I have heard, over the years, that writing a Eulogy can be one of the most difficult speeches a person ever has to write. And I’d have to agree – there isn’t a clear beginning, middle, or an end. Although Dad passed away peacefully a few days ago, he will continue to live on through his children, grandchildren, and all the others he touched.
I’ve also heard that the loss of a parent is one of life’s most traumatic events...I now know that to be true. But I also hear that time will heal the devastating hole in my heart – and that over time the hurt will fade. That when I think of Dad, it won’t be along the lines of: today is the first Friday without him… or… this is the first Easter we’re celebrating without him. Instead, I’ll be able to look back and recall the happy times we spent together.
My Dad was a remarkably good and decent man, the type of man who should be a role model for children. He was kind, gentle, hard working, cheerful, devoted and, above all else, a man of integrity. And it was understood that he expected no less from his children. These traits were ingrained in each of us, because he taught us by example. I rarely saw my Dad lose his patience or raise his voice – in fact throughout almost fifty years of knowing him, I only heard him utter a bad word twice – I was so startled the first time that I backed out of the hotel room without him ever knowing I heard it. It turns out while we were on vacation, someone at work had let him down – the other person hadn’t carried through on something key to one of Dad’s projects. My older sister Kathy explained that there are times when even my Dad might have to use something stronger than “Darn it.” The second time, by the way, was a couple of weeks ago – all I can say is that the food at Emory Crawford Long must really be bad!
I’ve asked my brothers and sisters, and niece and nephews for a few of their favorite memories. Here, in no particular order, are a few of them.
But as lucky as we kids were to have him as a Father, it was my Mother who was really blessed. To say that Dad was devoted to Mom is a huge understatement. We didn’t ever hear them argue, not because they wouldn’t or couldn’t do so in front of us – they just didn’t. Period. From time to time they might have a difference of opinion, but on those rare occasions, they worked the issue out calmly and rationally. I don’t believe my Father ever raised his voice towards Mom…
When I was much younger, and Dad was moving up through the ranks at Coca-Cola, his job often took him to various parts of the country. Many were the day that he’d take the early bird out - and, as it was called back then, the owly bird back the same day. These were long hard trips that ordinarily would have called for a night on the road – but he much preferred to be home with us…and especially Mom. That’s the kind of man he was – devoted to his family – and lost without Mom.
My Father believed that everything happens for a reason – and that everyone should strive to know and do the will of God. It was a very rare Sunday that we, as a family, didn’t go to church…even while on vacation in the remotest of spots – if there was a church nearby, we were there come Sunday morning. When Dad got sick last fall and became too weak to attend church in person, he so looked forward to Anne, Joe or Father Jack bringing communion to him.
For my faith in God, I thank him.
He also believed strongly that a person’s circumstances were, in most cases, heavily influenced by the decisions they had made. But he never lost faith that a person who had a history of making poor choices was beyond redemption. I know a couple of people who, because of poor choices, were on the road to ruin. However, with his guidance, support, and never ending faith, they are today renewed in life and spirit – and they are right here among us. One in particular, asked me to mention this side of my Dad, one that few have seen first hand.
I’ll close with a few comments related to the very first movie I remember seeing – Mary Poppins…and how it ties in with my Dad. Several years ago, while taking a break from building a spectacular tree fort for one of our sons, Dad came in to take a break from the heat – and enjoy a glass of iced-tea. Andrew, my youngest son, was watching Mary Poppins – and I’ll never forget the smile that graced Dad’s face when Julie Andrews began singing “Feed the Birds.”
I’m sure many of you remember Dick Van Dyke playing Bert – the chimney sweep, one-man-band, street artist, basically a jack-of-all-trades. That was my Dad…although he couldn’t play an instrument, he could do just about anything else he put his mind to…auto mechanic, electrician, woodworker, financial planner, story teller, engineer, builder, cook, grill-master. Well, anyway, do you remember Michael and Jane, off to see the bank, how they got sidetracked with a chalk drawing, and end up going on a foxhunt and merry go-round race? Along the same lines, Dad loved to travel and see new places – and he instilled that in us as well. For instance, a vacation to Niagara Falls also meant a stop at Little Round Top in Gettysburg, a tour of the Hershey factory, a stop at a glass manufacturer, a tour of the Finger Lakes, and finally the falls. A vacation to the beach also meant touring the nearby aircraft carrier, a walk to the top of the lighthouse, an afternoon at Kill Devil Hills, attending a play put on by the local townspeople, and crabbing in the Intercoastal Waterway. A vacation was never just about getting somewhere, sitting and relaxing (although we did some of that too). No, a vacation, like life, was about taking his outstretched hand, and seeing where the road would lead us.
At this point I reached down and pulled up a commemorative Mary Poppins St. Paul’s Cathedral Snowglobe, exactly like the one Julie Andrews had in the movie Mary Poppins. It plays the beautiful song “Feed the Birds” and birds “fly” around the Cathedral instead of snow. Over the course of the next couple of paragraphs, I twisted the key, displayed the globe for everyone to see and hear, and motioned for Patrick to take it from me and present it to Mom.
In the same movie, shortly after arriving back home, the children are told the story of an old lady sitting in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, selling bread crumbs to passers-by to feed the hungry birds. This is a turning point in the movie – the children are learning that there is more to life than understanding the principles of making money – and their father soon comes to realize this as well. In much the same way, my father taught us, not so much with words -- but by his actions and how he lived his life - everyday, **PAUSE ** that being a good, caring, loving person, is what life is all about.
Mom – when the days get long, and they undoubtedly will – and you miss Dad more than you can just about bare, please pick up this snowglobe, twist the key, listen to the beautiful song, and remember that Dad loved you, and all of us, more than anything in the world. That is what life is all about – and nobody better exemplified that than my Father. Nobody.
In his final months, he fought his battle with courage and grace – and he also showed us how a man so thrilled with life, can be at peace with its end. After enduring months of the pain and agony of radiation and chemotherapy, he stoically faced the grueling seven-hour operation, knowing that if he woke up at all, that his recovery would take months of slow painful progress. And, he had just begun that journey when the Lord called him home. **PAUSE** We look forward to the day when we will see him again – strong and sure, and the pain and sadness of his parting will be gone forever.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank each one of you for coming this morning. Good friends and family came from thousands of miles away to see Dad off. Many of you have taken time off from work this morning, and just about everyone had to drive a great distance to be here. That is a testament to just how well Dad was loved and admired. **PAUSE** I know Dad is looking down upon us with a warm heart and smile on his face. May God bless him, his family, and everyone who knew and loved him.
Dad, I love you – God speed.
First off, I would like to thank Monsignor Richard Lopez, Father Jack Durkin, and Deacon Joe Carter for co-celebrating Mom’s mass. I know she is very, very pleased.
Thank you all for coming today, to honor and celebrate the life and accomplishments of my mother, Colette Hidding. For those of you who don’t know, I’m David, one of her sons. When I last stood here eight years ago, many of you were also sitting out there, as we celebrated my father’s life.
My mother was a lovely woman – she may have been small in stature but she was enormous in her love of her family, inner strength and kindness. She embodied all of the attributes of a perfect mom. She was caring, thoughtful, hardworking, compassionate, cheerful, forgiving and totally devoted to each of her six children. She, along with Dad, created an atmosphere of love, purpose and spiritual well-being within our family.
A few days ago, a dear friend of mom’s was reminiscing about one of the first afternoons she spent with her. This was over thirty years ago – mind you, so we were all much younger. At any rate, Fran and Mom were sitting at our old kitchen table while my siblings and I were running in and out of the house. Fran remembered being struck by the love and happiness that abounded in the kitchen that afternoon – and she knew Mom was someone she wanted to be friends with.
What Fran witnessed was not an anomaly. Our home was a happy, loving and nurturing one – thanks to two wonderful parents.
Throughout a long and happy marriage, I don’t ever remember my parents arguing. I’m not talking about yelling at each other – or even heated arguments – I’m talking about run-of-the-mill arguments. I’m sure they disagreed over things – but they didn’t do it in front of us. Mom was totally devoted to and in love with our father – and it showed. In fact, mom’s wallet, which flipped open to hold a driver’s license, instead held a photo of them on their wedding day.
From the time we were brought into the world, until the day we left home – and even after that, Mom instilled a faith in us that was steadfast. Our travels took us throughout much of the United States, into Canada, and throughout western Europe. Regardless of where we found ourselves, come Sunday morning, we were in Mass. It might have been a tiny parish in a West Virginia hollow – or it might have been a grand cathedral in Germany – but we knew the first order of business on Sunday was participating in mass.
Mom’s faith was unwavering.
Life’s storms arose from time to time – and on at least one occasion, she was profoundly disappointed in someone she loved. But, she never doubted whether the Lord cared for her. His strength and guidance upheld her during difficult times. She weathered the storms and had forgiveness in her heart.
I asked family members and friends for a few of their favorite memories or thoughts. In listening to her friends reminisce about her, I was struck by just how many people had the same sentiments: my mother was a person of beauty- inside and out – who made each person she was with feel totally special and loved. For example, our son Daniel remarked:
One of my favorite things in the world is her banana bread. I remember when I was 8 or 9, she’d ask if I wanted anything – and when I’d say banana bread she didn’t hesitate – she’d jump right into the hour long process. I didn’t think much about it at the time because, well I was 8 and didn’t think about anyone but myself. But now on reflection, her quiet and happy demeanor shows her caring nature which we have all embraced and loved.
And, from our good friends, the See’s. Although Art, Pat, and their five children only lived near us for a few years, our families remained close after they moved to Ohio. Over the years, we vacationed together in the north Georgia mountains, different beaches in the Carolinas, and even into Canada on one occasion. Pat, Art, and their daughter Julie continue to stop and spend several days with Mom each year on their winter journey to Florida. During one of their visits, Mom presented Art and Pat with a quilt – and this year she presented Julie with her own quilt. Each time, they were overwhelmed, overjoyed and everlastingly impressed with such an outpouring of love.
We all — in the end — die in the middle of a story. Of many stories.
It’s not accurate to call the death of someone who’s lived 84 years unexpected, but Mom’s death was unexpected for me.
A couple of years ago, Alyson and I purchased Mom’s home and remodeled part of the main floor so that she’d have her own space. We made the promise to her that she would live out the rest of her life in the home she and Dad had built, surrounded by the things she loved and comforted by the memories held within those walls. We expected – and hoped - that this arrangement would last for many years.
In death, mom’s character stood out.
Mom stoically faced major obstacles during the final phase of her life, and spent more than two months in and out of the hospital since March. When she realized that God had plans for her to join Him, she made the decision to spend her final days or weeks at home. She wasn’t giving up – but she also wasn’t going let death happen to her. She achieved it on her terms.
As many of you know, Mom was a quilter – we recently added up the number of quilts she’s made over the years – it came to over 200. A few days ago, Toni and Sandy, who are also quilters, stopped in for a visit. Andrea, Alyson and I decided to give them their space – so we retreated to the kitchen. For the next two hours, our hearts were lightened by the incredible amount of laughter coming from Mom’s room. In spite of Mom’s declining condition, she and her friends carried on just as they always have – full of life. Eventually we made our way back into her room – only to find out that they had discovered several projects that Mom had nearly finished. Quilts that are in the middle of a story. Stories that we hope to complete.
Later that day, when just the two of us were together, we discussed the next passage of her life.
She asked me if I would give her Eulogy – I told her that I’d be honored to do my best. I asked her if there was anything special she’d like me to say.
She asked me to find some sort of memento that could be given to each of her six children – something that would epitomize her life.
<< NOT SPOKEN: Grace to come up and retrieve items – and distribute them to her aunts and uncles – and to the See’s. >>
I chose a figurine of a mother holding a child, both covered by a quilt (hover to view). It beautifully expresses love, closeness, healing, courage and hope - all the emotions of a life well-lived. Grace and I were able to show her one of the figurines shortly before she became unresponsive – a faint smile graced her face and she mouthed the words “beautiful – thank you.”
Several days earlier, when Mom knew she most likely wouldn’t be leaving the house again, she said she was sorry, so sorry that she wouldn’t be able to watch her grandchildren grow old, as she’d always envisioned. Sorry that she wouldn’t be able to watch any more soccer games, graduations, weddings or get to know any of her great grandchildren.
But, she also told me that she was not afraid of death. Her exact words were “David, I don’t want to die – but I am not afraid of dying. I will be back in your father’s arms. Do not cry – I will be with you always. Watching and loving you from afar. Look to the stars at night – and you will find me.”
Love of God, love for my Dad, love for each of her children and grandchildren, love for all of God’s creatures, and love for all of you here today.
I’m sure Mom is looking down upon us now, with a warm heart and a smile on her face. Truly at peace.
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank each of you for coming this morning. Many of you have taken off from work to be here – and just about everyone had to drive a great distance. This is a testament to how much she was loved and admired.
Mom had a good life because she made it so.
Hers was one of love, beauty, grace, closeness, healing, courage, forgiveness, and hope. But, mostly, it was about love.
May God bless her, her family, and everyone who knew and loved her.
God speed, Mom -- I love you.