Friday, November 14, 2008

Eulogy for a friend's bitchy mother.

Kathleen is a good friend from Pathways who does what a stage manager would do for us during our training events. Her mother died - after 17 long, arduous, painful days of semi-lucidity - last Monday, nearly exactly one month after Mom's passing.

She asked me to deliver the eulogy, after confirming with Kay that I could be up to it.

I was glad to do it, because it was a really tough situation for a funeral, and that's become kind of my specialty over the years. I do the services for murdered college students, suicides, crazy people, and - as of yesterday - really bitchy mothers.

Kathleen and her daughter told me that her mother had been completely self-centered, harshly critical, emotionally unavailable, and just a total bitch for most of the last fifty years.

And the funeral would be the first time that Kathleen and her brother had been together since she confronted him a couple years ago about molesting her during her adolescence.

It would be the first time the other family members would be in the mother's presence for about 10 years.

This is not what you would call a close family.

To make it even more ... interesting ... Kathleen and Carey asked that I not sugar-coat things. Kathleen had worked on the staff of a church for some years, and Carey's father had been a preacher, once upon a time, so they had heard the pastoral platitudes that turn confirmed sinners into supposed saints. And they really, really didn't want that. So they asked me to not whitewash things. They asked that I say something truthful, and still be positive, somehow.

(I put my notes in the first comment, if you want to know how I wriggled through that particular briar patch.)

It made me very grateful for the mother I had and for the family I've got.

Kathleen told Kay, she fully expected that this ceremony would be the last time that her family would be together. Afterwards, there were no hugs, they didn't get together to eat or tell stories or play games, or anything. There was more affection given between the Pathways folks who were there, and between Kathleen and her co-workers, than between the members of the family.

I was sad for them, and the echo from a month ago was sweeter than I can say. Sad, too, but sweet.


mrphd said...

Katherine Carey Tait

Born May 24, 1915.

Only child of her parents' marriage, though her father had 11 other children.

4 g-kids and 3 gg-kids.

H died 22 years ago. She missed him.

Kids go to school and start a scrapbook, “All About Me.”

Not much written in the margins, in the storybook of her life.

What lessons she learned, what revelations she had, what the light bulbs and the aha's were for her, we'd have to supply them ourselves.

In the scrapbook of her life, if we want inspiration or courage or affirmations of joyful abundance, we'll have to write our own captions.

She loved birds, especially cardinals. She could hear joy, she could see delight take wing in a red flash.

She liked hats. She wanted style to crown her, something beautiful to frame her face.

She did needlepoint. She knew how to take tiny steps, and be careful, and to follow directions, so that the outcome looked like much more than what you seemed to put into it.

She painted landscapes, in oil. She appreciated beauty in nature, and she yearned, and then learned, to make some portion of it her own – she apprehended it first, and then she appropriated it for her own.

When in the Garden Club, she and her friends helped another member test out hand cremes and cosmetics that later came to market as products of Mary Kay. She knew somebody rich and famous before they got that way.

She was active in Eastern Star. She understood the value of devotion, of the elevating power of ritual and ceremony, of the power of fellowship to ground us in a network of connections. She had a core nucleus of support, a little mysterious, with their own language and some not particularly private secrets. A lot like Pathways.

She wasn't that loving, affectionate, sweet-hearted mother that moms are supposed to be, according to the fairy tales we tell in our culture. She raised a son and a daughter into adulthood, but she didn't grow her maternal instinct into much affection or affirmation, according to those who should know. She wasn't any kind of spectacular grandmother, either. She tended to be a little critical and tactless, if you really want to know the truth, apparently.

As she aged, and her memory started to fail, she changed a little. She was kinder, more compassionate. She started forgetting to be mean, is how it was described to me.

However, her lack of compassion is not the whole story, even if there are those among us who focus a bunch of our training on how other's lives can be affected – even defined, for a time - by such tendencies.

She loved her puppies, the yorkies and the poodles who shared long years with her. She may not have loved her children and her grandchildren all that affectionately, not nearly so unconditionally as they would have liked. But she had a heart big enough for puppies. What can you say? It's a start.

She served as a church secretary for 33 years. Maybe that explains why we know so little about her spiritual life. If there's anything that will drive your spirituality underground, it's knowing a lot of Christians up close and personal.

You work in a church, you get to see the seam-side of religion. You get to know how spiritual sausage is made, and that's hardly ever any more edifying in the baptistry than it is in the butcher's shop.

We don't know her favorite hymns, if she had any, or her favorite passage of scripture, other than the Lord's Prayer. In one private conversation, she told someone close to her she hadn't stolen anything, hadn't murdered anyone, and had never committed adultery, so she didn't really consider herself a sinner, thank you very much.

Do you think God would hold that kind of pride against her? Maybe, or he might just consider it a limitation of perspective. A sort of spiritual short-sightedness, not to be condemned so much as corrected. You don't send people with bad eyesight to hell, you get them some glasses to look through.

It's not too hard to imagine that she's paging through the picture album of her life, the scrapbook that collected all the memories and moments of meaning in her long life, now, with her husband or maybe some wise Eastern Star elder with a fancy title and elaborate jewelry sitting beside her.

They turn a page together, and Katherine speaks aloud what she sees there – a cardinal, the needlepoint I worked on when I felt so sad, there's Pooch – will I see him again, soon? she asks - and then the one who sits beside her hands her a pair of glasses and suggests she look again.

And can you imagine how it might be for her to look through Jesus' eyes – those special glasses – and see her long decades, the stretches of herself wrapped around herself, the unhappiness and the loneliness, sometimes balanced by small pleasures, moments of beauty but much more long-suffering, to see revealed where love was meant to grow, how misery was meant to draw hearts together, where life was hard so joy could sink down deeper roots.

What might she say, as she reads the markings God wrote in her margins, written in ink invisible on earth, made plain by the divine daylight of heaven?

Oh, I think. Oh, perhaps. Oh, Oh, and Oh, very likely.

On some pages, she will have to take the glasses off, because her eyes will have filled with tears, don't you know, and then Jesus – when did he come to sit beside her? - will hand her an egg. And when she takes it, with a puzzled look, it will become a folded up kleenex, for her to dry her eyes with.

And then she'll turn another page, and look through the glasses again, until they have seen every moment, every memory, every misery and meaning there is to see, and they will read together every note in every margin, and then the Lord will close the book, and Katherine will be whole and healed and happier than she's ever, ever been.

And that will be another kind of start, don't you know.

Chrissi said...

Stories like this make me so much more appreciative of the family we have as well. Even "normal" or much less "dysfunctional" families at times seem not to compare to the blessings I feel that encompass my own.