My mom passed away at age 89 on October 8, 2016. Four days later, on my birthday, I was one of the family that spoke. Here’s my eulogy:
My name is Joan Magnie Gregerson and I’m the seventh of the eight kids. In 10 minutes, I don’t have time to share about her 89 years of life. But I can share what she taught us these past few weeks as she was dying.
If you know Mom, you know that she was a tenacious conversationalist. She remembered more details about your life than you did! She wanted to know if your nephew’s musical went well, and if your daughter liked her new job in Kentucky. She kept track of when John was playing and where, better than he did himself. She wanted to know which bus I caught and what time I got home.
Her humor was unfailing. Her questions were daunting and her appetite for visiting had always been unquenchable. And as much as she was a peacemaker, with her insatiable need to know she could also be a bit of a troublemaker. (We all have our strengths and challenges.) But over the past couple of weeks, her conversations and her focus changed.
It was October 1 and she was at St Joe’s Hospital. And at this point, she had just decided, no more. No more blood draws. No more tests. No more procedures. No more occupational therapy, lung therapy or physical therapy. She had made the decision to go home to be in hospice care.
Instantly, the conversations of the woman I’d known my whole life changed.
Irene called and we held the phone to her ear. Mom said, “I love you. You’ve always been a special girl. You are sweet, and kind and could always clean a house! I love you very much Irene.”
Dot called and Mom whispered, “I’m ready to go to lunch.”, then they both chuckled and Mom said, “I love you Dot. You’ve always been such a great friend. We’ve had such wonderful times together. I love you.”
Rita called and Mom said. “I love you. You’ve been such a good friend. You’ve been such good support for me all these years. I love you Rita.”
And when I stood by her bed she told me, “I’m so fortunate. I’ve had a wonderful life.” Then she got very serious and said, “Love is the most important thing.” She and I repeated it together, as if to ensure that I got this key point.
Several times she said with tears eeking out, “I’m so happy that the family is all together again.” She didn’t mean physically in one place because kids were scattered across the country at that moment. She meant that the divides that had eroded our family unity over time, were being repaired. The differences between mother and child, and between siblings were dissolving.
And she was right. For the first time in decades, we were all getting along. Most days when I’d pop by the hospital, I’d find my brother Dan there before I arrived and he stayed long after I left. He was the one that usually fed Mom, patiently spoon-feeding her pea-sized bites of cherry ice and a few mouthfuls of soup. Steve who lives in California but has been working in Denver recently, would stop in after work most nights, grab dinner in the cafeteria and sit with Mom. Kay and Terry camped out beside her bed for hours. And Mary Ann got Trader Joe’s to open the doors early to get strawberry drinkable yogurt. The clerk ran and got it, and gave it to MaryAnn with a hug, whispering no charge and give her our love. And her buddies Voradel, Chrispy and Raquel came and sat for hours and modeled what families aspire to be. Countless family and friends rallied around her. To be with her, to support her and to be together. This circle of love that she had been cultivating for decades formed around her.
Mom got settled in at home and was fading fast. More family and friends arrived, but Carol was our rock. She was unafraid, confident and loving and helped keep our wobbly family upright as we headed toward Mom’s death.
And with each passing day, her strength was fading. It got harder for her to form words. She could listen to someone telling her, “I love you grandma!” and her eyes would crinkle and a smile would form. She would move her mouth, perhaps trying to say their name or the words I love you.
Mom’s longtime friend, Ann called. We held the phone to Mom’s ear so she could hear Ann say I love you, and then let her rest while John finished talking to Ann in the kitchen. Irene ran into the kitchen saying, Hey guys, grandma is yelling something. What? Yes, she’s yelling something.
Mom was straining with all her might to say, “Tell Ann I love her and that she has been the best friend to me. And that we had so many good times together. I love her so much.”
So it was, the woman who was famous for her visiting, her playful banter, and her interrogations, changed the conversations completely.
All those other conversations we’d ever had, were her way of trying to get to this thing. This thing that in the end she could just jump straight to.
- I love you.
- I appreciate you.
- I recognize that you have enriched my life in a special way.
- I am grateful for such a wonderful life and times together.
- It’s crucial that we all get along.
So let me try this thing. And I’m saying this to each of you here, and to those that are with us in spirit. Speaking for our family:
- We love you.
- We appreciate you.
- We recognize that you have enriched Mom’s life and ours in a special way.
- We are grateful that Mom had such a wonderful life.
- It’s crucial that we all continue to get along.
On Saturday, October 8, folks gathered outside the house for the Peace Walk and family was gathered inside. And then, just after the Peace Walkers began singing, Mom passed away.
So there she was ordering us around until the very end. Commanding us to form a circle of love. To hold peace and love above all difference. And to dedicate ourselves to continuing to get along.
It’s not just we are going to need the support. It’s bigger than that.
As Mom said, if you want to know the key to having a wonderful life, just remember:
Love is the Most Important Thing