We buried my mother yesterday. It was a noticeably short service at the grave of my Father and brother where a priest who had never even met her, quickly mumbled a few prayers over the small box of ashes that my mother had become. My sister offered the shoe-sized box around for everyone to kiss before she handed it to the priest but when she got to me, I declined. That seemed a little too odd for me; slightly staged. I looked around half expecting the director to jump out and yell “cut” because I didn’t act out the scene like I was supposed to.
Mom died almost 3 months ago and I have not cried. I hope that one day I will have enough quiet in my life and be allowed the time to reflect on Mary Buckley and what she meant to me, but for now I feel so embroiled in the lives of my 3 kids and my own health issues that it seems impossible. Still, I felt I should write something in her memory, so here is the eulogy I wrote for her, my Mom, who loved me more than just about anyone on this earth. I suppose that will be the hardest thing about losing a mother; because there truly is no greater love than that of a parent to a child. This I will miss.
Mary Martha Buckley
July 5, 1923- August 27, 2008
There comes a point in our lives when we all wonder what our purpose is on this earth; what legacy we will leave behind. Have we done anything spectacular? Contributed enough to society? Will we be remembered? Usually though, we discover it is not the major accomplishments that define a life but rather the small, quiet things a person passes along that are far more important –far more lasting and impressive. My mothers’ life can be measured in the subtle ways she has affected us all and in the traits she has passed on to her children and grandchildren. She lived for us. And because of that, we learned from her.
Anyone who knew Mary Buckley knew she could be quite feisty and downright ornery at times. They also knew of her razor sharp wit and positive attitude. Although she had been through some difficult times, she never complained, always looking for the bright side. Mary outlived her beloved husband, Joe and suffered the loss of her sons, Paul and Michael – all snatched from this earth far too young. She carried through these tragedies with dignity and style. When she would tell me of her childhood – losing her own mother as an infant and then being shuffled around from aunt to aunt to grandfather to stepmother, I would say to her “that’s awful,” to which she would reply, ”Oh no, I had a great life.” And this she truly meant. She always believed that no matter how bad things got, there were others around us who suffered more, others who could benefit from our assistance.
Michael’s daughter Summer says this about her grandmother;” The most important thing Grammy taught me is to always keep my chin up and look ahead. Not to look behind me at the sad times but to see how much we have right here and now. She also taught me that no matter how bad things got, to always look your best. What an amazing, classy and strong woman she was.”
My mother always said, “It’s far better to look good than to feel good.” It was a motto, which she was afforded the luxury to live by since for most of her life she was in perfect health. Up until her 80th birthday, Mary not only looked good, she felt great. It was only in the last few years her health began to falter and even through that she held herself up to the highest standard, making sure her hair was done and her makeup applied correctly. Some might call this vanity or excessive pride. I call it class. Class is defined as ‘elegance in appearance, behavior, or lifestyle.’ My mother was the epitome of class and it was a quality that she instilled in all us. Always present your best face to the world, no matter how your heart aches or what problems keep you up at night. Last week when she died, a mere month into her 85th year, I must say, she looked pretty darned good.
Throughout her life my mother dreamed about events in our lives before they happened. Sometimes her dreams foretold tragic events; sometimes they just foreshadowed an unexpected visitor. As we got older and moved away from home, she would always call us with the warning.
“Be careful today, I had a dream about you last night”
I’d spend the day looking over my shoulder and driving very slowly; not taking any chances.
This gift was passed on to her granddaughter Fawn, who said recently, “Anytime I have that Mother-child 6th sense feeling, I think of Grammy. I have that same connection with my children and whenever I tell a story about my 6th sense, I always mention that my Grammy has this with her own children, and every time I mention that, it makes me smile inside. I like to think that I got this ‘power’ from her.”
These powerful connective dreams were my mother’s way of keeping us all safe. Something she will now do from a distance.
Mary was a woman who craved quiet. Unfortunately for her, we were a very loud family. Like the eye of a hurricane my mother remained centered while we, her children with all our life’s drama swirled with fury around her. If we could get to her, we knew we would find a peaceful solace. Whenever life threw us curves, we called Mom. She listened quietly without giving unsolicited advice. Of course if you did ask for her opinion, you had better have been prepared to hear the truth. I remember arriving home to a house full of well-intentioned people after the birth of my eldest son, Calvin. Overwhelmed, I snuck up to my bedroom shut the door and talked to her on the phone for close to an hour. I couldn’t tell you what she said, but I do remember that she gently reassured me, telling me that I would be OK and that I just needed to find some solitude for me and my newborn; which I did find…in her voice.
Mary loved axioms, she peppered every conversation with them: Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, There but for the grace of God go I, Jesus Mary, and Joseph, Count your blessings, Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, Throwing good money after bad, Robbing Peter to pay Paul — all of these sayings have now been added to my own repertoire. I pull them out of my brain like cards from her old recipe box whenever I need them in a conversation. She told me once that turkeys are so stupid, that when it rains they look up to the heavens and drown themselves. Whether or not this is true, it has become part of me and I will continue to pass this knowledge on to anyone that will listen.
In the end, we discover that it is the little things that define us; the minute details of our lives that we pass on. My mother’s legacy will remain every time I add vinegar to dough when making the perfect apple pie or when I boil the potatoes “in their jackets”, as she would always tell me, when making potato salad. Every time I brush Maeve’s hair or make Aidan fudge and each time I sit for a heart-to-heart talk with Calvin. Every time Moe matches her belt with her shoes or daughter Mary plays cribbage. Every time Brian flashes his smile and Karen laughs her contagious laugh. Whenever her grandson Stephen remembers how much he was loved or his sister Kristen cracks a joke in the face of adversity, mom is there. My mother did not write a book or discover a cure for cancer. She will not be remembered far and wide for her great accomplishments, but instead she will be remembered close to all of our hearts, where it really maters, for her dignity and quiet style, and for all the things she taught each of us about being the best person we could possibly be for the exceedingly short time we are here.