that because I knew she understood it. When we went on that trip with her, she made that area seem so mythical. And that's the way it has felt to me ever since.
Washington DC was another one of those places that my mom loved and that she spoke about often. My wife and I wound up moving there several years ago and I remember calling mom from the steps of the capital one morning when the sun was still low and orange in the sky. I told her where I was standing and that I wished she could be here because it was beautiful and powerful. She told me that she could almost picture it and she was glad I was getting to experience all of that.
It's the idea of place
that I've been thinking so much about the last several weeks in relation to her death. Because I was in so many different places with her. The hospital. The nursing home. The assisted living home. The radiation place. The ice cream store. The places, or rather, the locations were kind of familiar to me. The streets they were on, the intersections they were at. I knew them well because I used to live and work in the area many years ago. And I'd driven around them many times before. But they were different to me now. And I was different. And it was strange finding myself in these places with her and doing the strange things we needed to do in them. Like radiation therapy.
The place you're in can seem right. Or the place you're in can seem wrong. I felt like I was in the right place for many of the last several weeks. I was with her. But then suddenly I was in the wrong place when she died. I was in the air between Newark, New Jersey and Dallas, Texas on a flight that had been delayed three hours. And it seemed terribly cruel and ironic and wrong. But maybe it wasn't the wrong place at all. Because the idea I keep coming back to now is that I think the place we're in is always the place we should be. The place we're in always matters while we're in it. And it's terribly important to live that way. It can seem like a place has absolutely no meaning sometimes. Or that it means everything. But most of the time, it's a little of both. And it always matters.
Today, she'll be in one place, which is where she'll remain. She'll be here. And for a whole host of reasons, it's very meaningful to me that she'll be here. And I think it would be meaningful to her too. She loved this church, though she wasn't able to come the last several years. She raised me in a church very similar to this one, both in spirit and in philosophy. And I know she received great comfort from going to church and from praying. And she taught me to pray. And she knew God and God knew her.
I've known this place, this church, Elizabeth, for many years. At one point it was part of my day-to-day life. But back then, it didn't mean to me what it means now. And I never thought it would. I actually worked on a Web site for the Columbarium that's just outside these doors and which is where mom will soon rest. I worked on that Web site over ten years ago, and I never dreamed my mom would be in it one day. It's really amazing how that happened, and I honestly feel like we were brought to this place. I kind of think we always are. We're always brought to the place we're at.
The truth is, my mom made every place she was in her own. It wasn't always the place she would have most wanted to be, like Northern California, but it turned into a special place, anyway. Because she made it that way. She made a home in Houston, Texas, a place she never thought she would live and a place she didn't even like at first. But she made the most of that place. She made it hers. And it became the place she needed to be. And I believe she felt she was supposed to be there. I certainly do.
Once again, she's going to be in the place she's supposed to be. The thing is, she's always been in that place. Because she kept the right things in her heart. And she lived like she knew it. She lived like it mattered.
And if I've learned anything from her it's that: You don't always find yourself in the place you expect. But it's important to always live in that place with your whole being and to make it matter.
I'm always going to live with my mom's spirit in my heart. And like her, I'm always going to strive to live in the place I'm at. And make it matter. Because that's what she always did.