Sunday, September 11, 2005

My Mother's Funeral Eulogy

These are long, and I won't be upset if you don't care to read it, but they’re important in my story. If you want to discuss anything I said in here, feel free to leave a comment.

Eulogy For (J B) J Ouwehand
delivered September 11th, 2005

At 12:15 in the afternoon, on September 8th, 2005, J Ouwehand passed to glory. Her husband R and her four children were gathered around her bedside. As we sang the last verse of “How Great Thou Art,” about Christ coming to take his own, J’s eyes opened wide for the first time in three days. Her eyes looked heavenwards, as if she could see Jesus reaching out to take her home, and as her family sang, “Then sings my soul, my saviour, God, to thee, how great thou art!” she took her last breath.

Mom had a way of listening that made you forget she was there. She’d pay close attention, and care, without ever judging. Her ability to listen and keep a secret made her a magnet for people’s trust. With patience and unending love, I saw Mom open up even the most guarded and defensive people. She didn’t give advice, but she didn’t NEED to give advice, because she’d find a question that cut through so much of the extra, unimportant fuzz that the clearest solution, or the plainest truth, was suddenly obvious.

My brother Dan mentioned something, and I was surprised that I hadn’t already included it in my eulogy, but here it is, now. Mom had a smile that never quit – everybody in Agassiz knew her for her smile. But her smile was more than just a smile. It didn’t come from mere happiness, like most smiles – happiness comes from being in good circumstances, but circumstances can change. Mom’s smile came from joy, and joy comes from a place inside a person that circumstances can’t touch. Mom’s joy came from the peace of knowing Jesus, and that peace beyond all understanding made it possible for mom to smile even in the most difficult circumstances. All last year, Mom never lost her smile. Even as she slowly weakened, she still found joy in knowing that she belonged, body and soul, to Jesus.

It’s difficult for me to realize just how much Mom did for me when I was small. Only another mother knows how much work and sacrifice it takes to raise good kids. One of mom’s greatest joys was always in her family. In reading her last year’s diary, the phrases that keep coming up again and again are “I really love Rudy, or Rebecca, or Deb, or Rob, or Dan, or the in-laws, or the grand-kids. . .” and “Rudy is so good to me, Deb is so good to me,” and so forth. Anyone who talked to her knew how proud she was of her family, and how dearly she loved us. She was never happier than when all of us were together laughing.

Mom didn’t just love her family, though. She saw God’s image in everyone she met, and loved them accordingly. Every person was precious to Mom, because she couldn’t help but love and respect all God’s creations. Mom was an amazing encourager, and she knew when and how to help someone take heart. Her hospitality was just as open and generous as her love, and each of the children have stories about Mom opening up our house to a friend in need, sometimes with amazing results, for example, the thanksgiving when Deb, then in her first year at Trinity Western University, phoned home saying, “Mom, there are some guys in this dorm who don’t have anywhere to go for thanksgiving. Can they come to our house?” and Mom said, “Sure. How many?” We had an amazing weekend, and one of those boys was a certain Bradley Jarvis, Deb’s husband now for four years.

Relationships were always Mom’s top priority, and those who knew her could go for hours telling stories about the ways Mom encouraged and helped the people around her. I’ve never met someone who spoke ill of her. Even the people who knew her best could never come up with anything worse than affectionate criticism of small, silly things. “Well, she really doesn’t have a photographer’s eye at all.” “She’s hopeless with a remote control in her hands.” “She gets Star WARS confused with Star TREK.” Those things just weren’t important enough for Mom to bother – there were people to encourage, and somebody out there needed some kindness; why on earth would she waste time finding out the names of the songs on the radio? Mom’s gifts were in other areas.

Mom’s greatest gift, the thing that will stay with me forever is, without any doubt, her love. 1 John 4:7-8 says “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Mom was like a huge human mirror, reflecting God’s love to everyone who came near her. I know for a fact that people saw God’s love in Mom: several friends have told me exactly that, including some who don’t personally know God themselves. Mom has always had an amazing capacity to give love, not just to family, but to everyone she met. Mom loved freely, and generously, without requiring you to meet a standard first, without threatening to withdraw if you didn’t measure up later, and without ever trying to get something back. Even on her death bed, Mom spoke words of care and encouragement to her visitors and family, and made sure everyone knew they were loved and appreciated.

It’s strange that a woman so good at giving love, worried for years whether people really appreciated her and liked her, but she did. Whether from rejections long in the past or imagined slights in the present, Mom somehow managed not to notice how well loved she was by the people around her. This worry was partially answered in Mom’s first ten years in Agassiz: she was never happier and more fulfilled than here in Agassiz. However, that insecurity was finally, completely put to rest in the last year of her life, when all the love that Mom gave out during her lifetime came back to her in a tremendous show of support and help. This outpouring made it obvious just how truly and sincerely people loved her. While it isn’t right for someone to die as young as Mom, I’ll say that it was at least appropriate that such an amazing love-giver ended her life surrounded by so many people who loved her. Mom kept a journal this year that she allowed her family to read after she died, and the most often repeated theme is how loved she feels, and how much she loves those around her. About a week before her death, I asked Mom what was the best thing she had learned from her last year. She said that she learned how much people loved her, but, more than anything else, she was overwhelmed by the depth and tenderness of Dad’s love for her. Dad’s love for Mom has been amazing and humbling to see, and I don’t think any feeling human being could watch Dad’s devotion to mom in these last few months without being truly touched.

Cancer is cruel, and it is only in a hurting, broken world that a woman as young as Mom should already be called home to heaven. On a day like this, the question why is impossible to answer, and honestly, even if we DID have a complete, perfect answer to the question “Why?”, it would only satisfy our minds, and it still would not quiet the ache in our hearts. Asking “Why?” can’t change anything; it only makes us focus on our own pain. Instead, I propose a different question, one that I think Mom would prefer us to ask: “how, even in this, was God’s name glorified?” This question will not end the ache in our hearts either, but at least it turns our eyes to God, instead of focussing on our own pain. Here is an incomplete list of the ways J’s life, and especially its end, brought glory to God.

An entire church in Germany, and another in Korea, was touched by Mom’s grace and courage when she visited. A girl joined the church in Korea on Mom’s invitation, and recently was baptized into God’s family. Dozens here in Agassiz saw, through Mom, that God’s promises REALLY CAN bring hope and peace, even in the shadow of death. Our entire family, on both sides, in all generations, have grown closer than ever before, and we have strengthened each other so much. The church in Agassiz has been like a tiny model of the Kingdom of Heaven, in the many, many different ways they’ve supported and sustained our family.

Many prayers were answered: Mom had enough time and strength to say all the important goodbyes she wanted to say, and visit each of her children and her family in Ontario; Mom survived Dan’s wedding, allowing that day to be a joyful one; the coma at the end was fairly quick; she got to see each of her kids one last time before she lost consciousness; amazingly, she had barely any pain as she fought cancer in her abdomen – an area of the body that is usually very sensitive to pain.

I asked Mom if there was anything she wanted me to share in particular in this eulogy, and she asked me to mention Philippians 2:14-15: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.”

Mom pointed out to me that the way to shine like a star, to become blameless and pure, is simply to “do everything without complaining or arguing” and Mom was a model of that. She might be the least self-pitying cancer patient ever. She never complained or questioned, but instead, she lived out the end of the life God gave her gently and humbly, and she truly did shine like a star in the universe. Mom’s peace and serenity, and especially her trust in God, set an example for everyone else involved in her sickness. If she herself could suffer through this time without self-pity or anger, then we could certainly do the same. Yet even as others saw Mom’s peace and serenity, Mom wanted to give the glory to God, and point to the source of her peace: tucked away in her journal was the simple sentence, “I hope the story of ‘me’ doesn’t grow out of proportion” – she saw the way people were impressed by her story, and her attitude, and worried that the glory and attention would point to her, instead of to God. Even in her own fight with cancer, Mom humbly wanted to be sure that all the attention went to God.

That is J Ouwehand’s legacy. It is a legacy of humility, love, and trust in God. Mom has left the earth, and all that remain are her footprints, but those are powerful footprints. Those footprints are deep on my soul, and every time I give someone the benefit of the doubt, every time I am gracious and generous, every time I carry my own burdens without complaining, I am living out Mom’s legacy on earth. Really, every time I choose to live more like Christ, I am honouring my mother, because she was an example of a humble life patterned after Christ. Though her treasure is in heaven for living like Christ on earth, our lives bear the earthly fruit of her life. When we face difficult times with courage and peace, when we keep faith in people and love the unlovable, when we look to serve without attracting attention to ourselves, we honour Mom’s memory. By these things we prove that, without a doubt, death has NO victory in the story of Mom’s cancer, for even in her death, the kingdom of heaven advanced on earth, through the lives she touched.