What follows is the eulogy I wrote this past August for my sweet mother. Our minister read it, word for word, as the sermon at her service. She would have turned 70 today.
I think it is a fitting tribute to share these heartfelt words about her once again.
In his 10th Holy Sonnet, the great poet, John Donne, wrote a line I’m sure we’ve all heard many times in classrooms of our past: “Death be not proud.” With these four simple words, he eloquently captured the gist of what it means to be a Christian, of what it means to have faith in the promise of resurrection. “Death be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.”
These words reflect the mystery of our faith, the mystery of faith that my mom deeply believed in. And because of this faith, she was not afraid of what was to come. Not once did anyone ever hear her voice concern or worry over her future. Indeed, she embraced each day as it dawned with gusto, her main—her only—concern being how she could help her family. And to my mom, her family was her life. And by faith was her way of living…
How else could you explain the fact that she agreed to go on a blind date way back during her senior year of college—a pairing covertly suggested by her college roommate in order to work their way around a Brumby Hall curfew? My mom’s first response to her roommate’s invitation? “Oh, with that football player guy with the glasses? Uh, I’m not sure…”
But she showed her ineffable—and often completely hidden—courage that night back in the late ’60’s when she agreed to a date with the bespectacled ball player from a tiny south Georgia town. She told me many times that her heart did a flip when she caught her first glimpse of him walking up a set of stairs to meet her. Less than 2 years later, together they would take an even more incredible leap of faith and get married. Their only child would follow soon after.
Thus began another season in her life.
Change is hard for any of us, but for those of us with faith—who believe in the promise of abundant life which our Lord has provided us—we embrace the jubilant message given to us in Ecclesiastes—the same message that is encapsulated by the popular song from my parents’ college days, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” written by The Byrds: “to everything…there is a season…and a time to every purpose under heaven.”
My mom was given many purposes under heaven, and she willingly and lovingly embraced them all.
She was called to lead a servant’s life, and she did so selflessly, volunteering her time at school, chairing countless projects with her service sorority, watching legions of softball games, ensuring her family was fed and clothed. She steadily tackled these and many more mundane tasks with grace and humility, putting the needs of others ahead of herself every single time.
She was called to be a friend and what a good friend she was. Friendships with my mom ran decades deep; in fact, my parents’ next door neighbors here in Vidalia are the same neighbors who used to stay up late with them nearly 50 years ago in Athens, laughing and celebrating—perhaps playing cards or rehashing the latest football game. Friends with whom my mom has shared a cup of coffee, a round of golf, or a meal know just how loyal a friend they had. She had a true gift for making friends, and my mom’s friendships ran just as wide as they were deep; she could—and would—talk to anyone. At any time. Her personality sparkled when she met new people, and her laughter could fill up a room.
She was called to be a wife. That courageous blind date with the football guy? That turned into a rock solid marriage that lasted 46 years. It was a rare moment indeed to find one of them without the other. Wherever they were—be it Las Vegas, Nevada or simply watching tv on Sunset Drive—they were happy just to be together. My mom radiated an invisible strength when she was next to my dad; she was her best self, confident and courageous, with him by her side. Theirs was an unshakable union, a constant companionship. Without her, my dad will never be the same.
She was called to be a mother. She was fiercely loyal and protective of me and would defend me until her last breath; she somehow thought I was incapable of doing any wrong. She was my first—and my constant—teacher who imparted things to me that are paramount to growing up—things like how to read, how to tie my shoes, how to make amazing homemade macaroni and cheese. Her spirit of adventure would soar when we were together; on Spring Break in 1994, she decided we should bike 25 miles down a mountainside in Jamaica—just picturing that should make you smile. My mom had the kindest heart ever and a way of always making me feel safe.
Finally—and perhaps most importantly to her—she was called to be a grandmother. Her 3 grandsons—Jack, Tucker and Theodore—made her soul shine. She would do absolutely anything for them; in fact, she once rode all the way to Atlanta and back on the same day just to watch Jack play in a baseball game. Their Baba would never turn down a game of Yahtzee, and she could be counted on to have a stash of Lays potato chips and pink lemonade waiting for them. Baba loved you three to the moon and back and would tell anyone who would listen that you were her sunshine. I want you to think of that whenever you see the sun shining brightly; I want you to remember your Baba forever and let your memories of her make you happy when skies are gray. You three were her life.
Indeed, my mom was gifted with many holy purposes during her life—servant, friend, wife, mother, Baba—and she humbly and faithfully carried out God’s plan for her. As we are told in the book of Jeremiah, the Lord knows the plans He has for each of us; these plans are to prosper us and to give us hope for a future, the future of an eternal life with God our Father. Because of this promise, even though we deeply mourn this loss, we can find comfort and start to heal. Our faithful servant has carried out her life’s plan just as God intended her to. We can allow ourselves a sense of Peace, and we can boldly tell Death to not be proud because just “one short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more.”
Alleluia. Thanks be to God. Amen.