EULOGY

EULOGY

This journey—life, letting go, and death—is one of discovering what we know, and what we don’t know. I want to begin by sharing a few Facebook posts I wrote, about my mom:

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The judgment poured thick through the phone.

“You did what? What is that?

You took her all the way to Dallas?” The Hospice nurse asked incredulously. 

I could hear her eyes roll through the phone.

Today is my mom’s 82nd, and final, birthday.

What the judgy (but also incredibly efficient) Hospice nurse doesn’t realize is that I have had a lifetime of conversations, with my mother, about color and art and beauty.

Those are important things, my mom would say, that help to create a life. 

And while my mom is clearly dying, she is also still living.

So we loaded up and went to VAN GOGH: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE where we were surrounded by music, light, dimension, and history. 

“Look at the wall, Jojo. It’s beautiful,” my son said.

My mom has an unmatched gift for covering walls with random artwork and making it look like they were created to go together. Spending her birthday celebrating art makes so much sense.

When my mom was (mis)diagnosed with ALS in 2017, she wasn’t sure she would make it to her next birthday. “This isn’t it, Jojo,” I told her. “I mean take the medicine, because I am not a doctor, but I am not convinced.”

We traveled tens of thousands of miles, she and I, chasing hope, and have spent ten times that amount trying to find not yet discovered answers.

My Dad funded a research study we knew wouldn’t be fast enough for us.

Brutal diseases beat even the most determined into submission, and Progressive Supranuclear Palsy has done that to us. “I am so, so sorry, Mom, but I am out of ideas,” I tell her. “You have people who love you here on earth, and people who love you in heaven. No matter what, you are loved.”

The book of Job tells us that our days are numbered by the Lord; With each day that passes, my mom’s number eeks closer. 

So whether the Hospice nurse understands and approves or not, we will fill her days with beauty.

And the other thing that nurse does not know is this: I am my mother’s daughter. I will do what I damn well please.

***************************************AND*******************

I know it’s preposterous to say that I am stunned, but that’s exactly how I feel.

My brilliant, valiant, warrior of a mother went home to heaven on Sunday, September 12th.

I thought we had a few days more.

The resilience my mom has shown over the course of her life is remarkable. The resilience she showed facing death unparalleled.

“You have had such a great life,” I reminded her. “The day after your 40th-anniversary party you told me that if you died then, you had all you could have wanted. That was 17 years ago. 

You have done well.”

She has kids who love her, grandkids who think she hung the moon, and great-grandkids that will hear all the stories.

I always say recovery is part of the fabric of my children’s lives because they each attended countless AA meetings with their Jojo. They met the people. They smelled the coffee and cigarettes. They listened to discussions of life, lived one day at a time.

She helped countless people learn a sober way to live.

My mom was an avid shopper. Under the Christmas tree always looked ridiculous once Jojo showed up with her presents.

She loved clothes and shoes.

She was remarkably healthy except for one terrible disease.

She tried nearly every crazy therapy I brought her way to fight a disease with no cure. Except the hyperbaric oxygen chamber–that was a “no”. She was claustrophobic.

She was a reader and a book buyer. There were thousands of books in her home. She was so smart. 

She and my Dad traveled the world with retired judges. They traveled the country with their animals in a fifth wheel. They spent weeks in Hawaii in a time share.

She had a wonderful life.

She died peacefully in her sleep. 

We made it through a patch several weeks ago when she was in pain and anxious. Once we got over the hump, we got back to all the crazy oils, and lotions, and crock pots full of warm washcloths and my mom died both comfortable and virtually medication-free.

We honored her decades-long journey of sobriety.

We surrounded her with caregivers who loved her. 

Every night my son would help her over to see my Dad, and he would kiss her goodnight and tell her he loved her.

While I was in church yesterday, praying for my mom and listening to a sermon about heaven, my mom was getting ready to go…

The last words I said to her the day before were, “I’ll see you tomorrow Jojo. I love you. I know you know how much I love you.”

For whatever reason, we never really talked that much about my mom’s life as a child. There really is so much that we don’t know, but my Uncle David has been kind enough to help fill in the gaps.

Lora Jo Kuether was born on September 1, 1939, in Chillicothe, Ohio. This is one of the first things I did not know. The gentleman at the funeral home asked me, “Chillicothe. How do you spell that?”

“Ummm…I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

My mom always reminded us that September 1, 1939, was also the day that Hitler marched into Poland…so life for everyone on the planet was eventually impacted by the day my mom was born.

Her family then moved to Pelham, New York, where my mom grew up. She had one older sister and two younger brothers. They lived on a dead end street where they played ball into the night using manhole covers as first, second, and third base. Her Dad would holler, “Joey, Butch, Davy NOW!!” When it was time to go in.

When my mom was in junior high and high school she’d roll back the rugs in the living room and host sock hops. She was a cheerleader. She played on the LaCrosse team. She’d walk to church on Sundays with her mom—her Dad was already there because he was a Presbyterian Minister.

What I didn’t know until recently was that HIS dad was also a Presbyterian Minister…a respect worthy line of people who served the Lord.

When my mom was 12, her parents purchased a 21ish acre lot on Livingston Rd in Laconia, New Hampshire. It had a two room cabin, kerosine stove, and a well in the back. There was no running water. My Grandma Rithy named it “Hi Larkin”.

Her Dad bought a tent to put in the back where the kids slept on old army cots. Her brothers slept in the tent for much longer than my mom, who eventually joined her sister Annie and worked as a chamber maid at the Wicwas Lodge, where they got free room and board.

My grandparents made everyone work on that cottage to make it livable. They nailed floors and walls and dug a cesspool and well. That home stayed in the family until after my grandmother passed away and my parents bought it. And the grandkids would tell you the upstairs was not as livable as they professed, with the tilted walkway that you needed to traverse to get to the upstairs bedrooms. 

In her final years, my grandmother was forbidden to go upstairs. Safety first.

After being tenderly and generously cared for by my uncle and aunt, my grandmother, too, peacefully passed away in that home, while my mom was on a plane to be by her side. Now she is by her side. I’m sure they are still talking and laughing together.

Hi Larkin burned down years later.

My mom went to Wilson College in Chambersberg, Pennsylvania, where she received her Liberal Arts degree.

After graduating from college she spent a year abroad in the Netherlands. When her parents and brother visited her there, her Dad bought a red Volkswagen that they drove around Europe in.

My mom named the car “Rubin” which meant RED in German.

She lived in the Netherlands with her best friend Kitty, who was originally from California, so when they finished their time abroad they moved to San Francisco, where my mom met my Dad—a law student at Cal State Berkeley.

They married in the spring of 1964, and soon moved to the Central Coast. My dad was first an attorney at Bill Wright’s law firm until he was appointed to the Judicial Court by then Governor, Ronald Reagan.

Meanwhile my parents were growing their family first with their son, Glenn, then daughter April, and third and final me. Three kids under the age of 5.

They were crazy.

Our childhood was full of books. Their home literally had thousands of books in it, and their decor was centered around custom made bookshelves. The Pokey Little Puppy; The Tawny Scrawny Lion; The Bad Children’s Book were all read time after time after time.

She was creative. She wrapped presents in the cartoon section of the newspaper tied up with string. We made God’s Eyes with sticks from the oak trees in the yard and colored yarn. We learned how to paper mache.

She loved laughter.

I remember Saturday mornings when we were supposed to be doing chores and my brother would be laying on the living room floor watching the THREE STOOGES. My mom would let him slide from working because she just loved to listen to the sound of his laughter. His laughing filled her with joy.

She was outspoken. When my sister, who was a gifted athlete, would make a great play in the field, my mom would holler from the stands, “NOW YOU GET DINNER.” I didn’t know that my mom’s love of watching my sister play sports was, in part, because she was a gifted athlete herself.

My athletic skills are more like my father’s.

She volunteered in the classroom and corrected the teacher’s grammar. “ALOT” is not one word, it’s two. “LETS” needs an apostrophe every time.

She was a stickler for proper English. While at the dinner table, if one of us kids asked her to “Please pass down the milk,” she’d put it on the floor.

There. It’s down. We were proud of ourselves for remembering the please. 

When we were all teenagers, my mom went back to school and got her teaching credential and master’s degree in English. 

She was so smart.

In 1983, after an intervention planned by my father, my mom went to a recovery program at Cottage Hospital  in Santa Barbara to deal with her addiction to alcohol. There she learned the fundamental basics of living ONE DAY AT A TIME…she became an active member of the Alcoholics Anonymous community, known as AA.

My mom, however, really needed a group that was just called “A”. I mean, when the queen of oversharing joins an organization based on anonymity it is problematic.

All three of us kids have memories of saying, “Moooommmm, the person behind you in line at Cornet’s doesn’t care that you are a recovering alcoholic.”

She overshared all the time…I remember after one of my brother’s little league games, at Shakey’s pizza, my mom telling all the other parents exactly who my sister and I had crushes on.

I didn’t know then how much I would simply miss the sound of her voice, even if it was oversharing.

In 1991, my parents moved to Marin County where my father became the special master to the courts for Buck Charitable Trust. My mom plugged in to AA there, volunteered, and worked with the aging population highlighting available community resources.

Long after the desire to drink had stopped, she kept showing up to meetings. “Some one was here when I first came,” she’d say. 

But my mom’s real zest for life sort of began with becoming a grandmother. “JOJO” was her name, and grandkids were her fame.

She once gave me a card that said, “Perfect love sometimes doesn’t start until the first grandchild.”

She took them all to AA meetings. She went to dance recitals and ball games and birthday parties. She showed them how to compost. She let them stay at her house when they needed to. She taught them how to make a hospital corner on a bed.

She bought a ridiculous number of Christmas presents. 

She and my Dad moved back to the Central Coast. 

They traveled in their 5th Wheel, so they could take their animals with them.

They traveled the world with retired judges going to Alaska, and Cuba, and Europe. 

Then they’d come home and invite everyone over and bbq ribs and steaks and before every meal they would lift their glasses in gratitude, toasting the blessing of their lives.

Years later my mom would say that was an important ritual because she could feel things starting to go awry, and she wanted to live one day at a time, grateful. 

She loved adventure. She asked my brother to take her for a ride on his Harley, and he happily obliged. She and my husband began a tradition where he would take her flying in his plane every year on her birthday.

After we moved to Texas, Carl took it upon himself, each year, to take her to her AA birthday meeting where she’d get her chip and he’d eat cake. Once she lost the ability to speak, Carl would share and tell the community all about her beautiful journey of sobriety. 

In a gathering like this, where the statistics are clear that someone here is struggling with some kind of addiction, I know my mom would want you to know that 90 meetings in 90 days can change a life. She would tell you that you, too, can have a beautiful and vibrant and sober life.  

She believed that to core of who she was. 

She believed that you could trust the process.

That when things get chaotic you should get really still. 

That you could take a trip not taking a trip.

That bad things that happen are just AFGO’s. 

That the old timers had a lot to offer. 

That whether the disease is addiction or Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, living one day at a time is the only rational solution.

But the blessing of recovery inevitably follows the burden of disease. Our own personal and family dysfunctions color the lenses through which we see the world.

One of the things I did not know until I put together the slide show we are about to see was this: MY MOM WAS BEAUTIFUL.

I spent my entire life not seeing it. I knew she was smart and funny and loyal and fierce, but somehow I didn’t see this. I don’t know how I missed it. 

My prayer is that we all leave today just a bit more in tune with the abundant beauty that surrounds us…able to see clearly, as I see in the slide show, that things we perhaps have looked past for a lifetime, are here and waiting to be enjoyed. 

May…LOTS of Somethings

My online friend Heather hosts a monthly link up, helping us to gather our thoughts, remember, and (for me evaluate) something loved, something read, something treasured, and something ahead.

I have participated almost every month in 2021…which is stunning. I find that I am very grateful for the moments of pause it requires…the chance to think about what I want my life to actually be. I am grateful to you, Heather.

May was a full and wonderful month.

SOMETHING LOVED

I am in a season I refer to as STUPID SELF CARE. I call it that, tongue in cheek, because I am naturally a person that would rather avoid all that “nonsense”. I would prefer to just gut out the hard times and move on.

But that is not how life works. Also, as my kids are engaging in the world as adults, I find I really want them to practice good self care, so I have to act as though it matters. And, as it turns out, it does actually matter.

In that spirit, because this season with my parents is HARD–not just for me but also for the people who care for them day in and day out–I hosted a SPA/SELF CARE DAY for my parents’ caregivers.

I coordinated with the establishment where I do yoga and counseling. We had a custom Restorative Yoga session, then each woman received a one hour massage and 1/2 hour NuCalm session.

I had food and drinks and gifts set up for them to enjoy in between sessions.

Living Well has a lovely pool area where we hung out, soaking in the beauty.

One precious woman told me, “This was the very best day of my life.”

Here’s the thing: I suspected that if I handed out gift certificates many would go unused.

Caregiving is hard and holy work, and the kind of people who do caregiving are often the kind of people who put themselves last. That practice (of putting yourself last) is actually not in my parents’ best interest, I explained.

“I cannot offer you job security,” I confessed. “My parents are old and ill. But I can promise to appreciate you while we are in this together.”

I could offer it to them because I was familiar with the location by practicing self care myself. I loved this day. It was a wise thing to do for my parents, because taking care of the people who take care of them makes for much better days for everyone.

SOMETHING READ

May was a good “reading” month. On Audio I finished Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It, which I absolutely loved. Ryan and I also finished a couple of Penderwick stories…getting her to appreciate audiobooks as much as I do is a process that is not going as well as I would like.

In addition to these, I also read Matthew McConaughey’s Greenlights, which was very entertaining.

The format for The Dept. of Speculation was wonderful. Was it a novel? Is it her memoir? I am not exactly certain.

That Sounds Fun, by Annie F. Downs was okay. It’s a very easy read with some great parts, but I didn’t necessarily leave the book dying to dig in to All Things Annie F., if you know what I mean.

I always love Lysa TerkHeurst, but my by far favorite was Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, by Lori Gottlieb. When she wrote, “Yes, I’m seeking objectivity, but only because I think objectivity will rule in my favor,” on page 38, I was a fan for life.

By the time I reached page 70, I ordered a copy for a dear friend in California, and had it shipped to her. It is incredibly entertaining with great nuggets of wisdom tucked in.

Something Treasured

This is an easy one: My mother/daughter trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama.

In my prayer journal I often beg the Lord to help me create a life I love, in the midst of the life I have.

Reagan was at a new school, with a new major (hopping from a writing major to a Biology major/Chemistry minor at a school 5 times the size of her first college is not for the faint of heart), in the middle of a global pandemic, with a huge class load. It was the toughest semester she’d ever had.

Because I am in the aforementioned Stupid Self Care Season, I told her that when one is in the midst of a temporarily stressful time, it is wise to schedule in a break. “Help yourself recover,” I told her.

Sun, sand, and good food are helpful in that quest. I wanted to try someplace we had never been before, so Gulf Shores got the nod. Reagan flew from Vermont to Pensacola, and I drove to pick her up so we could spend a few days together.

We went on a dolphin watching cruise.

She told me she has taken to bird watching and has an app on her phone which helps her identify species and keep count of sightings. So, I handed her my camera, and told her to have fun.

Everywhere we ate had delicious food. We devoured peach French toast and Eggs Benedict; Burgers, fries and milkshakes; delicious steaks and scrumptious seafood. She can get on the thin side when she’s stressed, so I loved feeding her whatever she wanted.

We read books, rested, and talked.

I think she is so beautiful.

I treasured every single minute.

Something Ahead

Summer.

It’s my very favorite. I will keep homeschooling because it is going well, but the afternoons at the pool and FINALLY trekking to the water park are always a delight.

We are visiting a local town for the 4th of July, which we are looking forward to, and I am meeting my BREAKFAST CLUB friends from California in Ft. Lauderdale soon after.

And I look forward to reflecting on my Four Somethings in June, grateful for the opportunity to do so.

Marching Four-Ward

Ohhhh…Bless Heather for her diligence and faithfulness. Each month she hosts a link-up highlighting Four Somethings: Something loved; Something Read; Something Treasured; Something Ahead. It’s a great writing exercise, and a kind-of center base for life. Taking the time to reflect is always a good practice…

Something Loved

Can we chat for a minute? I mean really, as though we were having coffee together.

This month I have loved good counseling. I found a delightful woman to spend an hour with each week, and an insightful gentleman to spend an hour with my hubby and me each week.

We have a lot on our plates. Many, many (most) couples with special needs kids don’t make it. Our daughter is an utter delight, but she definitely has special needs.

My mom has a terrible disease. In the various online forums for people with the disease, or with family members who have the disease, there is a lot of talk about assisted suicide. It’s that kind of a diagnosis. My dad is not the man he once was, and falls all the time. Last week, after having already been to the ER or doctor’s appointments on 4 separate days and not wanting to go again, I let him shout as I pulled staples, from his last fall, out of his head. I gently tugged out fifteen staples in total, with only 4 good yells. That was not a bad ratio.

***Several months ago I had to take my mother and father to the doctor’s office because they each had staples that needed to be taken out. We are very well known in the doctor’s office so it was no real surprise when the Physician’s Assistant looked at me, handed me the staple remover, and said, “You really should have one of your own.”

All that to say, this gal needs help. And counseling is a really good idea.

Something Read (Or, in this case, Said)

Several of the other joiners in Four Somethings are prolific readers. They inspire me to read more…next month.

I started The Road Back To You and Searching for Sunday but haven’t finished either.

I had a friend message me on Facebook, looking for help. He has a precious young (kind of like a) daughter, who struggles with the role of women to submit, and asked if I could help talk to her about it. I am always happy to try, knowing I may fail. I will write much, much, MUCH more about this in the future, but this is what I said:

We have done society an enormous disservice by centering this conversation around the woman’s obligation to submit when the heart of it succeeding is the responsibility of the man to serve and lead. In the two primary places this is discussed–the home and the church–if the man is fulfilling his obligation before the Lord, the context is far less controversial.

If a robber comes into a home with one bullet in the gun, it the husband/father’s responsibility to take the bullet. The “submissive” act is to stand behind him and allow him to honor his responsibility (to lay down his life for his family) before the Lord, as the leader of the family. In God’s formula, the husband always looks to his family’s best interests first. Submitting to the best interests of everyone involved is not an act of weakness, or being less than…

Just because many most men are failing at this, it does not mean God got the formula wrong or we have somehow misunderstood. It just means men can be dumb.

And this is why I need counseling…I, too, have some heart issues that need hammering out.

Something Treasured

Good caregivers.

I cannot say enough. 2021 got off to a really rough start caregiving wise.

My son moved from Virginia to East Texas to help, and I could not have gotten through without him. We have used 3 different companies since December 1st: One I fired. One dropped us. And one still remains. (I feel like the Goldilocks of daughters…”Too hot!” “Too cold!” “Just right!”)

I hired several private caregivers I thought would be wonderful and they, too, are gone. My parents are a LOT of work, but I am happy to say, now I think we’ve got it! In addition to the 24-hour care they require, I have people for saunas, showers, massages, exercise, outings, trips to the fitness center, and house cleaners. We are planning outings and hoping for improvements. I am so, so grateful. (And grateful my parents did well financially so I can pay for it all.)

For those of you in this season of life, or heading into this season of life, I humbly acknowledge that there are family members genuinely dissatisfied with the care my parents have. They regularly share their dissatisfaction. “[This person] clearly thinks they (my parents) are being mistreated,” is something I have heard several times. There are seasons in life when knowing you are doing your very best before the Lord is enough, and other people’s opinions can’t register.

That is also something I treasure.

Something Ahead

Well…getting more centered in my own life feels like it is on the horizon.

I now have quartz countertops, which makes my kitchen functional! I am cleaning more, homeschooling better, getting the right help in several areas, and summer (my favorite season) is coming.

There is hope. And a lot, a lot, A LOT of work to get there.

5 Reasons to Thank You on Father’s Day

5 Reasons to Thank You on Father’s Day

Not everyone would want our life. I am certain we are not the envy of many.

But I wouldn’t trade it.

The years together have softened us. Our mid sections are reflections of our souls…a bit gentler to the touch.

The days of our lives in this particular season are indelibly marked by being a parent and having parents; therapies and home schooling of our kids, memory care units and bridge games with our parents define much of our priority list. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else. Again I am linking up with the spectacular Kelly at Mrs. Disciple to chat about Father’s Day…

Thank you for living life knowing church wasn’t a question, but a fact. I can count on one hand the number of times in the last decade we have missed church for no reason. We may not do as many sappy, devotions around the table, missions trips as a family as I imagine perfect families do, but our life is anchored by faith. Our kids know it. They have spent their entire lives watching us live life with Jesus with imperfect consistency. No matter what they choose as adults, they know what is true for us because they have seen it.

Thank you for believing in stay home moms. We have made enormous financial sacrifices over the years and our non-existent savings account is meager, but life with a special needs child and teenager requires presence. You have given that to us. Your hard work and creativity have served us well. I am so grateful for the hours and hours of quiet and crazy time that have been invested in our kids.

Thank you for being a dreamer. I am so sorry I am not always a great sport about it, but watching our teenager develop a passion for becoming a pilot (like you)–seeing her confidence blossom as she gains this incredible skill–is a direct reflection of you tenaciously holding onto your dreams when the odds (and your wife’s patience) were stacked against you.

Thank you for being the example to your kids. You can fix anything. You can figure it all out. You create solutions from scratch when there are problems to be solved. I ached with pride when our son explained why he was taking a semester off of school to work construction. “I want to be like Dad,” he said. “I want to have rentals someday, and know I can fix anything that goes wrong.” Yep. That is just like your father.

Thank you for helping me keep things simple. I often say I married my boundaries. That is true. Without you, my life would be a chaotic jumble of exhaustion. I would not see the difference between problems I can and cannot fix; nor would I respect as deeply that people make their own choices. You helped me channel that side of me into a productive and thriving ministry. Without you, there would be no Brighten A Corner Ministry.

Don’t ever let the lists I make and plans I write out make you feel as though today isn’t a gift. It is. Our life is sticky and messy and complicated but we are owning this thing together, you and I. We fight less. We hold hands more. When the wheels come off the bus, as they inevitably will, we can get them back on faster…and doggone it if it doesn’t sometimes make things EVEN BETTER than they were before.

Do you know how lucky that makes us?

Yeah. I know. We don’t believe in luck. Even though I run a ministry and teach Bible Study, and you have gone to more Lutheran camps than you can count and make sure we never miss church, we have never become people for whom the word blessed  rolls off our tongues. If we do, indeed, move to the south in a few years, that might need to change. But for now, I’ll just call us lucky.