On November 14, 2017 I delivered the family remembrance at my mother’s mass of Christian burial at St Jude Church in Lincoln, RI. After the ceremony a few people asked me to post the text of my remarks; those words can be found below. They may be of interest to anyone who’s had a loved one suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, or anyone who’s had a mother who, like my mom Doris, was both the practical and spiritual heart of our family for most of our lives.
We grow up wanting our mothers to be proud of us.
We mostly don’t realize until we’re parents ourselves that a loving mother is always proud of her children, supportive of their varying wishes and dreams, proud of the struggle and fight regardless of the achievement. Mom was like this. Now comes the struggle, long foreseen, of being here without her.
The Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer describes the effect of a person’s death like this:
Once there was a shock
that left behind a long pale glimmering comet’s tail.
It contains us. It blurs TV images.
It deposits itself as cold drops on the power lines.
Here we are, today, still feeling the blurring impact of that comet’s tail at a wonderful life’s end. That disorientation that the poet describes can leave us feeling lost. I have felt this, in fact, for almost a decade as the family watched Alzheimer’s disease ravage the brain and body of this wife, this mother, this individual with her own life and love of God that began before any of us even knew her. Yet, time and again, when Mom smiled, you could recognize the person who in so many other ways seemed missing from our lives.
Over the last ten years, we felt the loss of her quick humor, her positive spin on even the worst days. What she missed in those years was not only the present but the past as well. Yet she recognized us as people she loved — beyond names and memory, and we recognized her, the Doris who would be there to the end, throughout that slow pulling away.
But bigger than that comet’s tail of distress is the invisible trail of lives made better by her everyday work and play. She was the mom who made our St Patrick’s day mashed potatoes a crazy bright green; the seamstress who designed and sewed us all matching pajamas one Christmas.
Floating across that long trail are her many acts of faith — as the CCD teacher, den mother, the neighborhood mom who drove us to elementary school on rainy days — in that time before seat-belts — squeezing as many of the local kids as she could fit into her gold Rambler, which she called “Goldilocks,” by having us sit alternately forward and back, like a rolling container of sardine scholars.
That invisible trail of works stretches ahead even into her retirement on Cape Cod, where she volunteered for literacy programs both for adults, at the local senior center, and for kids at Ezra Baker Elementary school. One boy was so excited to see her each week he began waking his mom up on those mornings, instead of the other way around, to make sure he got to school on time.
The invisible trail flows on, in all directions, past, present, and even drifting like stardust into the future. It’s a trail of enduring faith, in God, in love. In us.
We wanted our mom to be proud of us. As a dad now, I realize that what I want most is for my children to be proud of me, to grow up confident that they are loved. I’m sure that’s how Mom really felt, too, after all. Well, we’re proud of you.
As we wait these days out, as that shorter comet’s tail of confusion passes over us, as we may grow sad or even angry for what has been taken, it’s good to recall words from William Penn’s prayer for the deceased:
We give back to you, O God, those whom you gave to us. You did not lose them when you gave them to us, and we do not lose them by their return to you. Your dear Son has taught us that life is eternal and love cannot die. So death is only a horizon, and a horizon is only the limit of our sight.
We’ll be looking for you, Mom. Long after our blurred vision of this life and this death clears, we’ll see you even more clearly, like constellations in our mind’s night sky, brightest on the darkest evenings, navigation points for us above the horizon. Like the stars, giving light long after you’ve returned to your loving source.