Thirty-four years ago today, I stood before a standing-room-only audience in the chapel of Mynatt’s Funeral Home in Knoxville, TN and delivered a eulogy—one that was at the same time one of the most difficult that I have ever given and also one of the easiest. It was for my 53-year-old mother—Hazel Peterson—whose life had been cut short by a drunk driver.
Also three and one-half decades later, I have forgotten many of the details. However, there are some things I haven’t forgotten. Let me divide those memories into two categories—the difficult and the delightful.
Once the word circulated that I was preaching my own mother’s funeral, many people asked, “Oh! How will you do that?!” To be sure, I knew that it would be difficult, but that was what mother wanted.
When mother died on Friday, December 19, 1980, I was with her. Other than the few medical staff who quietly came and went, she and I were alone. From my arrival at her bedside in the wee hours Monday morning, December 15th, I had spent the majority of each day and night by her side. Though mom initially tried to respond to both my brother Dennis and me when we each arrived in ICU, she remained unresponsive thereafter.
In spite of the missing responses, I talked to her, prayed with and for her, and even sang to her. Friday morning, was no exception, although that day would be different. It would be the last day that I would hold those hands that had cared for me since the day three decades earlier when this lady had given birth to me in that same hospital.
As the medical staff reverently removed all life support, I silently watched the heart and respiration monitors until someone broke the silence by softly stating her time of death. The staff slipped from the room, I prayed once again, and quietly walked to another room a few doors away.
Because of his own injuries from the same accident, dad was confined to another ICU room down the hall at St. Mary’s hospital. All week I had reported any changes in mother’s condition to him immediately. Now I am standing by his hospital bed, his hand in mine, and our eyes fixed on each other. “Dad,” I said softly, “she’s gone.”
I do not recall how long we remained almost motionless with silent tears coursing down our cheeks, but I think it was dad who spoke first. Among the things he said were these words, “Your mother had a request. She wanted you to preach her funeral. Can you do it?” With my eyes still locked onto his, I replied, “If that’s what mom wanted, then that’s what mom will get.”
Now, with the most difficult behind me, I stand before those assembled to pay their respects to my mother. The sheer magnitude of the crowd—hours of visitation that went past midnight on Sunday, combined with this audience—told me something of this simple woman’s impact in the lives of others. What a delight to see her influence on others!
Skipping the details that were used that morning thirty-four years ago, let me summarize the delight this way—my mother lived a life that gave me something with which to work at her funeral! I did not have to dig for positive things to say about her life—the evidence was everywhere any of us looked! The people on those pews had their own testimonies of how her life had impacted them for good and for God!
BTW, do you pray? If so, perhaps this would be a prime opportunity to join me in praying that our lives can be lived that way, too! Perhaps in this life we may never know the magnitude of our influence for Christ. However, we can faithfully do our best each day in obedience to His Word, perhaps like an old song says:
Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
To my way of thinking, the child of God’s daily life should stand in stark contrast to the world in which we live today. Such a life will certainly stand out for the right reasons, and will impact positively the lives of others. Thank you, mom, for setting that kind of example for your three children!