Mother’s Day Tribute

I lost my Mom 10 days after my return home on emergency leave from Iraq in 2003.

This is what I delivered as her Eulogy:

I am going to paraphrase a quote by author and businessman Frank Fuller: (Often attributed to Mark Twain)

“When I was a girl of 16, my mother was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have her around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much she had learned in just five years.”

That pretty much describes my tumultuous teenage years with my Mom. I could never understand why she was so tough on us sometimes. When I matured a bit and went through only a fraction of what she did, I understood.

There are so many things I can say. To mention that she had a rough life is an understatement. As a single parent, she raised 7 kids, juggled finances, a home, and endured hardships that would have broken someone half her age. She was a fighter; strong willed and stubborn. She never took no for an answer. When doctors told her for six years that it was medically impossible for her to have children….well, I’m living proof of her answer to that one.

When there was no way of doing something, she’d find one anyway.
When she was told that she would never qualify to own a home, she got one. When she found out (our mentally retarded sister) Christy’s graduating class wouldn’t have caps and gowns for their ceremony, Mom discussed the matter with the school committee in her incomparable way. All of them got caps and gowns. When she dealt with lawyers, doctors, or mechanics, they found out pretty quick that Mom was not a pushover.

Mama was a “do it yourselfer”. She showed us, by example, how to be self sufficient. She would read up on how to upholster furniture, do carpentry, and design things. Then she’d buy the material and do it herself.

She was a loving, supportive parent who knew that there were times when she had to get tough with us for our own good. When she used our middle names we knew we were in trouble. When one of us did something and no one fessed up, she’d threaten to spank all of us to get the “right one”. She loved her kids and would often say that we were her life.

She had a keen mind for business and could have easily been the head of a corporation. Mama never graduated from High School. It was a decision she would always regret, and it motivated her to get a GED in 1973 at the age of 42. In 1982, at the age of 51, she graduated Cum Laude from Lorain Business College with a double degree in Accounting. She would tell us repeatedly that even if she had to drag us all the way to school everyday ALL of her kids would graduate. We did.

Mom was so proud of my service in the Army, but she hated the fact that I was often deployed to far away and dangerous places. Going to war was easy. Telling Mom was the hard part. I would always reassure her and tell her not to worry, but she worried about all her kids. When I came home from Desert Storm, she had a huge banner on the front of the house that read: “Welcome home SGT Cheryl McElroy from Operation Desert Storm.” It was quite a neighborhood attraction until we took it down.

My deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom was not unexpected, but still hard for her to take. As stricken as she was with diabetes, cancer, and heart and lung problems, she still worried about me up until the time I walked into her room at the intensive care unit and told her I was home. In retrospect, I think that’s what she waited for.

She was a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, aunt, and lifelong loyal friend to a privileged few.

We got our resilience from her. When life threw Mom lemons, she didn’t bother to make lemonade. She was the kind of gal that would pick them up, throw them back, and say: “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Mom used to tell me about a re-occurring dream she had as a kid. She was on an endless road and would struggle to get to the end of it by walking, running, skipping, and even going back and forth in a rocking chair. In her dream, she could never reach the end. I don’t know how she did it, but she finally got there.

If I have turned out to be half the person Mama was, it’s because she instilled character, perseverence, courage in the face of adversity, and a strong love of family. I can still hear her voice and feel the strength of her presence. I have always believed as Mama did, that if you love and care about someone, you tell them while their still around to hear it. I can’t help but believe that she is still here.

I love you mama.

Happy Mother’s Day

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