by Connie Smith
Jean M. Wilkenson
7/3/1926 to 9/1/2005
For those of you who may not know me, I am Connie, the lucky person who had Jean as her mother. Thank you for coming today to celebrate her life.
On September 1st, I lost my mother and my best friend. I will miss her presence and her eager smile, for the rest of my life.
I think we all remember her as being a kind and loving person who was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the out. The most important thing in life to her was #1, her family, and #2, her friends. Today I am going to talk about some of the things that made her so special.
As you know, Mom worked for the telephone company for 33 years. For most of those years, she worked the hours of 5PM to 11PM, because it was important to her that she be able to get my brother Terry and I off to school, and to be there to greet us when we returned.
I know especially in that day and age, “working mothers” were sometimes criticized for not staying home with their families, but I never felt I suffered for not having her home with us in the evenings. In fact, she was way beyond her time, as many of you here were. She was able to “have it all.” For me, she set an excellent example that you can successfully balance family, friendships, and a career.
Mom never left for work without dinner in the oven so when Dad got home a hot meal would be waiting. Granted, sometimes by the time Dad got home, the food was a little dry and hard to identify, but never the less, dinner was on the table and a balanced meal was served!
When Mom was in her twenties and Terry was a toddler, she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and spent some time at the Rinehart Arthritis Clinic in Wheeler Oregon.
While Mom was having tests done and learning how to live with this debilitating disease, Dad was back at the motel with Terry being Mr. Mom.
After several days Mom was finally released and as they were leaving town, they drove by a Dairy Queen. Terry started to point at it and fuss, so Dad finally had to confess that that’s where they had been eating everyday. Mom asked, “What did you eat?” and Dad sheepishly replied: “Ice cream. It’s the only thing Terry would eat.” So much for the balanced meals!
Mom loved to cook! Throughout our childhood, we would share the kitchen with vats of soaking cucumbers because Mom was making pickles, canning jars, and even experiments making homemade soap! But her greatest joy was to make a big dinner for special occasions. Even with the one side dish that was inevitably forgotten and did not make it to the table, there was always enough food for an army and we’d have leftovers for a week.
Even though sometimes I think Mom would have preferred for Terry and I never to “leave the nest”, Mom and Dad really tried to encourage us to be independent. When Terry went to Basic Training for the military, Mom cried for days. After about a month in boot camp, he became very ill with the flu and Mom was desperate. She called the doctor to see if there was anything he could do, and the sympathetic doctor told her that she “needed to untie the apron strings.” Mom would have called the governor if she thought it would bring Terry home; she was devastated that she could no longer protect him.
More than anything, Mom wanted me to go to college. I know she would have liked me to attend school locally, but when I chose to attend in Corvallis, she supported that decision. I have often told people, that without my Mother’s constant telephone calls and encouragement, I would have never made it through the four years. I will always be grateful to both of my parents, because with their support, that education opened up a multitude of doors for me.
I believe my Mom and Dad would do anything for their family. Over the years, I’ve had several surgeries and each time, they would travel up to Washington to be by my side. When my husband Rick had back surgery, they were right there to help and support. They loved my brother and I and our spouses, unconditionally. Our successes were celebrated and our failures mourned.
When I was looking through Mom and Dad’s pictures for the DVD that we are going to show you later on, I realized how well chronicled Mom’s life was in pictures; her childhood growing up, her parents, siblings, and friends. All the vacations we took, and all the trips Mom and Dad took after my brother and I left home.
Looking at the pictures, I couldn’t help but reminisce.
I remembered Mom telling me about her life as a child: her first doll, how she lost her hearing in her right ear, how she got the deep scar on her knee, the beaded moccasins a Flathead Indian made her in exchange for a jar of fresh cream, their dog King, and her brother Raymond who was her “best pal”.
I remembered the times when my brother and I were real young and dad was working, she’d make some popcorn, bundle us up with a pillow and blanket, and off we’d go to the drive-in theater to watch Elvis Presley movies.
I remembered all the wonderful Christmases. Not only was there a huge pile of presents under the tree, the tree was always loaded with every ornament Mom ever owned. Usually a Christmas didn’t pass without us having to pick up the tree after it fell over from all the weight under it, and on it. Personally, I think it was the tree's way of begging for mercy!
As I was looking through the pictures, I remembered all the vacations and camping trips we took as children. Mom and Dad both worked hard, but believed in the value of spending time as a family.
I remembered the unwavering devotion and love my Mom and Dad had for each other. In fact, six days after Mom passed away they would have been married for 58 years. Dad, Rick, and I still celebrated the event with Mom being there in spirit!
As I was looking through the pictures, I remembered how much Mom loved working at the telephone company, being a Telephone Company Pioneer, and working with people who became her life long friends.
I remembered that every night without fail, Mom pin curled her hair with bobby pins and clippies. Thank goodness she was never hit by lightening! Over the last year, Mom’s caregiver Lorna took her once a week to get her hair done. One day the young hair dresser said, I’ll spray her hair really good today so that it lasts longer.” Lorna replied, “You don’t need to bother. She puts her hair up in clippies every night, anyhow.” The young girl looked at Lorna with this “Huh???” look. We don’t think she’d ever heard of clippies, and most likely, had never heard of anyone pin curling their hair every night.
In recent years, Alzheimer's set in and Mom was unable to speak due to paralysis of her throat and tongue, but her smile and love for life never faded.
Mom was kind, fun loving, and set an excellent example of being upbeat and positive. Even as her memory and health were failing, she still loved to be around people, laugh, and enjoy a nice glass of wine. She always said how she had “had a good life!” And, she never stopped living life to the fullest.
As Mom took her last breath with Leslie and I by her side, she shed a single tear that rolled down to the tip of her nose. I thought about that a long time. But if I know my Mom, she was sad to leave us behind but thrilled to see the host of family and friends waiting to greet her. And most of all, where she is now, she once again is able to speak and her memory is sharp.
There is a favorite song of mine that you’ll hear when you see the DVD showing pictures of Mom’s life. It’s called “I Believe”. The premise of the song is that the person who passes on, never really leaves you, they are just not here in physical form. The song says, “I believe there are more than angels watching over me.” And I know Mom is up there now with the angels watching over all of her loved ones.
Mom’s favorite time of year was the Fall. So I guess it’s only fitting, that she would choose this time of year to leave us. Yes she’s watching over us, but she’s also enjoying a beautiful view of the turning leaves.
Like I said earlier, I will miss Mom for the rest of my life, but she’s left me with a beautiful gift: her positive attitude, her passion for life, and her unconditional love.
Again, thank you all for coming to help us celebrate this beautiful lady’s life.
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