Eulogizing for Life

Danny stepped up to the pulpit. 

It had been just a little over a week since his mom, my aunt, had passed away from complications related to Alzheimer’s and cancer.  As the second oldest of four boys, Danny and I, and our brothers, had shared countless experiences as “young men in formation” at the Mattingly household.  Born in New York City, as the oldest of seven children, Aunt Maureen had been, as Danny would later say, a “force of nature” her entire life.  In the midst of her life as a married mother of four boys, she had also been an actress into her 50’s in addition to being a teacher, a civic activist, and more roles than any obituary or eulogy could ever capture.  For me, Aunt Maureen epitomized what it meant to be intentional, authentic, and faithful, even if at times her pointed comments and reality testing rubbed me and others in the wrong way.

As Danny began his eulogy, he reminisced about a previous family funeral in which “it was good of mom to bring us all home today.”  Sitting in the pews, among many other friends and family, were 15 of my aunts and uncles (including my grieving uncle Bill) and 25 of my total 27 first cousins on the Mattingly side.  For all of us, Maureen had her own impact, some of which occurred at “her red oak dining table…as formative as any platform in the life of our family, where as a little boy and a young man, I joined upwards of 70+ friends and family for a sit-down, Thanksgiving dinner that never failed to impart the importance of being together.” 

As Danny related the many lessons of his mom, he recounted how she “celebrated the morning of my first vote in the general election with the gift of a handwritten note, accompanying a Joni Mitchell CD, that included the track The Circle Game.”  He and his siblings heard countless times how “she recited, or boldly exemplified the idea that it takes a village to raise a child…boy that one had some discomforting applications when Mom thought your friends were out of line.” As I remembered full well, “Mom worked hard constantly…she never stopped leading by example on this front, and thus her lessons brushed up against the topic of our work ethic.  She framed our every weekend morning, and every summertime day, with a list of chores that needed to be accomplished before we could relax, or watch TV.” 

As a young boy, and visitor in their house, I knew Aunt Maureen meant business.  As Danny noted, “Mom didn’t care who was watching when she was administering lessons or supporting her family…or when she was personally bouncing up and down to stress test furniture before it was purchased.  Just ask Jill [Danny’s wife]. I’m confident she will instruct our daughters to leave their mother-in-laws out of their newlywed mattress shopping.”  But for Maureen, it was the “razor sharp focus for the ones she loved…that morphed everything else into a meaningless backdrop if she thought it was an important moment.” 

Through it all, faith guided her life.  “She attended Mass like clockwork each Sunday…and then often daily during her years of working.  She was a communion minister, a lector, and to our teenage dismay even sang during Mass…and I mean loudly, whether she was on the altar or not.”  But as Danny recounted, “There were places in mom’s lessons where her ideals conflicted with the more conservative ends of doctrine that formed her faith, but I think her age group found her plenty reverent, having blessed her with six godchildren.”  Although I didn’t personally know of these doctrinal disagreements, as I sat in the crowd of many who had their own disputes with the Church, I appreciated the model that Aunt Maureen provided in not basing her faith decisions on where she found herself frustrated or disagreeable with the Church, but rather what she knew to be true.  

And frustrated she could become, as “even in a room crowded by the sources of her frustrations”, Danny exclaimed, “she would grab the table with white knuckles and recite often very audibly, no doubt intentionally, ‘help me Jesus.” As Danny reflected, “It took a while, but I have come to think in those moments that she was teaching us to have patience, and that no matter where we land in our faith journeys, we never walk alone.” As a consummate learner and teacher, Maureen had participated in a friend’s daughter’s doctoral study, with a line of her contribution which indicated “I am happy with the body that has carried me to where I am.  I am blessed with four sons that it has born for me.  I like being athletic and strong.  I like working hard during the day and sleeping well at night.  I thank God to share this life with a person that completes me in every way.  I want my mind to be always learning.  My eyes are my soul’s window.”

But as Danny imparted, his mom “wasn’t perfect.  Her passion could tip into something resembling a hot Irish temper.  Don’t you dare go sacrificing antique Sullivan furniture for the sake of a sick WWF style elbow drop, or a 100+ year old barn window in the name of a field goal contest.  We learned to value what we have already, not our perception of what we are owed, a lesson I know my brothers and I sometimes worry if we are doing a good enough job of with our own children.” In the end, her most important lesson “centered around matters of the heart.  Our house growing up was a fortress of love, and if marriage is the highest expression of love, then it’s no surprise my mom had a lot to say on the topic of what it means to be a good spouse.  And it’s a good thing too, because to little surprise after growing up in her shadow, my brothers and I have all somehow managed to marry up.  Mom spoke about love literally, like when she chided me intensely for repeating out loud that a good friend felt her one parent should divorce the other. She made it clear in no uncertain terms that I should keep their marriage out of my mouth, as I didn’t know even a little bit about the topic until I had a successful one of my own.”

As Danny closed, the church was silent; we could feel Maureen’s spirit exuding forth.  He imparted to all of us, “Confident in her lesson plan execution or not, I know she’ll remain vigilant as her grandkids grow up and take these lessons forward into the world….for that is now and always will be their greatest inheritance. I would like to think that she is listening today. And assuming so, she should know that we will miss her, that we loved her fiercely to the moon and back, and that we were always listening at the table. God bless our mom and may she rest in peace.”

Amen, Danny.  Amen. 

The eulogy in its entirety can be found at the following link:

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