Mom's Eulogy

Can we take one last walk with Mom?  You come too. The poet Wendell Berry asks us, "To practice Resurrection."  For Mom just getting up out of the bed was an act of Resurrection. But being 80 or 95 or even 99 was never an excuse to sleep in.  Seldom was she ever not up at least by 7am. But it didn't come easy. This Resurrection involved canting a litany of the saints: Oh my Mother in Heaven!  Jesus, Joseph and Mary! Lord have Mercy! Oh my darling Harry! and quoting great grand daughter Amaya: C'mon Mom Mom you can do it! You can do it Mom Mom!. And the sounds that came out of her were a cacophony of Uncle Eddie's two banger engines puttering and gasping through a cold start and then there came the wheezing and releasing the stiffness, shuddering a little like a big Belgian horse pulling the plow as the first furrow of Spring turns over.   But once up, she is a force to be reckoned with for she walks with a down hill lean and has 99 and 5/6 years of momentum on her side. She is a charter member of the force of Love! From all that living she knows truly that God is able and with God, indeed all things are possible!

And there is no going out to do the work of the Lord without gussying all up with one of her many pant suits, a coordinated scarf, jewelry, a pair of S.A.S. shoes (Beige, Navy, and Black) and of course her make up. Her eyes are not so good so the eye brow pencil can veer up in a rainbow arc creating a look of total amazement.  Which come to think of it is all part of this walk; why not look pleasantly surprised and why not to set yourself on a path in perpetual state of wonder and amazement. She'll help you be amazed too. Mom found Beauty in this world and brought it out in those she met. In every walk there was always new friends to meet.

And once she met you, you were not forgotten.  She really listened to you didn't she? And she took a sincere interest and wanted to know what's important to you and how you connect. No one can break down the six degrees of separation faster than Mom. "Oh if you're from Dows then you must know Dale and Imogene Hostetler who live out on the county road going east out of town.  Being a nurse all those years she'll probably remember too if you've had your gall bladder out. She has lived for five generations and has the wide spreading branches and tangles of genealogical trees stored in what seemed more memory than any device to come out of Silicon Valley. And her memory was sincerely tendered. If you lived in Hardin or Franklin County chances are she knew who you were related to.  

Mom had a saying in her later years:  "Give me a second to bring that to the front"  Imagine her memory as a huge warehouse of files upon files.  Files so high you need a ten foot step ladder to reach the top. When she says "Give me a second to bring that to the front,” imagine her minions of elves and gnomes scurrying about finding your three ring binder and pushing it up to the front on a flat bed push cart. And don't you feel special that she remembers so much about you?

And of course this vast memory was really  just a glimpse of her magnanimous heart. Magnanimous in its range of generosity and forgiveness, the warmth of her heart offered horizons upon horizons that stretch into the infinite revealing a faith that served her again and again, hardship after hardship, tragedy after tragedy, weakness after weakness.  Like the Iowa farmland that raised her and sustained her: She was understated yet with deep reserves of resiliency to meet whatever needed to be met and a richness of resolve to carry on no matter what. She never seemed to need to check out with the usual numbing diversions, she just seemed ready and willing to do what the Lord asked of her, whatever the case or the day. And whatever the day she was always happy that you stopped by and loved "whipping up a little something to eat before you have to go."

This walk could never have gone the distances she covered without stopping to pray.  And praying brought out the serious, distressed look, often with a set jaw. But as in the determination she put into her walk, Mom was determined to find the strength to keep on keeping on from her prayer. Her constant plea was in the form of the Prayer to St Jude, patron Saint of hopeless causes. Apparently everything and everyone, herself included, fit somewhere on the spectrum of hopelessness.  Praying to St Jude was going right to the special forces and not wasting time with some saint that only dealt with somewhat hopeless causes. She wore out many St Jude prayer cards over the years until she got one that was laminated on a board when she was out to Arizona with Dad, Melvin and Agnes Mary back in 1974. That one, though peeling and rubbed to oblivion, was like a daily touchstone. It carried the essence that gave her the poise that lifted her into her highest self.  

From that higher ground she truly had the long view that assured her and those she touched,that it's going to be alright. No matter your grievance, no matter your feelings of being treated unfair or not appreciated you must know this: it may seem bad now but it's just temporary.  Don't give into your anger, your judgments that spring from your fear and ignorance. Refrain from numbing yourself to the pain. This can only hurt you and those closest to you who may be trying their best to love you. Trust your heart and its impulse to keep giving, find compassion, reach out knowing full well that you may never see what comes of this love you have to give.  But know without a doubt that your contribution builds up the force of love in this world. Her 99 year long view that was born before women could vote and sliced bread was invented will be your daily testimony that Love always wins!

This is the heart shine you see coming off her as you walk along with her.  This is the profound freedom she is giving you as you make this walk. You have options! Use them. Develop your talents, open your mind to new learning everyday.  Don't let yourself become a feeble pawn to someone else's power and greed. Laugh often! It helps you transcend your pettiness to see the humble and fragile humanity in yourself so you can see it in others.

From this place she couldn't help but be generous and realize it's more fun to give it away than to cling and hold on tight and spite others who are less fortunate.  1936, in the depths of the Great Depression she was in her last year of nursing school. She came home for Christmas to find that there was no extra money for material gifts in her family of ten.  Although with the Oppolds all it really took was a deck of cards for a raucous good time. But Mom made a note to herself. "Not again." The following Christmas times were still hard, but Mom had graduated and had started her first job working a 12 hour shift for five dollars.  That Christmas she came home with gifts for everyone: Eddie got a pair of skates, one of the brothers got a shot gun, Ruth got a winter blazer and Mama and Papa got a brand new bedroom set.

Fast forward 79 years: on the day Mom died she woke up weak and unable to stand on her own. Somehow she still found a way to get on her make up and dress up.  She was taken to the hospital in Iowa Falls. There she felt a growing sense of weakness through the day. But always aware and always a nurse, she knew that 3pm meant a shift change and that a new nurse would be coming on the floor.  Making connections to the end, Mom was happy to meet the new nurse and ask about her family and place her in the grand genealogy she kept compiling. This nurse was accompanied by two local nursing students from Ellsworth College, whom Mom also found the reserves to interview and place them.  One of them piped up at the bedside of this grand elder: "You're Evelyn Lawless?!? I was the one who received your nursing scholarship just this past year." Tears are shared. A torch is passed. It was the last chance Mom had to make a new friend. Soon after she had a massive stroke and moved on along.

So here we are.  But know this walk with Mom isn't over. There are no excuses or better alternatives than to keep on walking. "Get up. Get into it. Get involved!"  She is always available to walk with you. To be this big heart that is your biggest fan, rooting you on, making you feel that you are her favorite. Thrilling in the adventure of deepening your own heart. Keep giving to the circle of kindness and know that you may never know or recognize how it comes around and how it gives back to you, but oh do know that this is it. This is the Resurrection!

And before you go out, know you shouldn't attempt this walk without necessary supplies: Mom's last shopping list was on her end table near the St Jude prayer card: Toilet Paper, Room Air Spray, Puffs and Ice Cream.  And don't forget the Ice Cream!


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