October 27, 2019
October 26th was my mom’s re-birthday. Gone 22 years from sight, but very much alive in our hearts. Life, death, rebirth. May we all flow in harmony with the rhythms of the Universe.
© Kathleen McKern Verigin
Written by Rev. Kathleen McKern Verigin
Eulogy delivered at Mary McKern’s Funeral
Wednesday, October 29, 1997
First Christian Church
There is a first breath, and there is a last breath. In between there is a life. We are gathered here today to celebrate, honor, and remember a life, the life of a woman four of us call Mom, and others call grandma, great-grandma, sister, sister-in-law, mother-in-law, aunt, neighbor, friend, and up until 9 years ago, beloved wife.
Mary Kathleen Connolly drew her first breath on April 24, 1918 on a small homestead in Henry, Nebraska. She was an active, inquisitive and verbal child, traits that would often win her praise and occasionally a swat on the behind. She was proud that she could read before starting school, and often talked about the first book that was truly her own–Swiss Family Robinson.
The Connollys moved to Ames, Iowa in 1921. Mary attended Beardshear Elementary School, along with her younger siblings: Lawrence (whom she called “brother”), Zelda, Kathryn, Ralph (nicknamed “sonny”), and Janet. Throughout her school years she was active in Camp Fire Girls and a variety of sports. She was so proud of her “letter,” a large orange ‘A’ received in honor of her participation in girls’ athletics at Ames Senior High School. Although she was overweight most of her life, Mom was proud of her strong, healthy body. “That Mary Connolly,” people used to say, “What a strong, healthy girl she is!” You see, that was a compliment because those were lean, hard years for many Iowans. The Depression years coincided with her adolescence. As a budding young woman, Mom learned early how to scrimp and save, and how to do without. Graduating from high school was a big event in those days, and Mary Connolly successfully did that in 1936.
Around age twenty Mary Connolly’s world changed when she met a handsome farm boy from Southern Iowa–Bud McKern, the lean and muscle-toned guy with dreamy eyes. They enjoyed a four-year courtship, which seemed like forever for Mom because she knew early that Bud was her prince, the only man for her. They married on November 8, 1941.
And so, began a journey that would last 47 years, until Dad’s death in 1988. Even during his sick years and even on his death bed he remained her prince, the handsome farm boy with dreamy eyes. In those 47 years they shared many memories and created memories for us kids.
Mom gave birth to their first child, Michael Arthur McKern, on November 22, 1947. How Mom loved her little bundle of joy, the child she had dreamed of for seven long years. Of all the kids, Mike was probably most like Mom–blue-eyed, possessing the gift of gab, and a passion for sports. We have a long running joke in our family that Mike was her favorite. I’m sure he was her favorite in many ways, because only Mike could mirror back those beautiful blue eyes. Only Mike could understand Mom’s conversations with people we’d call strangers, and they’d call friends. And only Mike could share in the excitement of a ten-yard pass or NBA overtime. Even in her last hours of life, Mike kept Mom abreast of the World Series games. Mike, I’m not sure she cares who won the Series, but I’m sure she enjoyed sharing a last game with you by her bedside.
On the day after Dad started his career with the Ames Fire Department, Susan Kay McKern was born. That was February 10, 1949. Susie was probably Mom’s greatest challenge, every bit as active, inquisitive, and verbal as Mom was as a child. “I hope you get a daughter just like you someday,” Mom used to shout at Susie. Well, Susie did–right Tammy?–and perhaps only now understands the love Mom was trying to express. Because of all of us kids, I believe Susie inherited Mom’s great capacity to love. It’s evident in how easily Susie’s kids have always said “I love you,” especially to Grandma Mary. And just as Mom was an artist on the sewing machine, Susie is an artist in the flower shop. Her creative genius, inherited from Mom, is expressed here today in the lovely flowers. Susie, Mom would be proud.
Grandma Connolly’s name was Kathryn Mae. Mom was Mary Kathleen. That tradition continued when I was born Kathleen Marie McKern on December 8, 1950. With a three-year old, a very active two-year old, and now a brand-new baby at home, I can only imagine how stressful life was at our small house. Mom could cook a meal, do the laundry, chase us kids around, and talk on the phone all at the same time. A great juggler myself, perhaps that’s where I learned my organizational skills. Even at the hospital I was making detailed lists of things to do. I was also reading a book on the parallels of birthing and dying. I was on a journey to understand and comprehend what was happening, sharing Mom’s love of the written word and insatiable curiosity. Mom, I thank you for those personality traits because that’s what gives me the courage to stand here today and honor you with these words.
Mom gave birth to her last child, David Clyde McKern, on December 3, 1952. It is appropriate that Dave inherited Mom’s sense of humor, because with his birth she was now the mother of a five-year old, four-year old, two-year old and newborn. Only humor could have gotten her through it. As kids both Mom and Dave often made us laugh–whether it was a gesture, a word or a look, there was much laughter in our home, especially at the dinner table. Even during Mom’s two-day hospital ordeal and even yesterday at the funeral home, Dave was able to pull us through with a smile, a chuckle and sometimes a funny joke. However, like Mom, Dave is also a bit of a worrier. He carried the greatest burden of tending to Dad’s and then Mom’s needs during their waning years. And how he worried about Mom these past few days! Dave, there’s one worry you can safely let go of and that’s the fact that Mom loved you, and cherished you, and appreciated all that you did for her throughout her later years.
Mary Kathleen Connolly McKern was a proud Irishwoman, full of vim and vigor, and a bit of the blarney. Knowing that her days were numbered, she recently told me that she only had one regret in this lifetime. And that was that we never took that trip to Ireland together. I tearfully told Mom that I would go there for her one day. Just last week I told her that my husband Doug and I were indeed going to Ireland next year, and that I would take something of her with me. I have in my hand a lock of her hair and I will give it to the Gaelic winds on a hillside in her heart’s homeland.
We are all at peace knowing that Mom is experiencing another home now, resting comfortably in the arms of God. The rapid decline of her health stunned us all, but also gave us enough time to unite for a miraculous, fifty-hour bedside vigil. All four of her children were at her bedside Sunday morning. It felt like Christmas—we were all groggy from lack of sleep, there was a raging blizzard outside, and the air was heavy with a sense of anticipation. As her breaths grew quieter and shallower, we gathered around her hospital bed, all holding hands. There were words of love spoken, tears of sorrow shed, and finally our last good-byes. One by one, we said farewell to the woman who birthed us. Mom took her last sweet breath at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, October 26, 1997.
We knew that we were looking at just a body now, an empty shell, and that Mom’s soul was ascending to Heaven. We imagined her standing at the Pearly Gates and announcing herself to St. Peter: “Mary Kathleen Connolly McKern reporting to Heaven.” Then she’d probably ask St. Peter is he was a turtle, all the while checking out how big his feet were. With the blink of an Irish eye, she’d be admitted to Paradise. Chatting away with long-lost friends, Mom would probably sew up something to beautify the surroundings. She’s telling Princess Diana how much we all loved and missed her. She’d probably have a word or two with Richard Nixon. And we’re sure she’s finding out once and for all if O.J. really did it.
But most importantly, she’d be reunited with the love of her life, with Bud, her sweet prince that she said good-bye to just eight years ago. I found a letter yesterday that Dad wrote to Mom when they were separated for one full year by World War II. In it he said:
“Well, my love, there’s not much to write about, just how much I love you and miss you and waiting for that wonderful day that we can be together and make up for some of the time we have been apart. So bye bye darling, for this time, with all my love and kisses, all for the most loved and missed gal I know, my sweet loving wife. Your loving hubby, Bud.”
And so, Mom, we’re glad you’re together again. Just as we mourned Dad, we will grieve your loss from this human plain. But we gain comfort in knowing that you are finally at rest. You are truly the love of God, the light of God, and now may you know the peace of God.
There was a first breath in 1918, and a last breath just three days ago. And in between was a wonderful life. Mom, we wish you an equally wonderful afterlife. So until we’re all united in the Kingdom of God, we thank you and bless you, forever and ever, Amen.