Eulogy for Mom (Reatha Eleanor Evans)
February 14, 2012
As I have been reflecting these past two weeks as mom’s health began to take a turn for the worse I have been thinking…thinking about many things, but thinking mainly about what a long period of time has elapsed since mom was diagnosed with “dementia of the Alzheimer’s type” in 1990, nearly 22 years ago, when mom was just 54 years old.
Twenty two years is a long time, and much water has gone under the bridge during those 22 years. Twenty-two years is longer than all but four of her twelve grandchildren have even been alive. It’s been nearly half of my entire life. So, there is a grieving at many different levels.
The initial grief of course came when dad and all of us began to see the slow but inexorable decline, and the utterly helpless feeling that none of us could do a thing to stop it. Grief when we all knew full well what would be the probable outcome.
Grief and guilt are cousins I believe, because grief often garners feelings of guilt. Guilt over not knowing what to say or do…guilt over not visiting enough…guilt over…well the possibilities are probably endless…and pointless. For who knows how to deal with this?
None of us had a clue that it would last for 22 years…longer than any other case of Alzheimer’s of which I have heard. Alzheimer’s is truly the long slow goodbye. My dad would care for mom at our home in Newton for the first eight years after mom was diagnosed until he reluctantly, out of necessity, placed her in a nursing home in 1998.
For the past 14 years mom has been in the competent, kind, hands of her caregivers at the Mayflower nursing home here in Grinnell, Iowa, which has become a second family to my dad. My dad faithfully visited mom, held her hand, talked to her, whispered in her ear, fed her meals, and loved her deeply to the very end. Dad’s grief is surely the deepest of all.
There is also a grief that none of my children had the opportunity to know their grandmother in her best days…and only fleeting memories from any of Bev’s children since they lived in Seattle, Washington until 1996, when they moved back to Newton. But there are some. Kim and Jennifer remember mom teaching them to twirl the baton when they were home on visits as young children and playing with Lincoln logs, and taking walks.
There is a grief over how the family dynamics have evolved over the years largely due to mom’s Alzheimer’s disease. Mom was a very important person in keeping our family together. But rather than carry on in this way allow me to share with you an acronym with each letter of mom’s name “Reatha” representing a different quality of her life. Bev helped me with this some, so if there are ones you don’t like please feel free to blame her.
Relational: Mom was very much a people person…She always had lots of information about others and made connections with people everywhere she went. Mom was Facebook and social networking even before those things were invented. Someone else in our family inherited that same gene and took it to a whole new level. Her name begins with a B and ends with a V…and it’s not me. Oh, and the middle letter is “E.”
The other word we considered for the “R” was relatives. Our family was unique in that we had an especially close relationship with our cousins as we were doubly related…double cousins. That’s what happens when a brother and sister from one family marries a brother and sister from another family.
Eternal Optimist: Always saw the cup as half full, even if there was not a drop of water within 100 miles. She was the polar opposite to the character Eeyore, the eternal pessimist in Winnie the Pooh. Mom looked for the best in people and things in general.
Animated: Whether it was wearing one of her big hats or playing cards mom was animated. I remember many a night of card playing going on beneath my room in Atlantic, Iowa listening to my mom scream with delight at a particularly good hand or groan at a bad hand. Mom was an avid card player, but unlike her mother who blatantly, but politely, cheated at cards (particularly liverpool rummy) my mom never cheated…to the best of my knowledge anyway.
Mom was particularly animated when one Christmas Eve in the early-mid seventies our family was gathered around the table for supper. Both grandmothers were still alive at the time and were with us for this Christmas Eve dinner in Atlantic.
Halfway through dinner a mouse ran across the floor startling us all. What happened next is the stuff of folklore but I promise you it’s true. That mouse ran head first into a prescription pill bottle that was lying on the kitchen floor, which proceeded to stand up on end due to the momentum the mouse had created. We were all stunned for a moment, barely being able to process what had just happened before our very eyes.
So there we were with mom screaming…probably standing on a stool, and the rest of us laughing at the beady eyes of this mouse looking at us from the bottom of the bottle having just dug his own grave. A Christmas Eve to remember that’s for sure!
Tolerant: I was relieved when mom didn’t kill me after I faked my own murder when I was nine or ten by overturning the furniture in the kitchen, throwing papers on the floor and strategically placing knives in visible areas…I think I even used Karo Syrup with red food coloring to make it look more realistic.
I was relieved when my mother let me live after I blew up firecrackers in the home on one occasion, put a plastic model airplane on a long string, lit it on fire, and spun it around…in my bedroom on another…and when I used mom’s hand cranked meat-grinder to grind up charcoal to make gunpowder (combined with salt peter and sulfur).
My cousin John and I never could figure out how to get that homemade gunpowder to explode. …only burn. I was also amazed that mom didn’t explode when I got called into the principle’s office at Jackson School for selling itching powder (fiberglass insulation) and smoke bombs (two bottle caps with the tips of stick matches wrapped together with electrical tape). Mom just took all of these things in stride.
Mom was tolerant… but not entirely so. I remember specifically getting my mouth washed out with a bar of Irish Spring soap by mom, after I said something which I shouldn’t have said. Once you’ve tasted Irish Spring not only will you never forget it but you will probably never use it again in your life…even though it smells good.
Happy, Hospitable, and Hamburger Helper. My mom was a very happy and cheerful person, almost always upbeat. I’m not just saying that. Mom was a happy person and you could almost always find a smile on her face. Her own happiness was very much related to seeing other people happy as well.
You may have noticed that for having just two children mom and dad hit the jackpot on grandchildren, with twelve. Bev and Jeff have seven children and Karla and I only contributed five to the treasury.
In those early years when Bev and Jeff would call home with news of another baby on the way…all that Bev needed to say was “But mom we’re happy to have another child on the way” and that would be enough to quiet most concerns on mom’s part. Mom was happy if other people were happy.
Mom cared deeply about others. As Proverbs 31:20 says of the virtuous wife “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.” I remember specifically helping mom deliver Meals on Wheels in Atlantic, Iowa and participating in other service projects for the poor and needy and senior citizens. Mom and dad took us on a working vacation to Oklahoma in the middle of a blazing hot summer to work on repairing a church building.
Proverbs 31:26 says of the virtuous wife “…the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Mom was a kind woman, and regularly demonstrated hospitality. She used to like to use the phrase “hostess with the mostest” in referring to others, but that’s a phrase that she could wear as well.
Hamburger Helper. Well, let’s just say that it would not do my mother’s memory justice not to mention this staple of the Evans household for many year. One box of Beef Noodle Hamburger Helper mixed with one pound of hamburger was what kept us going. Two packages and two pounds when Brad a foster child lived with us. I loved Hamburger Helper!
Active in Church:
Mom was active in church. As Bev and I grew up mom and dad took us to church every Sunday with Bible school in the summer months. After mom and dad were first married they became members of First Baptist Church, where this service is being held today. Next it was the United Methodist Churches wherever they were living. Then in 1978 St. Luke Methodist Church in Newton became our home church…a very loving and caring community.
Mom was a good person…a kind person…a generous and loving person. But these fine qualities in and of themselves, have no merit in God’s eyes with regard to salvation and going to heaven when you die.
Heaven’s gates are open wide for all who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. But there are some prerequisites for heaven. First you must confess that you are a sinner in need of a Savior. Romans 3:23 says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
So what? you might say. What’s the big deal about that? Well, Romans 6:23 tells us why this is such a serious matter. “The wages of sin is death…” both physical and spiritual…the verse goes on to say “…but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Next, you must repent (have a change of heart and mind) regarding your sin and turn to Jesus Christ by faith in His finished work on the Cross for sins.
Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In Acts 4:12 the Apostle Peter said “…there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” This makes it sound as if something more than simply dying is required for admission into heaven.
And there is. Back in 1990 or 1991 just after mom had been diagnosed with dementia I pressed her on this matter of her salvation because I wanted to know where she stood in relation to God. And she told me that through the ministry of Cursillo (an evangelical movement within the Catholic Church) in the early 70’s when she was away for a weekend retreat, “the knowledge of God traveled the 16 inches from her head to her heart.” I pray God that it did.
As First Corinthians 15:54b-55 says, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?….Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. For those who are in Christ death is swallowed up in victory! Amen and Amen.