Death & Dying

Jo Ann’s Eulogy for Stellajoe

(You can listen to this here.)

Jessie named her Stella Jo—her first-born daughter.

Stellajoe named me Jo Ann—her first-born daughter.

I named her granddaughter Joanna—my first-born daughter.

As I’ve reflected on how mother lives on in me, our names come first to mind. I’m both proud and humbled to carry part of her name, and to have the honor of passing it on to my own sweet daughter.

There’s more, of course. The more is harder to identify. What is in me because of her?
What is in my sisters?
What do we carry in common? What do we carry differently?

One thing that surprised me in this exercise of opening to memory is that my mother liked to try new things. I like to try new things, but hadn’t noticed that came from my mother.

One of the first new things she tells us about trying, and liking, was sweet corn on the cob. Growing up in the rural South, she only knew corn that was fed to the pigs. My father, from a Michigan farm, loved fresh sweet corn just about more than anything. It took a while, but he finally convinced her that corn came in a people-friendly version.

Does anyone remember the introduction of oleo-margarine? I remember the waxed paper packet of white stuff that contained a capsule of color. I remember Mother going through the process of popping the capsule and kneading the color into the margarine. She grew up with butter and lard, but was willing to try this new innovation and never went back to butter except for special occasions.

And mangos—a recent introduction, and she fell in love with them. That’s why you’ll find dried mangos on the refreshment table today. She wouldn’t have been able to chew the dried ones, but they’re there in her memory.

My mother was almost never satisfied with the product when she tried to create something new, whether a recipe or a craft project. Either it was never good enough to match her expectation, or when the first attempt was wildly successful because she allowed herself freedom from expectations, she tried so hard she could rarely duplicate the first try. My mother’s perfectionism is one of those learned traits I’ve had to get over.

Sometimes I’ve gone overboard with that. My contribution to housework was never good enough for her, so now I just don’t do housework. And we always had to leave what I thought was much earlier than necessary for any event because there might be a train in the way, or an accident. I am always late.

There are plenty of other traits for which I am grateful. Mother always saw the world as full of possibilities. That piece of driftwood or moss, that perfectly formed stone or delicate dried weed could always be made into something. So she saved it, forever, and if you’ve ever had to clean out someone else’s house, you know what “forever” means.

And yet . . . to see promise and possibility in everything is a wonderful gift.
Seeing possibility, for Mother and for me, goes hand in hand with a creative mind and spirit. Mother always saw ways to create beauty. Many of her ideas stayed in her head, either causing frustration because she couldn’t realize them, or providing joy because what could be more wonderful than to have a mind full of beauty and creative possibility? It’s a joy that I share.

A mind like that is different from what our society calls normal. Mother taught me that was okay. It’s okay to be different, not like the others. Being different, off the conventional path, brought me pain sometimes, as it did her, but looking back, I see that she blessed my difference and gave me the example of her own.

For me, one of the things being different means is that I’ve never had much interest in popular music or popular culture in general. My radio is tuned to the classical station. It’s a love born in twelve years of piano lessons—a gift in itself. Mother was taught by her older half-sister to play by ear, but she never learned to read music, to her life-long regret. I think it felt like a kind of illiteracy to her, so she was determined that all her daughters would be musically literate, and I am deeply and forever grateful.

Literacy and knowledge of all kinds were an essential part the framework of my mother’s life, even though she had to take the scenic route to get there. She was the only one of her family to go to college, and was able to come up with the resources for only a single year. But she gathered knowledge wherever she could. She always knew what was going on in the world, at first by relying on our father because family kept her either too busy or too exhausted. Once we were out of the house, though, her daily routine always included the newspaper and TV news.

I never figured out how she learned to identify every single wildflower in the Pacific Northwest, but she knew them all, and even when she could no longer see them, she wanted to know what was blooming—not that we were much help.

I took her on a dream trip in May 1980. She missed seeing Mount St. Helens blow up because we were enjoying a Smoky Mountain wildflower tour together. We stayed at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, another of her dreams fulfilled.

Her love of wildflowers was rooted in my mother’s nature-grounded spirituality. Nature for her wasn’t a sport or hobby, but an adventure of growing in resonance with creation. Her spirituality matured with her, from the Sunday school faith she shared with me as a child, through an active commitment to the church and its mission, to an immersion in mystery and stillness late in her life. Because of her journey, I have been able to follow my own spiritual path. After initial skepticism born of her loving care, she embraced my adventure of seminary and path toward ministry.

Early in her life she had felt a call to serve in the mission field. She had never been able to follow that call, at least as she understood it, and I suspect she felt a deep fulfillment through my own path. I am blessed to have been able to give her that gift at last.

Thank you, Mother, for all your gifts to me and to this world we have shared. Our adventure continues.

Jo Ann and Stellajoe.jpg

Gretchen’s eulogy. Rebecca’s eulogy. Emma’s eulogy.

1 thought on “Jo Ann’s Eulogy for Stellajoe”

  1. So glad to have had the chance to meet your sister, Jo Ann. Such a wonderful day full of stories ! I was honored to share space with you all for this lovely goodbye !


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