Eulogy For My Mother
It’s hard to know where to begin. When a person has lived the kind of life my Mother has, there is so much to say, so much to share, that condensing it down to a few short minutes inevitably means that many things will be left out. As I’ve written this eulogy and re-written it over and over again, it keeps coming out sounding like an impressively impossible resume, but that was my mother; Impressive and Impossible.
My mother was one of those people who are larger than life. No one could say that she lived an ordinary or a boring life. She lived with passion. No matter what she was doing, it was done with great gusto and she gave it her utmost. She had an astounding thirst for life, for learning and for experiencing life to the fullest. She also had the remarkable ability to bring people along on the journey with her. She loved to share her knowledge about her many and varied interests. She had a remarkable impact on an amazing number of people throughout her life.
Born the daughter of a poor West Virginia coal miner, my mother realized early on that the world had much to offer and sought to educate herself on many topics. After completing high school, she went to work at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. There she came to know such personalities as Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer and other world-class scientists, who broadened her world still more. She read widely on many different topics throughout her life.
In her young adult years, she was an accomplished hunter and fisherman, often going out with her father, brother and other family members. She played on a minor league Women’s baseball team for several years and was part of a folk dancing group.
In 1955, she married my father, Myron and together they continued their life together for nearly 56 years. Together they explored this country, visiting many National Parks, and eventually expanded their travel adventures to other countries. They learned to mountain climb in the Tetons. They both got their pilot licenses and flew small planes for many of our trips around Indiana, to Michigan and to South Dakota and Colorado. Always, they spent time enjoying nature, watching the birds and enjoying God’s beautiful creation. Together they shared a love of good music, from the sacred music of the church to the great classical music as well as the simplest bird song.
My parents also shared a bond of faith and love of God. In Indiana, they were among the founding members of Hope Presbyterian Church. Even in those early days, my Father led the music and my Mother led the Sunday School, things that they would continue to do throughout their lives.
Soon after we settled here in Boulder in the mid 1960’s, my parents became very involved in First Presbyterian Church. My mother taught Sunday School, vacation Bible School, was a leader at Teen Girls Camp. For many years, she was the Christian Education Coordinator for the church. She was active in Presbyterian Women and was a Circle leader for decades. She was active in Bible Study Fellowship, Mariner’s and many other Church related groups. Eventually, she went to work as the administrative assistant for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Extension program here in Boulder. In the mid 1970’s, my mother, having no formal education other than a high school diploma, enrolled as a “special student” at Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary (now Denver Seminary) and graduated with a Master’s in Christian Education. She was ordained as an Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church, where she remained for several years. Later she returned to First Pres. Where she continued to be involved in many aspects of the church, most recently as Chaplain for the Mariners group.
For most people, these accomplishments would have been enough, but my Mother had an endless thirst for learning. Inevitably, some new handcraft or activity would catch her eye and off she would go, taking classes, learning and usually mastering the craft, making friends along the way. There was cake decorating, oil painting, weaving and fiber arts, pottery classes, crewel embroidery, sewing, basket weaving and many other types of handicraft. She shared many of these with Holly and I over the years and so we too became accomplished in many things early on.
My mother was quite athletic and together she and my Dad did lots of mountain climbing, hiking, backpacking and camping. She was a long time member of the Colorado Mountain Club. For several years, she played both tennis and racquetball. She golfed weekly up until the past few years. And she has been a member of a bowling team for many years, often achieving awards for her high bowling scores, both individually and as a team member.
As long as I can remember, my mother loved to garden. In Indiana, she had a lovely iris garden as well as a prolific vegetable garden and beautiful flower beds. In Colorado, she was at first challenged by the heavy clay soils, but soon learned how to amend them and had lush flowerbeds and vegetable gardens for years. Through the garden club, she met many of her closest friends, several of whom became surrogate grandmothers to Holly and myself and later on to my own children.
There were other interests as well. She loved learning about culture and history and for a time was an avid amateur archeologist, often going on digs around the state, sometimes taking either Holly or I along. She and my Dad developed an interest in hunting wild mushrooms, joined the Colorado Mycological Society and eventually taught mushrooming and led many mushrooming trips over the years. During the years in Indiana, she was much involved in politics, running the League of Women Voter’s information office for a time, and was elected as a delegate to the Indiana Caucus one year. She continued to be involved with politics on a lesser scale once we moved to Colorado, and was an Election Judge up through the last presidential election in 2008.
Another abiding interest of hers was genealogy. She was able to research my Dad’s family history back to the 1400’s to 1600’s and was able to research and discover many long lost relatives in her own family tree. She and my Dad were able to visit many of the extended family relatives in Poland, Spain and the Netherlands. She became an active member of the Boulder Genealogical Society and taught many classes on Genealogy over the years. Together with my Dad, she created a DVD on the Plooster Family History, which has been shown at family reunions.
For many years, my Mom talked about wanting to learn to play Mahjong. So when the opportunity arose to learn, she took a class, which resulted in weekly mahjong sessions through the East Boulder Senior Center for the last several years.
Through all of these other activities, she has always loved nature and was an accomplished amateur naturalist. This grew into a love of wild birds, the development of a backyard wildlife sanctuary and eventually into her involvement with the Boulder Bird Club. Together, my parents led many bird watching trips. My Mother loved sharing her knowledge and in 2011 was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Colorado Field Ornithologists for her work in promoting birding in Colorado. An outspoken environmentalist, she wrote many editorial letters on environmental issues and even took on Public Service in the early 1970’s regarding the type of large power line structures they were planning to use and won, getting them to use less environmentally damaging poles!
One of my mother’s strongest skills was leadership and organization. She had an innate knowledge of how things needed to happen in order to best help a group to grow and thrive. Once she became involved with a group, it wasn’t long before she was running some aspect of it. She has been the past president of the Boulder Bird Club, the Boulder Garden Club and played significant roles in countless others, such as the Boulder Handweaver’s Guild and the Boulder Genealogical Society.
As I think about my Mother, I can’t help but think about the many lives that she touched. She was a collector of people, as was her father before her. In her travel journal on this last trip to Costa Rica, she wrote about being greeted by the same guide who had been their guide in 2005 and how he greeted her with open arms and expressed how happy he was to see her, how it had made her so happy to be welcomed like that and made her feel akin to her Dad, because everyone was always so happy to see him too.
My mother loved interesting people and as a result, Holly and I had many adopted grandmothers over the years. Most of them were gardeners, all of them with intriguing life stories. Wherever my mother went, she quickly made friends and those friends stayed friends for life. She was a terrific correspondent, writing many letters and cards and keeping in touch with all her distant friends and family.
At home, our extra bedrooms were frequently filled with visitors or friends in need of a temporary home. There was a long line of foreign students from all over the world that my parents hosted. There were the visiting scientists and their families that came to work with my Dad. There were old friends and new friends. At holidays, the dining room table was always surrounded by as many people as would fit, and if there were too many to sit around the table, we had a fabulous buffet. My mother loved to entertain people in our home and I have heard over and over how much people loved to come to her parties and dinners over the years.
In addition to all of her other accomplishments, my Mom was a fabulous cook. She had an amazing ability to pull together a wonderful meal out of what seemed to me to be an empty pantry. No one was ever underfed in our household! She used those talents professionally when we lived in Indiana where she catered luncheons for a time. Later she was the Church Hostess here at First Pres for several years. She had the ability to easily prepare good food for very large groups of people on a limited budget.
In truth, there were few things that my mother put her hand to, that she was not able to master. All this passion for life, her amazing accomplishments, her sense of how things should be done, and her strong opinions made her hard to live with at times. She often used to say how things should be done – “Decently and In Order” and she didn’t tolerate things being done poorly. Usually she was right.
She had a strong temper that would occasionally erupt out of seemingly nothing. Even her high school yearbook said she was noted for her temper. So many of us experienced it through the years. More often than not, and much to our chagrin, it was deserved. These past few years she mellowed though, and instead of allowing anger to take the upper hand, she began instead to focus on the good in life. She had high standards and expected her daughters and grandchildren and those around her to live up to those standards. While difficult at times, those high standards and the broad exposure to so many things that she gave us have made us the people that we are today.
My Mom loved to travel and during my Father’s long battle with Alzheimer’s often expressed to us that it was the thing she missed the most. Over the years, she travelled to such diverse places as Costa Rica, Australia, Poland, Spain, The Netherlands, Canada, Alaska, the Caribbean and throughout much of the U.S. Everywhere she went, she felt right at home with the culture and took pains to travel off the beaten track and interact with the people. Traveling with her was always an adventure, because you never knew just where you would eat, what kind of bargaining she would be doing, or what unusual sights you would see. And always, the birds, flora and fauna were of particular interest.
So, here at the last, my mother’s life comes full circle. She died as she lived. She was always up for an adventure. It was near the end of a much-anticipated trip to Costa Rica, her third visit to this beautiful country, when she contracted influenza B, which was quickly followed by pneumonia, and then, as she fought the overwhelming infections, she at last succumbed to a hemorrhagic stroke.
She wrote in her travel journal, just days before she passed away,
“I really missed Myron – we had always shared things we saw along the road and it felt empty not to have him sitting beside me enjoying the ride and the scenery. Somehow I missed him more here than I have at home – we had always enjoyed trips together so much and I was sad not to have him beside me. He would have loved it so. Yet it was sweet to return to a place we had enjoyed so much together.”
When I flew down to Costa Rica to be at the hospital with her, she immediately wanted me to sign up for a tour of the city and to see the area. She did not want me sitting in her hospital room or the hotel room, but instead wanted me to see some of this country that she loved. I honored that request as I knew how unhappy she would be if I did nothing but sit at her side in the hospital. She often told us that “Life is for living” and that should something happen to her, she wanted us to keep moving forward, to not bog down in grief and sorrow, but to live life to the fullest.
Both Holly and I were able to be at her side when she passed away. Coming home from Costa Rica without her sitting beside us was one of the most difficult things we have ever done.
As I thought about how I wanted to remember my mother to you, and thought about what last bit of wisdom she would impart, we found on the counter, some thoughts and quotes that she written out prior to her trip.
· - Life is a Special Occasion, whether it is a routine or a Hallmark day.
· - Take time and cherish each day of life.
· - Live life intentionally.
· - Stop and enjoy life’s perfect unplanned moments.
· - Look forward to the big mysteries in life. What really makes life rich are the little things.
· - Laugh and capture the moments.
· - Be aware – focus on the real, not the ideal
· - Be Thankful for each day.
· - Waking up each morning is a celebration of life.
· - Never save things for a special occasion. Every day in your IS a special occasion!
· - Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance.
· - Learn to celebrate life.
· - Everything we do, whether it is celebrating, or helping those in need, or just being attuned to the blessings of our life will make it a special occasion.
The last thing she wrote on the list was this short prayer.
Help us to celebrate you as Lord of our life.
Open our eyes to your glory and to the wonder of your creation.
God’s peace and love.
My mother is home with God. She is reunited with my Father, the love of her life. She would tell us,
“This is the day, which the Lord hath made. Let us Rejoice and be Glad in it!”
Then with a twinkle in her eye and a flourish of hands, she would add:
La Vida es corta… Disfrutala! ~ Life is short… Enjoy!