The Post Offices Were Closed Today

November 12, 2012

Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of my mother’s death. Below is the eulogy I delivered at her funeral, along with a poem by Archibald MacLeish that I used to introduce it on the 15th anniversary. It seems appropriate to repost this today, since the post offices in the U.S. were closed.


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

American poet

(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

Margaret, are you grieving over Goldengrove unleaving? Thus in my mind did I hear the voice of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins as this glorious autumn lighted the land. The words would come to me each morning as I watched the leaves change coats — loden to ocher to scarlet to gone. They would return each afternoon as I walked under ever emptier trees outside the Polyclinic Hospital, and went in to hold my mother’s hand.

Rose and Ludwig Yakimoff, 1946Rose 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.

My mother had rules that she lived by. Do your homework and practice your violin before you watch television. The boys you meet in the student lounge might be entertaining, but the ones you find in the library are headed for success. One Rose Rule that has greatly influenced me was this: Never use your credit card for pantyhose or food, or anything else that will be gone before the bill comes.

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.”

Ludwig and Rose Yakimoff, 1975

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.


(The first picture above shows Rose and Ludwig Yakimoff on their wedding day in June 1946. The second picture shows them at a family celebration in 1975. Rose is wearing the dress that she was buried in.)

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