On writing a eulogy for my mother
“Well, Tal,” I had said at my mother’s memorial service, “Maybe she’ll forget.”
What I should have said from the podium was:
“Well, Tal, she doesn’t have Alzheimer’s anymore! Watch out!”
Maybe like you, I have the tendency to rehash everything I do and say in my head, in general, finding fault. But failure to capture this truth in my eulogy Thursday has meant my mind kept rehashing the truth that my mother no longer has Alzheimer’s and is experiencing her “just reward.” In her case, her “just reward” is a good thing: heaven.
When my mother died May 27 from Alzheimer’s disease, I wrote a post titled “Shades of death: When you lose a loved one to Alzheimer’s disease.” As I contemplated the title of this post, it seemed that the final “shade of death” is actually a joyous realization: My mother has been released from her broken body and mind and is alive — fully cognizant, free of Alzheimer’s disease — with Jesus. What a glorious thought!
Since my mother wanted to be cremated, we didn’t have to rush a memorial service immediately after her death. We postponed it a month for a date when all of her children could be present. About a week before the event, my sister-in-law asked if I’d be willing to speak “to represent the children.”
“Yes,” I’d said, but what I meant was “Sure. I’ll talk for myself, but I have no idea how I can possibly represent my brothers and sister.” But rehashing what I should have said vs. my simple affirmative didn’t change a thing. I didn’t change my answer and was scheduled to speak.
I fretted, jotted random notes and memories, and made no headway until the day before the service. I scribbled “Mom the cheerleader” and nine paragraphs plus a final thought for the end. Nothing more.
The morning of the event, I chained myself to the computer, where my cat positioned herself to ensure she could give my fingers a tongue-lashing every time I tapped a key, and where I remembered that my siblings and some of their children had contributed to a book we’d written for my mother as a Mother’s Day gift years ago. (Thank God!) Between my scribbles Wednesday morning and that book, my eulogy formed into something that could represent the children and honor my mom.
Here’s what I said:
Barbara Jean Souders was my mother.
[Insert a voice break and a few sobs here, followed by “Just give me a moment. I’ll get it all out at once.” For the most part, I did manage that. Then I continued:]
She was an only child; my dad was one of ten children. They split the difference and had five. I am the youngest.
Today I’m speaking on behalf of my siblings — which I’ll admit has made me a bit stressed. How can I possibly represent their thoughts about my mother?
This morning as I crammed for this speech, I remembered that we had written our thoughts about my mom in this book — Praising a Woman of Excellence. We gave this to my mom for Mother’s Day 20 years ago. (We also gave my dad a book titled Focus on the Father, in which we honored him.)
My mother, the cheerleader
When I was a little girl, I took ballet – along with my sisters Trish and Cyndi. I’ve been told that both Jack and Scott, my brothers, took ballet as well, but I’ve never seen photos of them in leotards, so I’m not positive of that.
I am positive that Mom was our cheerleader.
In addition to all those ballet recitals, Mom was faithful at cheering us at sports competitions and other events.
Scott wrote about that:
“I remember baseball and soccer and basketball – when you, Mom, were the loudest parent in the stands, and Dad either was trying to quiet you down or hollering with you… I loved it.”
I had a similar experience. When I played for a girls fast-pitch softball league, my mom was in the bleachers.
I pitched — but slowly. My pitches were legal because they were flat. Because they were super accurate and slow enough to mess with batters used to speedy pitches, my coaches considered me their secret weapon.
Mom was the secret weapon.
I’d stand at the mound. Raise my gloved hand and my ball-holding hand in front of me (like so) and gaze between the brim of my hat and my hands. Focusing on home plate. And just before my windup, I’d hear my mother in the stands:
“Uummph, Sara, umph.”
That little (loud, somewhat embarrassing) cheer helped power my steady, straight, dead-accurate, SLOW pitch across the plate.
My softball career didn’t last, but that memory of my mom cheering me has followed me through life.
My mom, the counselor
in addition to being a cheerleader, Mom was a great listener and counselor.
In the book, her son-in-law Jeff wrote:
“Since I’ve known you, you have always been there for me, offering care, comfort, and conversation… You’ve seen me through some of the toughest times and experiences of my life. You offered advice, help, and hope when I needed them most.”
My sister Trish wrote:
“Thank you for always being there, for always having a ready ear to listen — knowing when to listen and when to speak.”
My sister Cyndi wrote: “You, Mom, are always there — that means so much. Always willing to listen. Always ready to counsel and give advice (you don’t even have to ask — and it’s free!)
My brother Jack mentioned how his relationship with my parents changed as he matured and said: “We can actually accomplish meaningful conversations… I respect your wisdom.”
“When I needed to talk to my mother, I would often find her at her makeshift home office, busily typing away on some newspaper or magazine assignment. The minute I walked into the room, no matter how busy she was, my mother would stop typing and turn her full attention to me. She never seem impatient, never appeared to be on deadline. She always listened, advised, hugged, cried or gave whatever the situation took.”
My sister Cyndi’s son Tal took advantage of his grandmother’s time in her office in a different way. In the book, he wrote:
“I remember sneaking into the house after school, just so I could catch her typing and then scream her name.”
He added: “All I know is I hope I die before she does, ’cause when I get to heaven I know she’ll be waiting to extract her revenge!”
Well, Tal. Maybe she’ll forget. 😉
[That was where I wished I’d said “Well, Tal, she doesn’t have Alzheimer’s anymore!” But I didn’t.]
Of course, sometimes Mom got a little bit carried away with her counseling. At family gatherings, we often watched to see who Mom’s target would be. We knew it would include a long conversation — and that we’d be off the hook for that gathering, anyway!
My mom, the fruit-bearer
In addition to being a cheerleader, listener and adviser, my mom (and dad) knew how to feed a crowd and make family feel loved and make friends feel like family. Mom loved to be surrounded by her family.
The Bible says that you can determine what a tree is by the fruit it bears.
We are my mother’s fruit. Five children; 23 grandchildren; 14 great grandchildren — and counting!
The last time I saw Mom was the day before Mother’s Day. She was on Hospice; she was unresponsive, appearing to be asleep, painfully thin.
Within minutes of my arrival, my sister-in-law Dixie and niece Cheryl arrived. A few minutes later, my niece Megan and nephew Riley, and Megan’s two little boys, Jakson and Chase, arrived. We surrounded Mom’s bed, loving on each other, catching up, and attending to my mom.
I watched these precious nieces and my nephew speaking to my mother quietly while they rubbed her shoulders or stroked her hair. It was beautiful to see this reflection of their relationship with their grandmother and their love for her.
My mother’s fruit, her children’s fruit. What a beautiful family tree.
A cloud of cheer
That day in that little bitty room, in our own way, we cheered for Mom, celebrating who she was in each of our lives.
The Bible says in Hebrews 12:1:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” I can imagine Mom in the bleachers of heaven still cheering for us.
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
“Umph, Sara, umph!”
Persevere. Press on. Make Mom proud.
After the service, the pastor invited guests to come talk to us, the family, and so we were approached by a number of people from the church, many I remembered from my girlhood, who reminded me how much my mother meant to people and the church — and how much she had done for the church. She served as writer, historian, and Sunday school teacher, among many other roles.
The reminders made me proud of my mom.
What made me most proud, however, was the number of people who came to tell me that I reminded them of my mother — in my looks, my mannerisms, and in the way I gave my speech.
When I called my brother Scott a few days after the service, I mentioned that many people had told me I reminded them of Mom.
“Yeah, you do,” he said. “I told you that, too.”
We chatted for a bit, and then when he had to end the call, I told him I’d enjoyed talking to him.
“I enjoyed talking with you too, Mom,” he said, and we both laughed.
One thought as I reflect, again, on that day honoring my mother. I am so thankful that we created that book so many years ago — and not just because it helped me write a speech (although I am so thankful for that!).
It relieved my little heart to know that we had each expressed our love to my mother back when it meant something and she could treasure it in her mind and heart.
God’s Word afterward
In case you don’t know why I can declare that my mother doesn’t have Alzheimer’s anymore, I’m including some Scripture verses below that express the hope we have in Jesus Christ. I hope you have that hope too.
My mother and my father accepted Jesus as their Savior after my oldest sister Cyndi heard and accepted the gospel, when I was in third grade. They changed. I, too, accepted Christ to be my Savior, and I captured my testimony in this post nearly six years ago. It is powerful and humbling.
I know I am blessed beyond measure to have had parents who loved the Lord and raised me in the faith. Watching my mom deteriorate through the years with Alzheimer’s was devastating — but not as devastating as it would have been if I didn’t know I would see her again, healthy and whole.
God’s Word says:
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”1 Corinthians 15:42-44
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”John 11:25-26
“The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”Isaiah 57:1-2
“A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.”Ecclesiastes 7:1
“We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”2 Corinthians 5:8
And, so, with full confidence I can say, “She doesn’t have Alzheimer’s anymore!”
The final shade of death is filled with hope.