My mother, Lois McIntosh O’Shea, died suddenly on September 16, 2010. Her obituary, written by my brother, Brian P. O’Shea, can be found here. This past Saturday, September 25, her funeral was held. The following text is the eulogy I gave, written in conjunction with my six siblings.
She was many different things to people through the course of her life. But at the end of the day to us, her children, she was a storyteller. So to celebrate her life, my siblings and I have compiled stories that I’m gonna tell ya. I’d say I’ll make it brief, but A) that’d be a lie; and B) a person only gets one chance to celebrate his mother’s life–unless he’s Frank McCourt.
Mother’s intelligence and creative mind served her well in her 84 years. She loved books long before getting a job in any library. She passed that love on to all of her children, a trait any bookstore near our respective homes can verify.
She had a love for, and a vast knowledge of, history.
In terms of education, back in the early 1940s, she won a scholarship to The College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York. Soon after arriving there, she appeared in the college newspaper in a picture documenting the school’s new foreign students–one student was from South America, one from Cuba and then Mother–from the foreign land of “the South”.
She returned to Atlanta after her freshman year, because she wanted to do something for the World War II efforts. She took a clerical job at Fort McPherson, and her formal education was put on the back burner for more than 30 years. But once all her children were old enough, she returned to school to realize her life-long dream of earning a bachelor’s degree in history.
Michael recalled how she wrote a family history essay for a Georgia State University class. As Michael said: “I wish we had the essay, but I do remember her speaking of listening in on ‘grown-up’ conversations among her family in Pennsylvania, during the Depression: it was early in the period (as her family moved to Atlanta in 1938), and the adults were discussing who had been laid off from work and she also repeatedly heard the phrase “cutting salaries” which sounded to her like “cutting celery”. In her child’s mind, as she wrote years later, she imagined that the decisions to let employees go were made by cutting celery stalks, having the employees draw stalks, with the boot going to the person drawing the short stalk.
Our father’s career with Westinghouse took the family to Knoxville in the 1950s. As Theresa told me, Mother used to recall the day there was a knock at the door. Mother answered it to see a somewhat rough-looking guy, who proceeded to speak in an extreme Appalachian accent: ”Y’awl order a cahsabar?” Mother said, “Pardon me?” ”Y’awl order a cahsabar?” Mother replied, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” Mother was nervous, until he finally pointed to a case of beer, hidden behind him. With that, she understood he was the friendly neighborhood bootlegger, and Mother realized that “Y’awl order a cahsabar?” meant “(Did) y’all order a case of beer?” Let the record show that Mother did not drink, and she most emphatically had NOT ordered a cahsabar.
Always before pursuing her own dreams, she encouraged us to live our dreams. Among her children, we have a librarian, actress, professor, nurse, journalist, teacher and editor.
Next up is my sister Helen’s take on mother. “Mother spent many years pulling me out from under exam tables at the doctor’s office. Any time the nurses came in with needles I would run for cover. My mother once told me that they were giving me a shot to make me better. To which I responded “I’d rather die!” Years later when I told her that I would like to be a nurse, but I wasn’t sure I could stick anyone with a needle, I think that it was quite remarkable that she encouraged me to give it a try. Without her support and encouragement, I don’t think I would have had the courage to pursue my career in nursing.
What Helen remembers most about mother was her courage and amazing faith. “I am still amazed at how both of my parents handled the prolonged illness and death of my brother Kevin. Kevin died of a brain tumor when he was 14. He was initially diagnosed two years before his death. My parents were by his side supporting him through the initial surgery, learning to walk again and the prolonged treatment to give him as much quality of life as possible. He wanted to graduate from OLA with his class. There was an amazing effort involving my mother, the school and Kevin’s classmates to help him achieve his goal. Although he didn’t survive to graduation, with my parent’s encouragement he was able to keep striving for his dream as long as it was possible. Our parents never gave up hope and kept his spirits up. I remember when Kevin was having difficulty walking, there was a well meaning friend who asked my mother ‘Wouldn’t it be easier to put him in a wheelchair?’ She responded that it would be easier for her but not for him. For the last several months of Kevin’s life he was in a coma most of the time. My mother learned how to do the tube feedings so that he could stay at home.”
That was Helen’s story, but if I can add, a few years back I ran into a classmate of Kevin’s who confided that she named her son Kevin partially in memory of our late brother.
Honestly, I personally never knew Kevin, except through family stories. Long-time parishoners may recall, I was born 10 days after Kevin died. My parents were mourning the loss of a son when I entered the world. And despite her pain during that time, she gave me a huge gift in addition to my life. How do I know? Well years after my father died, she confided that he wanted to name me Arthur Kevin. Even though my father was a darn fine salesman, that day my mother sold him on naming me Timothy Joseph, thus sparing me the burden of carrying Kevin’s name.
My brother Brian says this eulogy would not be complete without some mention of food: “With up to seven children and two parents at any meal, you can appreciate that dinnertime was a production. It required two tables, the children’s table and the big kids table. And Mother must have had 80,000 ways to use white rice and ground beef in a recipe. Yet we always had plenty to eat. What stands out, though, are the holidays. There are special foods, like my mother’s Thanksgiving stuffing, and our grandmother’s chocolate balls. Mother ‘s recipes have been passed down to our children. On Thanksgiving, we’d start early in the day, preparing the turkey, stuffing and whatever else. As we children were drafted into different tasks to help prepare the meal, it was also a time to trade stories about holidays past. The food was great, and so was our time together. Those are both part of Mother’s gift to us.”
I could tell more stories, but there’s a Georgia Tech game at noon–and our father would not want anyone to miss that, so I will just share some brief facts about our mother:
- She was always there for her children, no matter how old we got, and she was always a lot stronger than anyone ever hoped
- Back in 1939, when Gone with The Wind had its premiere at the Loews Grand, her parents let her attend the movie parade, but not the premiere
- She learned to drive because early in my father’s career he frequently had to be away on business. She hated to drive but did it anyway for her children’s sake.
- Our parents sent us all to Catholic school through high school, and as Brian put it “only God knows how they managed to stretch our budget to make that work”
- She married into a strong-willed Irish-American Catholic family and taught even the most stubborn of her in-laws just how strong willed she could be, when she needed to be, for her family
- When my father took ill in the early 1980s, my mother saw to both his hospital as well as his home care and found a job at the same time. Our parents showed their love for us in many ways, but I think the way my mother always succeeded in the face of insurmountable odds was one of her greatest testaments of her love for us
- In 1993, she surprised us all and with my sister, Mary, arranged a trip to Ireland, Mother’s only trip outside the United States
In closing, there are some thank yous I have to offer in closing, because my mother always taught me to be polite. The Sexton Woods Garden Club and the small faith community group at OLA. Both included other moms who met mother at carpool line or the neighborhood park or church, and they gave Mother a social network for lunches and classes and prayer time — and kept her active and around people she loved. The regulars at 5:30 Saturday Mass were also a great support for Mother and our family. Thanks to Chantel Miller for her outstanding care of Mother over these recent years. Finally, a special thanks to my sisters Helen and Mary, my mother would not have stayed on this earth as long and as happily as she did, had they not been there for her constantly. Someday I plan to be in heaven and see my parents again, and I do not want to hear from them: “You forgot to thank your sisters.” So check that off the list, Mother & Daddy.