Eulogy for my mother

 

Harriet Louise (Speer) Jewell (January 26, 1927-September 11, 2016)

We celebrate through tears the crescendo of a long goodbye

We gather here to celebrate our mother, grandmother, great grandmother, friend; and for the crescendo of a long goodbye.

We’ve expected Mom’s passing for some time, as her earthly mind and body weakened. Nonetheless, her passing is a jolting moment–laden with meaning and memory and sacredness.

And honestly our emotions are raw in this continuation of a summer of mourning. The thin door between temporal and heavenly life has opened often this year for our family, which leaves us reeling at times and uncertain of God’s ways and timing.

I want to take some time to reflect on Mom’s life, our memories, what it has meant to us, and consider how it is affecting us now.

1. This is a time in which we experience sadness, and yet we rejoice that Mom is free and whole, with Jesus. And she is with Dad, her first love. With Barbara Ann, her first born. And with Matthew, her first grandchild. 

When we think of Mom, our most immediate memory is the 8 years of decline.  And before that, we remember the years of courageous effort to live alone. But mostly we think of Mom and Dad, Harry and Harriet. A beloved couple wherever they went, whatever they touched.

We do rejoice that they are together again—perhaps taking long walks—and certainly without labored breaths or shaking hands. Steady, vibrant, Glorified.

2. This is a time of reflection on a long, whispered goodbye

After dad died 12 ½ years ago, Mom was determined to live independently, in their house in Grand Rapids. And she did that, and did quite well, for about 3 or 4 years. When she began losing the distinction between dreams and reality, it was clear that she needed to be with others.  That began a period of time in the Stanford home, and then to her final residence by the Rock River.

In the final years, Parkinson’s and its treatments took their toll and our visits with her were more about being together and bringing some life to her days and loving on her. Communication faded. We welcomed snatches of recognition, glimpses of a smile, the squeeze of a hand.

As a family, we honor those who were so involved in Mom’s care after Dad was no longer there to provide it. First, Pamela and her family in Grand Rapids were Mom’s lifeline for years, and the Hartung children had so much time with Grandma and served her well. Then, Barb and her family welcomed Mom into their home, and increased the level of care as Mom’s abilities diminished. As Mom moved to her riverside home in Osborn, Patti and Barb and their families were nearby and visited Mom often, with whispers of love as she slipped away from us, from reality, from coherency, and from communication.

As a family, we salute and thank Peggy and Louis, who were Mom’s caregivers for almost 7 years. We are grateful to you for taking care of our loved one.

3. This is not a shock to us, but it is a sobering generational break. There is a loss of connection with our past.

This week, for the first time in our lives, my sisters and I are orphans. We began to feel this, of course, when Mom slid away from consciousness and communication.

We want to have answers to questions—not so much the meaning of life, as why our kids have certain characteristics; is it in the gene pool?  Or what did great-grandfather Speer do for a living? Or, how did you handle losing your first child right after child birth? We didn’t have the last decade of her life to ask the questions, because it was difficult to communicate. When Dad was on his countdown to eternity, we knew it and we asked questions that had not been asked—although not enough. But with Mom, this wasn’t possible during the final years. We feel alone with our questions.

Mom and Dad were exemplary. They were models of faith and marriage and family. Of solid, common-sense values. I, we, feel unworthy to create a sequel to these champions of the greatest generation.

4. This is a time of gratitude for our heritage

We are grateful to God for our heritage, our sound upbringing, the values we were taught, the faith of our father and mother, the security of traditional assumptions, the trust we had in Mom and Dad.  The calming effect of solid and practical and compassionate people. Totally aside from finances, growing up, there was a security of love, support, concern, affirmation.

Some things Debbie and I heard recently helped me realize the core strength of Mom and Dad’s parenting, which featured these strong pillars:

  • There was a certainty of faith, of biblical truth, of God’s love and the call of obedience. We always understood that there was nothing more important than being right with God.
  • There was an expectation of excellence. We can’t remember a time when education was not seen as an automatic priority, or a time when going to college was an option. It was like breathing.  All four of us went to college and graduated.  It was simply the next of life’s steps.  And beyond education, there were was an expectation that we would strive to be all we could be.
  • There was a modeling of financial basics. One of my childhood memories is Mom and Dad huddled over a budget book, sorting out how to stretch a steady but modest income, dealing with the issue stated on a sign over Dad’s desk that read: “Why is there always so much month left at the end of the money.?” Discipline was demonstrated and taught—don’t spend money you don’t have, save, give, plan, trust.

What a godly heritage!  Faith was the fabric of Mom’s life–a gift to us all that is unending

 5. This is a time of memories about a good, vibrant, honest woman of her times

Harriet Louise Speer Jewell was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, to James Kirker and Alice May Fulmer Speer, on January 26, 1927. Her name was selected by her siblings from a poem about a doll named Harriet Louise.

When Mom was born nearly 90 years ago, things were very different.

  • Life expectancy of a girl born in 1927 was just 62—so Mom surpassed that by nearly three decades.
  • Only 14 percent of all homes had a bathtub.
  • 95 percent of all American births occurred at home
  • Only 6 percent of Americans had graduated from high school
  • Charles Lindbergh made the world’s first non-stop transatlantic flight in 1927
  • There were only 230 murders reported in the entire country.

When Mom was 4, the stock market crashed and the great depression descended on America and the world.  Mom was a depression-era child. Her father bounced from job to job and life was not easy. It seems that in her childhood home, she often heard more criticism than praise.

Ten years later, when Mom was 14, America went to war.

She met Dad soon after he returned from his tour of duty in Europe. They met at Ashtabula Hyde and Leather, where she’d been working during wartime (that building, by the way, is still standing along the river in Ashtabula). They married at the family home at 1633 East 47th street in Ashtabula, Ohio on June 30, 1946. Mom was 19 and Dad, then a war veteran, was 21. They honeymooned at Letchworth State Park in New York and Niagara Falls.

Their first baby, the first Barbara, Barbara Ann, was born on March 29, 1947, and died three days after birth because of drugs used to induce birth. Can you imagine? What heartache for Mom at such a young age.

There were four more children born over the next 14 years; three in three-year intervals (Patti in 1948, Barb in 1951, and Jim in 1954), and one eight years later (Pamela in 1962). A lot of Mom’s time was devoted to raising these four children and moving because of Dad’s job, about every three years for much of their married life. The Jewell homestead was a moving target—Ashtabula, Ohio; Westfield, New Jersey; Gibsonia, Pa., Sturbridge, Mass., (and back to Gibsonia); Danvers, Mass.; Emmaus, Pa., Muscatine, Iowa; and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Mom’s life also revolved around the church. Most of Mom’s good friends and experiences came from the church, and in retirement from Mom and Dad’s service with Mobile Missionary Assistance Program (construction projects for churches, Christian camps, etc).

Mom’s first serious health challenge came about 25 years ago when a neighborhood walk on a cold day ended with a heart attack and successful double bypass surgery. She’s had no further heart problems, but the onset of Parkinson’s seemed to be triggered by that attack. Then, she was forced into the role of caregiver as Dad’s final years were diminished with pulmonary fibrosis, which took his life, even as Parkinson’s weakened her.

Mom was determined to live alone, and she did so courageously for several years, which gave her great pride, until vivid dreams began to seem like reality and extend into daytime. That’s when she moved in with Barb and her family in Rock Island, and then to her riverside home.

Mom’s life spanned from the Great Depression and World War II, through to the 15th anniversary of 9/11. She had a wonderful marriage of 58 years, and she built her life around her husband, her children, and her faith.

Memories

Harriet Jewell was an engaging, colorful, inquisitive woman, deeply committed to the Lord, involved in the lives of her family and the ministries of the church, and ever striving to better herself.

There are many wonderful memories.  That’s not to say all of our memories of Mom are sweetness and light; they include the good, the bad, and the ugly. Mom was an assertive and involved parent until the time she could no longer fill that role!

Throughout most of her life, Mom demonstrated an unease—about herself, about some of the “why’s” that beset us all as we look at our own lot.  She was uncertain of her value and troubled by low self-esteem. Often unsatisfied and even envious.

But also in that, she was a teacher, as she sought personal counseling in her later years, not content to allow the demons of her past to continue to gnaw at her emotions. She got great help from that.

And she learned how to play the piano – after retirement!  Grandma Moses-like. I love that.

As Mom’s four living children, we compiled some memories of our experiences with her.

Patti remembers:

  • In my early years we lived in Dorset, and I have one very early, fuzzy memory of being in a room with, I think, Dad’s parents and four of his grandparents, my great-grandparents. Only one of those great-grandparents, Grandma Leonard, lived long enough for me to actually remember her. (She was 93 when she died).
  • When we moved to Ashtabula (and Barb and Jim were born) I started school, and one of my early memories is of Mom preparing chocolate milkshakes (with raw egg!) for me for breakfast, since I was a picky eater and that was the way she could get some nutrition into me. It was a patient, loving—even indulgent—thing for her to do, and a sweet memory.
  • Another food memory is less sweet: I did not like vegetables, especially peas, and when I HAD to eat them on one occasion (when I was very young), I tucked them into the back of my mouth. Mom found them still there the next morning. As I remember the story, she found it amusing by then, though that would probably not have been her reaction the night before!
  • When we kids were quite young we were involved in BMA (Bible Memory Association), and I think at one time the whole family was memorizing Scripture. I know that Mom and Dad were both an integral part of that endeavor, helping us to learn the verses.
  • A very significant event occurred in the year I was in 2nd I remember coming home from school to a rather frantic mother who had just learned her husband had been hurt at work. He had been burned on his left hand where a leather press had come down on it (but providentially had not crushed it). He spent many months after that in the hospital, dealing with the burn, skin grafts, and recovery from allergic reactions to Penicillin. It was a traumatic time in the life of our family, but God provided grace for Mom to take care of him and 3 children (oh, and a move to NJ and a new job in the middle of all that!) You may remember the smooth patch of skin on the back of Dad’s hand; the result of the skin graft.
  • In 5th grade we had moved back to Ashtabula, and I had the privilege to have the same teacher Mom had in her 5th grade year. Miss Mackey started her career when women did not generally marry and continue teaching; teaching was their life. She was a good teacher, and I had a good year. I particularly enjoyed spelling, as it came easily to me (which doesn’t mean I was smart, by the way! I have since learned that some of the smartest people I know are not particularly good at spelling.)
  • During my 6th grade year I had a very interesting but strict teacher, who was really a stickler for handwriting. I remember in particular that if a word was written with loops in certain letters, like “t” or “d” it was counted as misspelled. Miss Elizabeth E. Erath was so well-known for this insistence on perfect penmanship that Mom hated to write notes to her as she felt she was being judged for her handwriting. We all survived that year, but it was hard to get a C in spelling when I had done so well in spelling in 5th grade! (And Mom’s handwriting was perfectly legible!)
  • In a similar vein, when I was in high school, and going for my driver’s license, we lived in Danvers, MA, and it was a requirement at that time that a parent accompany the applicant during the driving portion of the test. I don’t know why, but Mom was the lucky parent to accompany me. Part of the test was to make a K-turn. When the officer asked me to do that, I pulled forward, stopped, and backed up, right into a snowbank. With great drama the officer looked at me and announced, “Well, little girl, pull over and let your mother drive.” Mom said later that she was sure she was going to lose HER license! But she did fine, and I got my license on the next try, a few weeks later.
  • When we had Matthew, Mom and Dad offered to have our little threesome come and stay with them for a few weeks until we got into the swing of things. And it worked out very well for all of us. It wasn’t until Jason was born that I reflected on that, and wrote to Mom on Mother’s Day about her influence on me. She kept the card I wrote, and years later gave it back to me, with other correspondences through the early years.

Barb remembers:

  • My childhood memories of Mom include the whole family.  Our family vacations were wonderful.  When Patti and I were quite young we vacationed in Florida.  We saw many fascinating places, but one highlight was that Mom had knitted matching zip-up sweaters for Patti and me…hers was blue, and mine was red.  That was pretty special!  When we were quite a bit older, and Jim was getting too old to appreciate this, I still thought it was great that Mom sewed matching outfits for the entire family! I remember our vacations, pulling the pop-up trailer along the highway, stopping beside the road for a picnic lunch, then traveling to the campsite each night.  Our camping, hiking, traveling, and sightseeing together made wonderful memories.
  • A fond memory of Mom when I was in college was her spiritual encouragement.  I was involved with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, learning to study the Bible for myself, and sharing all I learned with her.  She agreed to do a weekly, through-the-mail Bible Study with me.  It was quite a blessing to both of us and we kept it up through the end of my college days.
  • I remember Mom as always being clean, organized, and tidy.  This was a bit of a frustration for her when she moved in with us, who were not so quick to clean up our messes.  The first snow after she moved here, no one was jumping to the task of cleaning off the snow, so she put on her coat, boots, hat, and gloves, took the broom outside, and brushed the snow off the steps and sidewalk!
  • As Mom was getting more limited in her abilities, I have tender memories of time together.  Music is always good for the soul, so I would sing hymns and read the hymn stories to her.  Later, under Hospice care, a music therapist came twice a month and sang with her and any of the family who could join in. Those are special memories.

Pamela remembers:

Pamela remembers a happy childhood with kick ball in the back yard, a structured rhythm of life, and good family time.

  • Mom was a teacher’s aide at the same school where Pamela began 1st grade in Muscatine, when we first moved there, and she remembers fun playdates with Mom and Jean and Jane Reifert
  • Pamela has early memories of Grandma and Grandpa Speer’s home in Ashtabula, which in her memory always smelled like coffee (this may explain a lot about some of our coffee addictions!). . .

As an adult, I treasured several things:

  • The marriage of mom and dad- a model that I had that those of my friends did not. As Sarah eloquently stated “her life was theirs.”  It’s hard to separate mom and dad. They were a hand-holding, inseparable couple. Their marriage was a teacher for my marriage.
  • Mom and Dad’s life was an integral part of our lives. We worshipped together, played together, did life together. Their involvement in our lives and those of our children were an everyday occurrence and a priceless gift.
  • For mom specifically, after college she became not just mom but friend. We talked every day on the phone. This is a wonderful memory.
  • As mom’s memory began to fail, a favorite but comical memory was going down to the school room and using my white board to map out who her children were, their spouses, and children, and talking through stories–at that point appreciated and not offensive. Educational fun!

Jim remembers:

  • I’m not sure if my sisters were ever spanked. But I was.  Although mischievous and I’m sure somewhat irritating, I wasn’t terribly disobedient.  But I had my moments, and Mom was the disciplinarian—and I had my share of spankings (at least until I was bigger than Mom).
  • Of course, we moved a lot. One of Mom’s roles in my life was to help me navigate what was “in” and what wasn’t in every new hometown.  I remember trouble with certain kinds of shirts, and colors of socks! . . .
  • When I was in 6th grade, in Danvers, we played a lot of backyard sports, including football. There were wonderful flat yards. There was a raucous group of friends and neighbors and evidently I was getting pretty roughed up by the guys. This upset Mom more than me, and she decided that I needed to get some boxing lessons, so I could defend myself.  She was serious, but it never happened. I’m sure we just moved.
  • Mom was prayerful. When I moved to California to continue college, she realized that she could no longer do anything about my decisions and circumstances, but she assured me that she pray for me every day. And I know that she did.
  • I remember games of hand and foot, and specifically that I learned where I got my competitive nature. It was Mom. If in a round of hand and foot, Dad could go out but felt like it would make his opponents feel bad, he’d hold off; but not Mom, she’d swoop in for the kill. Yep, that’s me; and some of you, too.  Thanks Mom
  • She had expectations for her children, but she was supportive, even when we messed up. In the most difficult times of my life, she and Dad loved me and comforted me and guided me. You never forget that.
  • Mom has always been outspoken and as age blunted her inhibitors she rarely had an unexpressed thought (you know, things like after Debbie and I were married, and we visited, Mom said to me: “You must like your wife’s cooking, because you’ve put on some weight this year!”). I think we all heard something similar from her!

Mom, your legacy sits in this room, and it extends across the states and around the world. Throughout the years, Mom’s tribe continues to expand and she now has 17 grandchildren: Matthew, Jason, Jeannette, Amy, Calvin, Christopher, Stephanie Jewell, John, Sarah, Caleb, Enoch, Abagail, Esther, Mariah, Michael, Payton, and Caroline. And 14 great-grandchildren: Michael, Luke, Sebastian, Joey, Timothy, Emma, Jane, George, Ruby, Amelia, Blaise, Jewell, Creed, and Harrison.

Your hand, your touch, your voice, your influence is evident in what we are, what we’ve done, the mark we have made on our children and on our world. This is what you intended, this was important to you, and we could tell by the way you lived your life.

6. This is sacred time when we are all reminded that what we believe about God makes all of the difference in the world

At times like this, we are reminded of the importance of our choices and our beliefs about God.  If there was no God, then we pass to nothing. If there was no God, our lives have little continuity or meaning.

But gratefully, because there is an all-powerful God, we can have hope. Because there is a loving God, death is a beginning and not an end. Because there is a merciful God who sent His son Jesus to save us, we can spend eternity with him.

With that assurance, at these times of passage, we can agree with these lyrics:

 

There’s a peace I’ve come to know

Though my heart and flesh may fail

There’s an anchor for my soul

I can say, “it is well”

 

Jesus has overcome

And the grave is overwhelmed

The victory is won

He is risen from the dead

 

I will rise when He calls my name

No more sorrow, no more pain

I will rise on eagles’ wings

Before my God, fall on my knees

And rise

 

We celebrate today Harriet Jewell’s rich life and legacy, and the firm knowledge that she is now in the presence of her Savior, Jesus Christ; and hand-in-hand with her beloved, Harry.

We do not gather to say goodbye, but to repeat these words: Welcome home. Well done, good and faithful servant.  Thank you Mom. We love you.

–Jim Jewell.  Sept. 17, 2016

 

 

 

 

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About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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