Sunday, May 14, 2017

Full Talk Given at Mom's Funeral in February 2001

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Family and Friends,

Over the past few days, I’ve been reading through the many letters that my mother sent me over the years, particularly the thick stack she sent me while I lived and worked for two years as a missionary in Japan.  I also read through her most recent journal – an amalgam of letters to various family members and friends interspersed with reflections on life and family.   They are precious to me – because they reflect the kind of person my mother was, and they are, for the time being, some of the few, tangible reminders of her that we have to hold onto.      

* * * *

Nearly ten years ago, my mother wrote in a letter to me the following description of her life.  If you listen carefully to the words, she might as well be speaking to each of us here today, telling us that she is grateful for the life that she was able to live, and reassuring us that everything is okay: 

September 3, 1991.  Life is very good for me, Tim.  I love each child born to us.  I have a wonderful husband.  The Gospel has filled my life with purpose and joy, and I always have twelve or more things waiting for me to do that I really enjoy doing.  I feel so grateful for education, for modern conveniences that have freed me from drudgery, and for the endless beauty of the earth.  I hope life is good in the same way for you and for each of your brothers and sisters.  I am very glad that to be alive and to have lived.  I have felt the direction and comfort of the Lord along the way.  I have an assurance of truth that carries me through difficulties.  What more could life give anyone? 

Mom was never bored with life – never.  Growing up, she was always dabbling in something:  toll painting, Spanish Classes, gardening, cheesemaking, and various and sundry experiments in self-sufficiency.  As a child, I got up in the cold to milk goats, I shoveled manure, weeded in the garden – all of us children did -- not because there was any pressing economic need, but because Mom wanted to build “character” and teach self-sufficiency. 

My mother loved living, growing things.  She loved animals of all kinds.  We’ve had dogs ranging from a Chihuahua to a St. Bernard, countless cats, goats, ducks, chickens, geese -- even guinea hens.  She dreamed of retiring to a farm in the country where she could raise Merino sheep.  Her gardens were her pride and joy—not for any aesthetic reason but because they burst with life and bounty.  She spent roughly six months a year – from October to March – getting the soil just perfect:  adding compost and manure and pitchforking it in until you’d sink deep into the soil with each step.  Then, when spring arrived, she would plant her seeds and sit back to watch the fireworks.

My most vivid memories of my mother involve her doing things, because Mom was all about doing.  Forget planning or organizing, Mom just wanted to go out and do it, whatever it was:  touring about Amish country, picking up seashells on the beach, making fudge on a heavy marble slab, cooking meals for someone, digging in her garden--whatever need arose, or, when she had a minute to spare, whatever struck her fancy.

In a letter to my Grandmother, dated October 23, 1997, she wrote the following:

Dear Mom:  The other day I was wondering what impact I would have on my children.  I decided that really the only impact I can have is the same as the impact others have had on me.  It is never what people preach about, is it?  Each person's legacy comes from the things that person has loved and given his or her life to.  Those loves leave an indelible impression.

My mother’s loves have left an indelible impression on her family and all those who knew her well. 

I begin with her love of nature.  Mother often began her letters by talking about the weather.  But these were not your run-of-the-mill “it’s rainy here”  kind of fillers; rather, they were poetic expressions of the changing seasons and the miracle of life and creation.

October 8, 1990.  Dear Tim:  This is a beautiful morning.  I walked Katie to school and enjoyed every second of it.  Huge mushrooms were growing under the evergreens alongside the path—as big as Katie’s head.  At first, I thought they were little bird baths placed there by someone, because they formed cups about the size of a bird bath.  The colors are getting brighter everyday in the maples and sweet gum trees, and the grasses are still green.  Poison ivy is especially beautiful right now.  We live in a sea of it.  . . .

I’ve been thinking this morning about how good it has always felt to me to go outside.  I don’t think I’ve changed in all the years.  If I can play outside, everything gets better fast.  If there’s nothing great to look at on the ground, the sky is always interesting.  The trees are wonderful, dead or alive.  Every grass, every weed presents wonderful patterns, interesting designs.  Every bug is Star Wars material.

Mom had a wonderful eye for nature:  she loved toads and toadstools, bats and beetles, mice and mushrooms – you name it.  She had a particular gift for noticing things that others would pass by, and describing things in a way that reflected a keen sense of observation.  

July 22, 1996.  Dear Peter:  Dad introduced me to “toad talk” the other night.  You know those toads that live in the window well?  Dad turned the basement light on for them.  Two were standing side by side on their hind legs looking in the window, arm in arm, looking very human and making toad sounds--one an almost imperceptible bass, and the other chirping a little like a hen.  They didn’t seem to mind that we were watching.

June 22, 1999.  Dear Jim and Cheryl:  My dream right now--only a dream--is to create a pond in that sink hole out back.  Glenn, of course, thinks I am crazy.  We wouldn't have to do much digging.  It gets deeper every year.  . . .  Think of it!  We could have our own bullfrogs and toads galore!  Some of my little piano students told me they had bullfrogs in their back yard.  I didn't believe them until I went over to Dunloggin to see.  They certainly do!  Their big problem with the small pond they created is that as soon as their goldfish get big, a great blue heron flies down for supper.  They are trying a fake white egret to scare him off, but I don't think he'll be fooled.  The goldfish are growing fat again.

Mom loved little creatures, and was particularly fond of field mice and squirrels.  After my Dad found two white-footed field mice cowering in an aluminum garbage can in the garage, my mother took them over to show Paula Burr and her son, who were living next door.  The mice had taken shelter in a little plastic scoop in the bottom of the can.

December 2, 1996.  Dear Peter:  I showed the mice to Paula and her little boy by lifting up the plastic scoop and walking out onto the driveway.  They were frightened at first and hid their eyes, curling up in two quivering brown balls.  Then they became lively and looked as though they would jump out onto the driveway.  I was afraid a crow would scoop them up, so I tried to keep them in the cup as I bent down toward the ground.  One jumped out into a pile of leaves, but the other started up my arm.  I could feel him on the back of my hand all soft and warm.  I told him not to run up my arm, but he did anyway--and then onto my back and up my neck and into my hair.  When I put my head down to the ground, he finally jumped off into the leaves.  I think they knew we didn’t mean to hurt them.  Little Patrick (age four) got a big bang out of the whole thing.  I was still in my nightgown, shivering in my bare feet. 

While I was away in college, my mother found an injured baby squirrel and nursed it back to health. 

September 5, 1993.  Dear Tim:  We have a new baby at home.  For the first few days we called it Samuel Moroni Hawkes, but my brother Alan told me it had better be Samantha.  So, Samantha it is.  Cocoa [our cat] found a squirrel that had obviously fallen from its nest in one of the trees in the neighborhood.  I heard its pathetic cry.  When it cried the second time, I couldn’t stand it and ran out to see what it was.  Cocoa had bitten it, and it had an abrasion on its tummy.  I was sure it would die, so I wrapped it up and put it in a quiet corner of my bedroom.  At bedtime, I found it still alive and wished it would go peacefully.  As we were falling asleep, it made a pathetic sound like a nuzzling pup.  Dad said, “Mary Jane, it’s hungry.  You’ve got to feed that thing.”  I was doubtful that food would do anything but kill it, but I got up and fixed baby pablum with honey and a little canola oil.  I expected it to be dead by morning.  Instead, it was ravenous.  I went to the pet store and bought milk for newborn puppies.  It smells like liquid vitamins, but it seems to have done the trick.  So far, so good. … It’s wounds seem to be healing without infection.  Amazing. 

Eventually, Samantha became a part of the family.  My mother described the bittersweet occasion of releasing her into the wild in a subsequent letter to a family friend.

October 6, 1993.  Dear Wendy:  Our little squirrel has just spent its fourth night outside in a tree somewhere.  So, this year, I dread owls and winter.  After six years of living here, I heard two owls in the early morning darkness.  I woke from a sound sleep when I heard them.  I keep checking the squirrel nests in the trees and wondering how that pile of dry leaves can keep a little thing like our squirrel warm and dry.  It became such a darling pet before we took it outside.  We watched it pull its tail up like a blanket over its face.  We watched it yawn and stretch in the morning.  It even lifted its arm to be scratched underneath when we scratched its tummy.  The first three days we put it outside, it came to us again at night to sleep inside.  Finally, it didn't return . . . . 

Mother was a nurturer.  She loved babies, and puppies, and helping things grow.  She loved all creatures – great and small – unless, of course, they were eating her garden.

July 21, 1995.  I had a beautiful clump of squash growing on the corner of the garden until some wild animal came in the night and nibbled away all the youngest and greenest leaves and quite a few of the blossoms.  I think it was a wood chuck.  It also ate most of the pole beans that had begun to climb in the other garden.  This morning, I bought 4 lbs of dried blood and scattered it around all the plants in hopes that the wild rabbits would have nightmares when they smelled it and leave our plants alone.

May 28, 1999.  Dear Ben:  I love the crow shooter Peter set up for me.  He fixed up a cardboard roll that is as thick as wood.  It is perfect for shooting bottle rockets. The rockets I am shooting now don't whistle, but the crows get the message just the same.  They are staying away much better.  Trouble is, yesterday morning I got up at 6 a.m. and aimed my bottle rocket out the [sliding glass door].  When it shot off, a slight breeze coming in from the deck blew some black powder onto my nightgown and set it on fire.  I now have a nice hole in my yellow gown.  Luckily, I looked down in time to put out the flames.  Also luckily, it wasn't a terrifically flammable material, or I wouldn't be laughing about this story.

Mom was never afraid to laugh at herself.  She recounted the following story in her journal after a trip to Swallow Creek Falls in Western Maryland

July 8, 1996.  Some little boy on the trail in front of me at Swallow Falls was kicking up his heels, jumping around and making his parents nervous.  They were trying to restrain him, but he kicked up to eye level and crowed, "Say goodbye to you!"  Dad and I laughed and talked about how thin we would be if we kept that active.  I used to be able to kick high like that, so I said, "Say goodbye to you!" and kicked my right foot up high.  Trouble was, my left sandal slipped in the gravel and nothing held me up.  I went down on my petussi right on a big pointed rock in the path.  . . .  Couldn't get up for a while.  I felt disconnected from my body somehow--like I was looking out of a box that had rolled down a hill--and I couldn't stop laughing.  . . .  My bottom still hurts, but I was lucky.  I could have cracked my head on that rock.  Then it really would have been "Say goodbye to you!"

On a somewhat different note, my father lived in fear of my mother’s “little” projects.  They always took three times as long and cost five times as much as she expected.  Here’s her effort to sell Jennie on a major expansion of an existing project:

March 1, 1997.  Dear Jennie:  [T]he shower is still torn out, but I woke up this morning with wonderful plans for remodeling the whole bathroom.  Dad is terrified.  All I need is a crowbar.  You will love this bathroom.  It will add to the value of the whole house!  It's similar to the kitchen remodel--Take out walls.  Let in light and air.  Add a tub and tiled floor.  We can do it.  We watched a video on doing the floor.  Easy.  It just takes work and time and not that much money. 

As many of you know, my mother loved music, and this love, as with most her loves, was described in her letters and journals.

Today, July 19, 1993, is a beautiful summer day, warm and humid.  I have just baked some cookie bars, whole wheat and raisin, brown sugar and almonds, and the house is filled with the aroma.  Katie and her friend Sherrie are upstairs trying on my make up and perfume and having a wonderful time.  Peter, Josh and a boy from France are playing on the trampoline and squirting each other with a hose, Paddy running around their feet hopefully, begging them to throw the ball.  I have been listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a brazen, irreverent, wonderful, inspiring musical account of the story of Joseph sold into Egypt.  I feel it would offend my mother, but it makes me laugh and cry and want to dance and dream of the coming of Zion.

This next entry also reflects a love of music, but more importantly, her love for my sister Jennie. 

November 27, 2000.  Dear Jennie:  Yesterday, as I was driving home from church, strings came on the radio.  I realized how long it has been since I have heard some great strings, and a wave of longing flooded over me.  I never dreamed I would have a daughter who could play like you do.  When you went away to college, it was as though someone precious had died.  I missed the music and all the musical connections.  I didn’t want to say that, because it almost sounds like music and you are one and the same.  It was just an additional bereavement along with your empty room, your empty desk and bulletin board.  I miss you, Jennie, and the soul of you I feel in your music.

Everyone knows that my mother loved her family.  She loved each child – all eight of us – unconditionally, and valued each for our particular strengths and personalities.

October 31, 1991.  Dear Nate & Tim:   I’m glad to have such children.  I love the way you help and encourage one another.  You’ll know someday the joy that comes into a parent’s heart when there’s love at home.  I could imagine no better group in the same family.  We compliment one another and no two are alike.  Toleration for differences could be better, but I do think we’re learning to love one another for who were are.

December 2, 1996.  Dear Peter:   As the years have gone by, Christmas has taken on new and deeper meanings.  At this stage, of course, the significance of the Savior’s birth and atonement grows in me.  I’m getting older.  It means more and more as our family grows, as my love grows for your father and my own parents and for you children, and as I see the lives and personalities of my children unfold.  For me, the most enduring part of Christmas as we celebrate it is in the sacred carols.  They carry the joy and awe of his birth.  I also cherish the sweet feelings I have toward all the family as I try to think of things that would delight each one---and the pain that accompanies knowing I can’t give every delight.  Mixed into that is the memory of Christmases past--mostly the feeling of gathering near the tree with loved ones, playing games, enjoying gifts, listening to sweet music, enjoying life together.
As I think of all the sweet babies that have come into our home--their precious personalities and the fun we have had, it almost overwhelms me.  I can hardly imagine such rich blessings.  Now I see them being repeated in grandchildren.

She loved her grandchildren.  She found them endlessly amusing and loved to watch their little personalities unfold.  In her eyes, they could do no wrong, and she spoiled them without the slightest remorse.  She appreciated each of them as individuals, for their respective strengths.  My children were always so thrilled to visit “Gam-ma’s house.”  It meant jumping on the trampoline, helping Grandma in the garden, playing on the tire swing in the basement, and basically just hanging out with Grandma, who seemed to have endless amounts of time to spend with them and gave them her full love and attention. 
She also loved our Dad.

October 28, 1990.  Dear Tim:  It has meant the world to me to be married to your Dad.  I don’t think you kids have a clear picture of the way I feel about him.  We disagree on many small things, and we approach simple tasks in a totally different ways.  He is so much more careful and thorough than I am.  I am always impatient to get going and to get done and don’t always take careful planning into the program.  (Somewhere between the two of us is the truth.)  But where it counts—in the things that mean most—in our foundation, our testimony of the Gospel, our method of dealing with other people, our love for you kids, we are perfectly united.  More than love and even more than perfect unity, we have complete trust in each other.

Although it required great effort and placed incredible demands on her time, my mother loved teaching early morning seminary.  She took it as a challenge to try and teach spiritual truths to young people in a way they could understand.  She thought long and hard about her lessons, and she agonized about her students, particularly when she saw them struggling with tragedies and difficulties in their young lives.  

One time, mother was trying to illustrate how Jesus must feel when we turn our backs on him and reject his love and sacrifice.  She staged an exchange between her and Katie, who was a student in the class, in which Katie took a beautiful cake that my mother had prepared for her and threw it into a trash can.  My mother reported in her journal:

There was stone silence in the room when she chucked the cake in the trash.  . . .  I asked the kids how they felt when Katie threw the cake away.  “No cake,” was the reply.  “Waste.”  “Sad.”  Then I asked, “How would it have been if I had given everything for Katie—even my life—and she acted that way?  Then I retrieved the cake from the clean liner that I had placed in trash can.  Miraculously, it was unbroken.  I told them we were lucky to be able to retrieve the gift.  It was still there.  I frosted it while we talked and then sliced it up for them.  It worked better than I had expected, except for one boy who mumbled while he was eating his cake, “Katie shouldn’t EVER treat her mother like that.”

One hallmark of my mother’s life was her deep and abiding faith.  In her journal she returns to this theme time and time again.

January 1997.  To me this whole process is the greatest evidence for eternal life:  Why the journey--the lives of struggle and learning, always arriving at wisdom after the experience--coming to know how to run the plays when the game has ended and often after we’ve lost the game???  It only makes sense if there is more.  There is no evidence in nature of futility.  Everything has function and purpose.  Should our hard-won understanding be wasted when our bodies decay?  No!  This has to be just what we are taught it is:  preparation for more and more and more.  That’s what Christmas means to me.  I believe the story.  It’s far crazier than a Star Wars fantasy, but I believe it.  

May 4, 1998.  Dear Nathan:  [The] idea of testimony once seemed complicated to me and now seems much simpler.   Sometimes, it seems as simple as gratitude--the ability to acknowledge divine purpose and order in all creation with a full and thankful heart--the joy of being alive, running, swimming, seeing, hearing, loving--the joy of seashells and stones, of colored fruit from the brown earth--rainbows in the air.

January 4, 1999.  The Lord has provided so much for us.  In our abundance, we have become thoughtless--even offensive.  . . .   It seems to me we have two duties: to remember the source of our blessings and to share them.

Finally, I want to share with you some of my mother’s thoughts on the resurrection – thoughts that have been a great comfort to me as I’ve struggled to come to terms with my mother’s sudden death.

The first journal entry describes some of the final days Mom spent with her own mother, who died of cancer roughly two years ago.  Mom was able to travel to Utah for the final few weeks of grandmother’s life and to care for her up until she died.  Not surprisingly, during that period, my mother reflected on fundamental questions of life, death, and the promise of resurrection. 

March 24, 1999.  I gave Mama’s little skeleton a backrub just before bed one night, and when I knelt for my prayer, the contours of her wasted body seemed to be still under my hands.  I was heart broken and searching for comfort.  I thanked the Lord for the atonement.  I’ve studied it so many times, thought about it occasionally, but don’t remember ever wanting it to be a reality more than I did as I thought about Mama’s precious body wasting away a few feet from me.  As I prayed those words of gratitude, I was enveloped in that feeling best described as flames of fire.  Delicious warmth filled every part of my being.  I felt enveloped and engulfed in flames.  They lingered but not long enough for me.  I would have liked to have kept that feeling with me.  Those feelings are what I have come to regard as the Comforter, or Holy Spirit. 

Later, after the ordeal of Mama’s physical death, the cold questions crept into my mind:  What if it’s all a story?  What if this death is really all there is? What if all that was my mother has come to a final end?  What a leaden, miserable feeling it was.  Thankfully, it was brief.

In retrospect, those two strong memories make an easy choice for me.  I know which of them to believe.  One of them is death, and the other is life.  One is cold, and the other is warm.  One is false, and the other is true!  I believe in the atonement.    I believe in resurrection.  I believe in eternal life!  I thank the Lord!  I have been sweetly and personally comforted.   May the Lord help me to keep that truth and comfort in my life.  

The last journal entry that I wish to share with you comes from a letter sent to one of my mother’s closest friends, attempting to comfort her after the tragic deaths of her two young children.  Little did mother know that her letter would eventually comfort her own children as they struggled to come to grips with her own tragic death.  The quote comes from the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith:

God ha[s] revealed His Son from the heavens and the doctrine of the resurrection also; and we have a knowledge that those we bury here God will bring up again, clothed upon and quickened by the Spirit of the great God; and what mattereth it whether we lay them down . . . when we can keep them no longer?  Let these truths sink down in our hearts, that we may even here begin to enjoy that which shall be in full hereafter.

I am so grateful for the knowledge I have, that though my mother’s body goes to the grave, her spirit lives on still, and some day, sooner or later, I will see her and embrace her again.  In the meantime, I take comfort and draw strength from the precious memories that I have of her.  Though I miss her dearly, I am so grateful for the time I had to spend with her, that she was able to touch and bless our lives in so many ways. 

We love you, Mom.