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Eulogy to My Mother

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EULOGY TO JEANNETTE

I wrote the following after my mother died, and I read it at her funeral. Due to the many positive & grateful comments, I'm including it here.

Jeannette: a Eulogy & Celebration (1998)

At 12 midnight on January 8th, 1998, we lost a mother, a teacher, a
lover of animals, an icon of kindness, a talented writer, a
jazzerciser, a friend. Our loss is God's gain.
A gentle era is passing with Jeannette. An era of Jimmy Stewart,
Danny Kaye, small town values. An era when you smiled at a
stranger, walked with no fear, left your door unlocked, &
believed your neighbor. Jeannette O'Day saw her own
vulnerability mirrored in defenseless animals and sensitive
people, particularly in the wide eyes of hundreds upon
hundreds of her first grade children. Her lifestyle was one of
giving & encouragement. I call it love.

Over a period of some thirty years, in Claremont & then here in
the Coachella Valley, her young students received a diet of the
Three R's & much more. In what other classroom would you find
a tame sparrow, a semi-tame raccoon, a pet pack rat complete
with it's nest of found objects? She taught children to see the
value in a living animal's unique personality, counteracting the
"hunting mentality" many kids learned at home. Her charges
would be donning home-made Mouseketeer-style hats to
perform in an original school show, but these were the Pack-
rateers, ladies & gentlemen, and their songs were about
learning to read, dance, & be confident in front of the world,
even if the only lunch they could bring from home was a tortilla
with beans.

Her discipline method would often be to zero in on the basic
inner goodness of a young mischieveous offender who had lost control,
showing them how unfair or cruel they'd been. Often there
would be tears of regret. My mother taught self-esteem &
humanity.

In more recent years she would often be stopped on the street
by a former student, now fully grown, who would exclaim,
"Mrs. O'Day, you were my favorite teacher". It is a consolation
for me to know that bits & pieces of her views about life carry
on through these people who were touched by her for three
generations.

When she broke her hip, & then both wrists, she bounced back.
When she dislocated & fractured her shoulder, she bounced
back. Broke her pelvis in a fall, bounced back. She seemed to
have a special agreement with God. When she quit teaching full-time, she
continued working as a substitute teacher. When she had to stop
part-time teaching, she became depressed. She missed the
children.

I think that loss was harder for her than the physical
challenges. But once again she bounced back, in a most
creative way. Some of you know that my mom & dad met when
they were both working for a newspaper in Pasadena. At that time, she
wrote articles reviewing shows, articles about pets & their
owners, human interest stories. Well, once a writer, always a
writer. About four years ago, her friend Betty Cooper told her
about a weekly writing class at the Senior Center in La Quinta.
She joined, and this grew into a remarkable camaraderie with the members,
who seemed to make Jeannette their centerpiece. She loved the
group. Her positive attitude came back. As they motivated each
other to create & express themselves on paper every week,
these lovely people gave my mother her grand finale: to see
herself as a writer. And now her anecdotes & stories on paper
keep her alive for us. Thank you Esther, for compiling the
handout with Jeannette's quotes.

Lest I paint her as all sweetness and perfection, let me touch on
a few of her quirks. She was the most disorganized person I
know. In one drawer, in the kitchen of her home in La Quinta, one
would find rubber bands, a few check stubs, a hammer,
someone's letter from last year, a can opener with the word
"dog" written on it, to distinguish it from the "people" can
opener, perhaps a picture of a cute puppy, & some Certs. She
was big on the Certs, obsessed with avoiding "halitosis". Often
when I'd go to hug her she would warn me, "I ate onions"...
Cut to
the Rancho Mirage health care facility, the day of her passing.
As I prepared to return to Los Angeles, because she seemed medically stable, her last words before
"goodbye" were, "You need a breath mint."

My mother gave new meaning to the word "vegetarian". At about
the age of 9 she connected an animal she had befriended on her
mother's farm with the carcass on the dinner table, and from
that time on she ate no beef, fish, or chicken, nothing made with
meat stock, nothing that even looked like meat or tasted or
smelled like meat, not even tofu hot dogs, nothing that was on a
plate with meat, or had ever even smiled at meat. (Perhaps nothing
starting with "M"!) This may be one reason she lived to be 91. I
remarked once that her narrow eating habits had a side benefit
of garnering her attention. After a moment she admitted I had a
point. Having my mother admit that I had a point was very
satisfying.

She could be darkly sarcastic. A favorite family joke
concerns a Mr. Smith who passes away in bed at home. Shortly
thereafter, the newly widowed Mrs. Smith answers a knock on
the door. It's a friend who inquires about her husband. On
hearing of his demise,
the friend goes to his bedside to pay respects. Touching the
man, the friend says, "Why Mrs. Smith, your husband's body is
still
warm." To which Mrs. Smith replies, "Warm or cold, he goes out in the
morning."

I bought my first home, in Altadena, in the mid-70's. I invited my
mother to come & visit my proud achievement. Altadena is quite
a bit colder than La Quinta, and after her long drive & detailed
tours of several rooms, she was tired & cold. I guess she
asked me to turn on the heat, but I was too excited, and forgot.
Several minutes later, in the living room, she had found a floor
heating duct. She turned to me & said sadly, "Well, I think I'll just
lie down next to this vent & hope some heat comes out."
In later years I would kid her often when she was bordering on
petulance. "Why don't you just go lie down next to the vent..."
She had worry down to a science. If I forgot to call when I
had traveled somewhere, she would build herself into real fear that
something had gone wrong. She would never fly, & she worried
whenever I traveled by air. Mom felt that worrying somehow
helped keep the plane up. I guess it worked.

Jeannette's entire life could be chronicled as a series of dogs.
Most of them were rescued as strays or brought home from
the pound, where they were treated with more love & respect
than some people treat each other. Before I was born, mom &
dad had a Schnauzer named Connie, who lived for 16 years. Mom
liked to recall that when I first came home from the hospital as
an infant, Connie smelled the little crib & decided that I could
stay. When Connie died there was great & enduring grief. To
this day, in Jeannette's dresser drawer, is a little box with a few
dog hairs from her beloved Schnauzer.

And every dog since has been a special event, part of the family.
her most recent canine treasure, Fey, was always by her side.
In bed. In the bathroom. Even visited her in the hospital. Fey is
getting along in years, & I wondered how Jeannette would
survive if her pet passed away first. Well, that's one pain she
didn't have to endure. And Fey will spend the rest of her life
being shared by the remaining family.

There's another dog. A "live in the garage & outside" type of dog,
middle-aged, her name is Jazzy. She was probably mistreated,
so she's a little skittish, but very loving. She didn't come in the
house, but Jeannette used to sing to her & rub her back, & tell
me how this massage therapy was making Jazzy more relaxed &
happy. I tell you this because Jazzy is going to need a new home now.
There are some other details, but following my mother's lead I
am giving you this commercial to find Jazzy an appropriate new
family. Please see me if you are interested. How about that,
mom?

Reverence for God's non-human creations was a key to my
mother's faith. She saw no great hierarchy between animals &
people, only that it was our job to respect & protect the
weaker among us. And in the purity of animals & nature she saw
her God.

I am very fortunate that any hurts & disagreements between my
mother & me were worked through in her later years, allowing
the love underneath to be more easily expressed. Scars of her
own upbringing led her to be shy about physical expressions of
affection, a trait I inherited. But I got over it, and as an adult, I'd
often initiate hugs & kisses & tell I loved her. Sometimes she
could only say, "I know". Other times she would say "I love you",
& it felt so good to hear because I knew it didn't come easily.
On the other hand, I've seen her forgive the selfishness or
wrongdoing of other people when I might have written them off.
Not only people, but animals. I remember her skin would often
be bleeding or bandaged from the repeated scratches from
her moody pet raccoon. You know, the one who had it's own
bedroom in the house, with a TV set. She'd always say, "Oh, Pixie
didn't mean it."

And the big orange stray cat, who she fed at the front door.
The cat was in heat, & it grabbed her leg with it's claws, pulling
off inches of skin. She hobbled, bleeding across the carpet,
bandaged up the injury, with no medical attention. It became
infected & we finally got her to a doctor who said she could
have been in real trouble if we'd waited much longer. The point
of this story is that she still continued feeding the cat.
A year or two ago, she declared to me, "when I kick the bucket, I
don't want you to feel guilty about anything. You have been an
absolutely wonderful son". What a gift that was, & what a gift
that is now.

Jeannette initially had trouble understanding and accepting my girl
friend Yuka. But more recently when we visited her together in the
hospital, she said, "I love you both." What a healing thing to say.
In phoning friends to share my sad news, I've heard about their
losses. Some of them are left in pain after the death of a loved
one with whom they never reconciled. The phone call or the
conversation that never took place. The "I love you's" that
never quite got said. How lucky I am, to have so little unfinished
business. And how grateful I am for the grace of my special
mom.

She would say, quite innocently, "I don't know why, but I just
keep on waking up every morning."

She kept growing spiritually. And even after her little frame
gave out, she stayed independent & full of life to the very end.
I keep wanting to call her & ask her what happened. But you & I
have to stay here in the illusion of separateness from each
other, while she is in the reality of the oneness.
I keep thinking this is a dream, & I'll wake up if I accuse it of being a
dream. But, maybe it really is. Maybe all of us are dreaming, and
she is awake now.

When you miss her, & you remember how much she touched you,
she will live on. When you are merciful to an injured animal,
when you teach peace & tolerance to a child, she will live on.
When you read or write a phrase that turns just right, & it
makes you stop & smile, she's smiling with you. She lives in the
colors of blue & turquoise & silver, in the art of the Pueblo
Indians, in the comic operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan, in the
dancing & singing of children.
And please, take satisfaction in what you gave to her as well.
You have made our lives richer.

Below is a poem I wrote which was part of the handout at the chapel entrance:

BUT SHE WAS JUST HERE, HER VOICE STILL FRESH WITHIN MY EAR
I DIDN'T HEAR THE CLOSING DOOR, AND NOW YOU TELL ME, NEVER MORE
BUT SHE WAS JUST HERE, HER EYES WERE SMILING CRYSTAL CLEAR
AND IF SHE'S REALLY GONE SOMEHOW, THEN WHO DO I TAKE CARE OF
NOW?
THIS IS BIGGER THAN I KNOW; I GUESS I THOUGHT SHE'D NEVER GO
IF IT WERE ME WHO WENT AWAY, I'D RUN BACK HOME ON THIS SAD DAY
I KNOW HOW TO WIPE MY NOSE, AND I'LL PUT ON THESE SOMBER
CLOTHES
BUT IN MY HEART I KNOW SHE'S NEAR; SHE CAN'T BE FAR, SHE WAS JUST
HERE

© 1998—2010 by Alan O'Day, all rights reserved. | Contact