[I wrote the following eulogy for my mom’s funeral on Thursday.]
It would be impossible to say anything much about my mother and her life without describing her in terms of her human relationships. She was:
- a daughter
- a sister
- a wife
- a mother
- a grandmother
- and a friend
In all of these relationships, her free, generous love for people was manifest.
She was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, to the late Henry P. D. and Nettie Reimer on April 13, 1955. (She would have turned 59 on Sunday.) She came into the world as a sister to three brothers and six sisters. (Three more brothers and a sister had died as young children before she was born.) She would later receive two more brothers and another sister. It was a large family and one that provided many opportunities for singing with siblings. But more about that later.
When she was still young, in 1961, she moved with her family to Spanish Lookout, Belize, where she attended school and grew up a lively girl who enjoyed life and easily made friends. Highlights of her childhood were family trips during the summer to Manitoba—where her parents had been born—trips that allowed her to cultivate friendships there as well.
When she was a young woman, her obvious love of life and love for other people charmed a somewhat older man who had yet to find the love of his life. My mother married my father on November 14, 1976, in Belize, where they started a life together and built up a homestead with a diverse collection of fruit trees and a magnificent bougainvillea in front of their house.
As I mentioned, my mother stood in many relationships and she certainly had ample love for all of them.
But above all she was a mother.
As a young girl she already loved babies and dreamed of having her own. On a trip to Guatemala with some family members she was allowed to pick a gift for herself. She chose a woven fibre basket to one day put her baby in.
Her love of children was also the source of some of her deepest heartaches. She wanted to have daughters. Not that she didn’t want sons, but she also wanted daughters. That she wasn’t able to have them was a bitter pill.
I have no doubt that this heartache contributed to her open-armed welcoming of her daughters-in-law into the family when her sons finally got around to marrying. Even though we went and married women who didn’t speak the language my mother knew best.
I also have no doubt that it contributed to the special bond she felt to her granddaughter, Katherine. I’m sure many of you here have witnessed my mother showing pictures of her granddaughter and talking proudly about her.
Katherine turns five today, a birthday of which I’m sure my mother would have been very well aware.
As I’ve tried to make clear, my mother loved people. She also loved gardening, parenting plants, so to speak. She and her family moved to Nova Scotia in the spring of 1986. The early years here in particular were difficult financially, but my mother contributed enthusiastically and with great energy and stamina to the family farm. Some of my fondest memories will be of sitting in a greenhouse with her in late March and early April, sowing Swiss chard, peppers, tomatoes … and, of course, many flowers. No matter how much we might have been struggling otherwise, the flowers were always important, too.
In recent years, her work with the farm also made her a regular face at the Wolfville Farmer’s Market. She was especially happy when she could go there with one of her daughters-in-law—usually Kira, sometimes Erin.
Another favourite activity throughout her life was singing. One of the advantages of being part of a large family is that she was born into a ready-made choir. She and her siblings would frequently spend their evenings singing, often from memory.
My father has vivid memories of climbing to the top of a mountain in Mexico with her and many of her relatives. Once they got to the top, they sang “How Great Thou Art” in four-part harmony from memory. Hearing this deeply affected my father.
This is perhaps a time to celebrate my mother’s life rather than focus on her passing. The grace with which she endured her struggle with cancer was so remarkable, however, that I would be remiss if I did not say something about her last two years. My mother had always exemplified generosity, cheerfulness, and an unwavering faith in God in her life. Rather than shrinking as her body wasted away from cancer, these qualities only shone more brightly.
There would have been many occasions to become depressed, to become angry, to become focused on her own sorrows. She first discovered a lump in her abdomen nearly two years ago. After surgery and other treatments, she seemed, against the odds, to have beaten the cancer. But in the summer of 2013, just a few weeks before Nelson and Kira’s wedding, she became increasingly ill and it soon became clear that the cancer had returned.
That’s a question she might well have become absorbed in.
But through all this, until the very end, she remained an extraordinary inspiration to her family and to others around her. Instead of focusing on her own illness, she prayed for others who were ill. She always found things for which to be thankful. She frequently expressed gratitude for the help that my family members, her nurses, and others gave her. She never complained.
And to the very end she had a remarkable—and inspiring—lack of anxiety about death.
May we learn from her example.
May she rest in peace.