On the morning of New Year’s Eve 2020, yes just almost three weeks ago I found myself standing adjacent and to the left the Church’s lectern as my wife delivered her eulogy and tribute to her mother, and my mother-in-law. She had passed away two weeks to the day earlier. Her death was devastating; a final brutal event that transpired in the final days and weeks of an awful year.
In planning the wake and funeral mass I had asked my wife if it was decided as to whom from the family would speak and do the eulogy. My wife said that she wanted to speak. She was adamant about that. She admitted that it would be difficult but that she could “put on her game face” long enough to get through her remarks. I knew she could and told her so as well, telling her too, that she would do great. She just asked me if I would be willing to go up there with her and stand by her side during the whole thing, which I was more than happy to do. And so, after receiving the eucharist my wife and I walked up to the lectern and she spoke. We left our three girls ages 8, 6 and 4 in the pew by themselves.
Due to COVID protocol the mass was just immediate family socially distanced and everyone was wearing masks. For those non-family members that wished to attend the service the funeral was broadcasted on YouTube. It was the embodiment of everything 2020. On the very last day of 2020.
Our girls did a fine job sitting by themselves for that bit time. Standing there, looking out across and scanning the empty church my attention found its way very quickly to our girls in the front pew. Besides, the usual squirminess that comes along with all kids of that age group they made us proud and paid good attention through the eulogy.
As a parent I want so many things for my kids, but I especially want them to be good to other people- always. Even if it means you sometimes must absorb from time to time some of the disrespectful child-like stuff. As a friend of mine once said “Just as long as my kids are not assholes to other kids and adults, that I will not stand.” Wise words if ya ask me.
Another thing almost as important that I want for my girls is to be strong and confident. In fact every day as our family heads out to both school and work together (my wife and I both are teachers) my parting words to our girls besides “have a great day” and “I love you” are “be strong and confident.” They have become so accustomed to the routine that they will even pre-empt me “I know, be strong and confident.” We’ve talked about what these words mean and why they are especially important to young girls. “What do you mean be to be strong and confident?” has been a question all three have asked. . .”For now girls, for your stage in life it means participating in school and in your classroom, sharing what you think about things in life, speaking up if someone is not being nice to someone else in your class or on your team. Doing what you know is right. Trust yourself and gut even when you are not totally sure in a situation. And know that it is okay to feel however it is you feel.”
There comes a point however where words can ring hollow or need to be re-enforced with specific people. It’s one thing to always state to be “strong and confident” and that certainly has value but providing examples to our girls is so much more effective and vital. Certainly, there are no shortages of women that show strength and confidence daily- from politicians, to celebrities to athletes. . .the list goes on, however, I have always tried to be mindful of women that would resonate with my girls. No offense to Kamala Harris and Megan Rapinoe who both are extraordinary examples of strength and confidence, but my girls are not there yet in potentially recognizing them as role models in this way. They will be, but not yet. And so. . .back to the eulogy and back to what I have known all along, I guess.
Public speaking is not easy, ranking routinely way up on the list for folks’ biggest fears along with snakes, spiders and Komodo dragons (the last one is mine!). You then must factor in the environment and reason for speaking in public, in this case a death of a love one. Ugh. For my wife I know it was not easy, but I also know that she would have had it no other way. She would not have felt good about having a funeral mass and there not someone from the family sharing all that was wonderful about her mom. As I stood adjacent to my wife watching my girls from afar and listening to my wife’s words describe her mom and the profound influence her mom had on her- a woman of kindness, faith, love and not to mention being unbelievably welcoming to everyone, even people she had just met or merely people that came through her front door I could not help but fall more and more in love with her. We’ve been married since 2006. Her strength and confidence that she showed on the lectern (and every day) is the embodiment of everything that I mean when I share with my girls each day to be strong and confident. I could not imagine a better more relevant example to my girls than their own mother. Being strong and confident is not about putting out an outward image but rather that you are true and honor yourself. That’s what I witnessed on the last day of the last morning of 2020. I want my girls to be able to always lean into whatever they are feeling- from the good, the bad and the ugly. . . real and raw. . .what you see is what you get. The extraordinary is around us all the time. I’m blessed to be married to one, one that learned from one of the best through which was evidenced in her eulogy. I am also blessed to have a mother as well that epitomizes being strong and confident. In fact, back in 2014 when my father passed away it was my mother that eulogized my father. Indeed, she is one of the strongest people I know.
It’s no longer be strong and confident that I share with my girls. . .instead, be strong and confident like your mother.