November 11, 2008
You think a life can end?
Mind knows, nor soul believes
How far, how far beyond
The shattering of the waves,
How deep within the land,
the surge of sea survives.
— Archibald MacLeish, 1892-1982
(This is the eulogy I gave for my mother at her funeral. It seems fitting to present it here again today.)
Rose Dwyer Yakimoff
February 13, 1911 – November 11, 1993
Rose Dwyer was born on February 13, 1911. It was a Monday, and every post office in America was closed that day because a mail carrier’s daughter had been born (so her father told her) and only incidentally because Lincoln’s Birthday, a federal holiday, had fallen the day before. She died on November 11, 1993, Veterans’ Day. Once again, every post office in America was closed. I’ll remember that the next time I define irony for my students. My mother was born before women could vote. She had a career in government and married after thirty-five before such a course became fashionable, and she was a working mother before there were microwave ovens and other social supports to help.
Who can find a capable wife? Read Proverbs 31 and you will read about my mother. Her worth was far beyond jewels. She kept her eye on the doings of her household, and she did not eat the bread of idleness. As a homemaker she was frugal, clever, and generous. One Christmas she gave our teachers handsome wool blankets.
“How very nice!” said Sister Mary Nicholas. “Did your mother go together with another family for this?”
“Oh no,” said my sister. “She used Green Stamps.”
Margaret are you grieving? asks the poet. Indeed I am. But, as Hopkins said, it is Margaret I mourn for. So is it ever with tears. Whatever their outward cause, it is we ourselves for whom we weep. My mother takes with her stories I have not heard, secrets I have not discovered. Remembering is all that we can do for her now, and the way that I remember is the way she will continue to exist in this world. I remember her neither in the pain that she felt nor the sorrow that she lived in her final years, but in the joy that she dreamed. Look at my sister, look at me, look in our children’s eyes, and you, too, will see what she truly was.
The lessons I’ve learned this fall are hard. As Frederick Buechner reminds us, “We find by losing. We hold fast by letting go. We become something new by ceasing to be something old.” Like Buechner, I know no more now than I ever did about the far side of death, but I am beginning to know that I do not need to know, and that I do not need to be afraid of not knowing. God knows. That is all that matters.
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