Kelley J. Leigh

Loud World. Quiet Soul. Listen beyond the noise.

Concerning Roses | A Eulogy

The following post is simply the eulogy I did at my mother-in-law‘s funeral. I received requests to share it.  So here it is, in entirety.

The Backstory: My husband and sister-in-law asked me to read “Between Roses“, an article I wrote about their mom a few months ago.  In an effort to re-write the ending of that article, the day before the funeral I decided to poke through Judy’s old Bible.  The verses she underlined gave real insight into the heart of a woman I never felt like I really knew intimately. But, what I found on the very last page was shocking.  The only full sentence she had written in that book was a statement and a question about a rose.  

I was dumbstruck.  This eulogy is the result.

~K

roseEulogy | January 6, 2014

 

Several months ago, I went to visit Judy in the nursing home. Three in the afternoon, still in bed, her head was sliding off the pillow. Outside her ground-level window just a few feet from her face, the limbs of a tall rose bush bent heavy with buds, pregnant with scarlet blooms. On the other side of her head, the bed stand held a vase full of brittle dead roses left over from Mother’s Day. Live roses on one side, dead roses on the other; she was residing in a rose scented limbo between life and death.

She smiled to see me and spoke with a clarity that always surprised me, “Well hi!” I sit in her custom wheelchair parked by her bed, and smile back, “How are you?” And always the same exact reply, “Oh I can’t be complaining.”

I think if anybody had reason to complain it would be her. But in her last years, she didn’t. Ever. Really.

The Smile

A student nurse clattered into the room with a wheeled tower of monitor equipment. Her supervising nurse followed, greeted me and explained about my mother-in-law, “I tell new staff about how she always smiles. Did you know she is the only one in this facility who never complains?” The nurse thinks about her own question with a pause, and answers herself, “She never complains.”

The nurse was right. I know this. But the awful truth is, some days I dismissed my mother-in-law’s smiles as something ill and untethered from reality. And perhaps there was a tiniest grain of truth there, some days. However, shortly after her husband died, the woman who has lived more than 40 years with the constant and crippling affects of Multiple Sclerosis said to me, “I can still choose to smile. I can’t choose other things, but that is always something I can choose. Nobody else can choose that for me. It’s all I have left to give.”

In that moment I saw that her last thread of remaining dignity, her last empowered daily choice was a refusal to complain. The result impacted many people around her with something positive … something that resembled Jesus to the tired hard-working caretakers around her. It was a choice, a blooming gift she choose to give.

Before her body was taken away the nurse who tended to her body said, “She always made my day. I am going to miss her.” And I thought to myself, “I wonder if there could be a more powerful eulogy than that.”

And that is a little confusing.

To be painfully honest, I didn’t really know my mother-in-law. Not intimately.

I knew her smile. Yes.  And over the course of 25 years, I came to know a lot of details about her. She was the mother of my husband, and the grandmother of my sons. I tended to her physically and had polite, kind conversations. I sat at her table and saw things that made her cry and things that made her laugh. I watched her enjoy the food her husband fed her. I observed that she appreciated certain kinds of music and news about friends. But, because of her disease, circumstance, or choice, she didn’t delve into our relationship at an emotionally intimate level.

I often longed to engage with what was locked behind that non-complaining smile. But, below the surface, woman to woman, at heart level she was a mystery to me.

I always felt a certain distance.

Holy Words

Yesterday, in an effort to find an ending for this eulogy about a woman and roses, I pulled her Bible off my shelf. I have a collection of family Bibles from a long legacy of Christian family members both sides of the family tree. The Bibles are an assortment of leather texts that lean against each other like a panel of retired supreme court judges at a bar after work — old, tattered, relaxed, worn and wise.

Judy’s Bible is blue leather. On the inside cover, in her handwriting: Judith D. Leigh, 3521 Long Lake Rd., No. St Paul, MINN. In the year this Bible was printed, 1971, Judy had a 6 year old and a 4 year old; a girl and a boy. She was a woman of many roles and duties. She was planting a church with her husband. They had a suburban home near a lake, with two ponies, a collie and a station wagon. She had brown wavy hair, played piano, and talked on the phone a lot. She was adept at making space for things into the refrigerator and had recipes in her kitchen like: Pistachio jello foam, green bean casserole, Swedish Rye bread, and homemade applesauce

I leaf through her Bible and notice the cover, cracking blue leather with packing tape on the loose binding. More like an beloved stuffed animal than a book, the yellowed and dog-eared pages are soft and smell old and worn. New in 1972, I imagine the book had crisp stiff white pages and smelled like tanned cowhide and new shoe polish.

When this Bible was new:
—She was still able to underline verses with a pen in her hand
—Her house was clean and she still felt competent and in control
—She was still able to attend Bible studies and lead Pioneer Girls

That was before:
— The diagnosis
—The long journey into continued loss of physical choices
—The wheelchair

I imagine the worn nature of her Bible reflects the wearing that happened over the years in her life.

I begin at the beginning of her Bible and follow her markings. It’s hard to know which passages carry personal weight, and which were just underlined dutifully during a lecture or Sunday School class. Genesis has lots of lines and circling of keywords in ways that look like women’s ministry inductive Bible studies. The most emphatic group of markings comes in Joshua.

“I will be with you … Be strong and courageous … Only be strong and very courageous… be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you where ever you go.”

I continue flipping pages and find a book mark a random little piece of paper with her daughter Susan’s name written on it. Pages later, I find many underlinings in the Psalms. I jot them down and they accumulate across one book, like her own conglomerate Psalm.

And in her chosen words from the middle of the Bible, I get a glimpse behind the smile into the real. Together Judy’s Psalm reads like this.

Judy’s Psalm

But Thou, O Lord, are a shield about me. (3)
Thou hast put gladness in my heart (4)
The LORD receives my prayers (6)
I will bless the LORD who has counseled me
Indeed my mind instructs me in the night
I have set the LORD continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand I will not be shaken (16)

The heavens declare the glory of God
And the firmament is declaring the work of His hands
Day to day pours forth speech

The LORD is my Light and my Salvation
Whom shall I fear?
Thou art my hiding place.
Thou dost preserve me from trouble. (32)

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go
I will counsel you with My eye upon you. (32)

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Thy consolations delight my soul. (94)

The LORD is compassionate and gracious
Slow to anger and abounding in love

Behold children are a gift of the LORD:

The fruit of the womb is a reward
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
So are the children of one’s youth (127)

The LORD will accomplish what concerns me
Thy lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting
Do not forsake the work of Thy hand.

For thou didst form me in my inward parts
Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb. (129)

In her underlined words, I hear the heart of the woman who felt fear and anxiety, who desired God’s counsel, who saw God in nature, who found solace in the characteristics of God, and who found joy in her children and considered her God as her rock, light, salvation and creator.

I flip through the rest of the Bible and see the increase of study and interest in the New Testament, in underlined quotes of Jesus and words about how to live. And again, I am not sure what passages held greatest significance for her. I can’t know. But I do know the pages fell open to a loosely worn spot in the book of Philippians and I find myself looking at a sea of pen lines. I have moved from her Psalm to what feels like her life’s Benediction. My finger holds it’s place as I flip through the rest, not sure what I’m looking for. Flipping past Revelations and colorful maps at the end of the big book, I find something important.

The Rose

In the back cover, Judy wrote one single thought and a question. Besides her address in the front and a few study notes, this is the only full sentence written in her handwriting.

And I am dumbstruck.

On the last page of her Bible, she had written a question about a rose. It reads more like a riddle than scripture.

“The more you squeeze a rose the more fragrance there is. Squeeze a lemon, it’s sour. Which are you?”

I think back to the days and weeks when Judy was in limbo, between roses in her nursing home bedroom. And I think of the rose fragrance in her room, and the sweet aroma of her smile to so many who entered and exited her life.

To everyone around her she was invariably, a rose.

Now that she has moved on to her own blooming new life, I ask myself her question. I consider. The more you squeeze a rose the more fragrance. The more you squeeze a lemon, more sour. When squeezed, crushed, pressed in with the hardships and suffering in life which am I? Which are you?

I am both lemons and roses.

I think we all are. We are a mix of the sweet and the sour altogether. And that gets me thinking … maybe it is important to vulnerably share both the smiles and the ugliness in order to be truly known and loved intimately, deeply.

The Benediction

My hands hold the cracked cover of her Bible left behind, and I flip back to what I wonder might be apt as Judy’s benediction. It is a bouquet of underlined Holy words from a woman now freed of her crippled body, now released. Free at last.

I leave you with her own chosen words.

Judy’s Benediction
Phrases from Philippians

For I am confident of this very thing that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ … you are all partakers in this grace with me …

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment so that you may know the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing…

Rejoice in the LORD always; again I will say, rejoice.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all cromprehsion shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
And my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

Amen.

judy rose quote

The quote at the back of Judy’s Bible.

 

Eulogy delivered 1.6.13

Rose Image from HD Wallpaper

14 Replies

  1. What a tender and profound legacy of her life. Thank you so, so much for sharing it with us Kelley.

  2. Marge Burch

    Giving a eulogy is a high honor. I’ve been blessed in sorrow to do this (too) many times in my family. Your family gave you the honor, and God gave you the blessing as He deepened your insight and, ultimately, your loving connection to a beautiful lady. God is good.

    1. Marge it is a joy to see your name here. Hello friend!
      And, thanks so much for these words. Clearly you have had your own experiences with this and I appreciate your insight.
      Thanks so much for stopping by. Come on back. I love having you around! : )

  3. I appreciate the condolences and the comment. Thanks, Dawn! Always glad to see your name in the comments.

  4. Dawn Pirtle

    Beautifully expressed! My condolences to you and your family! So thankful that God led you to a part of this beautiful woman’s intimacies! You honored her well dear one! <3

  5. Thanks so much for your comment, Mrs. Paulson. : ) I’d love to hear what you find in the underlines. Love to you!

  6. Carolyn Paulson

    Beautiful lessons from your mother-in-law, in the eulogy and verses. I underline a lot, often with comments………..think I need to read them again to see what kind of messages and examples of faith I am leaving behind, and I am not in any type of situation she faced all those years. Lovely writing as always. Thanks.

  7. sibbi yarger

    How amazing the Lord is! He gave you the image of the roses for Mrs. Leigh, fresh and true. He takes you to the place where, years earlier, He had already completed that image in her words written of all
    places, in her Bible. Could He have made it any more obvious that this was all His idea? How profound! In Judy’s Psalm and the Philippians selections, I am struck anew at the power of His WORD and the legacy it leaves behind us. I pray again that the Word in my children’s hearts will burst forth, no matter how hard they have tried to push it out of the way in recent times. That His Word in their hearts and minds will surprise them, shock them, regenerate their spirits, cause them to seek the path back to Him, renew them, and rock their worlds mightily! Roses and lemons, that is the way for all of us on this earth, but I am sure at HOME it is better than roses, from and toward Him. And again, I am struck by the messages the Lord sends us through those who have gone on to Him before us. Our love to you and all the family as you get used to the empty spaces. I pray you give any regrets to Him and they vanish in the memories He will give of His presence and work in Judy’s life.

    1. What a lovely response, Sibbi. And yes, I totally agree that God speaks through his Word and those who have gone before us. Thank you so much for this.

  8. Kelly Hunsaker Spalding

    This moved me in ways I have yet to know. I know I am both rose and lemon — but I think perhaps I am often too much lemon.

    1. Me, too, Kelly! I really appreciate your comment. Thanks for being here, friend.

  9. Penelope Anderson

    Beautiful.

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