Eulogy for my mom
I had the honor of doing the eulogy at my mother's funeral. As many of you know I am a convert to Judaism and the rest of my family is Catholic or lapsed. They allowed me to bring our tradition into the service for mom. My mom and I spoke briefly about this once, and I am sure she would be happy. At the burial I had planned to stay to help bury and say the burial prayers from the Jewish tradition. At first it was to be me and Dianne. I worked it out with the mortuary and the priest and suddenly my entire family, the priest and many of my mom's friends wanted to stay. Her community helped bury her. That, more than anything else, made me cry. My mother's love and care of others seemed to inspire all of us to come together for each other. A miracle if you knew my family. My mom's memory was truly a blessing that day.
Here is what I wrote, I am not sure what all I said. I am sure I went of script:
Here is what I wrote, I am not sure what all I said. I am sure I went of script:
Good morning, On behalf of our family I want to thank you all for being here today to honor Gertrud Kelley, a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a friend and to some, simply MA.
A woman of valor, who can find? Far beyond rubies is her value. A woman of valor…that was our mom. Dedicated to family and community, Gert, as she was called, was known for giving of herself and from her childhood she learned it was important to try to make a difference.
Mom was born in 1935, into a Germany under the dark cloud of the Nazi regime and came of age in the post-war rebuilding. In her teens she worked to help support her family, sometimes at two jobs. One of which put her in touch with allied soldiers at the nearby base.
It was at this time she met a man from Ogdensburg, NY, Francis Oscar Kelley, and through his deployment to Korea and his various posting they found time to fall in love. They married in 1959 and while her peers were exploring the freedoms of the 1960s, our mom spent much of the decade pregnant (I told you they loved each other). But after 2 wars and 25 years our father retired from the military and in 1966 our family, then 6 kids, two parents and my mother’s mother settled in our small city on the St. Lawrence and began building our lives. It wasn’t always easy but we made due and through it all, our mom made sure that we tried to show pride in who we were.
Our lives all changed when our dad died in 1978, and mom lost her partner and the love of her life. Dad took care of so many things that mom had to quickly understand. She learned to be a head of the household and did her best to give us the opportunity to have a better life. It was then, in her 40s, she obtained her first driver’s license for the sake of the family.
As our mother’s recent illness developed I found myself thinking more about what she taught me, directly and indirectly. The one part that seems to have grown from her tutelage was my own challenging of the status quo. Mom never seemed satisfied when she saw what she thought was injustice and pushed back. She helped me develop a healthy skepticism of power, while also making sure I understood that I was responsible for making the world better.
That responsibility was seen in all she did for her community and those that worked on its behalf. A simple example was her getting up in the middle of night to make coffee and donuts for fire fighters at the scene of a large fire. She always felt an obligation to do things like this. It seemed so natural growing up that she would be motivated to do such things.
However, she also was a champion of those who needed special support. She was a legend in the North Country for her more than 30 year commitment to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Year in and year out she found a way to get people to give, and one of my favorite pictures I have of her is with a young boy who she helped obtain a new wheelchair he so desperately needed. A picture that now sits on the desk of my own son who knows the story and that it is part of his legacy. I never fully understood her commitment as none of us kids had the disorder but she really put her heart and soul into it. It could have been an elaborate ploy to meet Danny Burgess, the Channel 7 weatherman, who I am sure our mom had a crush on.
Later, after I had left for college, mom called me one time and asked me if I could donate to a new program in the burg. Heart-to-Heart was a program that collected presents for impoverished families in the holiday season. She took the time to volunteer because the holidays were so important to our mother. Anyone who knew her when we were growing up is familiar with her cookies that she began baking in November with an output rate that rivaled Nabisco.
For her, making sure children had a Christmas was close to her heart. With Heart-to-Heart she helped package and wrap toys she couldn’t herself afford for her grandchildren. But she also knew her own grandchildren would be fine, these other children needed the good memory and this was her way of making that happen.
If that is all she did it would be a lot, but mom baked for local fund raisers, volunteered for the Bishop’s fund and at the old Notre Dame Bazaar. She always made sure we brought food for the local food drives, and would help neighbors and friends who had no family in the area with the little things that just often get missed, and she would listen when her friends and when I needed an ear. A skill often lost today in our technological world. And since she is gone I realize that was one thing she did for me was listen when I needed it. I took it for granted. And of course mom had a way of making me laugh.
Now some of you knew the Gert who learned American English from the GIs she served as a waitress in Germany. The sometimes bawdy and not often polite language that would flow from her mouth that I can still remember including some of her jokes with that rich German accent. She rarely minced words and could be brutally honest and strong, but never hurtful to your face. However, she let you know if you were acting the fool. Trust me she let me know on more than one occasion.
It was all that complexity that made mom who she was to all of uc. I took note that her death came within a day or two of two well known other women of the 20th century. Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady of Britain and Annette Funicello, arguably one of American’s sweethearts. Our mom had a little of both in her. Tough as nails and sweet as sugar. Sometimes depending on the day, but if you spent time with her you got both, in measured amounts. For me there were times it was refreshing.
So as we say goodbye to Gert, we should remember all that she was, from the Black Forest cakes donated for local raffles to the stories she told of growing up in wartime Germany, some not for young ears, to her last days when she told me she didn’t want to be a burden on Betty, who so lovingly and tirelessly took care of her for the last several years.
Our mother’s faith gave her the hope of eternal life in the presence of the Almighty. For her she knew when her last day came she would be reunited with loved ones who left the earth before her. But we have a responsibility to give her perpetual life here. Our memories will bring her a life eternal through the gifts she gave all of us that we pass on to our children and all those who we share Gert with. Be sad today, but also take a moment to remember why you are here: What she did for you and how you can use her example to teach others. Gertrud Kelley has left us in body, but she lives on in our hearts and memories. I would like to conclude with a simple prayer.
Compassionate God, at this time of remembrance, I offer my prayers on behalf of our mother, Gertrud Kelley. Keep her beloved soul in Your beneficent care. May her memory and the goodness which she brought into this world find continuity in our lives, and unto all eternity and may her soul be bound in the spirit of the Eternal and may she always be remembered for a blessing and May she Rest in Peace.