Last week, we gathered in the church my father grew up playing the organ for, my parents were married in, and where they contributed their voices to the choir for decades. It is the same church where 30 years later Courtney and I were married and Josh was baptized. We mourned the passing of both sets of grandparents from its pews.
Now, although five months after her passing and a full week after the service, it still seems surreal that we filled the pews (and two extra rows of chairs from the fireside room) to celebrate and say goodbye to my mother. She was larger than life; yet, did so in a way that so many did not notice her impact until it was gone. So many people commented that she was their first friend in Red Lodge or the one who “believed in them” when others turned away. I had the privilege of sharing the following at the service:
As Emily said, Mom loved life and each of us who were a part of hers. Thank you for being here today and for the role you played in Mom’s life.
Mom was humble and kind. She had the ability to make each of us feel like we were the only person in the world. No matter the situation, no matter what was happening in her life, she always took the time to visit and to truly listen. If asked how she was, she would redirect the conversation back to the person she was talking with by saying, “I am doing well, but, how are you?” So many of us here today consider Mom to be one of our closest friends. Part of this comes from her ability to make us each feel worthy and respected. She had faith that there is goodness in all things and always looked for the best in everyone.
The following quote reminds me of the way Mom chose to face each day:
Live by Faith
Grow in Grace
Walk in Love
Mom worked hard and taught us how to do the same. She never complained about the work – it simply was what it was – and it needed to be done. Many of my favorite childhood memories are from working alongside Mom: picking green beans at the farm or transplanting pansies in the greenhouse. I remember her waking us up extra early when spring snow fell to carry plants in before they froze or walking with her through the raspberries to shake off the heavy snow so the canes wouldn’t break.
Mom carried this same strong work ethic into all elements of her life. She never gave excuses or focused on her own challenges. She was private about her life and didn’t want her life to be dictated by a disease.
Mom showed me how to live an unselfish life by always putting others ahead of herself. Her grace and strength will forever shape the person I am. When Josh was diagnosed with Menkes Disease, I remember the doctor trying to prepare us for the road ahead by saying that “this will be hard. You will need to put your mommy and daddy armor on.” Mom guided me during the next year how to armor myself with faith, grace, and love to fully embrace every day we had with Josh. She understood on another level what the path would bring and helped me learn to be a resilient mother.
Mom loved being a grandma. Emma had fun climbing into her chair to read Blueberries for Sal or to sing her favorite campfire songs. It is strange for me to think Emma will not know her Grandma the same way I knew her, yet, Mom passed on to Emma her love of learning, gardening, and music. They are the same things she passed onto Emily and I years ago. As Maren Morris sings in the song we listened to during the slideshow:
“When there ain’t a crack in the foundation
Baby, I know any storm we’re facing
Will blow right over while we stay put
The house don’t fall when the bones are good”
Mom built a rock solid foundation. She was the strongest woman I know, but when I told her that during her final month, she rolled her eyes at me. She gave us the gift of her friendship and modeled grace. We are better people because of her.
Mom asked for three pieces of music to be shared at her service: “Battle Hymn of the Republic” sung by a mens choir, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” shared by her sisters, and “Colonel Bogey” performed by the Alte Kameraden brass band. This diversity of music and the fact that those who loved her fulfilled her wishes is a testimony to the love and life she shared with us.
One of my favorite poems is Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.” For the past week her line “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” has been playing over and over in my thoughts. So many of us experience grief and loss. Too many experience them too early in life. Mom never shared her despair, although she had many moments of hardship. Instead, she let us share ours. As always, she was focused on our lives instead of hers.
As my cousin Eric shared “We’re all doing the best we can in a world where the lines are painted in shades of grey.” I have so much still to learn from my mom. I am broken as I think I will have to learn them with out her, but know she will continue to guide me as I search for grace.