Wednesday, May 04, 2005

EOTM: Tribute to my Mother

My mother, Goldie, died on Sunday, May 16th, 1999.

She was a remarkable woman.

From the springtime of her life, as a remarkably beautiful and vivacious young woman, to the final days of her autumn, spent with her body and mind slowly failing her, Goldie lived a life of quiet strength, determination, and bountiful love.

She was the kindest, gentlest, and most loving person I’ve ever known. What a wonderful statement to be able to make about one’s mother.

But, as a result of talking to the many people who had known her in her life, I found that my perception was universal among anyone who had met her even once. Everyone experienced Goldie as a kind, gentle, warm, and most loving person. Her final gifts to her family were the many expressions of deep love that people offered when they heard of her death. At the end of life, she taught a great lesson in being able to turn around and accept people loving and taking care of her when she needed it most.

The end of my mother’s life was a long one. In circumstances it was soft at the end, but the experience was made hard by long slow deterioration of her abilities. It was a frustrating end to a life characterized by vigor and purposeful activity.

In tribute to her, and her unfailing consistency in living by and for her values and convictions, I want to tell the story of my mother. She had an exceptionally full and wonderful life, and that was of her own making. It was a just harvest for all the love she gave so generously.

When I hear some woman today sneer at how "men don't like strong women", I think of Goldie, and just marvel at how obtuse some people can be.

This woman was as strong as any person who ever lived, but she never once confused belligerence with strength. Marriage and children, and grandchildren, etc, were the central core of her life. She loved life and knew how to nurture it as well or better than anyone.

Goldie's secret was that she innocently and genuinely loved life and everything about it, and enthusiastically wanted to share it. A perfect illustration of how Goldie's love of life came out as caring for it, was the time we had a late winter storm after some of the calves had been born. Mom enlisted a neighbor lady's help and went out into the pasture and picked up the calves in a handcart and carried them down to the basement where she made a tent out of old sheets and warmed up the calves with an old hair dryer. She was in her late 60s.

On the night she died, I got out an old photo album with pictures of her going back to about age 10. In every picture, was that same smile with the same near dimples and the same twinkle in the eye. These were Goldie's trademarks, and everyone who knew her remembered these about her.

I had arrived late in Goldie's life, two days before she turned 40, thus I missed all the years of her as young woman and mother. But I could guess what they were like from the way that Goldie was in the years I did get to know her.

Simply put, Goldie was the best person I've ever known in my life.

The loss of women like Goldie, from the culture as a whole, will result in it being a far more hostile and uncomfortable place. Her speciality was comfort and she saw absolutely nothing to gain from being needlessly belligerent.

The loss of mothers like Goldie will change the family world that most of us live in most of the time. From an atmosphere of loving cooperation, we are moving culturally into a world of suspicious competition.

One of the first things I was struck with as I looked at photos from her younger life, the part I had missed, was the consistency of the smile across her ages, and being able to see the gradual transitions she went through as she moved from that freshness of youth, through a long and productive middle age, to as graceful an old age as she was able to accomplish. At the end, all her physical and mental capabilities just slipped away and she lay in one curled up position waiting to die for years.

But she did not turn loose of them readily or easily. Goldie's commitment to life can actually be seen in her last years as well as in her earlier more fruitful years. She was determinedly optimistic even the day she moved from her house to a nursing home. She was going to be out by that very afternoon and bake my brother's wife a cake. It was that kind of determination which had brought her through raising a family through a depression and world war, building a family business while in her 50s and early 60s, then retiring to an on-the-whole very gentle and gradual end to her life. Her children and their children were with her to the very end. She had been an extremely generous person throughout her long lifetime, and when it came time for her to receive, no one who loved her could hold back anything she wanted or needed. Her needs were always simple, and she was very respectful when asking, but if she did ask - you knew it was something she really wanted and you just wanted to give it to her.

Her ending was hard on all 3 of her children, and they divided up the tasks of organizing their mother's last party. There was a lot of gaiety to Goldie, and she loved a good party, particularly one where she was the guest of honor. Two took the logistics, and one took the difficult job of eulogizing their mother. It was both an easy and a difficult task. The ease lie in how much there was that could be said about Goldie, and the challenge was to make it an accurate portrait of our mother and why we all looked up to and loved her so: long enough to do her justice, but short enough not to lose people's attention. I wanted very intensely to give an accurate portrait of this lady and her sterling qualities.

Below, are selected portions of the eulogy I delivered at her funeral, 5/20/99. Goldie practiced the arts of wifehood, motherhood, and loving life in general, well into her 8th decade. Her children were widely seprated in years, her youngest being born two days before her 40th birthday. She always said that her children kept her young, and to see how her greatest pleasures lie in feeding people and taking care of them, you can understand how.


I want to extend welcome, on behalf of Goldie, since she is not able to welcome you herself, although we all know she would if she were able. If Goldie were in charge right now, we'd be bustling around getting you something to eat and drink. Feeding people was a big part of the way that Goldie showed love. Even if you stopped by for only a couple of minutes, Goldie saw to it that you never went away hungry or thirsty.

Anyone who has had the experience of losing a beloved knows that words cannot touch the meaning of that loss. When the beloved is a parent, part of our link in the chain of life is severed. While we experience death many times in our lives, and become accustomed to it, the death of a mother or father are events which only happen once in a lifetime.

One of the things my siblings and I have experienced as we’ve gone through the process of letting mom go is the realization that what we feel for Goldie goes beyond the love of a child for a parent. In addition to loving her, we also admired, respected, and, above all, trusted her.

We discovered that almost everyone felt the same way about Goldie. Somehow the frame of reference shifted from a perception of Goldie as mom, to Goldie as Goldie and how her entire life from beginning to end reflected a constant dedication to her values. While some degree of self-sacrifice was part of it, it was really far more a case of everyone simply sharing generously. Through Goldie's tutelage, we learned how it really is better to give than to receive: the delight in the eye of the recipient is an equal gift to the gift itself. In many respects, I envy those who knew my mother longer than I did. My brother and sister both experienced her as a young woman. I saw her only at middle age and after.

Her passing once again drives home the lessons she determinedly tried to teach throughout her life - teaching in the best way possible: by living them.

Goldie enriched the lives of everyone she touched, and she touched a lot of people. It was basic to Goldie’s nature that she reach out to others and touch them with a gentle, calming, and loving touch.

We will be known by our works, and I don’t want to pass up the opportunity to remark on the lessons of Goldie’s works, as a final chance to give thanks to her for her works on my behalf.

Goldie was a great teacher, in her quiet and unassuming way. She taught by being - by simply living what she believed - not really for the intentional purpose of serving as an example, but because she believed that was the way one should live one’s life. As one experienced and observed the results and Goldie’s effect on people, you realized she was right.

Even at the end of life, Goldie keeps teaching.

This latest lesson is a repetition of the lesson that there are many phases of life that we go through. And, while our role may change, it doesn’t mean that who we are changes. As Goldie’s physical and mental faculties progressively shut down on her, the kind and loving nature of her basic person kept shining through. A word I have heard over and over again to describe Goldie is "sweet."

In speaking with the minister preparing for Goldie's service, I learned something about Goldie that was both something I knew about her as well as seeing what I thought I knew in a new light. She said that the members of the church would often go to minister to my mother, and would come away feeling like they had been ministered to.

This was the essence of Goldie.

So there is more to it than just the child’s love for mother, which is what my sister and brother and I now feel, there was something in Goldie which just made people love her, and that something was the fact that she loved them.

Simply put, Goldie, mom, was the best person I ever met in my life.

When people tell me that they’re sorry to hear that my mother died, while it is meant in kindness, the circumstances of her passing make the joy outweigh the sorrow. All I can say is to them is that if they had known Goldie, they wouldn’t be sorry at all.

About a year and half ago, my uncle died. Suddenly thrust into the role of the elder of that family, my cousin, Don, said one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard. In speaking of his dad, Don said "We’re not here to mourn his death, but celebrate his life."

So, I welcome you here to join us in celebrating Goldie’s life.

And what a life it was. It was a life to be celebrated.

She lived through world wars and world economic depression. She saw more fundamental technological change in one generation than any other generation ever saw before or ever will see hence.

Goldie always had a lot of friends and made friends easily. It wasn't totally conscious on her part, although she did want to please, she was just so full of life that people felt good being around her. As a young girl, she was always laughing and bubbly and full of life. Her joyous smile was infectious.

Goldie had a rich and full life, with many dimensions to it. Goldie was first and foremost - wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

Family was the foundation for mom on which everything else was based. And on this foundation she built a 52 year partnership with a man who was not always the easiest to live with, gave herself to 3 generations of children, then turned around and graciously accepted their support when it came time for her to receive and for them to give back a little of the great gifts they had received from her.

Mom gave gracefully because she never thought of herself as "owning" love - to her, love meant passing it around. Holding onto it lest she somehow have "less" simply would never occur to her.

Goldie was an adventurer. As a teenager, she had a boyfriend who had a biplane, the photo of Goldie looking out of the cockpit shows her delight. Sixty years later, Goldie went on a cruise to Alaska and through the Panama Canal. Nothing ever daunted Goldie. The word "can’t" wasn’t in her vocabulary. She didn’t expect immediate results, Goldie’s secret weapon was persistence. Another perfect Goldie story happened on one of the many adventures she shared with her husband. They went fishing up in Minnesota. This was at a stage in their lives when money was scarce. They still enjoyed life itself without any need for a great many trappings to make it enjoyable. They could only afford fishing tackle for dad, so the guide fixed my mother up with a hook and a bobber and she wrapped the line around her finger. She caught the biggest fish of the trip.

Throughout Goldie’s life, she made many promises to people, and she kept them. While I am not aware of her ever breaking a promise to anyone, I think it is perhaps the promises that Goldie made to herself that she kept the best.

So, one of the things which I would most like to celebrate today is how Goldie’s promises to herself were the essence of who she turned out to be. And how her work is now done, and well done, and how she needs and deserves a rest.

We are well-wishers, seeing Goldie off on the next exciting part of her adventure. Goldie was never one to be tied down, but over the past 10 or 11 years, all her abilities gradually failed. Goldie was in there, but trapped - yearning to be free. Today she is free. I’m very happy for you mom.

In order to understand the wholeness and fullness of Goldie's life, no better words have ever been written than Ecclesiastes 3.

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.

- There is a time to sow, and a time to reap,

- a time to live, and a time to die."

There is indeed a time to sow, and a time to reap. All things do and must pass. Each generation must pass through all phases of life and learn its lessons.

Goldie understood this. During the time when it was her time to plant, she did so generously. She tended what she had sown, and made sure that her own never knew real lack. And when she grew old and infirm, she began to reap the harvest of what she had sown and tended so carefully. There is a time for that, and when it came for Goldie, she did it as gracefully as she did everything else.

Goldie was an artist, and while she used and mastered many media, from drawing to oils, her favored medium was life. Goldie was an accomplished artist in that subtle art of life. She imparted to her children that love of life which defined her, and a set of values that does not include ever doing harm. To the very end, Goldie retained a sense of innocence, awe, and wonder. The picture to the right is one of the many home-made christmas cards she made over nearly 40 years of carrying on that tradition. She drew the cover and composed the verse inside which was always news of the family's year.

Goldie loved life, and lived life, and lived love.

Goldie’s death was not unexpected. The family had years to prepare, and went through more than a few dry runs. Goldie had lived a full life, experienced a bountiful harvest, and now it was October for her. In the last of her seasons, she reaped a graciousness about receiving that she had always had about giving.

What was remarkable about Goldie, I will not use the word special because it has become so cheapened, was that from beginning to end she lived her life consistently, living a set of values that she passed on. That is a part of Goldie that you will find in every child and every grandchild. We hope that it will continue to be seen in great-grandchildren and their children.

These two pictures represent Goldie at each end of her adult life.
The picture on the right, is the way Goldie looked 3 years ago, 1996. However, if you had looked at Goldie through her own eyes, you would have found that in her own heart and mind, she looked a lot more like the picture on the left. Ever in Goldie’s heart was the world young and bright and new and full of promise. In the young girl, were the seeds of the promise of what Goldie was to become. While the changes were many, and the years relentless, I believe that you can still see that the smile is the same, and behind the glasses and the glare, the same twinkle is still in her eyes.

I’d like you to take a moment to look at the young Goldie on her way to becoming and see if you can imagine what dreams lurked behind those bright young eyes. Then I’d like you to look at the old Goldie, and see how all those dreams played out and how deeply satisfied she was. While it is easy to see the remarkable beauty and promise fresh and bursting into bloom in the picture of the young Goldie, it takes knowing her to see even greater beauty in the face of the old Goldie.

Goldie knew, when she was a teenager, exactly how she wanted to live her life. Not the details of the plans, but by which values. In the time interval which separates these two photos, close to seventy years, not once, not one single time, did Goldie ever act contrary to those values.

The most cherished legacy Goldie left her descendants, is one of absolute and perfect trust. Goldie understood the importance of keeping faith as few still do.

What some people did not see under Goldie’s kindness, was her grit and determination. This, too, is a legacy she leaves her family. "Can’t" wasn’t in Goldie’s vocabulary until about 10 years ago. While she accepted it with grace, she hated it. The reason I feel such joy for Goldie today, is because she is finally free of the prison her body had become.

The weeping that Goldie’s children have done for our mother, is not from sadness that our mother now is getting her well-earned rest, but tears of joy over having known her.

And I’d like to tell you a bit about the path that Goldie followed on her way between the beginning and end of her life.

Goldie was born July 26th, 1912 in small central Missouri town. Her mother's maiden name was Holt, and the town was named Holt Summit. There were ties here for her that went back to the town's founding. She had two sisters and a brother. Goldie was 7 years old when the armistice ended WW I. She was a teenager during the roaring 20s. Now, if that isn’t enough to give a father sleepless nights. On new years eve, 1932, Goldie married Woody, the man with whom she was going to spend most of her life. Many times mom told the story of saying the first time she laid eyes on my dad - "That’s the man I’m going to marry." Knowing mom, it’s very easy to believe. Determination was a character trait that Goldie had in good measure. Once she made up her mind to do something, there wasn’t much that could stop her.

Being a wife and mother was so central to Goldie, that her life can only be seen in its wholeness by seeing how these roles both defined her, and were her greatest passion. Woody was her partner, and they were in it for the long haul. It was on that framework that all the rest of the experiences of Goldie’s life were built.

In 1935, at the height of the depression, they had a daughter. In 1942, with the war raging, they had a son. While times were thin, Goldie still made sure somehow that her children never lacked anything they really needed. As young marrieds and parents, Goldie and Woody learned to lean on each other and to be partners. Goldie took care of Woody until the day before he died, and only gave in when the family ganged up on her because she was exhausted from caring for him. But, all the time it mattered, Goldie was there when Woody needed her.

Two days before her 40th birthday, Goldie had a third child, a son. Goldie experienced motherhood for a far greater portion of her life than many women. In 1960, Woody and Goldie bought a small business, a country bank, and for the next 14 years they worked six-day weeks. They built the business well, and it provided a comfortable retirement for both of them. To the end of her days, life was as gentle and tender to mom as she had been toward it. The nursing home where she spent her last days provided nothing but the finest care. Her church was a great comfort to her.

The years at the bank were good years for them. With only one chick left in the nest, they traveled, not widely but well. They began to be able to have the things they had worked for all their lives. This was their early harvest. The picture on the left was taken in Hawaii. Together they created many adventures for themselves.

When Goldie and Woody retired, they returned to the country. Goldie the artist, took up oil painting and one of her paintings hangs in the nursing home where she spent the last 5 years of her life. They both had a few good years, then Woody’s health failed. At ages 66 and 68, Goldie had the pluck to climb on the tractor, and keep up the "genteel farming operation" until it became clear that Woody would not recover enough to take it over again. In 1982, they moved to a retirement center, and Woody died about a year and half later.

The years since then, were Goldie's harvest years - for mom, the months of September and October. I first noticed that mom was failing, eleven years ago. Dear Goldie could drive 30 miles from her home to my house in the city, but I couldn’t get her to understand how to get to the Quick Trip at the other end of the block. The time since then has been watching her slip away so gradually that it was tough to see, except when you compared year to year. In her life, Goldie had never encountered a real obstacle, merely temporary setbacks. When we could no longer maintain her in her home and brought her to the center, she planned to get out that afternoon and make a cake for my brother's wife. Goldie was always looking ahead to the future, and was never without plans for it.

See, I told you that in Goldie’s eyes, the world was still as full of promise to her as it ever was.

In the end, Goldie’s body simply failed on her. But never her spirit.

It is that which we love most about her, and something she gave to all her descendants. That is her legacy - a legacy of spirit.

So, in the end, Goldie accomplished exactly what she set out to do.

Thank you mom. Thank you Goldie. No finer job has ever been done.

Rest well and easy. You’ve earned it.

7/26/12 - 5/16/99