Today we gathered at the church to celebrate my mother-in-law’s life and say our collective goodbyes. I was asked to write and deliver the eulogy, which I felt was a tremendous honor. I had hoped I’d be able to do her justice and was so touched by everyone approaching me afterwards to say that I had.
It’s been such a rough week between the passing of both my grandmother and then my wife’s mother, but Heather did an amazing job carrying everything through. She sat by her mother’s side throughout her final days, like a vigil, tending to her and comforting her as best she could until finally, Dona peacefully let go.
Tonight, Heather is back home after being away for nearly three months to care for her. While I’m elated that we’re together again, I know the reason behind her return isn’t a joyous one. Still, she did her mother proud every step of the way and I’m in awe of of my wife. As she cried into my shoulder again tonight I whispered, “I hope you know how much I love you.” And she replied that she did. For each of us, today brought a lot of closure, and we look forward to embarking on a far more happier chapter come sunrise.
We extend our eternal thanks and gratitude to everyone who called, wrote, and offered up their assistance over the past several months. It meant to world to us both and helped us retain at least a shred of our sanity as we desperately missed each other’s presence. I also extend thanks to my clients who have been so tremendously patient and provided me with the opportunity to truly put family first, just as it should be.
I was asked to publish the eulogy on my blog so that those out of state could read it, so I’ve pasted her tribute below. I don’t expect anyone unfamiliar with Dona to read this, but if you do, you’ll certainly get a glimpse into her life, the struggles she faced, and the kind of woman she was.
I’ll admit, at first I found it odd that I was asked to write and deliver the eulogy for Dona. It’s usually an honor left to those who knew the deceased best…or someone with whom she shared a remarkable bond.
In a weird and almost inexplicable way, I was blessed to have the latter. But still I thought…doesn’t David want to stand before everyone and profess his love for her…or share some of the memories they made in their 40+ years of marriage? Doesn’t Heather want to approach the pulpit and honor her mother with stories of her life? Or Bryan…wouldn’t he rather be up here, instead of me, talking about Dona?
I knew that being asked was a tremendous honor, but I think what made the task easy to accept was the realization that neither David nor Heather would have been able to get through the first paragraph, or rather the initial “Hello’s” of their eulogy, before needing a sponge to absorb their free-flowing tears or a carton of Kleenex to dam their nostrils.
Now I knew that of the three? Bryan would have been the one capable of making it all the way through his speech without shedding a tear. Not because he didn’t love her, but rather because Bryan is a man of few words. And even though he wouldn’t have teared up until he had delivered *all 12 words* in his eulogy, I knew Dona deserved that more be said.
Dona was born in Louisville, Kentucky. A city only properly pronounced if one has marbles pocketed within each cheek.
The year was 1950. A gallon of gas cost $.18, but it would cost you $1,500 to have a brand new vehicle in which to use it. It was an era known as the Golden Age of Television even though only three networks existed on TV and less than 4-and-a-half million households owned one.
Ironically enough, even in today’s digital age where more than a thousand different options are at our fingertips, Dona kept the nostalgia alive…she stayed old school…limiting her Direct TV to three networks. MSNBC, Nickelodeon (which was purely to retain sanity when grandchildren were around), and Lifetime Television…a network devoted to the marginalization of manhood.
I’d like to share that Dona met David while nursing him back to health in a military hospital following his heroic charge up a hill somewhere in the vast jungles of Korea…where he took on an entire battalion using nothing but his Army Ranger certified left pinky and a rusted pair of brass knuckles. I’d LIKE to share that, but, I’d really just be making it up.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure *how* they first met. I just know that once they did, he never left her side…even when they were oceans apart. Through their 41 years of marriage, she herself stated that she gave him many reasons to do so…but his love, his commitment, and his word, kept him there. Right where she needed him.
In 1979 Dona graduated from Austin Community College in Austin, Minnesota. She had, and continued to serve the US Military in the capacity of an SP5…known in today’s ranks as a Specialist. From what I understand, she was a Physical Therapist stationed at both Ft. Sam Houston and Ft. Knox.
While married to David, and after leaving the balmy sunny Minnesota weather behind, they were housed on bases in various cities around the country. In each, she became a pioneer in helping military wives deal with the ordeal of transitioning to base living and handling the absence of their husbands as they put their country before themselves in hot spots throughout the world.
She made it clear that if anyone needed anything, she would be there. Aside from taking it upon herself to spearhead multiple programs for these women, she also devoted much of her time to youth soccer and to Girl Scouts.
Yet sadly, she was not without her demons. But after coming to know her and all she endured through a childhood that she was robbed of, I know that she had to battle valiantly to escape them all.
At face value, some saw a person who opted to be reclusive rather than social. But in all honesty, I just don’t think she knew how to accept love and fellowship. Throughout her formative years she had been taught that it was safer to neither be seen nor heard. And one can’t repeatedly experience this without it having a tremendous impact on their soul.
If you peeled back her layers far enough, you could see that buried beneath the pain was a generous spirit. Her arms, her heart, and her front door were always open.
In this, Dona was right.
Whether it be that crooked shy smile or her genuine deep laugh, you could see the kind of person she was…the kind of person who had been longing to escape, but was restrained by worry, anxiety, and fear.
Dona had long said that she didn’t want any type of viewing, no long drawn out service or funeral; she didn’t want anyone to make much of a fuss over her. And I have to believe that it’s only because she felt she didn’t deserve it.
In this, Dona was wrong.
There’s no doubt in my mind that somewhere deep down, she knew she was loved, and I know in my heart that she felt comfort, peace, and relief as Heather and David tended to her at every turn in her final months with us.
As void as she may have felt her life to be, I think she failed to see that she touched numerous lives. She enriched far more than she hurt. And she gave far more than she took.
She was the mother of two wonderful children. One of whom married an absolutely remarkable and gorgeous man.
That would be *you* Heather.
She has six grandchildren who also loved her unconditionally and she never resisted an opportunity to sit with them, play with them, and shower them with the kind of love, attention, and devotion she had probably longed for herself.
Andrew, Michael, Kamryn, Wesley, Shane, and Kirsten. Six more hearts that embraced her. And six more hearts that will carry her memory.
You know, it took Dona a good 3 or 4 years to warm up to the fact that I was staying in Heather’s life, and by default, in hers as well. But slowly, through a genuine respect for each other and the realization that I was as devoted to her daughter as David was to her, I started to chip away at that wall she had erected. And the day she actually said, “I love you…you’re a good man”, was a point in my life that I’ll never forget. Because believe me, compliments weren’t given lightly.
Even when I had remarked that the ultra-rare roast beef she had placed on the table needed a medic due to blood loss…begging her to put it back out to pasture because the velvet-red slab of meat was vocally begging the same…she had the sense of humor necessary to not plunge the carving fork into my forehead.
Even when our dog chewed through boxes so he could chew on her brand new chairs that had just been delivered, she saw the humor in it. When he broke into bags of flour, spreading it throughout her basement and sealing his muzzle shut with the resulting frothy glue, she saw the humor in it. Granted, she dealt with it by releasing him onto Route 41A, but her hatred for this dog became a recurring source of laughter for us all. Culminating with that year’s Christmas gift, a framed portrait of the dog she loved to hate.
Honestly, one of the things I remember most about Dona, is her laugh. I craved it. Not because I was desperate for attention and approval. But *also*because I knew the material HAD to be comedic gold if it elicited her laughter.
Sitting around in the kitchen swapping stories with her family, needling each other, and bonding through humor…it was truly magical and I’ll forever treasure those moments. As I’m sure she did as well.
Some of you saw the transition throughout Dona’s life. You knew her when her and David’s relationship was just beginning to bloom. You knew her as they welcomed children into their lives. And you knew her as she worked so hard to deal with the kind of memories that no one deserves to have.
You knew her laughter, you knew her generosity, and you knew her devotion to family. Let those be the memories you carry forth because those are the memories she deserves to have engrained in your hearts and minds.
Thank you all for sharing this day with David, Heather, and Bryan. For they knew her best of anyone and they deserve the same peace, compassion, and comfort she was granted the day she passed.
May God bless Dona…and all of you.