Sunday, May 10, 2009

I Remember Mommy.....

Today is Mother’s Day. We take a day to celebrate motherhood and our moms.

Last year on Mother’s Day was the last time I saw my mother. She had been ill for five weeks and in the hospital. She fought through several bouts in Intensive Care and seemed on the road to coming back home. We had just moved her a few days earlier to a Rehab Facility, which is where we had a special Mother’s Day gathering with her. It was our last day with her, but it was a wonderful time and I am so thankful that it was so special. It was as if she was thinking "I'm really tired and since this has been such a great day; I'll make it my last". She passed that night.

So today, in honor of her, and really all mothers, I post the eulogy I shared at her funeral. It is stories of life, love, pain and triumph. Those of you that have lost a mom will relate, those of you that still have your mom with you will hopefully be moved to appreciate her even more and show her that appreciation while she is still with you on this earth. Give your mom an extra hug from me.

As I was writing this eulogy, a word kept coming into my heart and mind, and that was “Kingdom”. In particular, Christ’s Kingdom and what that entailed, and as I thought about it, “Mom’s Kingdom” became my title for this eulogy. A Kingdom is:
  1. A state or people ruled over by a king or queen
  2. A realm or area of activity in which a particular thing is thought to dominate
In “Mom’s Kingdom,” she ruled with quiet strength and led by determination and example. Her realm was dominated by love.

Eleanor Crabill was a strong woman of great resolve. She made it through a pretty difficult childhood. She married young, had two daughters and shortly after became a single mother at a time when that was pretty “scandalous”. But, she picked up her roots in New York and came to South Bend, where she met my father, and had 4 more children. Marriage to my dad was not always easy and raising 4 more kids not a walk in the park either. But my mom was strong willed, faithful, and determined.

My mom was not what you would call “bubbly” or “cheerful” in her ways, but neither was she sad or oppressive. In fact, I attribute most of what I have accomplished to her positive words to me growing up. She believed you could do anything and if I had said to her as a child, “I want to grow up to be president of the United States”, even though that would have seemed pretty far fetched for a girl at that time, she would have said “Then try as hard as you can and be the best you can be”, never putting any thoughts of failure or impossibility in my mind.

My mom loved to read and as a child she read to us and because of that I believe, I also love to read, as do all my siblings. This truly is one of the greatest gifts she gave to us, because in reading books, you can go anywhere and be anything, even if you have no money or means. So, from a young age my world was expanded far past our house in the “hood” on Huey Street.

Some of my greatest memories from childhood were at Christmastime. Mom always made a big deal about “Santa”. The stockings were always hung on Christmas Eve, “The Night Before Christmas” was always read and we always woke up early to see if Santa came. One year, apparently “Santa” had overslept, because when we started downstairs, mom yelled up the stairs that “Santa had not come yet, go back to bed”. Thankfully, just a short time later Santa showed up and we were able to open our presents.

Mom was not one to give you advice unless you asked for it . And the advice would most likely include some form of “You can’t change anybody else, they have to do it for themselves. You can only change yourself”. That was a frequent “momism” that she said many times throughout my life, but there was another one I remember hearing often, and my most memorable recollection of it was related to me by my sister Patty. I was in labor with my first child and Patty was going to give us a ride to the hospital. I was out in the car waiting, and as Patty was leaving the house mom said to her “It’s going to get worse before it gets better”. She was right, it did, but about 8 hours later I gave birth to my beautiful baby Shay.

And as with most moms, she could have a critical word or two for you that cut like nobody else. My two words from her were “Oh Susie!” and they came whenever she measured my hips for a garment she was making for me.

Mom was not a big talker, but had a quick wit and could be pretty funny. Several years ago, she had  fallen and broken her wrist. It was clear she would not be able to stay by herself, so she was going to live with Bill and I. At the time, we had two cats. My husband was telling her that they were quite friendly and loved to sit on laps and snuggle. He said “You may find them sleeping with you sometimes”. She thought for a moment, then responded, “That might be nice, it’s been awhile since anyone’s wanted to sleep with me”. Another time she really made me laugh was just recently when she was in the hospital. She had been diagnosed with influenza, and the drugs they gave her to treat this made her a little “out of it”. One evening during this time we were in the room with her and she kept fidgeting and trying to get out of bed. I said “What’s wrong mom?” She said, “I need to get to the bathroom”. Now, she was in no shape to get out of bed, so I told her I would call the nurse. Then, realizing she had a catheter in place, I inquired which type of “bathroom duties” she needed to take care of, and she looked up at me with a dead serious look on her face and said “Well, I don’t think that’s any of your business!”

Mom was one of the most unselfish and generous people I knew. She always put her children before herself and would have given us her last dollar if we were in need. She taught us well to save our money, always pay cash, never credit, pay your bills on time and don’t live beyond your means. However, if we happened to not follow these guidelines, or were in need because of some calamity, she was always there to help you out and never made you feel bad for having to ask.

Growing up, I hardly remember my mom without a tape measure hanging around her neck. She not only sewed because she enjoyed it, but to make extra money. So she always had customers coming in and garments in the works. Of course she is trying to accomplish all this with four kids running around the house. That’s where that trusty tape measure came in. If we got too out of hand, that “practical necklace” was right there, quick as a flash being lashed towards you, usually as you were trying to run to get out of its way. It wasn’t too bad with the old cloth tape measures; the worst that got you was the little metal end. But when mom got the new and improved fiberglass tape measures…ouch! Those had a little more sting to them. My brother Ed was the quickest of the bunch, because she usually had to get another tool of her trade, the yardstick, to reach him. I must not have been a very fast runner, because I usually got stuck in the corner of the couch, with mom over me, a new lash with every word, or sometimes syllable that came out of her mouth. “I – told — you — to — list —en — to — me!” or whatever my offense happened to be. But my favorite was when she would say, AS she was lashing me, “Stop—that—crying!” And of course, I wanted to yell back... “then—stop—hit —ting — me!” But, never did. And, as you can see, I survived these well-deserved lashings just fine, and so far, I’ve murdered no one and served no prison time.

My mom was not really into cooking that much, but we ate pretty well growing up. And while we ate quite a bit of “Ragu” sauce and “Duncan Hines” cakes, there were a few things mom made that I have never been able to replicate, nor have I had it better anywhere else. Every Sunday was fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy. Nobody fried chicken like my mom! And I have never had better gravy than she would make. Every year I try to duplicate the wonderful dressing that our Thanksgiving turkey would be stuffed with. While I have been able to master her Chicken and Dumplings, I have never seen anyone else outside our family make it like she did. Of course there was “Ham, Cabbage, Carrot and Potato Soup,” and my brother Ed is still hoping that someone will continue the legacy of her “Christmas Cutout Cookies” that she gave up making many years ago. So for someone who didn’t like to cook all that much, she made some "doozies".

My mom came from a generation that was taught to keep secrets, not tell your business and so forth. Because of this, there was a lot about my parents that we did not know about. As mom grew older, I certainly began asking more questions and she at times would give me answers. It was hard to realize she had been keeping so much inside of her, never sharing her pain with someone who cared and might be able to comfort and encourage her. Some of the secrets she kept she was afraid to share with us because she thought we might think badly of her. But I found it only made me love her more and appreciate what she had endured. Children are much more resilient than we give them credit for I think, and while growing up around parents that kept their own counsel had the opposite effect on me, I usually tell all my business, there are a few things that I have kept from my kids for the same reasons my mom did. But recent events in my life have convinced me that the truth is better than a lie and Christ covers my every offense. Looking back, I would have wished to have known more of my mom, not less. Because to know her, is to understand myself better, my upbringing. The clearer the picture, the better the view and it meant so much when she would share with me, even though some of her recollections were quite painful. It helped me to see her as not just my mom, but also as a woman who had lived at least a couple of lives before I ever came along.

It’s hard as your parents grow older and they come to a place of needing your care. No more are they the protectors, the fixers – you now assume that role of seeing to their needs and making sure they are safe and taken care of. There is a balance to be brought to this care, making sure you respect them as your parent, understanding how hard it is for them to give up their independence. I don’t count this as a burden by any means, it was a blessing. Mom allowed us to care for her and realized her limitations and willingly accepted help. There were her times of saying, “Oh, I know you’re so busy” and she would feel somewhat guilty for calling on us. But I think we all tried to assure her that there was nothing more important at that moment than her care. And then, in the midst of her hospital stay, when she was in intensive care, weak and still very sick, those times of being my mommy would still come through. One of the danger signals that she was not doing well, would be confusion and lethargy, which because of her weak lungs would be a signal of her retaining too much Co2, which was life threatening. So, after having gone through this a couple of times, I would take to asking her often, “Do you know where you are mom? Or “What’s your name? One of these times I asked her if she knew who I was, and she looked up at me, with a sweet smile and said, “Well, you’re my Susie”.

I wish I had called her more. I wish I had her over for dinner more. I wish we had played Scrabble. I wish I had asked more questions and listened to more answers. I wish I had said thank you more. I don’t say these “I wishes” as a regret, but in realizing that I will no longer have the chance to do it with her, I hope that I will do it more with others and that through my words, others will be encouraged to do the same.

Mom was a very intelligent, well-read woman who could have done anything she wanted I believe. She chose to take care of us kids and invest in us. She seemed to understand that one of the greatest things a human being can ever accomplish for God is to invest in someone else’s future. There is no greater “work” for the kingdom of God than that…there is that word, “Kingdom”. For who is the Kingdom for, and who is it made up of, but us? Sure, it’s wonderful to witness to the world and feed starving children, to translate bibles and preach awesome sermons. But, as Christ did, she spent her life investing in the few that she knew would go on to make a difference on this earth, and therefore eternity.

The last day of mom’s kingdom on earth was Mother’s Day. About 20 family members had gathered around to celebrate with her at the Rehab facility she was staying at (in hopes of getting strong enough to come home). And there she was, her last day on earth, a queen in her court, loving subjects gathered around to celebrate her. As the group quieted down to hear what she had to say, the voice that had been weakened by her recent illness strengthened as she spoke what was to be her last proclamation; a blessing for all who gathered and expanded well beyond the walls of the room that we were in. She put her hands together, as if in prayer, and then extended them towards us and said “I love you all, and am proud of each and every one of you.” The words she spoke, some children wait a lifetime to hear, but she made sure we heard them often.

She has left a legacy of unselfish love in her children, family and those who knew her. Because of her life, just within her own family her realm reaches throughout the world to New York, California, Illinois, Michigan, Afghanistan, and soon Puerto Rico, just to name a few. Comfort has been given to hundreds, souls have been led to the Lord, and then encouraged to stay with the Lord, shelter has been given to those who needed lodging, money has been given to those who are in need, hospitality has been extended to those who are hungry in body and soul. Eleanor Crabill’s kingdom is one that is rich and will continue to carry on into eternity. We are going to miss our mommy, but her rule of love lives on in us.


  1. As I get older I listen to lots of stories our elders have to say. And as I approach this position of wisdom and understanding....I am coming to realize that when we are young we think young. Most times it's about ourselves and who we want to become and what we want. Our parents and adults are encouraging us to be something, go to school, get good grades, play sports, find our purpose etc etc. The importance of family for some, especially if the experience of family is not great or few and far between, can be one we chose to not engage. But what I have experienced in my 40's is how wonderful it is when a young child wants to give me a hug or fights the crowd to say hello. And I remember my screams from all those times my aunt with the mustache wanted a simple hug from me. She was feelings those things I am starting to feel now. Grandparents are different with their grandchildren than with their own children. They see the grass from the other side of the fence...the grass they no longer have to mow but now can enjoy. Oh how beautiful. I had to lecture my son on Mothers day how important it is to recognize these simple holidays...even when we know mothers day is everyday. If we don't force ourselves to remember some of us will never even think about it. I told him it's not about buying me a gift but maybe making a card....writing a note..doing something special for your mom who sacrifices a lot for you. These simple things will plant seed into good soil...when you're young. And it's roots will live for generations. Then he won't have to be like me and wait till something tragic happens to his parents, he's 40, and just now hearing himself say the words "I Love You."

  2. Awesome wisdom Pammy. Thanks for sharing your heart.