Eulogy as a thank you – remembering my Mom

Ann Lastayo - portrait of a young woman

My Mom passed away on January 17th this year at the age of 87 after a long battle with progressive dementia. She died peacefully, loved by family, in a very natural order of things. Birth and death are equally natural and a graceful goodbye is something to cherish. I debated whether to share this on WordPress but in the end have decided that it is ok (or at least a compulsion that can’t be denied) and perhaps something said here might help someone else as they deal with the death of a parent. Besides the finality of loss and the hole it leaves in your life, there are the details of a Memorial Service and eulogies to be given. Quite gratefully I report that my youngest sister, Lynda Gail, handled the arrangements with the funeral home and the order of events for the service. My job was working on a selection of photos to show my mother’s very full and interesting life as the daughter of a military officer, military wife and mother, and as an artist.

I have always had a fear of public speaking so even with a very intimate memorial with mostly family and a few friends I felt the weight of responsibility as if being oldest and giving the first of the eulogies meant I had to do more or say more.  Jerry Seinfeld, put the fear of public speaking in a humorous light when he said, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” On the responsibility part a very good friend gave me the best advice on the matter saying that my mother’s life was a mosaic and that I was just a part of that mosaic. Keep the talk to a few points, not too long, and that all the other family members would fill in the picture and that I don’t own it!! This was very freeing for me because this is a moment in life when we all should feel free to just say what touches our hearts out of an entire life where there are so many directions you could go, so many stories you could tell. So I did, I said just what meant the most to me, those memories that just always stuck even though I was barely aware of it…it was just life. Oddly, when I stood up at the podium with its nice light and microphone and my words before me, with the first sentence all my fears seemed to dissolve and I enjoyed talking about my mother. This post will be a little long as below as I feel compelled to share my words to Mom. I can’t say it serves as an example but maybe. Don’t be afraid of your eulogy as memorials are a celebration of life and a eulogy is one last chance to say thank you.

Mom’s Eulogy

Mom was always my biggest confidence booster and being a nervous public speaker, she is seeing me though one last oral report.

My mother was beautiful, intelligent, talented and full of life. Her laugh was so beautiful and musical it could literally light up a room. You wanted to be near it. She loved her friends and she loved art and after high school chose to attend fine art school instead of the traditional university approach. Having the soul of an artist she had a wonderful perception of color, proportion and composition and saw the beauty around her. I feel in some ways she was a woman, like many in her generation, caught between those who chose careers and those who chose family. She could have done many things. As her daughter, I am so grateful that she chose marriage and motherhood and poured her creativity, intelligence and passion into loving Dad, raising her children and balancing the demands of being an Army wife. I am thankful for the wonderful childhood she gave me. I cannot imagine a greater gift.

As alluded to before, I confess to not having been the most confident child during my school years and Mom was always there for a pep talk and to build me up. She would tell me to hold my head high, shoulders straight and walk down the halls like I owned the world. She’d tell me that with God’s help I could do anything.

When so many complain of parents who only listen with half an ear or are just not altogether there for them, my mother was a very present, astute parent. She was always available for quizzing me for chapter tests in school, listening to an oral book report, and bouncing off ideas. She bailed me out in grade school when I had an assignment to write a poem animating an object. At my wits end, she came up with the idea of describing the roar and long neck of a dinosaur only to end with the hungry beast being revealed as our humble family vacuum cleaner. I remember it as being very clever.

Mom’s sense of art was always an inspiration for me to create. I drew birds and copied horses off of book covers. When we lived in Florida I sat outside with my sketch pad and drew palm trees. Mom was the best critic on all my efforts. One time I wanted to do an artistic female nude and got my hands on a Playboy magazine. Mom was not upset with me over this, not in the least, and just grabbed her pencil and showed me how to improve the drawing with her obvious skill with human anatomy and classical training from art school. I think when she fixed that pencil sketch I got my first real inkling at how good she was.

Besides, school work, Mom’s astute understanding of human nature was applied directly towards my boyfriends. Much to my annoyance, when it came to motives and character flaws, she was usually right. I was clueless and she was a good guide. I do remember in my early dating years sitting at the foot of her bed when I returned home from a date telling her all about it. I can tell you I had friends quite stricken by this idea. I was amazed and sorry to know that other people had mothers they couldn’t talk to. Mom was my supporter and my confidante.

As our family moved from base to base every two years or so, my civilian friends would often ask how I could have school spirit when I’d been in a place for such a short time. My happiness and security were completely the result of having a solid core of support and love at home. My family was my home, it didn’t matter where we were. The fact that we would move in a couple of years for me was an exciting change to look forward to, not an emotional disruption. That could only happen when the family unit is strong. Even when my father was off at war serving his country overseas and in harm’s way, Mom was there to keep us centered. Life was normal and things ran along as they should. She really didn’t let us kids see if she felt stressed or worried when he was away and she never passed along any anxieties to us kids. I look at myself and wonder if I could have done the same. She conducted her role with such grace.

Our saddest time as a family was over the loss of my baby sister, Susan Leigh, at the age of 6 months due to a heart defect. We all loved her so much that Mom and Dad turned sorrow into joy giving us baby Lynda Gail. I can still remember them announcing that Mom was expecting. Around 16 and still clueless, I looked over at Mom and said “you are pregnant again?”! She just laughed and replied, well not “still.” She could lighten a serious mood and see the fun in things.

No matter how old we are, our parents are always our parents and we are always their kid. I can remember one visit to Merritt Island a few years back when I was excited with my first digital camera. One of my plans was to do a photography day of route 192 which had some Old Florida spots to take pictures of before they dissolved into the past. So Raymond and I got up early to leave quietly without disturbing Mom or Dad, and there they both were in their pajamas at the front door seeing us off with a canteen of water and some sandwiches like we were children heading off to day camp. The vision of my elderly mother in her feminine soft robe handing me the water is indelibly imprinted. It was so cute.

Lynda Gail writes romance novels and this led directly to one of my favourite memory scenes with Mom. Mom was always a reader of historical romance and mysteries and loved a good plot. So one beautiful afternoon, with soft light streaming in the living room windows, Mom, Ginger and I found ourselves sitting around brainstorming on romance novel scenes with Lynda Gail. All the while twirling and nibbling on strawberry string licorice while we talked. Just four women having fun being women. That was the best.

When Mom and Dad retired to Merritt Island, my mother turned her love of painting to China Painting, and joined a group of women who loved the craft. Mom’s last few years were marked with progressive Dementia and Memory Loss but her interest in compositions and painting never waned. Even when she became unable to see a project to completion, she kept inspiration all around her in the form of calendars of beautiful birds and magazines with images of brilliant flowers, still life scenes, and trade publications for porcelain artists. She was always planning compositions and that occupied her mind. I would show her my latest bird pictures utilizing my iPad where she could stretch and move the image around to suggest best composition. Invariably she was right on. We spent many hours in her last years talking art and looking at compositions. I truly miss having her to share creative ideas with.

One of my last memories of Mom at La Casa showed me that there were still lessons my Mom and Dad could teach me. It was dinner time and Dad and I were sharing time with Mom in the dining room. She was sitting in the wheel chair at one of their circular dining tables after the meal. Dad pulled out his tattered, well- loved favourite book of poetry from the pocket of his cargo shorts and began to read her a poem. I felt as if I was watching them from afar and was reminded how dearly we love to share the things we love most with the people we love most and that we need to let them. I also remember showing up and Mom saying,’ Judy, where have you been?’ and being so pleased that this frail woman who raised me still had me in her mind despite everything.

Above all, Mom loved her family. Advanced dementia was marked by thoughts of her parents being alive, and sometimes her mind was occupied with looking out for the arrival of her young children. Parental love both received and given was so deeply imbedded in her being.

To you Mom, I say thank you for all that you poured into the person I am, for building me up and never tearing me down, and for a solid stable childhood I can forever draw from.

Now you reside with the angels and dip your brush into the colors of the stars and paint on a heavenly canvas the wings of angels.

I am deeply blessed you were my mother and miss you dearly.

 

 

 

 

Ann Lastayo Howard - her desire to create
never waned - this is from November of 2015 at 86

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~ by Judy on March 18, 2017.

14 Responses to “Eulogy as a thank you – remembering my Mom”

  1. Judy, please accept my heatfelt condolences. You eulogy is the best I have ever heard or read. Your Mom would be proud of you for writing and then delivering it.

    • What wonderful words you have said. Thank you very much! I think the grieving process is a bit easier or at least more sweet when a person has lived a long, full life even with her difficulties in the last few years.

  2. Good to see you’re back to posting on your blog. So welcome back to the world of normality. I can’t say more than that, cos I think I’ve already said it all.

    • Yeah, I found myself stalled in getting back to the blog. I think maybe I was just waiting to post this before I could move on with other things. Your perspectives on both public speaking and on the nature of the feelings regarding eulogies were very much supportive. Sometimes people have to talk things out…like fears…before they can get on with it. Thanks ever so much for all your thoughts.

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute to your mother, Judy. No doubt she’s smiling down on you now. Although I don’t write about it on my blog, my mother was diagnosed with dementia in 2012. It’s a cruel disease.

    • If you want to talk about the dementia as you are experiencing it don’t hesitate to email me to talk. It is hard. Dementia is actually a symptom of a disease as there are so many causes. I believe my mother did have Alzheimers. The memory loss was one thing, seeing people who weren’t there an increasing issue…although she was never afraid of that…just absolutely adamant that they were there. She focused a lot on thinking her parents were coming to visit or looking for her young children . After a time you have to go with it as the episodes won’t be remembered in the morning. Sometimes trying to correct is just unnecessarily stressful even though there are times when it is best to do so. My mother’s dementia come with extreme anger directed at my loving father. That was the hardest part as the patient doesn’t remember but the caregiver suffers. Let me know if there is anything I can share on how we handled certain events. It is hard and I am sorry that your Mom has to go through it and all those who love her too.

      • Thank you so much, Judy. I really appreciate this. xo

      • The Hotmail e-mail is over in the About Me section…any time ok!! I don’t have all the answers but can elaborate on our experience. I have a friend with Parkinson’s and the ladies on the caregivers PD forum I used to participate on to get info for him called it a designer disease. I think of dementia as like that too, lots of overlap but as individual an illness as the person affected.

  4. Judy, I am so sorry you lost your dear mother. Please accept my sincere condolences. Your eulogy was a Fine work of art for a fine artist, one who not only painted pictures and china but painted her image in you. She was blessed to have you as her daughter, and perhaps you have already found out, as I did after I lost my mother, that mothers do not stop being mothers once they have gone to the Other Side. You will feel her ongoing presence in many little ways, and when you do, tell her how happy you are she’s come to visit and blow her a kiss. She’ll love it.

    • I love this comment Maggie as I feel the same way. You get a kind of mystical essence with the idea that her presence is felt. I find myself saying thank you to the air and I love you Mom. Along with her passion for art, Mom could at times have a prickly personality, but that just kept us on our toes. When you mention the Other Side, I wondered times when she was thinking of her parents if she was already seeing the Other Side? After awhile I never argued whether she saw something, people who weren’t there, because she was sure so for her it was real. So I worked with it. But, I did wonder, thinking she was close to the Other Side and could see something I could not. You have to roll with these things.

      I can tell your miss your Mom but have joy in feeling her presence. This is good for me to hear.

  5. I’m so glad you posted this Judy. Your mother was a beautiful woman in every way, and your words did justice to her and to your relationship. I especially like that you added the photo of her with her paints. It’s the creating that counts — that helps to keep us alive. She clearly knew that, and lived it through many years.

    • Thanks you. She really was a fun loving vibrant person. One thing I didn’t put in the eulogy was about all our many trips from army base to army base. We always took the scenic route. And, like Mom I was an avid reader so I would curl up in the back seat and read as we travelled along….and always to Mom’s refrain…Look at the Scenery!! Too bad I wasn’t into photography back then as we saw amazing natural wonders along the way….petrified forest, painted desert…well and Dad would stop an any hole in the ground advertising along the way and the 8th wonder of the world!! Trips were fun and we always stopped early enough for a motel pool swim. I loved our road trips.

  6. Judy, your mom sounded like an extraordinary woman—talented, insightful, and inspiring. Thank you for sharing this. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    • I appreciate that!! I am happy for all the good times over the years and I guess glad that she crossed over peacefully after some struggles for her and Dad. It is good. Thanks for stopping by to listen.

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