Christmas Tribute

This morning, my very large family filed into Immaculate Heart of Mary Church to say a final farewell to our mother.   The last several days have been filled with tears, laughter and embraces, and although my heart is still too tender to do much writing, I wanted to honor her by posting the eulogy I delivered at her funeral.  Here’s to you, Connie Madison.  I will love you forever.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.                                                                          First Corinthians 13: 1-3

The reason I chose verses from this chapter of scripture is because it is commonly called the “Love Chapter, ” and it is impossible to speak of Mom without mentioning love at the same time.

I often thought that God created a special mold when He formed Mom.  One with big feet to keep her stable when she carried her babies.  One with broad shoulders to bear the burdens of people who would sit at our kitchen table and pour out their troubles over a cup of coffee.  One with large hands to knead several loaves of bread- some for her family and some for a neighbor.  One with a mind that searched and questioned and taught her children and grand children and great-grandchildren to do the same.  One with long arms to embrace many- to draw them close enough so it is hard to know where they begin and she ends. One with a heart that beat a constant cadence of love and acceptance and inclusion.

We grew up feeling as if there was nothing Mom couldn’t do.  She could sew just about anything- from a snowsuit cut from Dad’s Navy uniform, to flannel shirts for her three sons, to wedding gowns for her daughters, and quilts to keep her grand children warm at night.  Her garden grew like her family- plentiful, large and robust.  She knew how to read music and do math in her head- skills that to this day still escape me.  She was strong enough to wield a hammer and gentle enough to put a cool hand on a feverish forehead.  She wasn’t afraid of lightning storms, didn’t faint at the sight of blood, and she had the compassion to adopt a mange-covered puppy and make her a life long companion.

There were a few things that Mom never could master. She never learned to like asparagus.  She never learned to call her children’s names out of birth order.  (all together now- Martha, Garrie, Robin, Scott, Teri, Kevin, Ricky, Missy.)  She never learned to save her money instead of giving it away.  She never learned to say no if somebody needed her.  She never learned to put herself first.  She never learned to feel sorry for herself.

Mom took an old house with crumbling plaster walls and made it a safe haven for anyone who entered its front door.  It was a loud house- a symphony of children running up and down the stairs, music from the hi-fi, and a washing machine that was constantly running.    There was always room for one more person at the dinner table, always a cup of hot coffee for a visitor, always time to help with homework, always a moment to kiss a boo boo or mend a broken heart.  And there was laughter.  Lots of laughter.

Mom didn’t keep her love inside the confines of our house.  She was a favorite teacher who could find something loveable in every child she taught.  They felt her acceptance and I remember many occasions where I would walk into her classroom after the last bell had rung to see a ragamuffin kid that no other teacher wanted snuggled by her side while she helped with a difficult lesson.  They would lean into her, and she would embrace them, no matter how dirty, how smelly, how unruly.

I saw one of her best examples of her acceptance shortly after I graduated college. She and I were walking on Main Street in Palmer, and a dirty, disheveled man came toward us. His eyes were rimmed with red and he staggered a bit.  As our paths began to cross, Mom recognized him and called his name.  He realized who she was, and she gathered him close and hugged him like a long lost brother.  They spoke for a few moments and he smiled, wiped a tear and went on his way.  I was aghast.  I had no idea who this man was and why my mother would hug him.  She explained.  He used to bag her groceries at the old A&P, which had closed many years before that. She said that he never complained about the many bags and he always helped her load them in the car.  She wanted him to know how much she appreciated his help and valued his service. We went on about our business and she didn’t give it a second thought, but I learned a lesson about love that I will never forget.  Love is not selective. It is to be given liberally and freely and without expecting return.

During Mom’s last days, we talked a lot about love. She reminded me over and over that all people need to do is love one another, and the rest will fall into place.  She asked me to pass on this message.  It is her legacy.  The reason for her life.

A lot of people have remarked to me how sad it is that Mom passed during the Christmas season.  But I think it is one of her most appropriate acts.  Christmas is the time when we celebrate God sending His only son to earth so He could die for us.  It is the ultimate act of love, and she based her entire life on it.  When we celebrate Christmas, we acknowledge love in its purest form and we encourage ourselves and each other to mirror this love in our daily walks.  We honor God and we honor Mom each time we speak a kind word, or soothe a troubled soul, or help a wounded stranger.  If we loved Connie Madison, and I know everyone here did, we will carry her message of love, and teach it to others. 

For if we have not love, we are nothing.

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