(Here is the eulogy that I delivered this afternoon — Friday, May 29, 2015 — before a packed church of several hundred people on hand for the funeral Mass honoring my mom. She passed away May 23 at the age of 75.)
From the Book of Ruth …
A guy and his wife, Naomi, and their two sons left their home country because of a famine and moved to a different country. The husband died. Naomi’s sons married women from the new country. About 10 years later, the sons died, leaving the women. When Naomi heard that the famine had lifted, she decided to move back to Judah and told her daughters-in-law to stay where they were. It was home for them, and they were young enough to remarry. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and said good-bye. But Ruth, the other daughter-in-law, clung to Ruth. She spoke this:
“Do not press me to go back and abandon you!
Wherever you go I will go,
wherever you live I will live.
Your people shall be my people
and your God will be my God, too.
Where you die I will die,
and there shall I be buried beside you.”
My mom, Madeleine Louise “Madge” Gorcowski Eisenbath, lived a life much like that of Ruth. She grew up a city girl in Chicago with a large extended family. She loved that family and spent a lot of time with them. Her grandparents were natives of Poland, and Polish was spoken in her house almost as often as English. She never got a driver’s license and didn’t need one; there was a small grocery store within a couple of blocks from her house, and St. Salomea, her home Catholic church, was just a short walk away as well.
Mom went to Quincy College, a small Illinois school several hours southwest of Chicago. So did my Dad, Jim Eisenbath. Not long after they married in 1960, Mom and Dad settled in St. Charles County, Missouri, where my dad had grown up – first in Wentzville, then in St. Charles in 1966. They had three children: me and my sisters Marcia and Patti.
Mom wasn’t a city girl any more. She was a woman of the Midwest suburbs. She learned to drive a car – though never very well. The old bridge connecting St. Charles to St. Louis County wasn’t blown up because it wasn’t needed any more but instead because it was in such bad shape after Mom hit it so many times with our station wagon. She grew up a huge Chicago Cubs fan. She had married into a family that loves baseball, but definitely not the Cubs. No big deal. It didn’t take long before Mom was a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan. A huge change in her life happened in the early 1970s, when she and Dad bought their first farm. Who would ever have imagined that this woman who grew up on the South Side of Chicago would one day be helping Dad herd cattle? I’m not even going to try to imitate what Mom looked like while she was doing that. Needless to say, though, that the cows were easily manipulated because they were laughing so hard.
Mom hated dogs, yet we always had a dog while we were kids. Mom missed her parents and brother and relatives and all her girlfriends back in Chicago, but it didn’t take her long to become close with her in-laws and make many new close friends. She loved St. Salomea and that community, but she quickly became active at St. Charles Borromeo Church and remained a devoted Catholic woman.
Mom never forgot who she was before marrying my dad. She never lost touch those people from her “old country.” Her friends and family remained as important to her as always in her “new life.” She simply added to her world. Missouri became her “country.” The people in her new world became her people.
She remained a devoted Gorcowski, but also loved being an Eisenbath and got to know the relatives on that side of the family with an intimacy and love like she had always been part of that family. She loved her sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law on both sides of the family. She delighted in being an aunt – some of my cousins consider her a second mom — and then a great-aunt, as she knew the names and birth order of the 60-plus children born to all my first cousins, and she always entertained them with games at our huge family Christmas gathering.
Yes, Dad’s people became her people, too. And so did my people and Marcia’s people and Patti’s people. My friends and Marcia’s friends and Patti’s friends all were treated like her kids, and many of them also considered her a second mom. Friends of my kids were treated like her grandkids. When Dad made a new friend around Bowling Green, Missouri, they soon became one of Mom’s friends.
I can’t begin to list all the funny and quirky things that made Mom unique. I can’t begin to share the memories of how she could get emotional, the humble way she did things for others, the suffering she endured from many years with depression and headaches and allergies and, eventually, a brain tumor. I can’t start to share examples of how she loved people and her God. I can’t do that because by sharing one thing, I wouldn’t be doing the others justice – and I know only a fraction of those stories anyway. All of you know stories and have memories that I never will be able to hear or experience.
I will share these facts of her life, though:
She and my dad were married for 54 years. That sentence says more than I could ever speak.
When the time came that her parents and Dad’s parents were unable to care for themselves, she was there to lovingly help care for them. She loved the elderly people at the Carmelite Home, the nursing home where she worked for 20 years and then volunteered for many more, as well as the families of those residents. She took great joy in helping raise money for Birthright in support of women and their unborn children. Only God knows how many lives were greatly enhanced and, indeed, saved because of my mom.
If anyone in her family was involved in something – a soccer or basketball game, a First Communion or graduation or a celebration dinner – she was there with pride and support.
She loved the Mass, loved prayer, loved God’s people. I have no doubt she gained admission into heaven immediately. To correct what many people think, a man or woman doesn’t become an angel when they die; if they live in heaven after their earthly life, they are a saint. And in a saint, we have someone who will pray for us. So please, continue to ask Mom to pray for you — because she definitely is a saint in heaven. Her prayers are answered.
Along those lines … When I was a senior in high school, I was required to make a retreat in order to graduate. I didn’t want to do it. I was going to challenge the system. Everyone in my grade had fulfilled that requirement except me as we neared the end of the second semester. Mom never said she was going to make me go on a retreat, but she lovingly asked me to do it. For her. So reluctantly and with a little bit of anger and rebellion still in my heart, I went on a Teens Encounter Christ retreat in March 1979. On the Saturday night of that retreat, I met Jesus in a powerfully new way and began a personal relationship with Him that has dramatically changed my life and thus others who have known me.
That was because of the love of my mother.
A line from a Psalm has been whispered to me over and over throughout the last several days: “Be still and know that I am God.” A song with that name keeps playing in my head. So let’s be still for a few moments. Please remember one thing about my mom (maybe your first meeting or your last meeting or something about you never will forget). A think of your connection to one of her family members that is the reason you are here … or think of someone you really miss.
Hold that thought for a moment.
Know that whatever it is you just were thinking, that is a gift to you from God. Thank Him for that. Be still and know that He is God.
My mom did. She was a lector and Eucharistic minister at Mass. She proclaimed Jesus and brought Jesus to people often. May she continue to do that for you from her place in heaven.
And on behalf of my dad, my sisters, my wife and the rest of our family, I want to thank you so much for your prayers and support. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for loving my mom. Although she wouldn’t like for me to say this, I think she deserved it.