Thursday, March 13, 2008

In memoriam

Last Wednesday, March 5, my mom passed away. She had been diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1999, and had spent the past 7 years in a health care facility. It's been so hard to watch her slowly slipping away, someone who had been so beautiful and so active. My five brothers and sisters asked me to give the eulogy, and I wanted to share it.

In my upstairs bedroom, sits a small wooden cabinet. Unremarkable at a first glance. But, for me, it is a touchstone to my childhood and to my mom. It’s her sewing machine.

So much of my life is encompassed in that cabinet. When I think of my mom, it’s the sewing machine that first springs to my mind. When I picture her, it’s not as she was this past few years. Rather, I see her sitting at the sewing machine in the second floor hallway. Churning out clothes for me and my siblings. A mouth full of pins as she tailored a dress especially for each of us. Hemming pants to earn her “pin money.” And of course, tearing things apart because weren’t quite as perfect as she had pictured.

The things that came from that machine were the way she showed us her love. It produced three one-of-a-kind wedding dresses. Countless bridesmaid dresses. Several beautiful quilts and teddy bears for her grandchildren. Bathing suits and tailored suits. And many many prom dresses. It was this last that made me hate that machine in my teen years. It was responsible for the altered dresses that passed from sister to sister. It was the reason I could never have a store-bought dress, even for the prom.

And yet when we’ve seen those frocks later – lovingly stored in the basement of our Barrington home for years – we all remark on the workmanship and the care she put into each. The same workmanship and care she put into each of her children.

She tried to teach each of us how to sew, but the results were a mixed bag. I still have vivid memories of exasperated groans from the second floor landing and seeing flutters of material float down outside from the window as Meg tried to conquer a pattern! Of Michael claiming his home ec apron had been stolen rather than having to show Mom what he had produced. Luckily his lack of sewing skills didn’t stop Val from marrying him! Kathy is the one who has most carried on her talent, as has the member of our family that John was smart enough to marry, our sister-in-law Jane. I remember Mom enviously looking at one of Jane quilts and marveling over her tiny stitches and workmanship, sighing that her arthritic hands wouldn’t let her do such work any more.

In many ways she was like that sewing machine. Always ready for work, always ready for action, ready to spring to life at a moment’s notice. How often we teased Mom for sitting on the edge of her chair as family dinners came to an end, ready to leap to the dishes and get on with her work. My sister Martha can most relate to that now, as she chases around her three, active boys.

I think sometimes she was envious of my sisters and me. I think she would have loved to have had a career, to have lived on her own, to have traveled and seen the world. But societal conventions pressured her to marry and have a family – it was just what you did in the post-World War II world. As a result, we always felt empowered by her dreams, always felt her behind us, pushing us to try new things, to live each day fully. When we would come home to visit, she would quiz us on all we did, always a willing audience for photos of our trips. Fortunately, she was able to do some traveling after she and dad retired, and they especially loved traveling with their lifelong friends, Bill and Irene Shea.

Her faith was also important to her. Every Monday she and Dad could be found at Novena here in this church. As a matter of fact, in her final days, I found myself many times silently reciting some of that same Novena prayer: “Oh, Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us with recourse to thee.” And how many times did she say that whatever happened in her life, it was God’s Will. Not to be questioned, just to be accepted and followed. That’s why her final illness has seemed so poignant to us. We all know that she fought as hard as she could but, in the end, we know she would have been accepting of His will.

In the end, I think her greatest legacies – her greatest memorial – are the four strong women and two strong men you see before you today. Each of us is successful in our own field, each has strong and easily shared opinions, each loves and cares for their family in the same fierce fashion that our Mom did. I was talking with a friend recently about losing a parent, and he shared this wonderful bit of insight: "You're here, and you're the very thing that gave your mother's life meaning. That's a lot of responsibility, strangely, but there within is all the joy and mystery of human existence."

As for that sewing machine, it will always by my Mom’s. Just on loan to me. I guess the best way for me to honor her would be to finally learn how to use it – although I could never hope to use it as well as she did.

Labels: ,


Blogger Ted D said...

Beth, that was a beautiful eulogy. And I know your Mom is proud.

I'm really sorry you're having to deal with this, but it sounds like your Mom was ready to go.

And I bet she'd be happy with whatever you can get that sewing machine to make.


9:18 PM  
Blogger HorshamScouse said...

Very moving, Beth. I can relate to so much of your story. My Mum was always sewing, even tried to teach me. She spent her last three or four years in care with dementia. My sister has her sewing machine.

Big hygs from NZ.

12:59 AM  
Blogger beckperson said...

Beth, I also had the task of eulogizing my Mom and it actually sounded a lot like yours.

My mom also hand-made a lot of our clothes when we were growing up, and I remember so vividly watching her lay out the patterns and cutting the material. It seemed like a mystery then, and not much different today as I can't imagine trying to do it!! I can barely thread a needle.

I miss my Mom today, but like yours, she was ready to go. So hopefully they're 'palooza-ing it up in the great beyond.

It was wonderful to meet you on Wednesday! I look forward to continuing the conversation in Cincinnati!!

12:29 PM  
Blogger Tex said...

Beth, that was an awesome tribute to your mother. So many stories sewn up in a piece of furniture. Sounds like her legacy lives on in all of your family.


10:55 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home