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Eulogy for my Mother

My mother, Joyce A. Grier, recently died. As her son, I was honored to give the eulogy. I had so many requests for copies of what I wrote, that I decided to share it with the world. This eulogy was delivered by me at a small Catholic church in New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 24th, 2012.

As anyone who knows me will attest, I am not a people person, which is the polar opposite of my mother who was the most gregarious person I’ve ever met. I do love an audience though, so please indulge me a bit while I tell you of my mother from my point of view. My view may not be the same as anyone else’s, but I promise that it is an honest view from where I stand. In many ways, my mother helped define me as a person. I don’t think she set out to mold me in any way. I think she was simply who she was, and it was up to me to see the example. What follows, is nothing more than a small list of those examples.

My mother was a positive person. Now, there’s a joke in there about how my mother was always positive that she was right, but I figured that it wasn’t appropriate for a eulogy.

<laughter – ad-lib: “Judging from the laughter, I don’t think that I need to say anything more on that subject.”>

It has been said that the average person lies on their death bead, lamenting the things they’d wish they’d done. In fact, the average person (myself included, just ask my wife) likes to complain about a lot of things.

My mother did not have an easy life, but she managed to have a good life. I don’t think I ever heard my mother complain about anything, and she certainly didn’t spend her final days going on about missed opportunities. She always made the most of what she had, and when she had extra, she gave it away.

I once gave her a small pile of money to do with as she pleased, with the sole stipulation that it was to make her happy. She took most of the money and donated it to the Salvation Army. When I asked why she did that, she replied that, “it made her feel rich.”

Many books have been written about happiness, and most of them include something about needing to give in order to experience joy. My mother never read any of those books. She didn’t need to. She just knew.

My mother taught me to love language. We were always reading when I was young, and she routinely used large words and spoke correctly, even in casual conversations. When I was first living on my own, I had a girlfriend ask me, “Why don’t you talk like everyone else?” I was a bit confused by her question, until I realized that I was simply speaking correctly while she was used to hearing improper grammar.

No, my mother did not approve of her, and no, she is not the woman I later married.

My mother taught me about love. When I was a young boy, obsessed with science, I posed the following query at the dinner table: “What is the strongest thing in the world?”

I expected an answer like “Titanium” or “Spider webs” or “carbon fiber nano-tubes” – you know – something wondrously scientific. My mother would have none of that. Instead her answer was as simple as it was irritating to my developing logical sensibilities. Her answer? “Love.”

Try as I might, I still don’t have a clever retort for that bit of scientific heresy. Apparently she also taught me that logic doesn’t always win, but I’ve still yet to accept that as fact.

My wife told me the other night that one of the reasons she fell in love with me was because of how much I loved my mother.One of the reasons I first fell in love with her was because she would often laugh so hard that people would stop and ask if she was all right – just like my mother.

Everyone who knew my mother knows that she loved to laugh. My dad was not the kind of person who laughed out loud, though he did have a sharp wit. My mother, on the other hand, laughed well and laughed often.

Laughing, like screaming, is good for you, which is another fact I’ve read in countless books that my mother didn’t need to read. Both laughing and screaming release chemicals called endorphins directly into your brain in order to make you feel good. Screaming will likely get you removed from finer establishments I’ve been told, so given the choice, follow my mother’s lead and laugh instead.

My mother taught me not to take myself too seriously. In fact, I’d venture a guess that without this skill, I’d have driven myself quite mad by now. I tend to be a bit obsessive, and my inevitable failures would be intolerable if not for my own ability to sit back and marvel at my own stupidity. In fact, this very skill has made my writing profitable. My mother never laughed as hard as when she found herself to have made a mistake. I could regale you with stories to that end, but I’ll save that for another venue.

My mother taught me that “normal” is boring. To this day I tell my kids that they shouldn’t try to be like other people. Instead they should strive to make other people want to be like them. Right until the end, my mother enjoyed telling me about people that don’t quite know how to take her, and I relished hearing the tales.

Speaking of those tales, I’d like to tell you a final story, every word of which is true, because though I hadn’t thought about this in years, I think it is the perfect example of how special my mother was.

~ ~ ~

In late 1995, I was getting married to Lauren, to whom I’ve now been married some 17 years. My mother and David drove down for the wedding, which is anywhere from a six to ten hour drive depending on traffic, weather, and the driver’s propensity for ignoring speed limits.

On this October day, neither David’s speed, nor the weather was to blame for the extended duration of their trip. On this day, a terrible accident had occurred in New York, which completely stopped traffic in both directions for miles. This delay would cause them to miss the rehearsal dinner, and since this was before cell-phones were in widespread use, we had no idea that my mother and David ended up stranded on the Tappan Zee Bridge for hours with no food, no communication, and no bathrooms.

As you might imagine, people were getting restless, irritable, and even angry as they sat in their cars, unable to escape. For those of you who have not been to New York, let’s just say that the residents are not known for their patience, nor are they known to be terribly polite, and they certainly don’t take kindly to traffic jams.

Sitting on that bridge, on a drizzly October day 17 years ago, my mother decided to do something about all the misery surrounding her; she decided to spread some sunshine.

When my mother travelled, she always packed plenty of snacks. This time, she had a large Ziploc bag filled with a variety of candies, including one of her favorites: Cow Tails. She proceeded to get out of her car and walk up to all the cars she could reach, in order to offer them candy. She even climbed up on the side of a big rig or two so that she could knock on the window, because she knew in her heart, that even truck drivers couldn’t resist a delicious cow tail.

As she walked around on the blacktop, her hair and bag of candy wet with drizzle, a funny thing started to happen. People started to smile. Not only that, but people got out of their cars and started talking. As anyone in this room would likely attest, it was difficult to resist talking to my mother, but there in a hotbed of stress and misery, in a place where people are not known for being friendly, polite, or outgoing, my mother got people out of their cars by handing out candy to strangers – on a bridge – in the rain – in New York.

My mother always made an impact to everyone she met. I can all but guarantee you that every one of those people on that bridge still talk about the strange lady with the funny accent who, without thinking anything of it, changed the world with a bag of candy and a smile.

That was my mother, and that is how she would want to be remembered.

~ ~ ~

At the mention of my mother distributing Cow Tails, my daughters stood, and opened up one of my mother’s beloved wicker baskets. In the basket were fifty Cow Tails, which they handed out to everyone in attendance. After the eulogy there here was only one Cow Tail left. Naturally, I had asked for Father Leo’s blessing before doing this. I was thrilled when he replied that it was a great idea, and that it sounded like something she would have loved. The reaction was wonderful as my children spread some sunshine at an otherwise heart-wrenching event. I think my mother would have loved that.

Goodbye Mom. I love you.

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  1. Sue MacKay says:

    What a lovely, moving tribute. I’m sure the image of the girls passing out cow tails will be indelibly stamped on the minds of everyone fortunate enough to have read it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Paul Krishna says:

    Gary- I am so saddened by the new of your Mom. I have such warm memories of her and she was one of the friendly adults you remember from childhood. It made me remember coming to your house to play or for dinner ( I loved her tacos) or her as a Band chaperone. She was always so nice and friendly. Your eulogy was absolutely beautiful and heartfelt. I am a bit Teary eyed. I’ll be thinking of you, your family, and your Mom in my prayers. Please receive my heartfelt condolences. Your Friend Paul

  3. Pammy Jean says:

    Gary – That was a very well said and a wonderfully moving Eulogy. My love and prayers to you and your family while you are mourning your loss. I do remember wonderful times with your Mother, my Aunt. Time and life get in the way of paying attention to all the things and people you love. And you tend to pay attention to what is in front of you. Aunt Joyce has always been in my thoughts with good memories. It made my heart feel great seeing your heartfelt thoughts about her. Please take care. Love Pammy ( Pammy Jean )

  4. Cathy Davenport says:

    Gary,

    I am so sorry for your loss. Losing one’s mother is always, always so difficult. I feel like I understand her warm and gracious vision of what a life well-lived would look like after reading this. May I also say that she was very fortunate to have a son like you, a daughter like Lauren, and what had to be priceless gems in woven into her life’s fabric, your daughters. Thank you for sharing this, and God bless you and everyone your mother loved.

    Cathy

  5. Kathy Bessom says:

    Hi, Lauren & Gary. WOW ! We were speachless. What a powerful story, Gary. We’re so sorry for your loss. I had the chance to meet her back in the 80′s. Yes, she made an impression on me – a truly wonderful person. We chatted a few times on the phone but kept in touch through e-mails & greeting cards. She will be missed by many but not forgotten.

    Please know our thoughts and prayers go out to all of you.

    Take care.
    Love, Rich & Kathy Bessom

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