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A Eulogy for my Mother

These are the words I offered tonight, Friday, August 3rd, 2018 at the wake celebrating my mother’s life on the eve of her funeral.

IMG_0351.jpgWhen I was a young adult and had been paying my own rent for a year or two, it occurred to me that if I were to lose either or both of my parents, I would be alright. After all, I had a job and was paying my own bills, and that was all there really was to being an adult, right?

A few failures and heartbreaks later, I realized just how wrong I’d been. Being an adult is so much more than knowing how to take care of yourself. It is also knowing how to care for others and the world we share, and making the decision to do so over and over again, even when it isn’t easy. This is one of the many things I learned from my mother.

A decade or so later I’d begun to worry about what it would feel like to lose my mother. In times of stress or moments of victory, she was the person I wanted to share my successes and failures with. She was always delighted to hear from me. She supported all my endeavors. She shared my vision. She would say things to me like, “I want more of your voice in the world.” With her loving-kindness and devoted attention, my mother held a mirror up to my life that reflected back the best of who I could be, and did not dwell on my obvious shortcomings. Driving home after a week with Mom and Dad over the holidays, Kerry would sometimes need to remind me that I wasn’t entirely the person my mom thought I was.

None of us are entirely the person we wish we could be, but we all need people who decide to keep showing us the best of what we still might be. For me, that person was my mother and I now know that she was that person for many of you as well.

Many people mistook this quality of my mother’s for sweetness or naiveté. It was not. Mom had lived through enough in her lifetime that she had every right to be jaded. No one could have blamed her if she’d decided to lower her expectations for the world. She could be petty or jealous or insecure or angry like any of us. What we experienced as her reflexive instinct for love and loyalty wasn’t some miraculous gift. It was a quality she cultivated, practiced, and chose, over and over again.

One of the elements of Mom’s personality that made this possible was her humility. She was a working-class, Irish Catholic girl born in Boston the 1940s. School didn’t come easy. She didn’t grow up hearing how smart she was and, as a result, she always assumed she had something to learn from everyone she met. People sensed this about her, that she wasn’t condescending to them or looking down her nose at them. She knew what it was to be underestimated, and as a result she had a special love for those the world counts out.

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She ended up with two children who numbered among those the world counts out. A gay son and a developmentally delayed daughter. And heaven help you if you ever came for one of her children. Then you saw how tough she could be. But still, Mom’s toughness wasn’t what the world calls tough. Mom’s toughness was a refusal to remain silent about the violence carried out against the bodies and souls of children, children from all walks of life, vulnerable children like her own children, vulnerable like she had also been. Mom’s toughness was a doubling down on the power of relationships. She would enter the fray equipped with pictures of me and Tara and say, “I’ve heard what you say about gay people,” or “I understand you intend to cut funding to people living with disabilities and chronic illnesses,” and then “I’d like to tell you about my family.” Mom refused to return violence for violence. Instead, Mom opted for the love that does not give up on anyone, even those who have given up on you, or those who have given up on themselves.

Mom did not give up. Even when she learned that she had Stage 4 ovarian cancer, she chose to continue living, each day of her life a decision to be fully alive on her own terms. One of the first things she told us after she got diagnosed was that she didn’t want people to talk about “fighting” cancer, or “beating” cancer. She said, “my body is not a battlefield” and “if this is how I die, it will not be a failure.” She actively pursued healing and health. Even in her last days of life as she lay upon her deathbed, we marveled at how she extended her arms and legs, stretching her aching body like a dancer preparing to take the stage.

IMG_1184.jpgIt’s only been three days, and already I miss her so much. I miss the feeling of her arms around me, giving the hugs only your mom knows how to give. And I miss her voice. It’s been years since I’ve heard her voice at full strength, a voice that was at once pure in tone and full of emotion. Even as she grew weak, the music in my mother remained strong. She would go for walks in the morning, and by afternoon I’d have a voicemail or text message with an audio file of a song that had come to her as she traveled the paths around our home. She was made of music. The world needs more of her voice.

Thankfully, the world is full of people she taught to sing: infants and children in Kindermusik, fellow choir members, labyrinth walkers, Spirations sisters, neighbors and strangers, family and friends. Her song, her voice, is in us. We can cultivate it. We can practice it. We can choose it again and again. It is love, stronger than death. 

We love you, Mom.

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10 thoughts on “A Eulogy for my Mother

  1. Kadi says:

    Erik, I am writing through my tears at this powerful, inspiring reflection on the gift of your mother’s life. It inspires me to cultivate and practice the commitments that guided her and that I see you embody every day at LSTC. Thank you for sharing your loving, living remembrance. Hugs awaiting your return.

  2. Jenny Flieder says:

    Beautifully articulated, Erik! I have learned so much about being present to the activity of really “living” life on Earth from your mom. These are words that come to mind when I think of Linda:. Tenderness, grace, vigilance, prayerful, loyal and courageous.
    Thinking of you and all your family! The loss is deep and wide, the gain, is the same. There is nothing like the love of a mother, the only thing greater is the love of our God. Big hug.

  3. Oh Erik, I cried and cried reading this. I am so sorry for you to lose your mom. She was a light and she gave light to others. Thank you for sharing the stories of who she was and her strength and her gifts. What an inspiration – I found myself thinking, that is the kind of woman I want to be 🙂

    I am sending you a hug in your grief. I hope you are surrounded with love and comfort.

    Love, Kiley

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. Bob Miller says:

    Eric,
    My deepest condolences to you, your sister, and your father on your loss.
    It has been years since I have seen or spoken with you, but I remember when Linda and Larry were blessed with a son, you! I remember the overflowing joy they exuded! I remember your sister joining the family, and again so much joy! I remember watching you all grow together at St. John’s.

    I read your words. I have always loved to write, and wow-oh-wow do I wish I had the gift of composition that you do!
    You have honored your mother in a way most couldn’t begin to express. I know she heard your words from her new vantage point, and the sunshine today is because she is beaming with pride. Not just for the words you wrote, but for the man you have become.

    The entire compostion is so beautiful, but the paragraph about “not fighting” cancer moved me in a way I cannot describe. I lost both my parents and both of my step-parents to cancer, and all endured in different ways. My father in 1996 coped in a way most similar to your mother, and I learned so much about strength from him that I didn’t know could exist. Your mother lived that strength her whole life.

    I would, with your indulgence, like to summarize or add to your closing words. Linda Christianson WAS music! She was the melody and the harmonies that make us smile. People learned music by simply being around her, by being touched by her life and her love. And Oh! Could she sing! Goosebumps were an omnipresent part of listening to her glorious soprano! Larry Christianson has been such a positive influence in my life, and I know that much of that is due to the influence of Linda in his life.

    Bless you Eric. Bless you Tara. Bless you Larry. And we will all be blessed because the Music that is your mother will continue to be heard through all of the lives she touched…

  5. Robert Goldstein says:

    Dear Erik, thanks for sharing your grief and joy in the deep loss of your mom. We only usually get only one mom and, though your pain will ache for a long time, God shall eventually grant you more of the joyful memories over the pain of loss.

    A beloved Danish member of St. Francis comforted me with advice. And I found she was very right. Bob.

  6. Greg Singleton says:

    What a powerful witness to what our species can be at our best; a much needed reminder in these dark times.

  7. Jeanine Byers says:

    What a beautiful eulogy!! I loved your mom and always looked forward to seeing her during our Spirations weekends! I even got to stay with her overnight before one of them and loved being with her. I lost my mother to cancer in March, so I know your heartbreak & grief. But I also understand how your mother was a treasure to you. My mother also spoke out against injustice and once she found out I was gay, would not hear anyone speak against it. Oh, and I think you are the son your mother knew, even if you are not yet in touch with it. Thanks for sharing your mother as you knew her. Love to you! -Jeanine

  8. With awe and wonder and memory and grief, you express such a beautiful eulogy. My heart sends you strength, and peace, and comfort via the Holy Spirit. Know that we are here for you as you mourn the loss of your mom, and as you celebrate her life. Many hugs,
    Sara

  9. Jan Boden says:

    Dear Erik, You and your family have been on my heart and mind since I heard of your mother’s transfer to hospice care and then of her death. Here. I look at the pictures you have chosen and see her face in your features and her strength and love reflected in your words. You remain in my prayers as you honor your mothers life and how it lives on in you and all who knew her. Blessings,
    Jan

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