Saturday marks the twelfth anniversary of Mother's passing. This is the eulogy I delivered in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in Commerce. 2012 would have been her hundredth year.
Mother was just fifty-seven when Daddy died. A few weeks later, she asked me to say something nice at her funeral. I did not want to talk about death and funerals. When my brother died three years later, she asked me again. I promised her I would if she wouldn’t mention it again. She never did.
How do you put someone’s eighty-eight plus years of living into only a few minutes, especially if that someone is your mother?
She is the last survivor of eighteen children born to Lee and Mary Pearl Alexander. As a child and adult, she was known for her mischief, strong will and sense of humor.
Her life has been full of tragedy, but also triumph over adversity. She married and raised children during the depths of the Great Depression and World War II. She lost her first-born son just before he turned two to illnesses that would be minor problems today. But, she kept going. She had other children, and focused on them and her husband.
She almost died giving birth to conjoined twins who were stillborn. My father was very ill in the same hospital at the time she was giving birth, and had been given little chance to live. They both kept going.
His twenty-year battle with illness devastated them physically, emotionally, and financially. She lost Daddy at fifty-nine. But, she kept going.
Three years later, she lost my brother Eddy in a plane crash. He was only thirty-four. Again, she kept going.
She married Deb Hooten in 1973. Only a few years later, an automobile accident left him partially paralyzed for the remainder of his life. But, she kept going.
She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and lived the last twenty years of her life battling this crippling disease. She had two hip surgeries, thyroid surgery, a brain tumor, numerous hip dislocations, and many fractures, cuts and abrasions caused by her efforts to keep going.
I mention these adversities only to show Nadelle’s strength. She persevered. What about the bright side? We grew up dirt-poor. She struggled, along with Daddy, to be sure that we never really suffered. And we didn’t. Unless you can call getting rained on regularly in your living room suffering. I remember coming home from basketball games on cold nights and finding the house frigid, but a warmed brick or iron was always in my bed. That was Mother’s love.
I was grown before I ever paid any attention to the term “unconditional love”, but Mother understood it long ago. She knew how to take our disadvantages and shortcomings and make us believe they were assets. I know that she had me convinced that being small for my age was such an incredible advantage that I actually felt sorry for the biggest kids.
I once heard grace defined as a gift from God – unearned merit – the gift of love we don’t always deserve. When I reached adulthood, Mother’s grace always gave me more credit than I deserved. I used to joke that if I were ever sent to prison, Mother would say three things:
1. He’s innocent and doesn’t deserve to be there and I will spend my last penny and the last breath in my body to get him out.
2. He is unquestionably the smartest and best person in that awful place, including the warden.
3. Doesn’t he look good in stripes.
She would, of course, say the same thing about my sister or any of her grandchildren or great grandchildren.
Some years ago, I was going through some of Mother’s things. She had been in and out of nursing homes for quite some time. A few material things were lost or given away with each relocation. As I looked through her possessions, it dawned on me that everything she owned now fit into a small chest and ottoman. I was overcome with emotion as I asked, “How could more than eighty years of living be reduced to this?”
But those two pitiful boxes full of material things is not her legacy. She left something much more valuable. This family is her legacy. She filled our lives with grace and unconditional love.
Mother, I know you are listening. I am glad your pain is over. For Pat and myself and all of your family, I say thank you. We love you. Job well done. Rest now and go with God.