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.)

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Remembering Pop

Eulogy for my father, Lester “Les” Eugene Kane (July 1, 1934 – January 15, 2015). Originally delivered on Saturday 07 February 2015 at Glueckert Funeral Home, Arlington Heights, IL.

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My father was hard-working yet easy-going, soft-spoken and an impeccable dresser, fastidious, witty, and handsome. He was born in 1934 in Fairfield, Iowa, the ninth of eleven children. He was referred to as “number 7,” though, since two of his siblings died shortly after their birth.

Pop claimed “little-to-no upbringing” and a “humbling” childhood that was a “lesson in survival”. His father, Earl, was a farmer and alcoholic. His mother, Hazel, was a woman he hardly recalled. His parents divorced when Pop was five (5) years old. Pop and his brother Lee (#6) became a Ward of the State, lived with various foster families, and later stayed with their older sisters and brother through high school and college.

Uncle Lee, who will speak in a moment, undoubtedly will regale us with stories of my father’s earliest years and their shared childhood tales. His humorous and optimistic spin on their adversity is a shared characteristic between him and my father. Yet, unlike Uncle Lee, getting Pop to talk—let alone share emotion—was a Herculean task. So my reflection here, in part, is a pieced together narrative from years of patient (perhaps annoying) prodding.

From 1953 to the mid-1980s, Pop’s late teen and adult years focused on family and career. Pop was an all-star athlete at Fairfield High School and was the third of the Kane brothers to hold the record for the mile. His was smitten with high school sweetheart, Mary Ann Balderson, and shortly after she graduated in 1954, they married and started a family. Speaking about the birth of his first child, Kathryn, in 1957, always brought a tear to his eye. He got equally teary eyed when speaking of his other two daughters, Kristin, born in 1959, and Susan, born in 1960. (In addition to my father not being overtly expressive, his tears were particularly telling since he lost one tear duct after dropping a drill in his eye.)

Before Susan’s birth, all of them moved to suburban Chicago for his job at Bell Telephone Company. That move, according to Pop, was the demise of their marriage—as was him being “from wrong side of the tracks.” By April 1961, his wife took their daughters back to Iowa, and they began divorce proceedings. Pop described that time and experience as his “great heartbreak,” forbade himself from saying anything more about that marriage and his daughters than “the facts,” and had little to no contact with any of them for most of the rest of their lives.

In May 1961, Pop attended a conference for Illinois Bell and, according to him, that “last thing on [his] mind was meeting someone.” At the company pool party, however, there was Pat Gerhart. They were brought together by “accident”—an accident. Pop dove off the diving board, hit the pool floor, broke his nose, and—struggling to the surface—he grabbed on to the first person he found, which turned out to be the woman who became my mother. His injury notwithstanding, Mom maintained she married Pop because he had “potential and a nice nose.” They married on June 8th, 1962—a date forever embedded in my brother’s and my mind, as you will come to understand.

During their first few years of marriage, my parents lived in suburban Chicago and cared for my mother’s nieces and nephew before having children of their own. My brother, Doug, was born in June 1965. I was conceived during the Blizzard of 1967 and born that November.

In 1970, my parents built a home here, in then the newly developing area of Arlington Heights, Illinois. Together they ensured Doug’s and my basic needs were met—as well as a few additional comforts. We had a cocker-poo dog, Patches (named because of his varicolored coat, though after 6 months turned completely white!), a 1973 Pontiac convertible, a batting-cage in the back yard (cause of the earlier mentioned drill accident), and most importantly, family time.

Be it one-on-one or all four of us together, family time was fundamental for Pop. For me, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with family-friends the VanNests are among the most memorable times. Even more memorable are our non-holiday evening meals. Not the beige food part of the family dinner, but the nightly ritual of my father announcing the length of my parents’ marriage. After the four of us said grace, Pop asked Mom to pass the salt and pepper. Mom, genuinely surprised she left the shakers on the stovetop, rose from the table to get them. Pop would then say, “x-number of years we’ve been married, Pat, and x-number of years we have yet to begin dinner with the salt and pepper on the table.” Every June 8th, the year count would increase.

Also fundamental was maintaining close ties with his eight surviving siblings. We made the biannual pilgrimage to southeastern Iowa to be with his brother and sisters, and the sundry in-laws, nieces, nephews, and cousins. And being a telephone executive, he was readily able to and regularly reached-out-and-touched each sibling by phone.

Pop was a devoted father. It still remains a wonder to Doug and me how, for 23 years, he managed to make the 25-mile train commute to and from downtown Chicago, have family dinner, coach Doug’s various sports teams, attend my various music recitals, and never miss an event!?

Nor did he miss a teaching moment. Doug will speak more about our father as coach. As for me, Pop made me his apprentice to his various home improvement projects, and taught me how to use a slide rule, a 3-sided architectural scale, and design templates. To this day, mechanical drawing remains one of my hobbies.

Pop also was fiercely protective. He joked to pull out the Voodoo doll if any boyfriend broke my heart. (We didn’t take him seriously until one day in high school when John Russell showed up to class with a broken leg.) And the only time my father did not spare this child the rod was when I sassed Mom.

Pop worked for Bell until the mid-1980s. In 1984, he was one of the “masterminds” behind the federally mandated break-up of the Bell Telephone monopoly, and promised “nice piece of the corporate pie.” That piece, instead, was a position doing the same thing he had been doing for the 23 years prior, despite a new title and higher salary. Pop thus opted to retire (for the first time) and venture into the new world of digital communications, which eventually brought him to work with former Soviet block governments to upgrade their World War II infrastructure. Pop thrived in this new frontier—and is quietly credited bringing the first cellular technology to Russia.

In the early 1990s, my parents moved to be closer to Mom’s mom and sister in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They bought a home in a quiet, upscale neighborhood where their big community excitement (apart from Mardi Gras) was the announcement of the most recent recipient for Garden of the Month. (Pop won on a few occasions.) Our speculations have never been confirmed or denied, though we believe at this time Pop worked for the CIA. Apart from his occasional, casual mention of being on Air Force One, there was the questionable drive-by shooting that occurred while he was working at his home office. [Maybe you in the back with the sunglasses and earpieces can help solve that mystery?]

Health issues were the theme in Pop’s Golden Years. In the late 1990s, he experienced kidney failure and underwent dialysis for a few years. On my 34th birthday, 2001, Doug donated Pop his kidney and gave all of us the gift of Pop’s life back. Both Kane men were more excited, though, about being roused out of post-operation sedation in time to see the Arizona Diamondbacks win their first World Series.

In 2002, Pop retired again (and for the last time) and my parents moved to a resort retirement community in Surprise, Arizona. They were close to Doug and finally able to live their retirement dreams of travel, leisure, and golf. Two days after moving, however, Mom got sick and Pop became her caretaker while she was in-and-out of the hospital for the next two-and-a-half years until her death in June 2004. A few weeks later was Pop’s 70th birthday. Feeling he had nothing to live for, Pop celebrated the occasion by throwing himself out of a plane skydiving!

Eventually he emerged from his grief (and insanity) to enjoy a few more years of good health and, finally, adventure with a new “lady friend,” Zakea. In 2012, once his health rapidly declined, however, he only was comforted by her memory, spending his waning days writing poetry about her—and the other loves of his life.

Pop died, as he lived: quietly, on his own terms, with a struggle, with integrity, and in the comfort of his own home just a stone’s throw from the 18th hole. In his final hours, the “great heartbreak” from his younger years was healed as his oldest three children from whom he’d been estranged most his life joined my brother at his bedside.

The death certificate said Pop died of heart failure. I think that’s inaccurate. He died from heart success—a heart so full it burst. His heart was filled with the love for all of us gathered here this afternoon, those who’ve gone before, those who are here in spirit, and a life well lived. Thank you who are here for being a part of his journey.

And thank you, Pop, for your elegance, endurance, life, and love. Though your light has been extinguished from this earthly realm, the sparkle in your eye, your adventurous spirit, gentle humor, and fidelity to family lives on in the hearts and minds of all those whose lives you touched and love you well.

I am comforted by an image that came to me in a dream shortly before Pop died: he was in a white dinner jacket, bow tie, black tuxedo pants, in his prime, gracefully dancing cheek-to-cheek with my mother. He was so full of joy and showed me his dance card, which had the names of his parents, sisters, brother, other family and friends…and room for our names when our times come.

Until then, Pop, enjoy the dance.

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My father celebrating his 70th birthday! (Metro Phoenix, AZ, 1 July 2004)