We have gathered here today to pray for, to remember and to bid a very fond and very loving farewell to one of the most remarkable people we have ever met, or are ever likely to meet. I want to thank, on behalf of our family, all of you for coming, and, above all, to ask for your continued prayers for her, as she did pray and would have continued to have prayed for all of us here.
The claim that mother was remarkable may, in some ways, seem to be somewhat incongruous. In our time, people are often measured by the jobs they hold, the lands in which they have lived or to which they have travelled, the homes they have owned or cars they have driven. Mother owned no cars, held only a few jobs to put herself through OCA- which she ultimately abandoned to look after her ailing mother- and traveled but little. She very nearly literally died in the house where she was very literally born, and she called no other place home at any time in all of her long life.
I regret that I never asked Bud Osborn what he was thinking when he introduced mother to dad- whether it was truly inspired genius, or perhaps a practical joke that went horribly right. On the surface, it would be difficult to think of two more different people. Dad was a hard living hell raiser and a lapsed Catholic. Mom lived with and looked after her parents, attended Mass almost every day, and insisted on going to confession every Saturday before they would go out for a date. In the confessional she would often chat with the priest for – in Dad's estimation- about half and hour. Dad would stand outside and wonder what kind of woman he was dating, that she needed so long to confess her weekly sins. The most remarkable thing about their first date was that there was a second date. Dad, Lord knows why, thought he would impress my teetotalling mother with his ability to drink. We have often thought she took Dad on as a reclamation project.
Dad lived his life out loud and loved to be the centre of attention, whether it was for his skill at bowling, or fishing, or his gift for telling a story- and he was a master storyteller. Whatever he did, he wanted to be the best at it- and by 'the best' he meant 'better than anyone else'. Mom lived her life quietly, joying in her skills in the solitary arts of painting, or her embroidery, or the simple tasks involved in keeping a home clean, and running smoothly. When it came to telling stories, well, Mom, bless her, often derailed her own tales as she spent five minutes trying to remember some irrelevant character's name, and then forgot what she was talking about in the first place. Like Dad, she also wanted to be the best, but in her case, 'the best' meant 'the best she could be'. Unlike Dad, she would not measure herself against others, and I believe she was the wiser of the two for that.
She was generous with her gifts. Many of us here- most of us, perhaps- have on our walls examples of her paintings and her portraits- gifts of skill and of love from a woman who was overflowing with both. Her paintings hang on the walls of many strangers to us, as she painted hundreds of portraits for families that lost loved ones through tragedy or war, as a gift to the families, and an effort to send them what comfort that was in her to give.
Mom has scrapbooks at home filled with letters and tributes she has received from families, police and fire departments, and the military. Not everyone writes to mother, but many do, telling her what those of us who knew her already knew: that she was a wonderful and loving woman and a talented artist. She has never asked for any recompense or recognition for her work, although she loves reading out the letters of thanks she has received to her friends and family. She was never told that anyone was trying to nominate her for this or any other award, because she would have told whoever was doing the nomination not to put themselves out for her. But we did anyway, because we believe she deserved some recognition for her work, and because she did what most people today believe is impossible. When reading the news, it is the easiest thing in the world to become depressed, and to be overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness. The news is full of darkness about which we seem to be able to do nothing. Mom was one of the few who decided to do something in her own small way to push back against the darkness and to not stand by helplessly, who, instead of throwing up her hands and asking rhetorically "What can I do?" instead looked within herself and asked "What can I do?" and then rolled up her sleeves, and did it.
The gifts she gave to us, her children, are too many to count. A love of art and music, our faith, an appreciation for the ties of family. The greatest gift she gave to us was our father. Dad, according to the man himself, was a wild, hard drinking man heading to an early grave before he met mother. Such a man may live a life that makes for great stories (and many of his best came from those wild years) but such a man would make a poor father. I did not have a poor father. Mother told that hell raising wild man in no uncertain terms not to ask her to marry him, unless he cleaned himself up and quit drinking. I have known many women who have tried to reform men, and I have told my daughters in the strongest terms possible never to try it, because it almost always fails. I know of only one woman who pulled it off, and that was mother. I had a great father, but that was because I also had a great, perhaps a greater, mother. And so it is that I owe everything to my mother. Any good that I have done in my life, any good that I may hope to achieve, has its roots in her.
My friends, I have few words of comfort to say at a time like this. We mark both the passing of a loved one and the end of an era. I take comfort in the promises of Christ and his Church, that her passing marks not her end, but the beginning of her new life. I think of the words of the New World Symphony: "I'm going home, just going home." I think of the words of Seneca the Elder, who wrote that everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives. Always remember that, in her own quiet way, Mom lived, and as we are Christians, Mom lives still.
Please, continue to remember her in your prayers.