My beautiful mama passed away on Monday morning, 12/12/22 after a 7-year battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). My heart is breaking ❤️
I wrote her obituary for the local newspaper, which you can view on the funeral home webpage. I also wrote this eulogy for her, which I read at graveside. I thought I would share it here for anyone who wasn’t able to attend or just wanted to know my mother more than a mere 300 words could say.
I had to write my mom’s obituary yesterday. How inadequate are 300-odd words to convey the details of a human life! And a eulogy isn’t much better…
I’m sure most of you know the facts and figures – born in 1954, first in her family to attend college, two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s, married to my father Daniel for 20ish years years, tax preparer and antique dealer, Rotarian, host parent, survived by her sister Anita and her daughter Elisabeth. You also probably know that she battled IPF – idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – for the past seven years, outliving the typical life expectancy for that disease. No need to rehash all that in detail.
I want to stress two of the things I loved best about my mother.
The first is the amount of intellectual curiosity she had. She was a lifelong learner, both in formal schooling and in the famed “school of hard knocks.” She loved to read, and loved to go on long Wikipedia crawls about topics such as bumblebees. She could teach you about psychology, or look at a quilt and tell you how old it was by looking at the fabrics. She was constantly, constantly looking to improve herself. She had the same therapist for thirty+ years, Jackie, and I know (because my mom told me!) how impressed Jackie was how, even with a terminal illness, my mom was still working on herself. She held a million different jobs in her lifetime, and had so many hobbies – quilting and contradance primary among them. She was always interested in travel and learning more about other cultures, and one of her last major trips was a whirlwind tour of England, France, and Spain in 2015, right before she got sick.
That intellectual curiosity is one way in which I take after her. Maybe the primary way. And I feel like that segues well into the next thing I want to note about my mom – her generosity, and the sheer number of people whose lives she touched.
When I was in my sophomore year of high school, I heard about the Rotary Exchange program, and wanted to study abroad in France. It was very last minute, but I was dead-set on applying to the program. So over the course of a couple of days, my mom pulled together everything I would need for the application, even trying to get photos of me from my taekwondo studio to illustrate my hobbies. We did it – I was accepted, and I received a scholarship to study abroad in France. And from there she did everything she could to support me in what was the toughest and yet most educational year of my life.
I was her daughter, sure, and you might expect such generosity with family, but she extended the same level of kindness to everyone in her life. She hosted and helped countless exchange students – through the Rotary, through Seton’s exchange program, and through the PICL program at SUNY. She had a wide circle of friends — from Rotary, from contradance, from her tax business, from her antique shop, from auctions, from working the polls, and more that I probably don’t know. I used to joke that she knew everybody in Plattsburgh – maybe in the North Country! She was always happy to give her time, her money, or just a listening ear and advice to anyone in her life.
I think the number of people who are here today – and the number of people who replied to the Facebook post I made about her passing – speaks to that kindness. I want to share a few things that folks said about her on Facebook, to illustrate the number of lives she touched:
words escape me. My dear, dear friend – gone. Your mom gave me so much love, friendship., opportunities and great joy in dancing and shared the simple pleasures of a good sandwich….and a true friend to my dad too.Marisa Goodenough
I am so sorry to hear this….my parents and Shelley shared the love of antiques for many years and she always used to share stories about them with me when I would see her. My condolencesJulie Gordon Ross
Condolences to all of you from all of us at Condo Pharmacy. She was a bright delightful person and we are saddened by this news. She did do things her way which was an admirable trait.Jean Moore
Shelley I will miss you. Please don’t stop looking after your family and friends. Dance away my dear friend, dance away. Love you more ❤️Nathalie Frigault
(“Love you more” is what my mother always used to say when you said “I love you” to her).
Hi Lise, you don’t know me, I’m a former Rotary Youth Exchange student from Colombia, when I was on the exchange your mom talked me a lot about you. Words are not enough to express how sorry I am for your loss, Shelley means a lot to me, she was such a nice lady with me on that year, I’m grateful with her forever because of the great things and experiences on those times. I truly believe she won a corner on heaven, because of her big heart with exchange students and people in general. I hope God help you pass through this tough times, and I send you my condolences and hugs from the distance. Shelley is a unique woman that never will be forget and she’ll live in our hearts. 🙏❤️😔Jose David Lopez Acosta
Even the choice Shelley made with her final arrangements was generous and deliberate. Spirit Sanctuary here is a conservation burial ground, which means that the land is held in trust, and due to a conservation easement, can never be sold for development. She was aware that the funeral industry can be tremendously polluting, and was looking for a way to lower the impact of her death on the world around her. Conservation burial – which I’ve heard compared to chaining yourself to a tree for eternity – appealed to her greatly. I was honored and humbled to pick out this spot for her when she first entered hospice. I chose this spot because it was the sunny, which she would have loved – and because of this huge oak tree nearby, in memory of the “Black Oak Tree” folk song she used to sing to me as a lullaby.
Speaking of verse, I’d like to read a few poems that were favorites of my mother. The first is “Wild Geese,” by Mary Oliver, which is printed on the memorial card.
Wild Geese by Mary Oliver You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
Any of you who were close with my mother know that she used to quote that line: “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” (She had a quote for every occasion!) I think it truly reflects how she interacted with her closest friends – always willing to share troubles and burdens.
The next poem is “Journey,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Millay is more my favorite poet than my mother’s, and this is one of several Millay poems I had memorized. But this is the one my mom loved the most of those, and often requested I recite.
Journey by Edna St. Vincent Millay AH, could I lay me down in this long grass And close my eyes, and let the quiet wind Blow over me,–I am so tired, so tired Of passing pleasant places! All my life, Following Care along the dusty road, Have I looked back at loveliness and sighed; Yet at my hand an unrelenting hand Tugged ever, and I passed. All my life long Over my shoulder have I looked at peace; And now I fain would lie in this long grass And close my eyes. Yet onward ! Cat-birds call Through the long afternoon, and creeks at dusk Are guttural. Whip-poor-wills wake and cry, Drawing the twilight close about their throats. Only my heart makes answer. Eager vines Go up the rocks and wait; flushed apple-trees Pause in their dance and break the ring for me; Dim, shady wood-roads, redolent of fern And bayberry, that through sweet bevies thread Of round-faced roses, pink and petulant, Look back and beckon ere they disappear. Only my heart, only my heart responds. Yet, ah, my path is sweet on either side All through the dragging day,–sharp underfoot, And hot, and like dead mist the dry dust hangs– But far, oh, far as passionate eye can reach, And long, ah, long as rapturous eye can cling, The world is mine: blue hill, still silver lake, Broad field, bright flower, and the long white road A gateless garden, and an open path: My feet to follow, and my heart to hold.
Finally, and most irreverently, a ditty that my mother always used to quote:
Love many Trust few Always paddle your own canoe
It’s a silly little rhyme, but I think emblematic of how my mother lived her life, and of the tremendous love she put out into the world. In her final months, that love was returned to her hundredfold, and she always had people willing to take care of her, to visit, and to bring food.
But at the same time, she was fiercely independent. She would always speak her mind and stand up for what was right, even if it made her unpopular or made her life more difficult. She was particular about the tax code and about grammar – mom, please note I didn’t use “very unique” in this eulogy. Even up until her last days, she was resistant to anyone helping her with the personal tasks that were increasingly difficult. She still talked about having to do payroll for the Peru Library or the tax returns she was going to do next year, and she was pricing antiques two days before her death. She definitely paddled her own canoe.
This is a hard time of year to lose somebody, with the holidays right around the corner. I asked my mom a few days ago if there were any holiday movies she wanted to watch — aside from It’s A Wonderful Life, which was her favorite. We watched that together last year. (It still makes me cry). I think, of course, of the famous line at the close of the film, and the lesson that George Bailey learns: “No man is a failure who has friends.” This was something my mother would often quote, and I think it ties into how critical my mother was of herself. She was by no means “a failure” – whatever that means – but I also think her friends and her generosity were a tremendous legacy that she leaves behind.
The darkest time of the year is a little darker this year. Please light a fire in your heart or your hearth to remember my mom.
Postscript: if you’re interested in learning more about conservation burial and other eco-friendly death planning options, I invite you to check out Ask a Mortician’s Eco-Death takeover video on YouTube.