My mother’s eulogy. I’m posting it here in honor of all mothers everywhere.
Look at your hands — not the backs, but the palm-side. Do you notice the lines and whorls on the fingertips? Your fingerprints — think about them for a moment. Everywhere you go, you leave evidence of you’re having been there. On every object you touch you leave a mark — that object is no longer the way it was, but it has been changed. If you were to take a lump of clay and work it, it would be covered with your fingerprints. You could fashion it into a mug — a vessel to be filled with water for your thirst, or hot chocolate for your sweet tooth, or even paper clips for your desk; but whatever its ultimate calling, that mug would have your fingerprints hardened onto it forever.
Now look at my hands — not the palm-side, but the backs. Do you see the fingerprints? I’m serious — look on the backs. You can’t see them? How about on my arms? No? Look on my back then, there’s fingerprints there, too. Come on now, look closely. Look past the skin. Look deeper than the pores, the hair follicles, even deeper than the cells. Look deep, deep into my soul. Now you can see them: the fingerprints of my mom. Maternal fingerprints left on the clay of my very being as she fashioned me as a vessel to be filled with wisdom, knowledge, and talents for a yet unknown divine calling. Fingerprints left by the woman who sculpted me from my soft, pliable beginnings — training me, forming me, molding me. Fingerprints left as evidence of her love and care that will leave their mark on me forever.
Now let me look at you. Let me sprinkle your souls with dusting powder and examine the fingerprints you have there. Do you know what I see? Mostly I can see the fingerprints of God, and of your own mothers; but let me look a little closer at a few of them… Yes, just as I thought. I can also see a few of my mother’s fingerprints on you, too. Things she taught you. Ways she helped you. Kindnesses she showed you. Memories she left you. Evidences that she has been in your life as well. Marks that show she has touched you and you are no longer the same because of it. You have been changed. And those fingerprints will be there forever.
Many of you newer to our family didn’t often get to see my mother as she really was — as the master sculptor I remember. Years of fighting a debilitating phantasmic disease had taken its toll on her; she often just wasn’t herself. Medications, fatigue, pain, emotional scars: these tormentors had cast her into a deep, surrealistic pit from which she could find no escape, no matter how desperately she tried to claw her way up the walls. All that many of you knew was a stiff-jointed, stoop-shouldered quasi-centenarian — that wasn’t my mom. The dark circles under her eyes, the hollow eye-sockets, the slurred speech — that wasn’t my mom. Sometimes sharp, sometimes caustic, sometimes bitter — that definitely wasn’t my mom.
The mom that I remember was very kind and warm. If you had a problem, she rushed to your side to help in any way she could. Her love for children was unbounded. Her love for Jesus was profuse. She loved people; she loved learning. She loved it when the people she loved loved learning. If you needed a friend, you couldn’t find a more loyal friend than her… This is just a start of the way I remember my mother. These are some of the fingerprints I see on you, and on me.
Do you remember her smile? I do. Vividly. A broad explosion of brightness across her face accompanied with a breathy grunt of pleasure and a sparkle in her brown eyes. You couldn’t help but smile with her when you saw it. We didn’t see it as often in later years, but when we did, even the pain and tiredness couldn’t prevent the brightness form returning and the sparkle from shining again. The other day I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror when a smile spread across my face. I saw that same sparkle in my brown eyes. I heard that same grunt in my throat. I had found another fingerprint.
St. Augustine recognized the fingerprints of his mother on his soul. He said this: “It is to my mother that I owe everything. If I am thy child, O my God! it is because thou gavest me such a mother. If I prefer the truth to all things, it is the fruit of my mother’s teachings. If I did not long ago perish in sin and misery, it is because of the long and faithful years which she pleaded for me.” Even though Augustine deeply appreciated his mother, it wasn’t until her death that he fully realized the profundity of her sacrifices for him and impact on him. Upon her death he lamented his lack of showing her his appreciation: “O my God!” he cried out. “What comparison is there between the honor that I paid to her, and her slavery for me?”
It is perplexing how our appreciation for those we love grows most after they’re gone, but this is especially true of a son to his mother. I never knew this until recently. Nobody close to me could have taught me this; I’ve lost my mother before any of them did. I’ve lost my mother before my cousins lost theirs. I’ve lost my mother before any of my close friends lost theirs. I’ve even lost my mother before my father lost his! But I can now testify to the veracity of this aphorism: No one other than a motherless son can know the desolateness a motherless son feels. It doesn’t matter his age when she goes. Even if he were old and gray, he would still deeply feel the loss of that shelter and support and love which he had unwittingly been resting in. “Oh! if good mothers could only know how much they are doing for their children by their patient, long-suffering, gentle ways with them, and how sure these children are to see and feel that by and by, the saddest of them would be less sad and more hopeful, while toiling and enduring so faithfully, with perhaps apparently so slight a return.” Let me now exhort you to make today an important day in the resolve to show appreciation to your mother. I, for one, determine today to never again undervalue the imprints of my mother on my life.
Hmm. Important days. There’s something to ponder on. Feb 11th became a very important day in the eternal scope of my mother’s life. Feb 11th, 1945 — just fifty-six years ago. A day that fell shortly after her initial birth on January 30th — the day she changed from an un-named fetus into Nancy Schmitz, newly named citizen of America. Destined, like all of us, for a life full of heart-aches and heart-joys.
Feb 11th, 1963 — thirty-eight years ago. The day she chose for her “marital birth.” The day she changed from Nancy Schmitz into Nancy Clark, re-named citizen of the world, now doubly empowered through union with her awesome husband to fulfill a destiny which is, like with all couples, full of heart-rendings and heart-ecstasies.
Feb 11th, 2001 — just a few days ago. The day chosen for her “final birth.” Yes, I said her final “birth.” The day she changed from Nancy Clark, into Nancy of Eternity, God-named citizen of Heaven. Destined, like all believers in Jesus, for an eternity free from pain and full of joy.
Feb 11th. A day she chose, whether consciously or unconsciously, to be her day for the rites of passage in her eternal pilgrimage. Days of celebration, ceremony, and transition. The next time you look at your calendar, look closely at February 11th. You’ll see a fingerprint from my mom there.
When I was very young, I once told my mother that I didn’t want people to cry at my funeral. I wanted them to be happy for me. After all, I was now in an awesome place — Heaven. I wanted my funeral to be a celebration! But now that I am older, I can better understand the paradox of tears at a Christian funeral. Tears at a Christian funeral are a dialectic — a commingling of both tears of joy and tears of sorrow. Which does one choose? Sorrow for ourselves or rejoicing for her? I think she also, in accord with my childhood musings, would want us to focus on her joy. She is now with her beloved Jesus, face to face. She’s not tired anymore. She’s not in pain anymore. She’s walking streets of gold with that wonderful smile permanently shining on her face., I can imagine her now walking the gilded pavement to her mother’s mansion for a “Welcome Home” tea party with her mother and her grandparents. They’ll probably all sit down for some long awaited tea, rivel-kuchen, and conversation. In fact, there’s another fingerprint in me — I loved Grandma Rachel’s rivel-kuchen just as much as she.
Let me finish up by examining the last fingerprint my mom left on me. She left it last Sunday morning after Beth, my wife, called me at work with the sad news. This fingerprint is larger than the rest with deeper ridges and more distinct whorls. It’s a fingerprint hardened by the realization of human mortality and the brevity of life. This fingerprint has a good, strong name, and its name is: Family Bond. If I were to have one prayer granted today, it would be that my mother’s rite of passage from Earth into Heaven would be profoundly efficacious rather that just another passing vanity. I would pray that the cords that tie our family together , as strong as they are now, would be thickened to an unfathomable strength. That we would learn to lay aside our obscenely busy schedules and take more time to call, or write, or visit. That each one of us would learn to swallow our pride and conquer our fears in order to bravely be the one to initiate more contact with each other. That we would learn to forgive and forget any petty differences and past hurts that have been hindering us from developing deeper and more intimate relationships with each other. In other words, as the motif has been, that we would continue the work of my mother, imprinting our fingerprints on one another’s lives and souls as we draw closer together than we’ve ever been before. This is the fingerprint I want us to most notice.
Finally, let me share with you my goodbye to Mom. It has been said that “it is the best that is in a man that keeps him always in (a) childlikeness toward his loving mother.” And that “were it not for the power of a mother’s love, that best and truest wide of a man’s nature would never be developed.” Thank you, Mom, for bringing out the best in me. Your gentle sculpting, training, and molding has made me a vessel fit for my Master’s use. Au revoir, my dear mother, and felicitations. (Don’t listen to these words casually — I am choosing them carefully. “Au revoir” is French meaning “until we meet again,” and “felicitations” is a congratulatory benediction expressing joy and pleasure at another’s good fortune. So, without belaboring this self-explanatory point, let me say it again…) Au revoir, my dear mother, and felicitations. I will miss you, but I will think of you often. I will think of you every time I notice one of your fingerprints shining in the light of our souls.
Delivered on February 15, 2001.
“Fingerprints of God” is by Steven Curtis Chapman from the album Speechless, 1999.
Several quotes are from H. Clay Trumbull in Hints On Child Training (Eugene, Oregon: Great Expectations Book Co.).
Rivel-kuchen is a German coffeecake.
Names changed to protect family privacy.
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