A Tribute to My Mother

I delivered this eulogy at my mother’s memorial service on February 7, 2009.

Tribute to Doris O’Rourke

It’s an honor to pay tribute to my mother Doris today, and to celebrate her life.  I’m grateful to my siblings for the chance to represent our family here today.

She has been a tremendous role model to each of my siblings and me in our lives.  Her unconditional love made all of us feel uniquely special, and as the matriarch, she has been the center around which our family has flowed.  Her children and grandchildren lost a great model of love when she passed, but gained a special angel in heaven as a consolation.

My mother is perhaps best known for her style and taste, both in her home décor and wardrobe.   She was raised a thrifty shopper, and had a great knack in creating style with a limited budget.  Some of you may know that she enjoyed many of the programs on HGTV, and found shows like Design on a Dime the most appealing, because those designs created style without opulence.  While she never made a career out of her love of gardening and interior design, she left plenty of positive impressions of her artistic talents.

Being a caring and practical woman, she chose to go into nursing, and went to nursing school at St. Louis University after graduating from high school.  This was a big step for a farm girl from Jefferson City, and she loved the city and cosmopolitan feel of St. Louis.  Her nursing experience enabled her to land her first job as a stewardess on the B&O railroad, where she traveled between St. Louis and Washington DC on a regular basis, meeting many interesting people in her work.

When she met my father while he was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in the Army, she fell in love with a handsome, witty, college-educated man, and they married within six months.  She was happy to trade her career for a family, and when my father was discharged from the Army, they moved to San Francisco, where my oldest brother was born.  When Dad was offered a new job in Hartford CT, my parents traveled cross-country with their first baby while mom was pregnant with their second child.  Not too long after I was born and my maternal grandfather passed away, they chose to settle back in Jefferson City and raise our family here.  The size and pace of her hometown served as a great place to raise her five children.

When Dad passed away in 1999, my mom decided to take a courageous step and move to St. Louis.  At 69 years young, she was ready to create exciting new chapters in her life story.  She’d always loved the city, and with my sister and me both in the St. Louis area, she quickly embraced life here, and St. Clare of Assisi became the base of her new social network.  She immediately offered her experience as a talented lector and Eucharistic minister, and got involved in a number of activities though the Clarions.  In addition, she joined a new bible group, a RENEW group, and actively participated in several CRHP groups, creating deep and loving relationships with many new friends.  She also found a special companionship with her friend George, and life seemed to be in full bloom.

When Mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in an advanced stage in December 2007, we were all stunned that this healthy, vibrant woman could be taken when she had so much left to give.  The stealth nature of this insidious disease wreaked havoc on her body, and when they did the hysterectomy on the day after Christmas, the surgeon had little expectation that she would live much beyond a couple weeks.  This alarming news gave us determination to step up our prayer efforts, and the prayer support group grew in ripples via the marvel of electronic mail.  Our collective prayer efforts in conjunction with her chemotherapy miraculously eliminated all evidence of the cancer by August, and she completed her last two chemo treatments in September and October before getting a pass to travel to Miami for Thanksgiving in November.

When she felt internal discomfort and sought medical care to identify the problem in December, we were all crushed to learn that the cancer had returned in an aggressive manner.  She underwent a new chemotherapy treatment, and when we discovered that it had no effect on the cancer, we began to question if it was time to surrender.  Ultimately, Mom decided to come home to finish her days in the beautiful surroundings that she’d created, and the hospice care she received was a tremendous comfort to all of us.

The beauty of all of this is that Mom came to see the cancer as an ironic blessing.  This condition triggered a vast flow of love and support from a wide circle of family and friends.  She received cards and calls on a frequent basis, and was brought to tears by the thoughtfulness and care of so many people.  While she had imagined living on, she was content to be grateful for a life full of love and blessings, capped off by a swell of such.

Mom had long focused on her gratitude for these blessings in her prayers and journaling – whether the blessings be simple or profound.  She came to know and believe in the power of Gratitude; that by giving thanks for our blessings, they grow in number and magnitude.  It is this spiritual truth that has made her so richly blessed, and her example is ours to behold and embrace.

She has long been confident that she’s ready to meet her Creator based on the state of her soul, yet only recently came to accept that she’s ready to close her story here.  At one point we talked about the movie The Bucket List, and I asked her what she wanted to do before leaving this plane.  After some discussion about what she believed she could experience in her afterlife, she decided that the one thing she wanted to do here was to repaint the bedroom that she used for an office.  As we chuckled at the insignificance of this, I think both of us realized that she was okay with calling this the end.

In the end, she held on longer than we’d expected, and we were surprised that she repeatedly shook her head “No” when asked if she was ready to go last Friday.  Perhaps she was reveling in the review of her life, and content to remain here a bit longer to absorb the love of her family and friends.  It was indeed a relief when she passed peacefully in her sleep on Monday, and we know that her soul is finally in union with Jesus in Heaven.

Yes, we have been blessed with a truly remarkable woman for a mother, and I have yet to imagine how we will grieve her loss over the coming days, weeks, months and years.  We are comforted in knowing that her Spirit lives on in Eternal Life, and that she is but a prayer away for love, celebration, consolation or guidance.  We celebrate the joy that she brought to this world, in both little and large ways.  Thank you God, for the blessing she has been – and will continue to be – in our lives.

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