Remembrances for Mom at her Funeral
David Weiss (with Deon, Deb, and Dad) – August 29, 2022
The memories I’ll share come from Deon, Deb, Dad and myself. I’m sure I’ll miss many others. So, I hope during lunch today that you add a few more memories to the handful I share here.
Mom. Eighty-eight years and eight days. It’s a long stretch of life.
I think about Mom & Words
When we were kids, Mom read bedtime stories to us nightly. She’d sit in the hallway, at the corner where our two bedroom doors met and read books that stretched from one night to the next. The Mouse and the Motorcycle. Key to the Treasure. How Many Hills to Hillsboro. And countless others. Simple tales. They were children’s books, after all. But she instilled in each of us a lifelong love of reading. The gift of vibrant imagination. The ability to find truth in tales well-told.
Later, she loved reading to nieces and nephews and grandchildren. As her grandchildren multiplied, so did her collection of picture books to read with them. And she read to herself. Our hallway was lined with a bookcase for her books, but they spilled over onto shelves and nightstands and corner tables around the house as well.
She read … until she confided a few years ago that by the time she turned to the next page, she couldn’t remember the last one.
Mom also wove words. She could make up simple tales of adventure, customized for a particular child, widening their world with wonder. She not only led, she wrote bible studies for her church women’s group. And, as many of you know, for fifty years she wrote an annual Christmas letter that stitched together the news of our family, both sorrows and joys. We knew the grace of finding our lives held by Mom’s words.
I think about Mom and Music
We grew up surrounded by music. Mom occasionally played the organ at church … though none of us kids really remember that. But we do remember piano-playing at home. Children’s sing-along records. Collections of hymns. Musicals, during which we joined Mom on the Broadway stage to belt out songs from Mary Poppins, the Sound of Music, Camelot, Oklahoma, The King and I, and more. Mom had the best singing voice in our family—by far—but she invited all of us to make a joyful noise, even when we missed the notes.
Christmas records got playtime from Thanksgiving through Epiphany. A wide range of other music filled our home the rest of the year. Until 4 or 5 years ago when Mom’s dementia played havoc with her auditory sensitivity. Besides making the church PA system unbearable for her, it rendered our home … silent. Music left her life.
In a final reprieve, just over the past year, that sensitivity diminished, and she and Dad relished watching Lawrence Welk reruns every Saturday and Sunday night. They listened side by side, Dad hearing again the music they enjoyed together 60 years earlier, Mom hearing now as though for the first time music only vaguely familiar, both lodged and lost somewhere in her memory.
I think about Mom and Food
Mom was a good cook. We each have favorite Mom-meals and dishes. There were fancy, custom-shaped and decorated birthday cakes; jello cakes in the summer, oreo dessert almost always waiting in the freezer, puff pastries with grandkids.
We baked cookies together, each of us with Mom in turn. Nieces, nephews, and grandkids, too. She gave us an ease in the kitchen, a love for baking, an eagerness to share food. Don became an amateur gourmet chef. Deb saves a whole week of vacation each year just to do Christmas cookie baking. Deon and I both cook and bake as well—and have passed that love on to our own children … and grandchildren.
But food was never just about food. It was the joy of creating such deliciousness from scratch. And sharing it afterwards. Food was about being together. The Bible study Mom wrote was on bread and the Bread of Life—the interwoven holiness of physical and spiritual food. It was as though her life prepared her to write that study, and once written, it replayed itself again and again in our home.
I think about Mom and Hospitality
Mom was on the quiet side, but her gift was to make YOU feel welcome. Every year as we grew up, Mom welcomed the new teachers to St. Paul school, often with homemade bread, followed by an invitation to a home-cooked meal. We learned—we experienced—the sacred power of hospitality. And it left an imprint on each of our lives.
Our home was filled with quiet puzzle-working and raucous game-playing. It’s true, Mom occasionally shushed the games’ noisiness, but you could tell she was still happy to see family and friends having fun. Just this past Friday night, the loud laughter around the table as we played cards would’ve had Mom covering her ears … even while her eyes would’ve twinkled with joy.
In college and seminary, I frequently brought friends home with me. One time I brought a seminary classmate—Daniel, a pastor from Tanzania doing extra study at Wartburg Seminary. When he learned Mom sewed, he asked her to teach him, so he could buy a sewing machine to take back to his wife in Africa. Dad found a good second-hand machine (easier to learn, smaller to pack, and fewer things to go wrong) and Mom taught Daniel to sew—a gift of hospitality that traveled half-way round the world when he went home to his wife.
Mom made connections. As people from her past have learned of her death, many have used that word—“Your mom made a connection with me.” Mom was quiet hospitality in action.
Finally, I think about Mom and Fabric
Mom sewed. She made quilts for each child; then for each grandchild. And for many of her great-nieces and nephews. She made clothes. Deon recalls that her first store-bought dress was for eighth grade confirmation. Prior to that, Mom made all her dresses.
I don’t recall Mom so much making my clothes as mending them. Again. And again. And again. As a boy I went through the knees of my pants decades before torn-open knees became fashionable. Mom patched those knees, one after another after another. I had a particular pair of beloved shorts. Each time I wore—or tore—a new hole, I begged Mom to patch it “just one more time.” And she did—twenty-three times. Thankfully, I outgrew the shorts before I outlasted Mom’s patience. But not before Mom one time opened the crotch and used a patch to give me another year with them.
These shorts are the only piece of childhood clothing I still have: evidence of Mom’s love that held me, patched me, and sent me back into the world again and again. Mended. Made whole even amid tears (and tears).
But fabric isn’t only cloth. Mom also worked with the fabric of life—most often by listening, which was perhaps her finest superpower.
Whether out in the gazebo in our backyard, while washing and drying dishes, or while sitting quietly in the living room, Mom’s compassion radiated outward from her heart through her ears. At critical times in each of our lives, her listening presence steadied us, wrapped us in unconditional love, and urged us to find and honor our truest selves. This was true for Dad and for each of us children.
In the obituary I wrote: “Carol saw herself in Luke’s description of Mary (2:19)—as someone who pondered things in her heart. She felt deeply the pain around her, whether family, friend, or wider world. She held many things prayerfully in her heart, and in a multitude of unseen ways she sought to mend the world.”
Ultimately dementia tore her world asunder. And there was no patch for that. And yet, her fierce habit, her tenacious holy ritual over these past years, was that she would go to bed, almost always before Dad, and wait for him to join her so she could hold his hand for a while before falling asleep. She did this straight through her dementia—right up until a week before she died when her awareness drifted away altogether. Reaching over to hold his hand, it was as though she knew in these final years that it was her turn to be mended.
And so it is, Mom. Be mended and made whole.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at email@example.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.