The Space Between Then and Now—A Eulogy
May 20, 2013
I went a beautiful memorial for my friend Cara’s mother yesterday. The eulogy was absolutely the best tribute I have ever heard. With Mother’s Day just passing and many people grieving the loss of parents and loved ones, I asked Cara Alexander’s permission to printed her mother’s eulogy as my Blog. You’ll be inspired by her words, because each of her mother’s actions in life taught her the value of the simplistic ways we tell each other how much we love:
Mom and Dad—how to live, face death
Our family has been so blessed to have been led by Mom and Dad. They showed us how to face life with joy, appreciation, curiosity and love of others. They also showed us how to face death with faith, courage and grace.
Dad was at the prime of his life with the future stretched out before him, but he remained positive, with humor in tact, and joy of every minute showing in all he did as he faced his untimely death. He never complained, and assured us that he was at peace with God and would see us again.
Mom showed us how to grow old and then face death with dignity, love, and kindness.
It’s not easy to watch friends and loved ones go before us—we feel their bodies grow weaker, their minds less sharp. But Mom got strength from her love of God and from her family.
Mom always said she had a wonderful life. Judging by the love she gave and received, she was right. But she didn’t always have an easy life. Her mother, Grandma Peterson, fell in love with Bryan Smith at fifteen. They lied about her age and went over the state line to be married.
She had Uncle Art at sixteen, Mom at nineteen, and was widowed at twenty-one. In order for this young mother to support her two children and herself, she had to move back with her mother and work in Mansfield, Ohio, leaving the children with Bryan’s parents. They were staunch German farmers who worked hard and had no time for play, frivolity or the musings of children.
Grandma brought them love and oranges from the city on weekends when she would visit. Mom and Art had each other and the animals that Art always had an uncanny way of befriending. This is how Mom remembered her childhood.
They walked to the one room schoolhouse up the road for their first eight grades. To go beyond that level of schooling, Mom moved into Mansfield to live with her mother and attend school there. Many of the children on neighboring farms, for varying reasons, never went into town to complete their education. Mom and Art, however, were determined to get their high school diploma—Art going to high school in Lucas and Mom in Mansfield.
It must have been hard for Mom, but she never complained. From statements she made, I think it must have taken a lot of fortitude on her part to go into that school every day, especially at the beginning. She didn’t know anyone when she started; she would have been considered a country girl. Along with that, she was strikingly attractive.
Mom stood out. She had white-blonde hair, thanks to Grandma’s family who came from Sweden on a ship called the Swan. During one of our evening reminiscence, she mentioned how some students and even teachers would comment on her ‘dyed’ hair. (There are no family stories of her using shoe polish to make her hair darker.) It infuriated me that students, but especially teachers, could be so cruel. That did not bother Mom; she did not see anyone as cruel, only not understanding. But, that was always Mom, always seeing, believing and thinking about the best in people. She persevered, however, made life long friends and graduated.
Mom and Dad both grew up in the area around Mansfield, Ohio, but never met each other until after the war. Dad returned from the war, and one day walked by the Madison Theatre on his lunch hour. He saw a beautiful blonde in the ticket booth. The next day he tried timing his walk to when she might have her lunch hour. It worked. He followed her from the ticket booth to a restaurant. When she was seated, he walked over and asked if he could join her. She said, “Yes,” and the rest is history.
Mom and Dad were a beautiful couple. Their easy nature, quick wit, great love and respect for each other, and true enjoyment of each other’s company made them even more attractive. This was evident when they were chosen to be married on air in Los Angeles, on the “Bride and Groom” radio show, and given a honeymoon in Las Vegas. The wedding pictures show a handsome couple, and the recording of their wedding reveals an articulate, intelligent, witty couple who respected and enjoyed each other.
Mom and Dad worked hard to create a home, first for the two of them, then with Cathy and finally for the four of us. They started in Vetsville, Ohion, in a small, barely insolated house in a community for veterans returning from the war. I remember Mom’s stories of waking up in the morning to find icicles coming from the faucets and seeing her breath inside the house.
Mom and Dad saved and bought land and together they built Woodcrest, the house where Cathy and I grew up. Mom always worked, never for money for herself, always for the family. I remember one night at dinner when I was very young Mom was excited, because they had $25 and could now buy ‘nice’ lamps for the house. We had some lamps, but they were very used, well-worn hand-me-down lamps. New, attractive lamps were, indeed, exciting.
The next morning, however, we saw that Puter, our cat, was not recovering from the birth of her four kittens the way Mom and Dad thought she should. We took her to the Vet. After examining her, the Vet returned and said he could take care of her, but was not sure she would survive the stress if she ever had another litter of kittens.
The only way to ensure her safety was to spay her, but that cost $25. Mom and Dad never looked at each other, never spent time debating the prudent step. They each said, immediately and in unison, “We have $25. We want her spayed.”
At that time $25 was a lot of money, and most people had never even heard of spaying an animal. I didn’t know what it meant, but I did know, at that instant, that if you were in our family you would be cared for, no matter what the cost, no matter what the sacrifice and no matter whether you had two or four legs.
Mom was blessed to have a job that lent itself to her rare and special skills and talent. She worked as a Customer Service Rep at Sears. Most people seek out Customer Service when they are not particularly happy about something, and Mom’s calm nature, concern, and work ethic ensured that people that spoke with her would have their problems taken care of immediately, in a friendly manner and with a warm smile.
When she retired from Sears after thirty years, Sears gave her a banquet. Cathy, Ted and I were so touched by the tributes and stories. Mom always left people feeling better than they had before seeing her. Her compassion, humor, positive nature, can-do attitude and resilience were described again and again.
She was well-loved by co-workers and customers alike. Cathy and I were reminded of this over and over again after her retirement. There was never such a thing as a quick trip into Sears to pick up something. As soon as Mom entered, people would start coming up to her—happy to see her, wanting to know what she had been doing and then telling her about all that was going on in their life.
What additionally amazed us was the cross section of friends Mom had—all ages, men and women, all races. Mom always made each person feel special. That’s because Mom always saw every person as special and was always honored to know them.
The hardest experience Mom, and Cathy, Ted, and I have ever experienced was Dad’s death. It still cuts like a knife, and even after all these years, I don’t think any of us can understand it.
Mom and Dad were only fifty-two. They had successfully raised their two daughters and were planning the next chapter in their lives. Dad was going to retire as Claims Training Director for State Auto Group, and Mom would retire from Sears in 3 years, at age 55. They were going to move to Arizona to be by Dad’s beloved brother Mark and his wife Evelyn. Their plan was for Dad to spend time with his art that he loved and was so talented at. Mom would garden and help others, and both would spoil their granddaughter Nikki and any other grandchildren that came along. The land was bought and house plans were being created.
When one first hears the word cancer, it stops you in your tracks. When you hear “Six months to live” it takes your breath away. Dad lived eighteen months. His faith, courage, love of life, positive outlook, and good humor that had always inspired others continued until the day he died. After his death, Mom swept up the pieces of their shattered dream, sold the land in Arizona, and showed us all how to live with a broken heart.
Strength: The Way of Grieving
Cathy and I had always said that Mom was a thoroughbred. We never saw her miss her stride. This was one way we were different from her. When tragedy struck, Mom would be calm and composed. She loved deeply. It was not a matter of not caring, but she contained her emotions, hid her grief, and maintained a stiff upper lip. I think it was probably the way she was raised by her grandparents—life goes on, tears don’t help, and never show weakness. Cathy and I could never immediately muster the strength Mom always showed.
I always wondered why we couldn’t have Mom’s strength, and worried that we might be a disappointment to her because of that. Something happened a few years ago, however, that gave me peace. Although the circumstances were devastating. I received a call at work. My husband, Tom, told me Saki, our beloved Border Collie, had died.
I went into shock. How could that be? I had kissed Saki good-bye that morning like I always did. She was wagging her tail, although a little slower than usual. I left work immediately, needing to get to Tom and Saki. I imagined all who hear unexpected, tragic news have the same thoughts and prayers I had as I was rushing to the veterinarian hospital. I misunderstood. Tom said Saki was sick, not dead. Or, the unthinkable had happened, but God in heaven realized a mistake had been made and used one of his miracles to right the wrong.
When I entered Volunteer Vet and saw Tom’s and Dr. Fields’ faces, I knew I had not misunderstood, and no angels had been sent to intercede. When I got home, I went into the bedroom and broke down. Mom, who was now living with Tom and I, sought me out, however. As I was sobbing, I felt Mom’s hand rubbing my back and heard her say, “It’s ok, it’s ok.”
When I could finally look up, I saw Mom looking into my eyes and continuing to repeat “It’s ok.” I finally understood what she was saying. Saki was ok. She was with Dad, Dixie, and all those that had gone before them to heaven, and they would love and care for her until we could be reunited. She was also telling me it was okay to grieve and cry. She could see I was broken, but she knew I had the strength to put all my pieces back together again and face the world.
We all grieve differently, and heart wrenching grief does not mean a loss of faith. So, Cathy, the next time your heart is broken or you see an injustice and your lips tremble and the tears flow, Mom says, “It’s okay.”
Mom’s Move to Us
Mom came to live with Tom and me 7 years ago. I thank God for all that He set in motion that allowed this to happen. Mom was always happy, positive, and appreciative and maintained her fresh outlook on life.
When she first came to stay with us, she would walk to the mailbox to check the mail. When she would get it, she would bring it back to Tom—so happy. It didn’t matter what it was or whom it was for, someone in the world was thinking of someone in our home. That made her happy. Because of Mom’s short-term memory loss, within an hour of getting the mail, she would head out again to get the mail. The first time this happened, Tom reminder her that she had already gotten the mail.
She was crestfallen. Tom vowed he would never do that again. So, from then on, after she would bring in the mail, he would sneak back to the box and put something back in so she could repeat her journey and come back with the good news that we got mail. Thank you, Tom, for that and all the ways you made Mom’s days happy and kept her safe.
After time, Mom could no longer walk to the mailbox by herself, so I would rush home after work, so we could have our walk to the mailbox together. No matter how tired I was or how frustrating my day had been, these walks inspired me and reminded me of what was important.
Mom noticed and enjoyed everything—a flower, a bird singing, a squirrel in the tree. She would sometimes just stand, looking around and taking it all in. She calmed me, making me really see what was important and not rushing to get this job done. She silently required me to enjoy everything—not taking one flower, one bird, or one squirrel for granted.
Eventually, even a walk to the mailbox was too much, but it didn’t curb Mom’s happy nature. When I’d get home from work and walk into the living room, Mom would light up and exclaim, “Cara, you’re home!”
I’d ask about her day. She’d always tell me how good it had been. Sometimes with some details, and sometimes saying she couldn’t remember what she did, but she knew it was good. I’d then share a little about my day and then excuse myself to go change clothes. When going back into the living room ten to fifteen minutes later, Mom would see me, light up and exclaim “Cara, you’re home!” Once again, we’d exchange stories on the day’s happenings. Her happiness and enthusiasm never wavered, and brought me endless joy.
As time went on, Mom needed help getting ready for bed at night, and we developed a ritual I came to cherish. She had pictures of the family on her bed stands, shelves and on the wall. Each night she would focus on at least a few of the pictures and we’d share stories. How handsome Brett is and how proud Dad would be of him. How happy Nikki and Mike looked, and how cute Collin and Alyssa are. What wonderful people Cathy and Ted are, and how they raised such wonderful children and now have such precious grandchildren. Blake never ages and Christina is so kind. And always, how special Dad was, what a wonderful life they had, and how she loved and missed him.
Mom loved living in ‘Nashville”. She always commented that all Nashville has is beautiful weather, and the people in Nashville are so friendly. I can’t thank each of you in this room enough for all the kindness you showed Mom.
Goodbye Is Not the End
We’re going to miss you Mom. But, we’re so happy that you and Dad are together again. You are both with Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Art, all the friends, family, loved ones and saints that have gone before you.
As for me, I look toward to the day I see you again and hear you proclaim “Cara, you’re home!”
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Bo Sebastian is a Hypnotherapist and Life & Health Coach, available for private sessions to QUIT SMOKING, Lose Weight, New Lap-Band Hypnosis for Weight Loss, CHANGE YOUR MIND, CHANGE YOUR LIFE! at 615-400-2334 or www.bosebastian.com.
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