Saturday, February 6, 2010

Insides Outside

My insides are now on the outside. I have blogged at length of my complicated relationship with my mother. I have come to realize there were two women. The private/inside was my mom. The public/outside was Kathy.

The series of events that characterizes mourning in our American, western PA community is bewildering and exhausting. It's a series of must dos and expectations. I am thankful for Ryan our amazing funeral director (a tall, handsome young man who looked like he should be coaching football, not grieving families).

There we stood, my brother and I, dressed in black. We clutched each other's arms. He rubbed my hand until it was red and raw. I didn't notice. We took a deep breath faced the Others.

The Others were the seemingly hundreds of people who shared life with my mother. I found myself holding sobbing women who drove over an hour to pay their respects. Many had memories of sharing holidays and meals and time and life with Kathy. They tearfully talked of Kathy's caring and giving heart.

At one point I began to add up the holidays she spent in Others homes. The same holidays that she was 'too tired' or the weather was 'too bad' or 'too...' something to spend it with me and my family. Yet it was these Others that had glowing memories of Kathy playing with their grandchildren and eating at their table, while mine and my brother's remained empty.

The whole series of viewings and endless Catholic services slowly turned me inside out. The life I wanted to share with my Mom, the life I longed for in my heart was lived outside with these Others.

Though we didn't verbalize it, my brother and I made a decision. This week was about the public Kathy. It was to allow the Others to grieve and express and thank. We would grieve later, in private.

Below is the text of the eulogy I read as part of the funeral mass. I wanted to share something personal about her. I couldn't think of much. Instead, I relied heavily on what the Others had shared and a little literary license.

I am slowly putting the insides back where they belong. Sharing this is a first step.

Funerals are always a curious mix of loss and celebration. We all have lost someone who touched our lives in a myriad of ways. Last night many of you shared how important Kathy was to you and for that we are profoundly grateful.
For some of you, Kathy was a colleague and a coworker. The ‘go to’ woman who had her finger on the pulse of Richland Elementary School.
For some of you, Kathy was a friend. Someone you knew ‘before’. You knew her before she was a grown up, a woman and an adult. You knew her as the one who played on the porch or played kick the can.
For some of you, Kathy was a friend in the faith. Someone you worshipped beside and with. Someone who sang songs to God. Someone who worked in the kitchen downstairs for festivals.
For some of you, Kathy was a friend during a difficult time. She was someone who brought soup or cared for someone who was ill. She was the person who brought a little comfort in your time of need.
For some of you, Kathy was all these things and so much more. She was an extension of your families, eating at your table, playing with your grand kids.
For my Grandmother Ruth, Kathy was a daughter. Her only daughter. Two women in a house full of men. She was a lifeline and a caretaker and someone to pass the day with.
For my brother and I, Kathy was simply mom. Our relationship was never simple and sometimes not so easy. However, she always was and always will be our mom.
As a mother myself, I have learned a new respect for My Mom. Did you know Kathy took two children under the age of 4 and traveled internationally? She once drove down the East Coast, into Texas and back again on her own. She was the bravest mother I ever knew.
Growing up she was also ‘mom’ to all my friends. She was the one who managed to work full time, and still be the chaperone for every trip.
Yesterday, when I was looking in her calendar, I found fundraising tickets from two different school groups. She still was the Mom who never met a fundraiser she didn’t like.
She was very much like the turtles she collected. She could have a hard outer shell, underneath which beat a very tender and soft heart. She never was flashy and always made it to the finish line in good time.
Turtles can live for 100 years. Today, and I think for days to come, we would have wished for Kathy to have shared that trait.
She has left our lives. Her influence and care will never leave our hearts. I hope you know how much you all meant to her.
Richland Elementary School was her center, her reason to get up in the morning. She knew details about the children’s lives. She cared for them as if they were her own. She watched over staff, both old and new, to see what she could do to help them or keep them from messing things up too much. She would want me to thank you for being there in her times of need. She would want me to thank you for listening to stories of her grandsons over and over again with a smile. She would want me to thank Mr. Moran and Patti for giving her dignity and care following her last moments.
Grandma, she loved you very much. She wanted nothing more than to make your life easier, as she carried your burdens along with her own.
Michael and I want to thank you Mom, for being brave in these last months. Brave to reach out when it was hard. Brave to accept new beginnings and a new life. We thought we had time. Obviously, we did not.
She would be embarrassed by all the things said last night and today. She would have been overwhelmed by the attention. She would have preferred to hide in her shell and just be.
So, in closing, I would ask you a favor to honor her memory. As Michael and I ran out of time to hug our mother, take time today to hug those important to you. Call that parent you haven’t spoken to in too long. Reach out to that friend, child or co-worker. Do it today, as we have no promise of tomorrow.
And one final thing, every time you see a turtle. Think of the little lady with the big heart. Think of your friend. Ruth’s daughter and my mom, Kathy.
Thank you.

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