Monday, July 21, 2014

My Mom's Service

Last Saturday we held a memorial service for my mom at the First United Methodist Church of Seffner. It's the church where my parents were married, where I was confirmed, where I met and married Daryl, where I received a call to ministry and preached my first sermon, where all three of our boys have been baptized and now where we have celebrated both of my parents' lives. It was a beautiful celebration of my mom's life and I'm grateful to everyone who attended that day. We were surrounded by lots of wonderful family and friends from near and far, including several of our clergy colleagues and large continents from both our churches, Belleview and Druid Hills (Belleview even brought the church bus!). My cousin Russ and Daryl both read Scripture during the service and in addition to the pastor, my Uncle Roger and I both had the opportunity to speak. Below is the text of what I shared as a tribute to my mom, Ellen Jean Packer Keller.


My Memories of Mom 

First of all, I wanted the chance to stand up here and say thank you today. My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in April 2012 and the last 27 months have been quite the journey. My mom and I would not have been able to get through all of this without so many of you here. I was here as much as I could be but I live 90 minutes away; so many of you – our extended family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and church family stood in the gaps. When she was still in rehab, mom’s colleagues donated their own time off so she wouldn’t lose her benefits or her job. Her Thursday evening Bible study group moved their meeting to a conference room at her rehab center and ever since she’s been home has met in mom’s house because it was easiest for her. Many of you helped drive her to appointments and treatments, you made sure she had groceries and brought meals over, you brought in her mail and paper, and got the trashcans back and forth to the curb when she couldn’t, you built wheelchair ramps, changed lightbulbs, and did household repairs. And that’s just the stuff I know about. I’m beyond thankful to everyone who helped out.  I am especially grateful to my aunts and uncle for their care in the last week of my mom’s life, not only for her, but also for me. As incredibly difficult as it was to sit by mom’s bedside the blessing that week was the conversations we got to have. Some with my mom and then I got to get to know my Aunt Nancy, Uncle Sparky, and Aunt Susie all over again as adults and that was very healing. 

My mom and I were very close and enough alike that sometimes we rubbed each other the wrong way, but at the end of the day we always loved each other the best way we knew how. I was an only child and so we did almost everything together, especially since for the first nine years of my life she was a stay-at-home mom. But even after she went back to work, she was the kind of parent who volunteered at school and always, always went on field trips. There was this one field trip to a state choir competition when I was in high school – it was a couple of days and she had been planning on skipping that one because she had recently changed jobs. But two days before we left a chaperone backed out and the school needed another adult on the trip or we couldn’t go. My mom took off work and went with us so we wouldn’t have to miss. The kids always loved her on field trips because anything you might need -  needle and thread, bandaids, medicine, breath mint, safety pin – my mom was sure to have it in the giant purse she always had with her. When I was in college at USF, she was always available when we needed extra volunteers for events with the Honors Program, and several of my friends who were from out of town were always glad for the extra mom. A couple of my friends had car accidents and my mom and my dad would show up and help my friends navigate dealing with the police reports and rental cars and of course my dad helped deal with car repairs. And then there was the youth group at church and all my friends growing up here. For as long as we’ve been at this church, since 1981, we’ve lived four doors down and across the street from it. Mom and Dad made sure it was the kind of house that was open for everyone to come hang out at, for a few hours or even a few days if that’s what you needed. I’ve been contacted by several friends from youth group in the last couple of weeks who were reminiscing about how my mom was a good listener for them and gave great advice. 

As much as my mom was friendly and outgoing and loved people – wanted to be around them, wanted to be loved and accepted by them – she was also an incredibly private and independent person, who was always more comfortable in giving or doing for others rather than receiving. She rarely talked about feelings; preferring to demonstrate them instead. So she tried to take care of everyone around her; mom was always available to help out if she could. Daryl and I had only been married a couple of weeks and were trying to settle into our tiny apartment in Kentucky. I remember telling her and Dad on the phone that we wanted to do some painting, but since we were both working and I was going to school it was going to take a while. She called me back 45 minutes later with her flight information and came up that weekend. She painted our entire apartment, including our ugly kitchen cabinets. Later she would be the caretaker for her mom and for my dad’s parents and eventually my dad. 

I am fortunate to have a lot of great memories of doing things with my mom. A lot of them revolve around vacations – Caribbean cruises, a cabin in the woods of North Carolina, road trips to Indiana to see relatives, yearly visits to our family timeshare in Orlando with the obligatory outlet shopping and time spent in theme parks, and lots of time spent on the beach. A true native Floridian, the beach was my mom’s happy place; in fact she had a full size mural on her bedroom wall of the beach at sunset. And the beach has become one of my favorite places as well. 

My mom was a fighter whose willpower was a force to be reckoned with; I think that is a lot of what kept her going these last 27 months. When my dad died in 2011, even though he had been homebound for a while, his heart attack caught us by surprise. None of us were ready to say goodbye. When mom's cancer was first diagnosed it was already in the bones throughout her body and the doctors were not very hopeful about her prognosis. I am incredibly grateful for every extra day that we've had  - more time for us to work on our relationship, more memories that she was able to make with her grandchildren Parker and Wesley and the chance to meet and enjoy her grandson Davis. She retired from her job the day we came home from China last year and was one of the crew who met us at the airport late that night. While I was on maternity leave, she made several trips up to Ocala to be able to spend time with us. As last year came to a close there were a few things she was looking forward to doing this year – one was a family reunion with her brother and sister and nephews and we were able to do that over the holidays. The other two were related to Davis. Since she couldn’t travel to China with us, she wanted to be with us in court in when we re-adopted Davis in the state of Florida. And she wanted to see him baptized. She made it both; Davis was readopted in February and baptized on June 14th.

Mom and Dad’s favorite phrase to me over and over again throughout the years was “You Are Loved.” They even gave me a plaque with the words on it to help remind me. I hope she knew deep down inside just exactly how much the same thing was true of her – of how loved she was – by her family, by her friends and by her Lord. You Are Loved Mom.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Mom's Obituary

KELLER, Ellen Jean, age 64, of Seffner, passed away on July 12, 2014. Born in Tampa on August 25, 1949, she graduated from Brewster Vo-Tech in 1967. For over 20 years she worked as an office manager and bookkeeper for auto and trucking companies in the Tampa Bay area. For the last 10 years she worked in human resources, most recently at Mental Health Clinic. An active member of the First UMC of Seffner for over 30 years, she served on various committees and as communion steward. Ellen was preceded in death by her parents, Albert Packer and Helen Washburn, step-father Jack Washburn, brother Albert F. Packer, sister Helen Creamer and husband Robert Keller. She is survived by her daughter, Debbie (Daryl) Allen of Ocala; 3 grandsons, Parker, Wesley and Davis Allen; a sister, Nancy (Sparky) Clark of Indian Rocks Beach; a brother, Roger (Mona) Washburn of Shawnee, KS; a sister-in-law, Susan (Rich) Street of Sweetser, IN; 5 nephews: Russ, Bob and Randy Clark, Paul Perry and Matt Kindley; and other relatives and friends. A memorial service will be held at the First United Methodist Church of Seffner (1310 South Kingsway Road) on Saturday, July 19th at 12pm. In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made in her memory to the First United Methodist Church of Seffner or to Moffitt Cancer Center. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Our Anniversary

"To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish as long as we both shall live." 

Our 15th wedding anniversary was last Thursday, July 10. We left the hospital long enough to go to lunch with my aunts and uncle at Longhorn; we've rescheduled our dinner reservations at the Melting Pot for next week. This afternoon we pulled out our photo albums and took time to reminisce about our wedding day and the wonderful celebration that it was with both of our families and friends. 

My mom's side of the family - Packers and Washburn
My dad's side of the family - Miles and Kellers
Daryl's dad's family - Sparks and Allens

Daryl's mom's side of the family - Davis

Saturday, July 12, 2014

My Mom/"Grandma" Update

My mom, Ellen Keller, passed away peacefully this evening, with her big sister at her side. 

Mom and I - circa 1981

Mom and I - Thanksgiving 2012

Her second battle with breast cancer began for our family in April of 2012. In the last couple of months her health and strength declined and her condition really deteriorated over the last two weeks. My dad's sister (my Aunt Susie) arrived in Seffner from Indiana on July 4th to stay for a few weeks with Mom and help out. I spent several hours with them last Saturday and helped run errands around town to get some things set up. But Grandma had an especially bad day Sunday and after talking to the on-call physician, Granddaddy and Uncle Daniel went over to help get her loaded up in the car for a trip to Moffitt. She was admitted that night to the ICU with extremely low blood pressure and very low kidney function. Daryl and I arrived at different points on Monday (after he took Parker to summer camp in Leesburg) and my mom's sister and her husband (my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Sparky) came over from Indiana Rocks Beach. The decision was made on Tuesday to move her from aggressive treatment to palliative care. After two days of visiting with family and friends, Mom became unresponsive Tuesday night. Moffitt graciously allowed us to remain there with her instead of moving to a hospice house. We can not say enough good things about the wonderful doctors, nurses and techs who made Mom comfortable and tried to make things easier for our family as we stayed by her side.

We appreciate all the expressions of love we have received so far and are thankful for everyone's support, especially your prayers. Details on a memorial service will be forthcoming shortly.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

4th of July at Legoland

Last year for July 4th we spent the day in Hong Kong Disneyland and watched the castle fireworks as our July 4th fireworks. This year we wanted to do something special to celebrate Davis' birthday and his first official July 4th in the United States. Enter Legoland's "Red Brick Boom" celebration. We decided to use our passes and spent this July 4th there. It rained off and on but we still managed to have a good day together. Our first stop was for Davis - the new preschool area called Duplo Valley. 

Then we let the big brothers ride Legends of Chima and get soaking wet without us. 

Merlin's Challenge is always one of Davis' favorites - he kept yelling for it to go faster. 

Someone was finally old enough to ride the Royal Joust - you have to be 36 inches tall (he's 38in) AND at least four years old. He was so happy to ride the horses that we waited over 30 minutes in line even while the ride was shut down for the weather (Parker played legos). Davis was one super happy camper and the big brothers enjoyed the ride too. 

Time for a 4D movie. 

A new feature at the Imagination Station was this solar powered globe. We loved all the landmarks made of Legos placed on the globe, especially the ones we've seen, including Lady Liberty, Stonehenge and the Great Wall of China. 

The big boys got to drive cars again. 

Mama and the boys all helped make big Lego bricks to be part of the large flag that was created for the 4th. It looked awesome when we saw it finished later on that day. 

Time for a refreshing icee tree while we watched an outdoor show - "The Big Test" 

We finally caught the last Pirate Show of the day at 5pm. We had been seated and waiting for the 3pm show when it was cancelled because of weather. Parker got soaked again - he got a seat by a water cannon and got to participate in the show going up against one of the pirates. 

The grand finale to the show - the big crane in the background is from the construction on the Legoland hotel that will be done next summer. 

The big brothers on the Kid Power Towers, with Davis anxiously watching their progress. 

We got to meet Emmett and Wyldfire from the Lego movie. Davis LOVES characters and kept trying to talk to them instead of standing for the picture. 

Baba and the big boys rode the Aquazone Wave Racers. 

Back for a different 4D movie - someone used the time for a nap. 

We got our special glasses for the fireworks and headed into one of the stadiums about 7:45 for the 9pm show. There was a dance party while we were waiting and the big guy felt like showing off some of his moves. 

The little brothers weren't really into dancing. 
Wesley mostly observed and sang along - Davis clapped. 

Emmett came back out with one of the hosts for the evening; the boys recognized him from the  pirate show earlier in the day. 

A view across the lawn full of people and the other stadium also full - big crowd for the fireworks. 

The fireworks lasted for 20 minutes and were really well done. The first ten minutes was all inspired from the Lego movie and the glasses made the fireworks look like lego bricks (you can't see that on the video). The last ten minutes of the show was a patriotic tribute and one of the Lego characters came out to stand on the stage with the flag.