Life Lessons from my Mother: A Eulogy

This is the eulogy for my mother from her funeral service. It was written by myself and my two sisters, and spoken by Leah and I. I wanted to post it to share some of my sweet mama’s life lessons to us, and for those who might have wanted to be there, but couldn’t.


Before I talk about my momma, I would like to thank all of you for being here today. I know many of you came from a long way. Mom would have been humbled and honored by the presence of so many to celebrate her life. I would also like to thank those of you who have been with her and been with us during mom’s long disease. This has been a marathon, not a sprint, and so many of you have come the whole way alongside.

Thank you for all of you that kept coming to visit and spend time with her, even when it was sometimes hard or strange or uncomfortable. Thank you for coming and singing, and bringing church to my parents when they couldn’t come here to this sanctuary. Thank you for seeing through and past mom’s disease and seeing the amazing person and sweet spirit that she was and had. Thank you for picking her up and spending time with her when she could no longer drive. Thank you, a couple of you, for literally moving across the country for her and to be with us. Thank you for bringing or sending meals to us. Thank you for your phone calls and text messages and Facebook messages and emails and cards that brought encouragement to our hearts. Thank you for late night conversations. Thank you for the flowers. Thank you for the good hugs. Thank you for the laughter. Thank you for helping to make arrangements for us through the years and in particular for this weekend. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for anything else that you did for our family that I have inadvertently left out but we are still feeling immeasurably grateful for.

Finally, I want to specifically thank four people by name; the A-Team: Letisa, Tarshia, Flo, Fatima. Thank you for taking absolutely wonderful amazing care of our wife and mother. The four of you made it possible for my dad to fulfill his dream of keeping mom at home and live the highest quality of life possible. There really aren’t words to describe how grateful we are to all of you. Your fabulous care-taking, as well as the friendship and laughter that you brought to Rebecca and us are the reason we have made it through this hard journey. You have truly become a part of our family. And I know your Sunshine, Sweetie, and Sweet Rebecca says thank you too. Thanking you for loving her and us well.



“Do this in remembrance of me.” These are a part of the words that Jesus spoke the night before his crucifixion day. He shared a last supper with his disciples, where they drank wine, symbolizing the blood about to be shed, and took bread, breaking and eating it, symbolizing the body that was about to be broken. In a way, Jesus was conducting his own funeral service; his own eulogy. This is how I see it anyway…I realize there are pastors in the room who may inform me that I am providing you with errant theology. Communion, for those of you who may not know, is the part of the Christian service where you remember this “Last Supper” between Jesus and his followers, and remember the life and death of Jesus Christ.

In the 1984 movie, A Place to Remember, the final scene of the movie is the scene of a church, where congregants participate in communion. In their midst appear the ghosts of their beloved dead, as solid and real as they. They pass the cup and the bread among the dead and the living, sharing together in a meal that connects them across time and space.

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

Our mother, Rebecca Lynn Easterly Shaw, lived a life worth remembering. The youngest of three girls, in her childhood, she was creative, musical, and talented. When her band director needed someone to play bassoon, she stepped up to the plate and learned the challenging instrument in a single summer. We have an LP from one of her concerts to prove that she was pretty darn good. Her high school yearbook reveals that she was academically gifted, involved in everything, and a good friend. We’re not sure exactly how she earned the name “Hot Lips”. Several of those friendships from the Iowa days survived the years and the decades, and served as a model for myself and my sisters on how to have close, meaningful friendships with other women—something I took for granted as being important, but is something I see many of my young students struggle with today.

My mom and dad met in 1976 when they were both new students at the University of Iowa, my dad three years younger but in the same year as mom, since she had worked hard for a few years after high school to save money for college. My dad is fond of saying that they talked about getting married three weeks after their first date, and actually talked about wanting three girls. For them, dreams really did come true. My parents took refuge in each other, after both growing up with physically and/or emotionally absent fathers. Being committed to each other was always the number one priority in both of their lives.


After Carrie was born, my mom chose to leave her speech pathology career and become a stay-at-home mom to my sisters and I. She quietly, gently poured her life into our education and well-being, teaching us to love and value learning. She and my dad used to take out the red editing pen on all of our writing assignments; they really wanted us to know how to understand what we were learning and process it in our own way and to keep trying and communicate, and the upshot of that is that we haven’t really stopped writing and talking since. We’re all different; we’re all strong, we all have different opinions, we all read a lot, and we got a very quiet stubbornness from our mother. You will continue to see that show up in all of us.

Mom made us take piano and Spanish and learn to swim; she drove us around to ballet, soccer, piano/horn/oboe/bassoon lessons, marching band competitions, science fairs, youth group, and probably about a million other things I’m forgetting. She took us to museums and actually read what was on the plaques; she and my dad chased used to chase waterfalls. She taught us that when we were out blackberry picking we needed to just pick what was on our level instead of trying to reach up and get all the berries on the high branches because those were for the birds. And basically from that I’ve kinda built my worldview – there’s a lot available to me and people like me, and then there’s resources that are meant for others; that we all approach things differently, that there is something there for everyone and we need to respect each other.


She took care of other people’s children too—carting them around in our family van and talking to them—like really talking to them—about their lives, and hopes, and dreams. One time, I remember her driving around all night long, searching the Winston Salem streets for a runaway teenager from our church. To this day, I always try to be that kind of adult to the children I encounter—interested in them as people, careful to ask about their interests, rather than commenting on their looks. Especially the girls.

Speaking of looks, my mother didn’t care about them. She was kind of a hippy, really. I vividly remember her getting dressed up to go to dad’s annual work party and not putting on a hint of makeup with the fancy dress she wasn’t particularly comfortable wearing. She didn’t care what people thought about it either. When I was little, I went through a phase where I hated pastels. Couldn’t stand them. So, mom just let me shop in the boys section and pick out things with the bright colors I liked. I loved her for it then, and I love her for it still. She believed children were people who deserved to make their own decisions, not in the “I’m your mom and best friend and you can do whatever you want” sort of way. She just always wanted us to make our own choices and decide who we were.


When I was twelve years old in the seventh grade I was having some trouble making friends and I was struggling with that. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get everyone to look past my awkward clothes and just like me for who I was, I have always thought I was charming. My mom came upstairs one evening and she gave me a print out of what she told me was her favorite song when she was young which was “I Am A Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel. “I touch no one and no one touches me / I am a rock / I am an island.” She said that she had felt very alone when she was my age and struggled a lot and she wanted me to know that it was OK to feel that way and that she cared about me and that she wanted me to know that she loved me. That was a rare moment where she opened up, and I think about that a lot because, I think my mom went through a lot of hard times that I don’t fully know about or understand, but she was willing to step away from them and move into the future when she met my dad and had kids. She was so happy, and she just chose to take everything good that she knew about the world and put it into raising us and loving my dad.


My mom always believed the best about people. I remember one time I had a horn lesson at the Steven’s Center downtown. We parked off of fourth street, and while I was getting my horn out of the car, a homeless man walked up to us. “Do you have any money?” he asked. My mom said “I’ve got a ten dollar bill in my purse right here. I will give it to you, as long as you promise to get something nutritious with it.” “Oh yes, ma’am I sure will,” the man replied. She got the money out of her wallet, and gave it to him. He walked down the hill, whistling, then turned, grinned back at us, and stepped into the liquor store just past the corner. I looked at my mom, indignant. She sighed, shook her head, and said “Well. You can’t control people’s choices.” Then she smiled, and in we went to my lesson. I honestly think that she would have done the exact same thing, even if she had known what the man would do beforehand. She always believed in giving people chances and choices.

I had a great relationship with my mother through my adolescence, and headed to college feeling well-equipped for life, and fiercely independent like I imagine she was when she left home. A few years later, we had a great time planning mine and Darian’s wedding together. It was then that the cracks began to appear in her mind, and shortly after that that we knew she had a disease that would eventually lead us to this day right now.

She fought against her brain for years, taking Spanish classes, learning to quilt, taking a cake-making classes, and doing Sudoko puzzles. The list of things she could do and enjoy grew shorter as the months and years went by. But I don’t want to focus today on the things that mom lost. Even though it was hard to see her brain “unravel” over the years, we still experienced an incredible amount of joy in her company and her presence. Both of my sisters lived at home for a period of time in their post-college adult life.


I remember after she had been sick for a couple of years and I lived with her, I used to come home after a hard day and she would say ‘How are you doing?’ and I would kinda falsely brighten up and say ‘Oh I’m doing fine!’ and she would say ‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that – you should relax!’ she was just reading my mood. But, even before that, before her diagnosis, she was very in tune with people and she wasn’t going to struggle too hard to try to alter the way people were, she just loved them, and she enjoyed them and accepted them. She loved children and she particularly loved us, her children. You can imagine what a healing environment it was to grow up with that. Any peace or patience I have I pretty much attribute directly to her; I don’t naturally have that but now that she’s gone, I have to become more peaceful and patient to honor her.


Leah moved home about a year after she finished her undergrad at JMU. She and mom shared many hours volunteering together. One time, they went to a local elementary school, where mom was assigned to work with a 9 year old, Wendy, who couldn’t read. Mom of course connected with Wendy immediately and they found mutual appreciation in each other’s quirkiness. Leah remembers mom being lost in thought one time after coming from the school, and asked what she was thinking about. “I really understand now what it is like to have a learning disability. It’s frustrating!” My mother, who once had a career centered around helping children overcome speech/language disabilities, now had one herself. But instead of feeling sorry for herself, she rather found true empathy for the very type of child she would have found in her school resource classroom.

When Carrie returned from Peace Corps a few years ago and lived at home for awhile, mom had progressed to the point that she no longer recognized her relationships with us as her spouse and children. “I loved spending time with her”, said Carrie. “Even though mom didn’t know who I was, it didn’t matter. I took great joy in just meeting her exactly as she was on that particular day. It was like mom reconnected with me as a best friend, or a sister. To spend time together, we would watch Charlie Brown Christmas or listen to Elton John, over and over and over again, just hanging sitting close on the couch. We would take long drives just listening to classical music without needing to try and talk. One thing mom never lost was her love for dessert. We would sneak Ghirardelli chocolate squares and pretend that we didn’t want “the big people” to know. One time, on one of our drives, I took her through the Starbucks and got her a caramel latte. She finished it, and kept looking at the cup. “You want another one, don’t you mom?” I asked. She gave me a mischievous grin and said “yep!” So back we went. This time I got her an even bigger one, which she also finished. She was so happy that day.”


My mother really loved music. She loved to be in the audience for our concerts – she loved to sit in the balcony so she could look down into the bassoon section where I was playing bassoon or at my sisters playing the French horn or the oboe. She loved taking us to music lessons but she loved peace more so when my little sister and I couldn’t get along she pulled us out of Suzuki violin lessons so we never really advanced there.

I learned later after my mom had been diagnosed and progressed for a few years just how much she loved music. I had recorded my first CD of four songs and brought it home to her and she learned every song. Later, after she stopped recognizing me as her daughter, she kept those songs in her memory along with the other classic songs she loved, so when I would visit her, she would stare into my eyes and sing them with me. She used to tell me that music is a language for me, but it also became a language for us. It was a connection that we had until the end, and there isn’t a thing  that will happen in my music career that is going to be more important than that. Not only that, by committing to my musical training and encouraging me to follow my love of music, she gave me the set of tools that will allow me to get through this hard time and the other hard times that are coming down the line.


In her last few months, dad would sit with her on the couch each night, and play a favorite movie. Her vision had gotten very poor but she could still listen. Little Mermaid, the Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, were all played about a thousand times, and she would hum along. It never got old to her. I imagine it must have felt like visiting an old, familiar friend. Dad would tuck her in each night by winding up the music box we’ve had in the family for years. They would listen to the music together and she would fall asleep to it.

For my part, I was immensely glad that I was able to give her the gift of a grandchild, my son Paul, whom she enjoyed in many of the normal, grandmotherly ways before her disease got worse. But even in her sickness, her grandson could nearly always put a smile on her face, as they colored and did puzzles together, and as he played near to her so she could hear his little boy noises and sounds. Not being able to talk to her about my children and see her spend time with them is the hardest thing for me to bear about her disease and in her death, because of how much I know we both would have loved it. But, I treasure her memory, I hear her voice in my head as I mother my children, and I know she is with me.


I think mom would want me and all of us to take all the good things that we learned from her and keep moving into the future. So, I’m going to keep thinking and writing songs about her and praying and researching and advocating against the disease that took her but even more importantly I’m gonna continue to take the lesson I got from the blackberry picking of going after what is mine and leaving what is for everyone else and maybe even helping them to get what they need because that’s what she would have done.

I would have taken a lot more years with her but I know we can all agree we were blessed to have the time that we did to be her family and that she got the three of us launched. We don’t really have any choice about the timing, but we certainly made the most of every day and I know she was happy with us. My dad proposed to her about 75 times in the last three years, and one time she accepted and he put his wedding ring on her finger (hers didn’t fit any more) and she wore it the rest of her time on earth.

After she was sleeping from the morphine I took about two naps on her shoulder and I remembered that her left shoulder was my favorite place in the world and it made me feel like, maybe someday I can have a daughter who can put her head on my left shoulder (even though being a parent has always been really scary to me). And after she passed away really peacefully last Saturday I thought, OK we all have to go through death and maybe I’ll be able to go through also someday, so there’s really nothing to be scared about so – she’s the person who has really taught me everything.


During communion, for years now, like those in the movie I referenced above, I too have shared this meal with the dead. Each Sunday, in my mind, my mother-in-law, another mother that we lost too soon, sits to my left. When I pass the cup and whisper “the blood of Christ, shed for you”, it is she that receives it, not my neighbor. Next Sunday, I will close my eyes, and my mother will be on my right side. It is she that will whisper the sacred words to me, and will pass to me the body and the blood that gives us life.

“Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus said. “Live your life, joyfully, in remembrance of me,” I hear her say. We will mom. We love you


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