Remembering Mom

Eulogy for my mother, Patricia Ferne Gerhart Kane (September 10, 1929 – June 19, 2004). Originally delivered on Tuesday, June 29, 2004, at Glueckert Funeral Home, Arlington Heights, IL.

J1893x2386-06019My colleague tells a story of being in a cemetery one day and happening across a curious gravestone. The wind and rain worn away the name of the deceased and the dates, and what remained was an inscription: “She attended well and faithfully to a few worthy things.”

Such a suiting epitaph for my mother. Indeed, she attended well and faithfully to a few worthy things.

In our home, Mom will be remembered not for her cooking. Not until my first year in college did I discover that “well done” was her euphemism for “burnt,” and a world a spices and herbs beyond salt and pepper existed.

The basic salt and pepper, however, do hold a special memory for us. It was the impetus for the evening ritual of the nuptial notification. Each might, we ate dinner together. Following grace, Pop asked for the salt and pepper to be passed. Mom—with genuine surprise—would say how she forgot to put the shakers on the table. As she got up to get them, Pop chuckled while saying, “[x-number-of] years we have been married, Pat, and for [x-number-of] years we have yet to being dinner with salt and pepper on the table.”

My mother is remembered, instead, for her soul food. Twice a year, she had our teachers over for lunch at the 1217 South Patton Avenue home. (I sense this is how she was able to arrange those mini-birthday parties my brother and I celebrated in class—with homemade cup cakes for our classmates—during the Juliette Low school day!)

Throughout my brother’s and my childhood and adolescence, she and Pop attended all of our games, tournaments, recitals, and concerts. Though usually an unassuming presence, Mom’s sideline cheer, “Be there!” echoed throughout the gymnasiums and areas.

Special moments for me were when Pop cooked. Not so much because the steaks would be medium rare. Rather, Mom would play piano while I would accompany her on whatever musical instrument I was practicing at the time. Our favorite duet was to Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You,” which I was blessed to have sun with her one last time just hours before she died.

Family time was fundamental to her, and in turn, to us. After dinner, we had an hour of TV-time together. On weekends, we often danced in the living room. Doug and I learned the basic ballroom steps from our parents, as they did their award winning swing to “Mack the Knife” or something from the Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

At bedtime, the four of us lined up in a row to take the “Good Night Choo-Choo,” chugging our way upstairs. After brushing our teeth, Mom and Pop tucked us into bed. Even as we grew older, there were there as we said our prayers, then kissed us goodnight.

As young adults, our Christmas stockings were weighed down with a year’s worth of change she saved—nickels and dimes for Doug’s commute along the toll-roads, and quarters for my laundry. My mother was a thought and detailed C.H.O. (Chief Home Officer), making ours a stable home and family. In it, there was much love, fond memories and moments, and a lot of beige food.

Mom also tended well and faithfully to extended family and friends: attending church; sharing Thanksgivings and Christmases with the VanNests; her mother, Weezie, staying with us during the warmer months; visiting relatives for family vacations; attending her high school class reunion in Canton, IL, every five years.

Last week, I poured through thousands of photographs throughout her life, depicting various events with all of you. (And my, those big-hair days of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s were good to many of you!) The two constants were that (1) these photos were from some gathering and she was pictured with someone, and (2) except for three photos when her lips were pursed mid-sentence, she was smiling.

You loved her well, and brought her such joy and happiness. She, likewise, loved all of you.

Despite her protests otherwise, my mother was hilarious! Her subtle sense of humor remained with her to the end. Mom never had seen me in uniform, so just last week when I visited her in the hospital, I wore my dress whites. When I walked into the room, her face lit up. I thought to myself, “she must be thinking, “how proud I am of baby girl all grown up.” Instead, she asked, “when did you get married?”

A woman of faith, Mom remains my greatest spiritual teacher. “The Lord will provide,” she always said. Regardless of my vocation, it took until recently for me to live those words. During her last few years, with failing memory and tapering grasp of past and future, she achieved an ability to be wholly and completely in the present.

She delighted in the here and now of what was immediately before her. Her smile exuded such a love of life. May we be so blessed to someday know that inner peace and happiness.

While she was no saint, I liken my mother to Mother Teresa. Except for the bits about working with the poor, having a Nobel Prize, and my mom’s penchant for a 5:00 martini (vodka with a hint of vermouth and three olives—which she would lick before giving them to Doug, Godforbid he have a drop of alcohol before his 21st birthday), my mother was a caring and hospitable woman with a genuinely kind, glad, and extremely generous heart.

My mother was born on the eve of a day in modern history that haunts our memory. A “wake-up call” that leaves all of us, every day, standing in danger of being struck by something far worse than lightening. And lest, as my colleague cautions, yours or my obituary read, “She attended frantically and ineffectually to a great many unimportant, meaningless details,” I pray we remember my mother’s example, and attend well and faithfully to a few worthy things.

It is said that the only measure of our words and our deeds is the love we leave behind when we are done. Mom—as evidenced by this gathering, the flowers and cards sent, all who are with us here, those who are here in spirit—you are leaving a lot of love behind. Thank you.

And God, thank you for blessing us with her. Right now, I’m having a hard time smiling without her. Though I remain grateful for all the smiles we had graced by her song.

Before my ordination. (Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA. 03 May 1997.)