Tuesday, March 01, 2011

What I said at my mother's funeral

My mother passed away late on Monday, November 8, 2010, at the age of 79. Her funeral was on Friday, November 12, 2010.

My brother gave the eulogy. A day or two before I had been asked if I wanted to say anything, too. Some other people were also going to talk, and I could say something if I wanted to. I said no. I was really tired and feeling kind of shaky, and didn't feel like I could. And although I didn't know it at the time, I was only a few weeks away from going in the hospital myself. Over the course of the day I thought about it, though, and decided that I really had to say something. I felt it was my duty, that I was the only one who could say the things I was thinking about. I had to do it. I went ahead and wrote it down in a rough draft on the computer, then printed it out. I went over it some more on the way to the funeral and while I was there, making a few minor changes, just in my head, not writing anything down.

When it came time for the speeches, my brother went up and talked, then a few other relatives, then I volunteered to be next. I went up and got on the platform, and stood at the dais and adjusted the very ineffective microphone to point up toward me. I looked out at the crowd, scanning my eyes over them. I recognized a lot of people, but most of them were strangers. It didn't bother me that I had to speak before all of them, though there was a time when it would have. Now I just felt that I had to give the speech as best I could, and try to speak loudly enough so that everyone heard me. It was a fairly long speech, but I think I succeeded for the most part in what I was trying to do. Several more people spoke after me, not all of them relatives. I couldn't hear most of what was said, because of the poor microphone and my hearing problem. Evidently the other people were having a lot more success in hearing than I was, as evidenced by their reactions. I know I was heard, at least for the most part, because of reactions to what I was saying during the speech, and because of things that were said to me afterward, in one case about a specific thing I said, and in another case word was relayed to me that someone had said that I should be a professional writer.

This is what I said, recreated from the written notes and adding in the changes, as best as I can remember them:

Hi, I'm Stephen. I'm her first child.

A long time ago, in Moberly, Missouri, back when I was little, probably five or six, I was laying in bed, with my mother leaning over and talking to me. It was sometime during the day. We were talking about various things at first, but the discussion went to me growing up, getting older, and then getting married and leaving her. I protested, saying I would never leave her. She said that I may not think that now, but I would feel different when I got older. I still insisted I would never leave her.

I did end up spending some time in Nevada, but I came home often, usually every two weeks, and I also spent a lot of time on the phone with her. When I was home, she used to show me tapes of the Guiding Light soap opera, catch me up on it as much as she could, the ones that I had time to see. Sometimes I got to spend some extra time home with her, and see it directly, and watch the O.J. Simpson trial, too.

At that long ago time in Moberly, when I was little, in what was probably the same conversation, it had moved on, and came to a different topic. She said that people grow old and die, everyone does, even she would get old and die some day.

"No," I said, objecting to it.

"It would be a long time," she assured me. "It wouldn't happen for a long time."

I still objected, even as she left me then, looking saddened. I knew, of course, that she was right, that everyone grows old and dies, but I didn't want to accept it happening to her

In my life, I have had some things happen in groups of ten years, or a little more. The time I owned the radiator shop was around eleven years. The time I spent in Nevada was around ten and a half. The time since I came home from Nevada, until now, when she died, has been about twelve years. I would gladly add on another ten, and another ten after that, move it ahead indefinitely. It never seems to be enough.

We talked about the ten year thing sometimes. One time perhaps a few years ago, perhaps less, she said she didn't have that long to wait, for me to start doing something else.

One time, perhaps a week or week and a half before she went into the hospital, she was talking about something she had specified to be given to someone after she was gone. I said we had plenty of time to talk about that later. She said "No, we don't." After all those years, I was still objecting.

Now, though, the thing I objected to so long ago, and still objected to, and dreaded all those years, has finally happened. That unimaginable and unacceptable time, and we must go into the future without her.

She had a lot of health problems this year, but was still trying to get better.

One time, a few weeks ago, she found enough strength to fix some scrambled eggs. She made me a scrambled egg sandwich, and handed it out to me over the doggie gate in the kitchen. After I ate it, she asked me, happily and expectantly, if I liked it. I assured her that I did. And I in fact did.

She also gave some of the eggs to the two little dogs, something she used to do a lot.

She tried to be especially cheerful in the couple of weeks or so near the end. She said she knew how much I was doing for her, and how much Sharon was doing for her and, talking to me, thanked us individually. Sharon wasn't there at the time. I'm sure my mother expected me to convey the message, which I did.

She tried to be happy with what I brought her to eat, though when she didn't like it she said so, often saying it tasted funny or she didn't know why it tasted like that, while still saying it in a nice way. Her tastes seemed to be affected somewhat by her illness. But when she did like the food she made a special effort to smile, and thank me, and say how much she enjoyed it.

We had some enjoyable talks over the years, including recently, but not enough of them. Looking back, not nearly enough.

Several years ago she was trying to put together another book to give to people, like the last one about her early life. This one was going to include a lot of copies of pictures of relatives from the old days, and copies of newspaper articles and copies of parts of old books that had information about relatives in them, and I'm sure a lot of other stuff.

It was a big project, finding everything and making the copies. I helped her out sometimes, but she was doing most of it herself.

She was also trying to draw a large layout of the buildings on the old farm, as part of the project. She spent a lot of time working on it, trying to remember how many buildings there were, and what they were used for and where they were. She was never quite able to remember everything, though she remembered most of it.

Then health problems intervened, and time passed. She said one time that she no longer remembered how the buildings were, and was mad about it, that too much time had passed and she had forgotten.

She never got the project finished. Too many health problems got in the way, and it became too much for her to do.

It eventually came to be that she also forgot the stories of her life, that she had written for the earlier book. She said she knew she had written them, but didn't remember it anymore, and though she enjoyed reading them, it was like reading about someone else.

However, in time, the memories came back, and when I would talk about them she would know what I was talking about, and remembered them.

Even a few days before she went in the hospital she remembered them.

And when I visited her in the hospital, I talked about them a lot with her, and she would remember them, at least the ones from the old farm. She sometimes had some trouble with some memories from after that.

The ones from the old farm, though, she seemed to remember very well, even supplying some details.

When I reminded her about her feet hanging through the ceiling, when she was little, she said that they had told her not to do it, but she went up there and was looking at it between the boards, and was wondering what it would feel like to have her feet hanging through.

I reminded her of the horse taking her around and around the building, and she remembered that.

I reminded her about playing hide and seek, and not being able to find someone, eventually supplying the detail, I think, that a person was up in a tree. After I repeated it a few times, she turned toward me, like she had been lost in thought about something else, and said "Oh that was Bea! We couldn't find her, then we heard laughing, and we looked around and I finally saw her up in the tree. Bea was a rascal."

I reminded her about the two story log cabin. that she wanted to get into, and she said, "And I still do!"

She laughed a lot that night, talking with me.

I remember when I was very little, and we lived at the second farm, I used to sit on the floor and put puzzles together, and she would sit there too and help me.

She used to talk about that over the years, even recently, about how I would sit there with a puzzle piece and move it this way and that, and finally get it in. She said the puzzles had so many pieces, and I was so little, and I was so smart.

She used to play with me with other things, too.

There was a big metal top that had to be pumped with a twisted metal rod that came out the top, to make it spin. It made a strange humming sound when it spun.

There was a small wooden mailbox, with holes of different shapes in it, for wood pieces of different shapes to go through.

And a squarish board with little holes all over it, and little pegs to go in them and create pictures.

And a tiny wooden workbench with things to pound into it.

And various kinds of blocks.

And many other things.

And she used to sit there and play with me when she had time, both at the farm and when we later moved to Moberly.

I enjoyed it very much.

Later, when I was in school, she sometimes helped me out with my school work. She was also a den mother at school for a while. She also made Easter egg hunts for us, and treasure hunts. She would leave little strips of paper with clues on them, leading to the next strip of paper and finally to the prize.

She did so many nice things for me over the years.

One time, I'm not sure how old I was, perhaps around twelve, things had gotten more tense lately in the house. People were cross with each other. We were talking, and I had to go somewhere, probably to school. As I left, she gave me something, probably my lunch. She was standing in the doorway, and we were still talking, in half-arguing kinds of voices, though we weren't really arguing, and as I turned away then to leave, several feet away from her now, she said "You could at least say thank you."

I paused, and realized that she was right. I had used to do it, had used to thank people, but had somehow gotten away from it. I turned back toward her and said, "Thank you." And after that, I made a particular effort to be sure and thank her for things. She became happier, and brightened up a lot, and thanked me too when I did something for her.

I can't thank her enough for all she has done, and for being there with me. I will miss her very much.

Maudie M. Morgan
Maudie M. Morgan, 1931-2010

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