Lessons From My Mother
Eulogy by Martha's daughter, Mary Kelly - first presented at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, Saturday, June 26, 2021
Lessons from my Mother
My mom taught me how to love.
She taught me what love feels like.
She used to tell me, home is where mom is; where I am.
Home is just love, Mary.
I did not think I would be giving this speech for a while. If you knew my mom, you know that her strength seemed insurmountable. It seemed as though her stubbornness would be enough to will the cancer away. Even when she got sick, it didn’t at first feel like a devastating end to something; it felt like the beginning of yet another difficult chapter, one which my mom would take on with her usual graceful fervor. It was to be a distinct point in time, the period in 2021 where Martha Had Brain Cancer. There would, of course, be a time when she didn’t have brain cancer.
But, sometimes, life is confusing and awful and unfair. This was a lesson the world threw at my mom a few too many times.
We used to move around a lot, bouncing from house to house, from neighborhood to neighborhood.
My mom used to tell me, ‘Home is wherever I am. Home is just love, Mary.’
When I was in second grade, my mom and I lived in a small row house on Hickory avenue. The east side had no protection from the elements, and bits of paint curved away in orderly chaos to reveal a weathered forest green beneath. My bedroom had once been a closet, the bathroom door didn’t close all the way, and every time the toilet flushed the ceiling in the kitchen would leak. After a frustrating game of Hungry Hungry Hippos shortly after moving in, we realized the entire house was slanted a bit, slowly and unevenly sinking into the ground. I loved it. Wherever we lived, it felt like home.
This feeling of home was aided by her often insane prowess at antique stores and estate sales. No matter where we were, the walls were adorned with oil paintings, the rooms filled with antique chests, artisan chairs, and couches she reupholstered herself. She was a collector. But not the kind who acquired a precious object and tucked it safely in a cabinet. No, her collections were to be used, displayed, lived with. This was true too of the friendships she collected; each was meaningful and sustained. She didn’t have a storage receptacle for her past life; she had a living document of friends, some who had entered her life long ago, others who were added along the way. I think everyone she encountered caught a glimpse of her rare, deep, and authentic love. Of her unique capacity for care.
She taught me the importance of reading. The extraordinary power of literature. How to fall in love with a world fabricated by only words.
She constantly consumed words. Books, news, podcasts. She craved knowledge, always seeking more and more. Expanding her view, her vocabulary, her heart.
My mom was opinionated.
She didn’t beat around the bush.
She taught me how to be honest.
She had high standards.
But she wasn’t cold. In fact, she was sometimes too empathetic; she could feel it all.
I think I got this from my mom; this ability to feel.
How to experience everything not only around me, but inside me.
She taught me how to express myself, my feelings. She showed me that my emotions were mine; that they weren’t meant to be hidden.
That you have to feel in order to live; in order to keep living.
She loved Maine; her adolescence. Weaved into my childhood in a city were summer trips to Meddybemps, where she taught me how to appreciate the air, the breeze, and the beauty of nature. She would shake me awake in the morning, donning a hand-knit sweater, coffee in hand. Equipped with grocery bags and green baskets, we took to the hills, spending our days picking blueberries. She would pause, straighten her back, adjust her sunglasses. Closing her eyes, she lifted her face towards the sun, carefully and deliberately soaking up the world around her.
She taught me what it means to breathe; to sit and experience everything around you. My mom did not let the world wash over her. She dove into it, explored the often disappointing and challenging and terrifying crevices it had to offer. She did not shrink in fear, nor change her metrics for success and happiness.
A lot of parents, I think, have children and they become their whole world; their entire life. My birth did not shrink my mother’s vast universe. I was at the center of her world, but it was ever-expanding, churning with new friends and love and experiences.
One of the only constants in my life was my mother: her strength; her love; her care. The only reason I am not broken, the only way my life is not completely devastated by this loss of the most important person in my life, is because I was raised by my mother.
She showed me how to be a person. A fully-fledged human being.
She taught me how to not shrink for the world.
How to keep my standards high.
She taught me how to love; she taught me how not to love.
She showed me what it feels like to be loved.
Home is where mom is; home is just love, Mary.
With my mom’s love in me, I am never lost; never alone. I can always find home. I will carry her love with me, everywhere I go.