Eulogy to my mother, Rita Byrne

In loving memory of my mother, Rita Byrne, my eulogy given at her memorial service in St. Norbert's Church, Northbrook, on Feb. 12, 2011

Today, we pray:  "Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord. May she rest in peace." ..... As if heaven was a never-ending nap.

See, that's not our mother, Rita. Resting she's not. She's not on some cloud, plucking a harp. She's having a blast. She is... a rockin' and a rollin.'

How do I know this? Because my big sister, Mary Ann, told me. After a night of

sadness Monday evening when Mom died, Mary Ann awoke in the morning sunshine with a vivid image, marked special delivery..


Mary Ann saw Mom donning her best coat and heading out with the "girls,"--all her old friends who arrived in heaven first. To go out to lunch, to tour of some historic site, to the Botanic Gardens, to the theater, on a trip. Things that she so loved to do. Mary Ann said it was Mom telling her, "I'm all right; don't worry about me. The good times, they are a rolling."

That's Mom giving us a little peek at heaven. Thanks Mom. But, if you don't mind, if I get there, I'll being heading out with the guys for a round of golf. On a course that has no waterholes or sandtraps.

We all think that we know everything about our mothers. But, to me, Mom was a rosebud, growing ever more beautiful as each petal unfolded. For her, life became fuller the older she grew. This high-stepping mama wasn't quite the Mom I knew when she was raising four kids, three of us arriving within just over three years. It was during World War Two when necessities were scarce. No cars. That was when an "ice box" was something you had to put ice into, not take ice out of. "How did you do it," I once asked her a few years ago. "How did you raise us with virtually no help? Like how did you get to the grocery store in the dead of winter five or six blocks away on Devon Ave.?"

"Well," she said, "if the lady upstairs couldn't baby sit, I'd plunk you kids into a wagon and pull you there."

Ninety-eight years old. My mother arrived in Chicago a dozen years before commercial radio. Her grandmother had survived the Chicago fire of 1871. Mom graduated from Mundelein College--in its1934 charter class, when women in higher education still were trail blazing. She met and married our Dad in 1936 and when they had their first child, Bill, Jr., she became a homemaker.

These are the things that go onto resumes, but inscribed in our memories are things that don't. Her love of music--she played the piano--better than she would ever acknowledge. The energy, excitement and sense of peace she found in music, she passed along to her family. Evidence of that is with us today, in Connor's beautiful rendition of the Ave Maria and Lisa's sweet voice, as today's co-cantor. Together, their songs of praise and hope rise to her delighted great grandmother's ears. Her hearing impairment, now gone forever, Praise God. Undoubtedly, Mom' s a now a full member of the heavenly chorus.

Her great grandchildren remember their Uno games with her and their outings to, among other things, a Cubs game and the Sara Lee outlet store to feed a sweet tooth or three.

As her grown children, we remember that as drove away from the house on Happ Road, her and Dad stood in the dining room window, watching and waving to us until we were out of sight--a practice she continued after Dad died. Mary Ann said it was Mom's way of saying that she loved us, that she wanted us to be safe, that she would miss us and that she would wait for us to return. She never missed waving good-bye.

She traveled. My, she was a traveling mama. Brother Bill kept track of it, and what an itinerary it was. Through the Panama Canal with Dad. Then, after Dad passed in 1984, she struck out on her own. Repeatedly to Baltimore, where my sister Cathy has established the seaboard branch of the family. To Florida, to Canada, to Europe, to Mexico, to Madison, to Disney World, to Hilton Head, to Branson, to Syracuse, to Arizona, to Alaska, to Hawaii, to St. Petersburg--that would be the one in Russia. To Idaho for whitewater rafting. No kidding. By trains, planes and automobiles. And cruise ship.

When had reached the three-quarter century mark in her life, she set out with her friend, Nan, for what amounted to the senior's version of backpacking through Europe. Italy, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, with no itinerary and nothing more than a suitcase, a Eurorail pass and a credit card. She never tired of seeing for herself this beautiful life and this wonderful world. No doubt today she is exploring the interesting niches of heaven.

But soon, Mom's trips to the doctor and ER grew more frequent. It was then she displayed her realism and wisdom. No one had to tell her that it was time for her to move from her condo to Covenant Village. She knew it was time. No one had to tell her to give up her car keys. She knew when it was time.

She battled. She was one tough cookie. What would become of her, she sometimes asked. How long will this last, she wondered as her strong heart parried one thrust after another by ill health. Yet, even as she battled, I continued to learn more about her: I discovered that as she was in assisted living, she was strong mentor to one of her caregivers. She pushed and cajoled this young women to successfully complete her career in nursing. To the last, that beautiful woman visited Mom, twice every day, praying and encouraging her. Thank you for that Julie; we will never forget.

In her last weeks, she stared into the faces the unknown and the uncertain, as we all will. She shared her doubts with my daughter, Kati. "Grandma," Kati responded with her typical aplomb, "I have a plan. Grandma, when you get to heaven, as you surely will, you will have a job to do. You must watch over my girls; watch over my family. Keep them from harm. Grandma, do you agree?"

Of course, Grandma agreed. Word of Kati's plan soon spread throughout  the family. With each visit, other children and grandchildren arrived to put in for their own plan. Protect us and love us when you get to heaven.

"My goodness," Grandma eventually said, "I'm really going to be busy."

Well, Mom, as you know, once a mom always a mom. We all will continue to look to you for your counsel, comfort and blessings. And for you now, we know that you would wish to extend your deepest thanks to your caregivers at Brandel and elsewhere, to those who so lovingly, skillfully and energetically cared for you in your most difficult, last days. And to those present who are here to celebrate her life. Our family sincerely joins you with those thanks.

This Monday, the last day of your courageous fight, we crowded into your room. We felt helpless in the face of your pain. Your eyes were shut and you couldn't talk. Your breathing was labored and you were restless. Eventually, they gave you something to relax you and when you looked more at ease, the last of us finally left, planning to return the next day.

But within just minutes of our departure, you died.

Just like you, Mom. You trying to save us the pain. Leaving us with better memories.

So, Mom, I don't want to keep you from your new job. You've been given a lot to do. And I better let you get to it.  

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