I had to ‘eugoogoolize’ at my mom’s memorial service and the only reason I’m putting this down here is so that I never ever lose it. I’ve already deleted (by accident) the document off my laptop and this morning I hit frantic panic levels when I thought I had lost the hard copy.
So, this is more for me than you, but please feel free to read it…
Sally Louise Westraat
17 April 1945 – until the end of time
“Of all the things I imagined I’d be doing today, none included me speaking at my mom’s memorial service. The last few days have been the darkest I have ever known, but also some of the best, because I’ve read and reread tributes to and about my mom, and I realize how very lucky I was to have someone like her in my corner.
I’ve been trying to hang onto every memory, every moment with Sally Louise. You have no idea how she hated me calling her that. I’ve tried to remember instances where her love was especially strong, her loyalty fierce and fearless. And I can’t think of one, because every moment with my mom, unknown to me until now, was exceptional.
Last week my world came crumbling down around me. My heart literally broke into a million pieces and the one person who would have made me feel better wasn’t there. Hearing ‘you mom’s dead’ is different to any other words you’ll ever hear. Those three tiny words are too bug to fit into your ears. No three words, no matter how quietly whispered, will ever be as loud. And the silence after will never be as deafening. In order for you to try and make sense of it all, you allow those three words, ‘your mom’s dead’, words that meant nothing a minute, an hour or day before, to swirl around in your head and as you try and make sense of them you realize they will never fit inside your brain. Those three small words split you down the middle, breaking you and your heart in two, and no amount of words will ever put you back together again.
In amongst the heartache and the absolute longing, I stand in front of you, proud to be called my mother’s daughter. I had no idea of the extent of my mom’s generosity and compassion. I never stood in awe of her love and care for others because she made it look effortless. She made me think the way she was is quite simply the way everyone is.
My mom was love. She protected and cared. My mom’s love never failed. My mom thought it would be nice to be important but more than that, she knew it was important to be nice.
There is a beautiful story, sent to me by a friend, which begins outside a “small snug house” where four children live with their beloved grandmother. Not wanting to scare the young ones, Death, who has come for the old lady, has left his scythe by the door. Immediately, in this small and enormously thoughtful gesture, we are introduced to Death’s unexpected tenderness.
Inside, he sits down at the kitchen table, where only the youngest of the kids, little Leah, dares look straight at him. To stall the inevitable, the children devise a plan — believing that Death only works at night, they decide to keep refilling his coffee cup until dawn comes, at which point he would have to leave without their grandmother. Again we are struck by the ordinariness of Death, for what can be more ordinary — and life-loving, even — than to enjoy a cup of coffee at the kitchen table?
But Death eventually curls his bony hand over the cup to signal that the time has come. Leah reaches her own tiny hand, taking his in hers, and beseeches him not to take their darling grandmother. Why, she insists, does grandma have to die?
Death is once more overcome with kindness and compassion for the children, so he decides to answer Leah’s question with a story, hoping it would help them understand why dying is natural and necessary.
He tells them of two brothers named Sorrow and Grief, who lived in a somber valley and went about their days “slowly and heavily” because they never looked up, because “they never saw through the shadows on the tops of the hills.” Beyond those shadows, Death tells the kids, lived two sisters, Joy and Delight.
Death tells the kids:
It is the same with life and death… What would life be worth if there were no death? Who would enjoy the sun if it never rained? Who would yearn for the day if there were no night?
Something difficult and beautiful has sunk in. When death finally gets up from the table to head upstairs, the youngest boy is moved to stop him — but his older brother puts a rueful hand on his shoulder and gently discourages him. Moments later, the children heard the upstairs window open. Then, in a voice somewhere between a cry and a whisper, Death said, “Fly, Soul. Fly, fly away.”
The curtains were blowing in the gentle morning breeze. Looking at the children, Death said quietly, “Cry, Heart, but never break. Let your tears of grief and sadness help begin new life.”
Then he was gone.
Ever after, whenever the children opened a window, they would think of their grandmother. And when the breeze caressed their faces, they could feel her touch.
From my mom to us all:
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well.
Mom, you always loved Winnie the Pooh and I think he said it best
How lucky I am to have [had] something that makes saying goodbye so hard