My mother passed away on this day back in 2002 at the age of 69. Below is the eulogy I delivered at her funeral. You are gone but not forgotten, Mom.
One night back in 1984, Mom and I went to the movies and we saw the film PLACES IN THE HEART starring Sally Field. Mom really enjoyed that movie because she saw a lot of parallels between the story of Sally Field as a widow trying to get through the Depression, and her own childhood on the farm. And as we were driving home, Mom said, kind of out of nowhere (as we all know she had the habit of doing), "You know, if they ever make a movie of my life, I'd like Sally Field to play me."
And ever since then, I've had a very difficult time because every time I see Sally Field up there on the screen, I can't help thinking of her as Mom. And that connection was further cemented a couple years back when the movie FORREST GUMP came out, and there was Sally Field playing a spunky, resourceful mother, not unlike Mom. She even kind of looked like Mom. Now I don't know if that makes me Forrest Gump....Maybe in some ways it does.
All of us have phrases or sayings in times like this from which we draw comfort. Some of us find them in the Bible. I tend to find them in movies and, ironically, in FORREST GUMP particularly. And one of those phrases is spoken kind of late in the movie by Forrest shortly after his mother has passed. He says, "Momma always said dying was part of living. I sure wish it wasn't." But it is.....and we are here today to celebrate the life of our mother.
Each of us serves many different relations in the lives of the people around us. I have had the honor of being Dorothy's son. And as I look around the room today, I see friends and relatives to whom my mother served as sister, wife, mother, teacher and grandmother.
So many different images of my mother are coursing through my mind this morning:
I see a little farm girl shirking her chores and playing in the fields. A girl who spit in her brother's face, and tossed a cat in Stone Lake to see if it could swim or not. And then running all the way back home when she feared that the cat was going to get her.
I see a pretty teenage girl, whom I just found out yesterday was a cheerleader, and who once confessed that maybe she flirted "a little too much back then."
I see an 18 year old woman on the threshold of adulthood who went to see "Show Boat" over and over during the summer of 1951 and fantasized of meeting Howard Keel and sailing down the Mississippi River into the sunset.
I see a thirty year old mother in go-go boots & fishnet stockings playing Twister with her friends.
I see a mature woman sitting in a lawn chair - and proudly holding her first grandchild on her lap.
All of these images are facets of the jewel that was Dorothy Rothrock.
Without a doubt, she had her quirks and endearing qualities: just like all of us. If you don't think you have them, just ask your spouse, or your best friend. They'll be happy to tell you.
With Mom, there are 3 in particular which come to mind.
When Pat, Pam and I were children, we spent a lot of time with our Hagerty cousins, Scott and Terry and Kim, and we spent a lot of time going to amusement parks together. And all of us would ride just about anything: roller coasters and tilt-a-whirls and bumper cars. You name it, we rode it. But not Mom and not Aunt Donna. They spent a lot of time sitting on the benches, waiting for us to come back.
And they did this with such regularity that we took to calling them "The Chicken Sisters". And we even got to the point where, one year at Cedar Point, we even bought them matching plates with a chicken on it. And they each hung their plate in their kitchen as a proud member of "The Chicken Sisters".
The second one not a lot of people know about. When I was in high school, Pat and Pam were already grown and out on their own. We were living in West Virginia at the time but Dad had taken a job up in Michigan as we got ready to move up there. So during the week, Mom and I would be the only ones at home, and a lot of times, my day would start with the sound of Mom coming down the hall to my room, singing in that voice which you heard earlier, "School day, school day, good old golden rule day!"
I look back nostalgically on that now but when you're 17 years old, that's just about the last thing you want to hear.
And the last one I thought about yesterday because it would always happen at every funeral we attended. I would be standing there chatting with Tonya or some cousin that I hadn't seen in a long time. And Mom would come walking up with some elderly person on her arm. And she'd have that looked on her face. You know which one. And she'd say, "Do you remember this person?"
And we'd have to say, "No."
And then Mom would smile triumphantly as she delivered her zinger: "She used to change your diapers."
I really missed that yesterday. I guess now we'll have to continue those traditions with our kids.
But she had so many gifts and warmth and love that any quirks she may have had are overshadowed.
One thing for sure, She had a special kind of way with children.
She never spoke much about her job as a special education teacher at Will Rogers Elementary School in Pontiac MI, but I do know that she had a powerful influence on many of her students. Several of them came from broken homes and they gravitated toward her. Some even called her "the Mom they wish they'd had".
She never really understood irony or sarcasm, ever. Even in her final days, we'd be kidding her and she just wouldn't get it. She preferred everything simple and straight-forward and genuine.
She could be stubborn but you knew she was trying to do good. She could be exasperating but you always knew she was doing it out of love. Most of the time, she was simply looking out for you in the way she knew best because, more than anything else, family was the most important thing to her.
She was never happier than in the time right before someone was coming to visit. I remember being home and watching her speed around the house in the days before they arrived. She'd be cleaning and cooking and hurrying around getting everything ready. As you know, her house was never quite clean enough. But she'd be excited because family was coming soon.
And when everything was ready, she would literally stand at the window and watch until she saw the car turn in at the driveway, and she'd hurry down to the door so she'd be the first to give you a big hug when you walked in.
She loved being a wife. She loved being a mother. She loved being a grandmother. She reveled in all of these roles.
When my son Ben was born, and she was still living in Michigan, she'd drive down on Sunday afternoons just so she could sit in the rocker for hours and just hold him.
She loved the summers that her grandchildren, Jennifer and Chris, spent at her house back when they were little.
A few weeks ago, Jennifer and Chris reminded me about how in those summers, she'd give them an allowance and, to earn it, they'd be responsible for certain chores they had to do around the house, and if they didn't do one, she'd deduct a nickel for each one. So if she saw dirty dishes on the table, she'd say, "I see a nickel." And Jennifer and Chris would hurry to clean it up. And, of course, she never got around to deducting any nickels from that allowance.
She taught most of us, both the children and the grandchildren, how to ride a bike.
She taught us how to swing.
She taught us how to cook.
She taught my son Ben how to play hide and seek.
She taught us too much to summarize here.
The last few years, I've just sat back and smiled watching Ben. Because when he would hear that Grandma was coming to visit, he would hurry around the house and plan out all the things he wanted to do with Grandma and then watch for that moment when she would come up the driveway, so he could run to the door and wait for her hug.
Just two months ago, as Betsy and Ben and I were getting ready to travel down to spend Easter with her, Ben told me, "I love Grandma." and then he took me aside and said, "She's my girlfriend, you know."
One thing is for sure: she had a special kind of way with children.
And I know that those are the things that will live on as we continue our life's journey without her.
There's a scene late in "Forrest Gump" where Forrest is chatting with his girl Jenny, whom he's loved all his life but circumstances prevent them from getting together until late in the movie. And she's asking him about all the beautiful things he's seen in his life.
And Forrest talks about the stars in Vietnam, and the beauty of the sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico, and the sight of the dawn coming up in the western desert, and how it is so beautiful that he has a hard time trying to decide where Earth ends and Heaven begins.
And Jenny gets all wistful and sad and says, "I wish I could have been there."
And he looks at her with all this love and wonder on his face, then says simply, "You were."
And that's how I'm thinking about Mom today. She hasn't really gone away, because she's always going to be here in our minds and in our hearts.
She'll be there we when we think of home-made cookies and summers by the lake.
She'll be there in how we wake up in the morning.
She'll be there in the way we raise our children and our grandchildren.
And I have no doubt that, several years down the line, when Chris back there is raising his child, Mom's first great-grandchild, that he'll be halfway through saying something to his son, and then he'll realize that they are the same words that his grandma used to say to him when he was a boy. And which he SWORE he would never say to his child.
There are so many things to celebrate about my mother. And to thank her for......and so I want to stand up here today and thank you, Mom.......
......Thank you....... for letting Pat and Pam and I have cats when we knew she really couldn't stand the smell.
......Thank you....... for all the slipcovers and sewing and repair work you did on Puppy. My constant companion when I was Ben's age....and maybe a few years beyond that. I still remember the day Puppy fell in the toilet and Mom had to hand wash him. And all the anxious moments I had as he hung out there drying on the clothesline.
......Thank you......for letting me setup my Hot Wheels cars in the middle of the living room and the Major Matt Mason moon base on the stair landing, even though I knew that she preferred her houses to be neat and tidy.
......Thank you......for giving us strict bedtimes, but letting them slide when there was a show or movie on that we just HAD to see.
......Thank you......for family dinners around the table and insisting that we eat what you cooked, but always fixing me a separate meal when you realized just how much I hated ham pot pie.
......Thank you......for the warm cookies and the cold milk which would be waiting for us when we got home from school.
......Thank you......for Christmases where I didn't always get everything I wanted, but I always got the thing I most wanted that year.
......Thank you......for a terrific childhood. Sure I regret a couple things. The fights Pat and I used to get into each week when the new TV Guide arrived come to mind. And if it was the Fall Preview issue, man, fists flew. Mom's solution, by the way, was to have us get two subscriptions to TV Guide, one for each of us. But over all, our childhood was great.
......Thank you......for letting us be children as long as possible. When we became teenagers and we started asking if we could take summer jobs, she'd say, "You'll spend the rest of your life working. Enjoy yourself." And she was right. And those lazy summers when I was young keep looking better and better, the older that I get.
......Thank you......for the surprise party on my 17th birthday where you managed to get all my high school friends over shortly before we had to move away.
......Thank you......for that last 1986 vacation you and I took on Mackinac Island, where we biked and ate ice cream cones and sat out and watched the sunsets until it was dark.
......Thank you......for always having an open front door to your house so that when we were grown, no matter what had been the setback, whether it was financial or maybe we were just lonely at holiday-time, we could always come home again.
......Thank you......for my two sisters. Its true that we don't always see eye to eye, but today, right here, I do want to stand up and say that, whatever our disagreements in both the past and the future, that I do and always will love each of you.
........and lastly I thank Mom for my strong and vibrant faith in God and Jesus Christ, and the recognition of his continuing hand in our lives both here on Earth, and in the hereafter. Because it is the only thing that gets us through times like this.
And leaves me with no doubt that Mom may be gone from our lives right now but it is not a departure. It is just a vacation.
And wherever she is right now, I know Mom is cleaning and cooking and excited and hurrying around getting everything ready because family will be coming soon.
And I have no doubt that, when everything is ready, she will be watching at the window so she can hurry down to the door, ready to give us a big hug,
And welcome us home again.