Journal: A Time to Breathe

My eulogy for my mother at her memorial service today.

It feels like we’ve been holding our breath for a long time as we worried over our mother, grandma, sister, aunt, friend. We held our breath for test results, or for her to wake up for a short conversation. We held our breath with her every gasp of breath wondering if that breath was goodbye. We held our breath in hopes for some piece of good news that never came. Inside of one week the diagnosis from doctors told us she had six months, then a few months, then two weeks, and finally a few days. She passed the day we heard a few days.

On that Thursday, February 11 evening, at the time so close to her first breath in 1947, with family by her side she released her last. The news was suffocating. It took our breath away. We grieved and we will grieve. We miss her as we will continue to miss her. We loved her as we will continue to love her. Yes, it feels like we’ve been holding our breath for a very long time.

Mom always found a way to make us breathe, I remember in our younger years, Chris and I loved her apple turnovers. But we always fought over them because each of us wanted the turnover with the most icing. This happened several times. The next time she made her apple turnovers Chris and I ran to the kitchen, probably ready to argue over which one would be ours. She had a surprise for us. She’d written our names with the icing. I, being me, noticed that Chris had five letters while Jeff had only four. Our mother picked up the remaining icing and added an exclamation point to my name. She made us breathe. She did it every day.

Even in the hospital, fully aware of her own mortality, she made us breath.

One evening her male nurse was checking her vitals. With one hand on her wrist, and his other extended to read his watch, my mother reached up with her free hand and began to stroke his extended forearm. “Ma, what are you doing”, we all seemed to ask in unison. Her answer, “I thought he might have an itch”.

Or the female nurse who tested her cognitive functions with a series of questions. “Do you know your name”, she asked. “Yes, Norma”, my mother answered. “Do you know where you are”, the nurse asked. “No”, my mother answered. Then said, “just kidding I’m in the hospital.” 

Her greatest gift to all of us was her love. Caring for people she loved was her core and she put them before herself time and time again. 

People having asked me how I’m doing. Am I ok? I tell them yes. Not sure if they believe me. I am. I am because the most important lesson my mother ever taught me was to breathe. 

My 15 year old niece, Megan, has the sweetest, most important memory of her grandma. That Thursday evening Megan, and the other kids were leaving for the evening. Holding her grandma’s hand Megan told her grandma that she loved her. Her grandma replied “I love you too, sweetie”. Her grandma’s last words to her were “I love you too, sweetie”. Are there any more precious last words to hear?

She loved all her grandchildren: Matthew, Jennifer, Michael, and Megan. They each have wonderful memories of their G-Ma.

That’s what today is all about, a celebration of her life. We know that the pain is behind her and that she’s at peace. We know that the moment she exhaled her last breath here, she inhaled the blessed new life in the ever loving presence of God. We know that her quick passing, though so very painful to us, was really a gift from our merciful Lord. We know she loves us still. We know we still love her.

We’ve been waiting a long time to exhale. Today is another gift from my mother; her wish for us. Today is our time to breathe. 


12 thoughts on “Journal: A Time to Breathe

  1. J. Alexander B., I loved our mom very much and think back to all those years ago… The sleepovers, the watching of MASH & Carson, the rants of John, the phone call I made to her after Lennon & many more. She was always so kind, motherly & respectful – even when I was a small child… She will forever be greatly missed. My heart goes out to you and little Chris.

    Love you, my brother – she raised you well.



    1. Chris, you and I are perhaps the only people outside her brothers and sister to fully appreciate her and understand the depth of emotion her passing brings. She always asked about you and delighted when things were well, and concerned when they weren’t. So many wonderful memories we share.
      I love you, my brother.

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