Wednesday, April 19, 2023

My Mom

 My Mom passed on Easter. This was the eulogy I gave 6 days later on April 15th. I will try my best to get through my shows, get through the summer. I may not have as much work as usual, but for my own sanity I will be there. At the end I gave my Mom all I had, and I would have had it no other way. That's just what you do. I have been run through the ringer lately, loosing two of my favorite people, but I am not alone. We as a country have survived a rough patch. My work for the rest of this year will be dedicated to those who have lost people, those care givers, those that need to heal. For peace and tranquility. And for my Mom.

No, I am not dressed in black today. Today I want to make it clear we are celebrating my Mom.
As a nurse for 40 years my Mom dealt too often with end of life situations, and she always said, "funerals are for the living". So we hope to grant her dying wishes in good spirit, or later with spirits, or in her words: "a brewski". My goal is that this talk reflects my Mom's personality or as we would say in my field- oeuvre. Some of this may not be appropriate, but I would think my Mom would want laughs at her funeral.

My Mom had fun. She was fun. Not in a loose woman, barfly sense, no, she was good fun. Kind, gentle and known for her good disposition. It was difficult to watch cancer take away some of her good nature. While going through countless family photos, it was hard to find a photo of my Mom not smiling, not looking beautiful. Personally I was relieved to even find a couple decent ones of me, with way too many looking awkward or just immature. It took awhile for me, I guess, to grow into myself, not my Mom. She pretty much looked like herself in every picture. She looked good.

My Mom went through a lot of tough circumstances and did it bravely and with dignity. With her parents both sickly, my Mom took over some of the head of house responsibilities at age 12. I asked my wife Katie if it was okay to say her brothers were difficult, she said "that would be putting it mildly." My Mom laughed at life and laughed at its cruelties. Sometimes Mom had bad luck. She told of walking into a Kmart and falling in someone else's puke. Grandpa once spit out the front window of the family car, and hit Mom in the backseat. Her cousins infamously once said "hide the pies, here come the Schmollers" upon her non monied family entering that relatives home. Mom laughed at it all. Just last week I stuck my tongue out at her and despite being on her death bed, she made a silly face back at me. I won't ever forget that moment. She good naturedly laughed at you when you had an "owwie". She smiled when she cooked for you. She smiled at life and life shined down upon her.

My Mom was not worldly. Her Grandpa Gottfried lost all his money in the Depression. Her Dad, Herb, had to drop out of school to support the family. They lived in an average house in a blue collar neighborhood. My Mom was salt of the earth and never really strayed from that. Every year since 1959 she went up north to Lake Namekagon to fish, other than that she never lived further than a mile from the family home she grew up in, the blessed 1084 Whiterock, the house Herb was born in. My Mom was loyal to her family and to her hometown. She was a lifelong member of this church, got baptized here, got married here, and is today fondly celebrated here.

No, my Mom was not a doctor. No. She was a nurse, it was her calling: caregiver. She was born to care for the needs of others and she was damn good at it. It depends on my mood I guess, when I am feeling good, I think we are all talented in different ways. In a bad mood I think too many people are just duds. Anyways...    some people are good with words, or money or numbers. An athlete is intelligent kinetically. An artist with emotion, color or line. My Mom was good at serving others. She took care of her aging parents, even bought a house for all of us to live in together. She took care of her kids, her pets, her husband, her marriage, her patients. While some people remove flaws in a design, my Mom removed your splinters. Some people have pop in their bat, my Mom popped your blackheads on your back, and with joy. She would wash your feet, do your laundry, AND make you feel special at the same time. Love was my Mom's vehicle and she drove it with ease, whether repositioning your pillow or administering an enema. She joked of her fingernail not growing any longer after years of removing bowel obstructions. She was called Goldfinger, she would sing the song and giggle. She even had a pin on her lapel she wore with pride. She sheltered her children from the grim realities of a nursing home. She didn't bring her job home with her too often, and usually it was the frustration with dumb doctors and over administrating.

At home some people work with wood or glass as a hobby, carefully perfecting their craft. My Mom's medium was hospitality, and mainly in the form of food for others. Grandpa said "we aren't the richest family, but we are going to eat the best on the block". Grandma and Grandpa both loved food too. Fresh caught fish, Cornish hens, homemade donuts. I have fond memories of Grandpa sopping up a sultry gravy with a piece of white bread. I am so blessed Mom took care of my Grandparents-for they helped take care of me. I truly believe being raised by four adults had a profound impact on my life-especailly two of them that had their formative years come during the Great Depression. Mom carried on the tradition. She could whip up a perfect egg sandwhich as quickly as she could hook up a catheter, and both with a smile. Mom had a bottomless pot of coffee, and offered everyone a little "schmeck" to eat. Crullers, pies, sandbakkles, pecan fingers, a ham sandwich. "Can I get you something to eat?" "How 'bout a piece of toast?" My Mom really enjoyed making people happy.

The first time Katie went up to Lake Namekagon on the traditional "up north" family vacation with us, I believe she was appalled by the family dynamic. The men would fish, clean fish, eat and fish again. The women played kings on the corners and went to town. My Mom cooked. This was my Mom's "vacation"? Cooking and cleaning up after people. She went fishing a few times during the week and would get to town too, but the bulk of her days were spent serving up to a dozen people. Egg after egg. Precariously piled high pancakes served copiously with Aunt Jamima, stacks of bacon, Canadian bacon. The rented cabin was saturated with a heavenly smell I have burned into my being. Bakery. Fish fries. Gluttony. I am sure it violated one of the seven sins, and it lasted all week. All this cooking and cleaning and all on vacation?-this was strange to Katie. Perhaps Katie thought it was a setback for women's lib. Oh no. My Mom got herself a trade. My Mom made good money. My Mom was independent and strong. She worked hard and was in control of her life. Taking care of people made my Mom happy. If we were happy she was happy.

My Mom was largely a happy person, especially pre-cancer. She supposedly had many dates and many suitors. She bought herself a yellow '68 Mustang and I am sure she was a hot chick bumming around town. Truly she was a beautiful woman, how my dad got her I have no clue. She picked the right guy though, because I don't know of anyone who could have loved my Mom and been more supportive of her than my Dad. My Mom kept up lifelong friendships, not everyone does that. Kept up with family. Kept up with the Grandkids. Kept our ancestors alive in our house with stories and photos prominently displayed. My Mom was dedicated to her loved ones, and I was lucky to be one of them.

I didn't find out my Mom had stage 4 lung cancer until after her seizure on March 5th. She shielded us from that as long as she could. I wish she hadn't, but she was selfless and would have it no other way. I want to tell you two fond memories from the last months. One was at Katie and I's art opening on March 4th. Ironically today is the last day the show is up at Tory Folliard Gallery. It is for most people very prestigious, in the art world, it's a big deal to have a show there. I am thankful for my success as an artist and proud but mostly I could take it our leave it. I enjoy doing good work most of all. The two people I really enjoyed sharing my success with were my Grandma Fletcher and my Mom. To tell your Mom you made it, never got old. To see your Mom proud of you, never got old either. I thought of all the hardships she endured and persevered over and it felt damn good to make her happy. So our big opening was on March 4th, and because of covid we hadn't had a show in Milwaukee since February 2020. We weren't sure if my Mom was up for going but she was. We thought she would only want to stay 20 minutes but she stayed hours. She had a great day. We had a great day. She met our clients, old friends and new. Star and Paul were there. Judy and Jessica. Her kids and grandkids. Bethanne and Mark. The place was packed. Her last good day we were all together as a family. She saw me as Mr. Andy Fletcher one last time. It was a fantastic day. The next morning she had a seizure, was put on a ventilator, and was never the same. She came home on March 30th. We all worked very hard as a family to get the house ready for her return. We know this is what she had wanted.

The Wednesday before she passed I played guitar for her and sang. At that point she was not very responsive and clearly towards the end.The care giver, Lori, was with her and everyone else had gone into the kitchen to eat. I didn't want Mom to be alone with a stranger so I started to sing. She became more cognizant and full of life as I sang. I played songs I thought she'd like. That's All Right Mama, Do You Wanna Dance, Money, Sea of Love, Stand By Me. Everyone came back to her. She became alert, and moving. Moving to the music. Moving in a way she hadn't done for a while. She tried to sing. She was moved and so were we. It was a profould moment. Mom loved music. Loved her family's history in music. The Schmoller Orchestra, Uncle Art on piano.After a long while she just smiled. Smiled a big long smile that she hadn't smiled for a some time and held it for 5 or 10 minutes. Try and smile for that long, it's tiring. It's effort. It was an astounding smile for someone dying of cancer. She ate her last meal and a few days later peacefully passed away. That Wednesday night I went home and cried hard. My Mom had given me one last grand moment. She had passed her love of music down to me. The depth of this bond is hard to explain, either you get it or you don't. Mom did. She felt it.

In closing let me say again, this is a celebration. My Mom's gift was love and compassion, and what a wonderful gift to have been given. It's okay to cry, I am not embarrassed. Seriously what difference does it make, I already chose to look like this. Mainly though, have fun. Share stories, and don't be too ashamed to tell poop stories, my Mom loved those the best. Eat drink and be merry. The last thing I said to my Mom was- thank you, and I do believe this is what she would want from us today. God Bless you Mom.