Happy Mother’s Day week to all the mamas out there. Someone told me this weekend that “mothers are magic” and I loved it, because its true. Good mamas have a way of making the world manageable and, in their very best moments, magical…a true gift.
I’ve been reading Andy’s words about my own mother quite a bit lately. He shared these at her funeral and reading it again has helped me to finally stop and take stock. Its funny…I keep my wits about me every time until I read that final sentence: “our magnificent hostess and friend” and then I just lose it. Mom could be a real mess, but when push came to shove she’d sit with you in the mess you found yourself in and show you that you were not alone. It was her special gift.
It turns out it IS good to go to the house of mourning…especially in times like these. Recovery and repair feel a lifetime away and yet we have a good foundation. Some of us, like myself, are lucky enough to have a magical one. Maybe as we review what’s been lost we’ll find hints of what can be restored and determine, this time, how we may want to show up for our second acts. With a little magic woven in :-).
Please enjoy the words of Andy’s eulogy below. Its meant the world to me that others saw Mom’s gifts too – especially my own husband.
Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for coming. If we have not met, my name is Andy, I’m the youngest of Deb’s two sons-in-law. I married youngest daughter Courtney 11 years ago, and I’ve been around the family for about 15. When the family asked me to say a few words, I was honored and a little nervous, honestly. Aside from the family, many of you have been friends with Deb for literal decades. So, I’m going to try to speak with the humility of someone who’s arrived later in the picture than many who are gathered here today.
I met Deborah on December 31st, 2004. I remember this because Courtney and I had only really been dating for a few months, and she was home from college for Christmas and invited me down to Herndon to celebrate the New Year in DC. “You’ll get to meet my mom,” she said, which is somehow a statement that strikes fear into the heart of even the most courageous boyfriend. Court had prepared me to meet her mom, in the way that girlfriends do (if they like you, anyway). I came to know that I was about the meet a woman for whom the most recent years were turbulent, both medically and relationally. Even knowing all of the things that were going on at the time, I was so impressed by her graciousness, and her deft ability to put me at ease. I wanted to impress her (as nervous boyfriends do), but once seated at her kitchen table, I was somehow magically persuaded to forget all about my self-consciousness.
After more years around the family, I became certain that these abilities of Deb’s were more than the sum of their parts, and were more of a spiritual force. In fact, St. Paul writes about a list of “spiritual gifts” that people have, which we take to mean the special graces that certain people have to build up the Church and the community; you can think of the spiritual gifts like a first-century Myers-Briggs test. One of the gifts on this list is that of hospitality, and Paul, being an itinerant minister, certainly knew the value of being hosted. I can say that, without exception, I’ve not met a person in this world with a stronger hospitality grace than Deborah. She had an almost supernatural ability to invite a person into her relational fabric, to promote feelings of well-being, of welcome, of her great care. Being on the receiving end of her hospitality was really something; it had a restorative quality almost in defiance of words. I can tell by the expressions that I’m far from the only person to have experienced this.
When I consider her handling of the relational fabric, the word that comes to mind is “stewardship.” Her intuition for hospitality reflected a conviction that relationships need to be nurtured, need to be encouraged, watered, and grown. This sense of stewardship also extended to her professional life. Deb told me once, and I quote, “A well-done tax filing is a thing of beauty.” Sometimes you could tell by the little excited tone in her voice that her work almost had an aesthetic quality to her, and that she had an intuition for, and felt when the work was done to completion. But in our society, your taxes are kind of a stand-in for your honesty and forthrightness in your personal affairs. Accounting standards aside, she knew this; I’ve heard numerous conversations (without specifics) about her counsel given to clients both complex and not-so-complex. All of these conversations seemed to have a common thread of Deb’s tendency to encourage honesty, forthrightness, and a general sense of ethics in an area where there is a lot of room to lose one’s moral compass.
Speaking of aesthetics, can we agree that Deb missed a calling as an interior designer? I can recall a number of times walking into a room and seeing a line of paint swatches on the wall for her process of lengthy consideration. There have been times that I could not tell the difference between colors she was evaluating. But Deborah could tell the difference, and that’s what matters. She just knew in her soul that beauty, harmony and proportion have the capacity to make a person feel good. I have a great story about this. When I was in graduate school in Texas, Court and I had moved from a larger to a more modest space to economize. The small house was a little bit, I don’t know underwhelming? After looking around, Court pulled the emergency handle. Deb parachuted into our midst and spent a few days with her brightening it up. By the time it was done, we hadn’t really spent that much, but the place was downright sunny and looked very gracious indeed. So far, that house was the longest we’ve stayed in one home, and I partially blame Deborah for the good fortune.
After saying all of this, I still haven’t told you about my first memory of her. This occurred before I even walked into the house, as I parked in the driveway at Laneview Court. Many of you remember that black ’97 Accord she drove until the wheels fell off. When pulling up, I notice that bumper sticker with the famous pro-life quote by Mother Teresa that says: “It is a poverty for a child to die so you can live as you wish.” “Great,” I thought, “I’m pro-life too.” “We have similar values,” I thought before I was greeted at the door. But as I got to know her, I realized that this was not just a political statement. We speak about Deb as being a woman of great dignity, but this is a dignity that she extended to everyone, the wealthy, the poor, the young and old, the unborn, and the long-lived. She intuitively understood that all souls have inherent value, and that this value should be respected, honored and cared for. One would probably not be too far off to guess that her sense of her physical weakness probably gave her a great deal of insight and empathy into the struggles of others.
In the old testament, the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning.”, and we take that to mean that this kind of sadness and loss can grab our attention and teach our souls like no other human experience. It is right to ask ourselves how to best honor the memory of Deborah. I mean, at a time like this, it’s almost second nature.
Well, for the occasion, I have a list of ideas on alphabetized, color-coded index cards (pull out cards):
- Rearrange your furniture. Repeat four times until it’s perfect and then invite your friends to have a sit.
- Find a small, interesting object, and build a room around it. Use a risky, bright color, like orange.
- Stretch your hospitality muscles. Invite someone into your relational life that needs that kind of care.
- Pour yourself a gin and tonic, only drink a third of it and forget about the rest because you’re lost in conversation.
- Be a good steward of what you have. Turn something small into something greater.
- Buy a used car, and spend the savings on something that won’t eventually fall apart.
- Care for others in the tangible and intangible parts of their humanity, remembering that all of us bear the image of God.
- Use your weaknesses and vulnerabilities as a source of insight to show compassion, mercy, and grace.
To conclude, we loved her and she loved us. Last Saturday, nine of us ministered to her at the bedside until she peacefully left this life to the next. We prayed, spoke to her, and rejoiced for her final rest and relief. I should be so lucky for my last day on earth to be like that, surrounded by the ministry of loved ones, and so would you also be lucky. If we live in such a way that something like that is possible, it would show her the deepest conceivable honor. It is without a doubt that Deborah, our magnificent hostess and friend, would want that for us all.