My mom passed away one year ago yesterday. I’ve had a lot of time to think about her life and how to sum it up since I started writing her eulogy a year ago. One of the phrases that has come to sum up many aspects of her life is, “It’s not about me.” I think of this phrase in two ways. First it captures her motivation; most of what she did, she did to glorify and serve her Heavenly Father. Second, it reflects her self-sacrificing nature. Both meanings clearly emerge in her eulogy below, that I gave at services for her in Kenny Lake, Alaska and Goldendale, Washington.
How do you sum up 84 years of life for the woman who brought me into the world, fed me, changed me? In the end she couldn’t feed herself and her children had to care for her.
How do you capture the lives she has touched, changed? Starting with the life of her little brother who was orphaned with her on Christmas eve when Mom was 9. The life of her sweetheart and husband of 66 years. Her six children, 17 grandchildren, ten great grandchildren, cousins, aunts, uncles. The list goes on.
Words cannot express what words cannot express, as the saying goes. And no words can capture the richness, depth, compassion, and selfless service of this woman, this saint. It’s impossible to sum up 84 years in a few minutes. Maybe I can capture a glimpse of Mom’s heart and life. When you look at how she invested her time, it’s not hard to tell what was important to her. Her relationship with Jesus, her family, the men, women, and children she ministered to.
I’ll start with her relationship with her savior and Lord. In Mom and Dad’s 50th Anniversary video, Mom shared that in bible school she came to a moment when she knew she had to commit to going all the way with God if she was to have real peace in life. At that moment she committed to do anything and go anywhere God asked her to go, even if it was to the mission field. God honored that choice and despite huge tragedies and struggles (some of which you heard about from my brother Dan) she had that peace. One of my nieces commented to me while family was together in WA, that with all that happened to Doris, losing her parents at a young age, battling MS, and others, it would have been easy to become bitter and angry at God and to have turned against Him. Many others my niece knows have, but Grandmama drew closer go God through those struggles and that closeness and dependence brought peace and strength.
In addition to her relationship with Christ, Doris was also a devoted wife and mother. On her death bed, when I arrived to see her, her first concerns was for me, a tired traveler who had just flown down from Alaska. “You must be weary from travel, go lay down and take a nap.” she told me in just above a whisper, after I gave her a hug and a hello.
As she would have been the first to admit, she was not a perfect mom. She made mistakes that she deeply regretted. However, most mistakes were made in an earnest desire to do what she thought was best for her child or children. She once told me, that if she knew then what she knows now, she would not have sent her older children to boarding school on the mission field in the Philippines. Back then, few understood the importance of attachment bonds between parents and children and she thought she was doing what was best for them.
I asked my oldest daughter, Rachelle, about a favorite memory of her Grandmama (my daughter’s name for my mom). She told me about making cut out cookies with play-dough looking sugar cookie dough with Grandmama at her home at Willow Lake. That was Grandmama’s last Christmas at her home in Alaska almost four years ago. My greatest sadness today is that my two daughters will not have more years of memories with their Grandmama.
One favorite memory of mine was on home service where we would visit supporting churches and individuals. I think this was when I was in 1st grade. As we traveled cross country in our pickup and camper, four across on the Bench seat of the pickup (it was just Mom, Dad, Dan, and I by then), Mom would read the Chronicles of Narnia to us. And when she would fall asleep her head would tilt back with her mouth open. Dan and I would put pieces of chocolate or fruit in her mouth to wake her back up to read more.
After I was an adult, Mom shared with me the internal struggle she had had when I was in high school. I was going through a long mysterious illness. Because of my illness, she often had to care for me or take me to doctors’ appointment during hours I would have been at school. Normally she would have been engaged in ministry while I was at school. At times she felt guilty that she was taking care of me instead of ministering with someone from the church she and Dad were starting. But one day, she told me that God spoke to her, and reassured her that caring for her family was ministry also.
Another way that she served her family was in the way she welcomed new family members. When my siblings and I married, she had a way of communicating love and acceptance to in-loves (her term instead of in-laws). I know this meant a great deal to my wife and others.
Several of the stories that were shared with my brothers and sisters this past week have involved several of us discovering Mom as more than just a parent. For me this started when my brother Dan and I were digging through a box of family treasures Mom had hidden in the back of her closet. (Mom and Dad were away at the time.) We found a hand-tinted portrait of her from high school. Dan and I both said “wow, mom was good looking back then.”
Anyway, when Kit, our hospice nurse, asked Mom what she wanted for this phase of her life, Mom responded that she wanted to have her family with her. That desire was granted as she passed away in the presence of her husband, 5 of her 6 children, three grandchildren, and a son in love and daughter in love. By the next day all six kids were together along with 4 in loves, 11 grandchildren, and 1 great grandchild. As much as I know that meant to Mom, I know that being reunited with all her children and grandchildren in eternity is an even greater desire.
Mom has spent her life ministering near selflessly to others. I cannot count the number of people who have experienced God’s love though mom’s cooking. The countless women who she led in bible studies, the phone calls and visits from women in distress at all hours of the night and day.
As often as Mom is complemented for her hospitality, I know this was always a bittersweet complement to her because food and lodging was just a means to a deeper spiritual end for her. Listening, encouraging, praying… ministering to the eternal needs of people was what really mattered to her. This is her legacy, not her sticky cinnamon rolls or green bean tater-tot casserole.
There was one particular family that Mom and Dad invested many hours in. The family lived with us on a few occasions. I don’t think their marriage would have survived with out Mom’s encouragement and counsel at various times. Mom helped the wife patiently pray for various areas of her husband’s life, including that he would become a believer in Christ. And in God’s timing he did. This woman also elicited one of the few complaints I ever heard Mom make about another person. After one of the family’s visits, I heard mom exclaim, “How does she do it, no matter where I hide a few special treats for my family, she finds them!”
One measure of the impact Mom had on the world around her is the hundred plus cards that arrived at her home in the week after her passing before I returned home. I’m not sure where they are hanging them now, when I left they had just about run out of space for cards. Another measure is the many adopted adult children who call her “Mom.” Both of these are an inadequate measure. One adopted daughter (in her card to my Dad) recalled some wise advice Mom had given her when she and her husband headed to the mission field overseas that she frequently returns to. Another “adopted” daughter was making plans to visit Mom in Washington when she passed and afterword she wrote….
[omitted because I don’t have permission to publish it]
I wonder how many of mom’s adopted children are here this afternoon.
Several nights before her death I watched mom’s breathing. Sometimes it was rapid and shallow. Sometimes slow and shallow. As I sang to her and prayed for her, occasionally she would have long pauses between breaths. After five or ten seconds I experienced intense conflicting feelings that grew until I saw her chest start to rise again. For 15 or 20 seconds there was an intense mixture of joy and panic in the same moment. On one side, her pain and struggle would be over, and her lifelong desire to be with her savior and with her mommy and daddy again would be fulfilled. On the other, I knew I would miss her deeply and would miss the opportunities to have my daughters experience more of her love.
Her last breath came a little more than a day later, and I miss my Mom. I still wish my daughters had more years of experiencing her love for them. Yet I am immensely thankful that her constant pain is over and she is hanging out with Jesus her savior and with her own Mommy and Daddy.
This afternoon it is a great day to be alive. For those of us who are in Christ, today we don’t mourn. We celebrate Doris Evalee’s Eames’ life, and we look forward to seeing her again.
Oh, and to my family members who left Goldendale without an adequate supply of Mom’s used plastic bags or cottage cheese containers, I brought some with me to slip into your luggage before you leave this time.
October 30, 2012. Kenny Lake Chapel, Kenny Lake AK.