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.

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