Nathan’s Corner: Mom’s Eulogy

Eulogy” comes from the Greek—“eu-“ means good or well, and “-logia” means words or speaking. It’s “praise,” “to speak well of,” or even “a blessing.” This is the eulogy I shared at Jeanine Barrett’s funeral, on January 17, 2013.

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I’ve been asked to share a few words about Mom.

I feel rather inadequate, really, because I’m sure there are many of you who have known her much longer than I have, and could tell story after story of your experiences with her. I only got to know mom for a brief coda, less than a year. But I am so grateful for that time.

In some ways, it has been easy for me to get to know mom “as she is”, if you know what I mean. We didn’t have any history, any emotional baggage or issues to resolve. I got to see her as the person she had become through 63 years of trial and experience.

And she was a complicated woman. To say the least.

She was serious-minded, but also had a dry sense of humor and a quick wit. She was strong enough to survive all manner of tragedies in her life, and yet in many ways was quite fragile, and she built up a lot of defenses in order to feel safe. She was proud of her work as a librarian, and a stickler for correct spelling and punctuation, and yet was one of the worst offenders when it came to writing emails and text messages. She loved to get her nails manicured, but it kept her from ever quite hitting the right keys on her phone. Her last text to Emily said, “Aprons poolside,” which meant that her dog April needed to be taken outside.

During the time that I knew her, she was in near-constant physical pain, and yet she would go to great lengths to support those she loved. She did everything she could to spend time with Kirk, Carolyn and her grandchildren, even though there’s a whole gaggle of them and it must have been physically exhausting at times. She came to see me play violin once when she was feeling sick, even though she’d already seen me perform the same song just the week before. She and Emily used to compete at saying which one loved the other more. They would do the ILY sign, and then with two hands, and then flip them over, like Spiderman spraying a web of love out over each other. And then, once Mom topped that by also pretending to do that with her feet as well. The sight of mom doing a Spiderman web spray while jumping with both feet out in front of her is an image I will not soon forget.

I think that mom was hungry to love, and hungry to be loved, but that sometimes that was hardest to do with the people she wanted to be closest to. My wife Emily likes to use the words “in bounds” and “in order” to describe things in the state in which they are in harmony with God’s law and the principles of eternal truth. And while family “out of order” brought her much sorrow through seasons of her life, it was family “within the bounds” that always, always brought her the most joy.

She several times recounted to me how, as a child, she had to do the dishes on Sunday mornings. Her dad would get ready for church before breakfast, and her mom and sister would get ready afterward while she and her father would wash the dishes together. At that point in the story she would always say with that look of hers, “When I was supposed to get ready, I don’t know.” But she said her father would sing out the hymn, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” and that she loved to listen to him. So typical of mom, I know she felt overlooked on those mornings, knowing that she would have to rush to get ready, and at the same time, treasuring that time with her father.

As an adult, there were times when her family was shaken and scattered, shifting away from God’s order through both choice and circumstance, but in the last few years, through the grace of Jesus Christ and by faith on his atonement, they have been restored and made whole once more. On those Sundays when the whole family was in town and attending church together, mom would look across at us all, taking up an entire pew, and she’d be so proud she’d nearly burst.

This past Christmas, we all got together to celebrate at her house, and open presents, and eat and play games, and generally make a mess and lots of noise. When it was time to leave, I was the last to say goodbye. She was watching the crowd siphon out through the front door, and her eyes filled with tears, and she said, “This was the Christmas I have always dreamed of.” She said she had spent a lot of Christmases alone, but how she had longed to see her children together and happily married, her grandchildren, and a house full of happy chaos.

Last night we all spent some time telling stories of our memories with mom, and I want to share three of them with you, just briefly, that I think help to illustrate the kind of person mom was.

First. When Emily and Kirk were young, and mom was raising them as a single mother, she instituted a weekly family night. Together they would go to a restaurant to eat and talk, and she officially made it a time of amnesty. That meant that each week they could discuss taboo topics, ask tough questions, and even confess things they had done, all in an environment of safety. It was her way of ensuring that the lines of communication with her children would remain open, no matter how hard things got.

Second. Mom was always an early bird, but once, while their little family was on vacation, they learned that a meteor shower would be visible that night. While she rarely stayed awake past 9, that night she stayed up with them until 4 in the morning (which was unheard of), sitting on the grass (which she also never did), watching the falling stars with her children. I love that image in my imagination, of the three of them feeling so close as they looked up at the night sky.

Lastly. Mom was a survivor of cancer. In fact, she was the oldest living survivor of Stage III ovarian cancer in the state of Oklahoma. She was a committed supporter of the annual Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The first lap of the all-night walkathon is the Survivor’s Lap, and she took her participation in this very seriously. She always insisted on making it around the track under her own power, even though she was in a lot of pain. One year, she had to be physically held up in order to make it, but she refused to be pushed in a wheelchair. She wanted to be able to say that she had used every last ounce of strength to complete the race with honor.

This past weekend was not the first serious car accident mom ever faced. And both cancer and childbirth at times seemed poised to take her life. But Emily has told me that her mom always testified to Kirk and her at those times that she had survived because she needed to make sure that her kids were ok. This time, for maybe the first time, she knew that they were going to be alright.

I am grateful for mom. She had her faults like the rest of us, but she was a woman of courage, of uprightness, of faith, and of learning. And I’m glad that she passed those virtues on to her children. I’m glad that I had the chance to know and love her, however briefly. And I know that only her mortal life has come to an end. I know that Jesus Christ came to earth as a mortal man, that he conquered sin that we may be made clean and whole, and conquered death so that we may be resurrected and live with him in a fullness of glory. I know this is true. And I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Nathan’s Corner: Mom’s Eulogy — 1 Comment

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