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A Talk For My Mother

A few years ago, Mom announced that she didn’t want any laughter at her funeral.  I was a little puzzled by this. I’ve never been very good at the no laughter thing, so this seemed a little odd to me. Did she intend for everyone to wear black, for the ladies to pull dramatic black veils over their faces and for everyone to speak in hushed tones and suppress gentle sobs? Did she mean that she didn’t want any cute memories or familial anecdotes shared over the pulpit?  Whatever she meant, I don’t want to anger her and pay the price for the rest of my natural life by being haunted by my good mother. And so, after much consideration–and just to be safe–I have decided to make a list of the things that I won’t share with you.

I won’t share anything about the time she showed up to pick me up from Eisenhower Jr. High having dyed her prematurely graying hair JET BLACK.  I took one look at her and hid on the floor of the passenger side of the car all the way home. It wasn’t until we were safely in our house and out of the eyeshot of my jr high friends that I stopped to reminisce that her head reminded me of a black olive.  I loved black olives. I just didn’t love that my mother resembled one. She had to get her hair stripped to get the black out and she never ever attempted that again.

I certainly am not going to mention the “Pink Weenie Soup” incident.  I won’t tell you about the memory I have of chunks of potato, canned green beans, and Bar-S Hot Dogs bobbing, ever so gently, in a creamy pink broth.  The broth was pink because she used ketchup to flavor it. I remember the giggles and chatter around the table as the buzz about our new dinner dish was realized.   I’m not sure where that ingenious culinary idea came from but it only made a tabletop appearance once, maybe twice. Which was fine by me.

Don’t ask me to breathe a word about her Pepsi addiction.  She hated Diet Pepsi and I am convinced that even though she was supposed to drink Diet Pepsi, she put the full strength, sugared Pepsi in her glass and claimed it was diet.

If you expect me to get up here and spill the beans about how I used to think she was a neighborhood vigilante when I was in elementary school, you might be disappointed. I won’t tell you about a certain time when she was very alert of what was going on in the neighborhood–especially on Rocky Road–and she called the police about a car suspiciously parked at the bottom of our or street.  This car had a drunk kid in it, passed out and sitting in his car right next to Sudweeks’ wall. I thought he was dead, but he was just severely inebriated. Mom had called the cops on him and my sister, Leslie, who was arriving home later than she said she would, rounded the corner to see all of the police lights blazing. I’m told that she thought her life was over–that Mom had called the police because she was late.  Fortunately, in all of the excitement, Mom had forgotten about Leslie’s curfew. That, my friends, was one of the luckiest days in Leslie’s life.

There are so many things that I could tell you about if I didn’t have to make sure there was no laughter at this funeral: Mom waiting in the dark in the front room to scare-confront us as we walked in the house when we came home late from dates.  Mom and Dad actually tracking me down on a date when I was (innocently) parked in a car with a boy. Seeing those headlights made me sick to my stomach. (I can still feel it now as I talk about it.) The time she ate a Baby Ruth candy bar with weevils in it because I was too little to know what weevils were.  I saw them there–I just didn’t say anything. Her fiery attitude very often times earned her some merciless teasing and pranks from us. I used to just say things simply to get her all worked up…and I secretly loved knowing that I had that power. She’s going to miss that teasing while we are separated, I’m sure. All of these moments, these memories, plus so many more, that are just waiting to be shared.  I have been told that there are two kinds of funeral stories: The kind that you share over the pulpit in a church service and the kind that you share in the parking lot afterward. Hit me up later if you would like. 

The most important things I want you to know about my Mother are the things that probably wouldn’t make you laugh. 

I will eagerly tell you that Mom was a generous soul who loved to serve and give.  She and Dad would give you the shirts off their backs if need be. There are many times she would donate her time and her talents for the good of causes.  PTA, church callings, Election Judging, and serving an LDS service mission at the Joseph Smith Building for almost 10 years are all things that come to mind.  She was concerned about being a good citizen and one of the greatest motherhood reminders she ever gave me was “Remember–you are raising little citizens. They are learning how to be functioning human beings from you.”  I won’t second guess why she told me that.

You should know that up until the very end, one of her greatest joys was making her home, our home, clean and beautiful.  She loved to scout through magazines and plan her next aesthetic improvement. Everywhere she went she worked intentionally to improve her surroundings and make them pleasurable for others. She was talented in so many ways and never hesitated to use those talents.  From floral arranging to ceramics to yard work, she wanted to bring beauty to the world…to make it a better place. Even as her dementia was slowly taking her from us she would always take note of her surroundings with a careful eye. Mom was a doer and she believed that everything could and should be made beautiful.  Not everyone “gets” it, but she sure did.

She was a good example of faithfulness to me.  Her decisions and reactions were based on her strong religious convictions and I don’t remember her ever wavering.  She had the gift of obedience (which none of her children had, she would tell you) and was able to just believe and follow something without any kind of ulterior motive.  Through the trials in her life, she would push forward and keep standing firm in what she knew to be true. That is a gift.

The start of Mom’s life was rocky.  She was the oldest of 3 girls in an environment that wasn’t suitable for children.  At a very young age–around the time she was 4–she began caring for her younger sisters because her mother wasn’t “mothering” them at all.  She hesitated to share a lot of her experiences with us but told us enough that we were able to understand her inner drive for love, for family and for safety.  She became a foster child at the age of 6 and through her foster family, the Parkes family, she was introduced to a sense of normalcy, family life, security and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  She, then, was influential in my father being baptized when he was 18 years old. Unknowingly, she was laying the foundation of our family. This was the foundation of being good human beings, of loving each other and those around us, of living honest lives and believing in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  We always knew that we were important to her and that our spouses and children were important to her. She lived to love us. She was the glue. 

I have been so thankful for the time I was able to sit by her bedside as she was in the process of dying.  Just watching her breathe and letting myself feel and acknowledge the things for her that I had never processed before was a sacred time for me.   The veil was thin and I could feel it. The spirit taught me things about her that I wouldn’t have been able to learn or otherwise understand. I learned that her whole purpose for being was to be a wife and a mother.  That was all she ever wanted for herself. As a stubborn and independent kid, I would often misconstrue her mothering as “smothering”. Now I know that she loved me and wanted to keep me safe because of the early life experiences she had–or never had, as the case may be.  There was a method to the madness and a reason for her intensity. I felt very keenly that she did the very best that she could with her life and that her complete emotional and spiritual healing will happen for her in her newly found afterlife. Her mortal internal pains and fears will be taken away and she will be filled with understanding, patience, and peace for those burdens she quietly carried with her.

Brothers and Sisters, grief is for mortals. It keeps us grounded and the depth of it we can feel is in direct correlation to the amount of love and joy that we have experienced.   It is for those of us left behind when someone that we love leaves our realm. The temporal pain of knowing that she will not be with us as we live on this earth is what causes the dread of funerals and burials.  The eternal joy of understanding that she is happy and whole on the other side is what causes the joy of funerals and burials. I’m so, so thankful that I have a Mother that I can celebrate and mourn at the same time.  The Spirit has also testified to me that this bittersweet journey was brought into a glorious culmination when she experienced the reunion with those she loved so deeply that had passed on before her. I am grateful for that confirmation.  

Mom lived her life in such a way that I have the confidence to say that she is a daughter of Heavenly Parents who fulfilled what she was sent to do and did it beautifully.  I have felt, deeply, the love and pride that our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother have for Maureen Pearl Brown not only for who she was, but who she still is and who she will someday be.  I very much share in that love and pride along with Them. She is my mother and my friend. I will miss her.

Finally, I would like to share my testimony of Jesus Christ, the patterns of God and of the security and peace that comes from knowing and understanding that these principles are real.  All things are possible through Christ. The cycle of family life and the realization of eternal families are worthless without Him as our Savior and Redeemer. If we will look we will see His hands in our daily living and, so clearly, the fingerprints of our Heavenly Parents who are keeping their end of the promises they have made with us.  Living and dying are not by chance, they are divinely appointed situations that grow in meaning and beauty as we are able to see less of ourselves and more Diety in our experiences. I know we are loved and valued as children sent off on earthly missions–much like the pattern of sending our earthly children off on spiritual missions–and that one day we will return home and be able to joyously tell of our journeys…even if there is laughter.

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