|I have an ongoing fascination with resilience. I see it as a core competency for thriving in today’s world.
It means being open to new ideas, being flexible and adaptable. It also means being self aware, having a strong sense of self and a purpose.
My mother died on September 2 and was a great example of resilience – she overcame adversity with determination, grace, acceptance.
I am including below an edited version of the eulogy I delivered at her memorial service.
Betty Vilas Hedblom
Eulogy – September 2015
Our mother was resilient.
She didn’t just make it to 97, she was in remarkable shape and mentally with it right up to the end. She was high-fiving her great grandchild Crawford from her hospital bed – while in hospice care, at home – only a week before she left us.
Thirty years ago she said she wanted to grow old gracefully and it’s fair to say she accomplished that.
She survived and even thrived in the face of a long life – full of both joy and significant adversities.
She had strength, determination, plus a quiet and unwavering sense of purpose. She was nourished by her relationships and deeply rooted in her spirituality.
She was born in January 1918. WWI still had 10 months to go. Like many of her generation, the impact of the Great Depression lasted her whole life.
She remembered the stock market crash and she often recalled how challenging those years were. She told us how her dog’s water bowl froze overnight in her bedroom. That people were willing to do anything – anything at all – to earn a buck.
It was around this time that she first showed her strong sense of caring for people in need. During those Depression years she befriended some people on the street (something she continued to do for decades).
She was secretly bringing them food from home. This went undetected until she gave away several of her father’s shirts and he noticed his closet was getting thin.
She was frugal her whole life and lived by the motto: Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do. After she was married, a friend joked, referencing my father, “Betty’s loosening up. She’s letting Carl take the toll road.”
Her early years weren’t all innocence. She proudly told me that she smoked cigarettes, and gambled away her allowance to her older cousins. But ultimately, she found redemption – when she was 11!
Growing up, she had a strained relationship with her mother. Taking a resilient tact, she found a substitute and formed a very close relationship with an aunt.
She adored her father, who she thought would have preferred a son. Being adaptable, she was something of a tomboy and learned to shoot a gun and drive a car by the time she was 12.
Later, as a college student, when her mother wanted her to have a coming out party, she was a rebel, sticking with what she believed in and chose a path of service and social work over being a deb and dilettante.
As the mother of three, she could set her own limits. Before I was born, my father said if I was a boy, he liked the name Mark. He also was interested in getting a German Shepard. So, my mother’s response was to get a Black Labrador and name the dog Mark.
Years later, on our drives to Michigan, she insisted that there be no talking – not a word – for the first hour. And a minute later, sibling fights would start.
When she was on a search committee for a rector and there was a short list of three – two married with children and one never married – she said the best choice would be someone who had been traumatized by teenagers.
After my father died, she had to find a new purpose. This was not retiring, meek widow.
She had a quiet discipline and created good habits. That included quiet time in the morning and daily afternoon walks – no matter even if it was windy, wet and frigid!
One of the great lessons my mother taught me was that life is essentially about our relationships. Not material belongings, status or ego.
Instead, she emphasized the comfort and joy of connecting. She loved to have friends who you can pick up where you left off. And, she had many friendships that lasted decades.
She proved to be resilient in the wake of the untimely deaths of her father, mother and her daughter (and my sister).
I believe it was her strong spiritual connection that helped carry her through. She struggled for years with the enervating effects of illness. The remarkable thing is that she ultimately emerged stronger, healthier and lighter – and this was when she was in her 70s.
She found writing to be a challenge. Even so, she started writing poetry as a coping mechanism. The writing was cathartic and she discovered her inner poet.
She continued to write and it served as a way for her to communicate and connect with so many people.
She was a rebel and spiritually a radical, too. She believed it’s all about energy, and Godde was in everybody and every thing.
It wasn’t all earnest. My wife remembers a hair-raising golf cart ride down our driveway. My mother made the sharp turn at the bottom never once so much as even tapping the brakes. She liked to go fast – pure joy!
She was ahead of her time in many ways. I was a teenager in the 70s and when feminists came on the scene, I remember thinking, “What’s the fuss about?” I thought equality was the way the world already was and should be with my mother as a role model. She was also naturally inclusive of the LGBT community decades ago.
My mother was a big fan of St Francis and, without overstating it, I think she evolved to become an embodiment of his well known prayer – seeking to understand than to be understood, emphasizing giving over receiving.
She had a calm presence, was open to new ideas, and had a positive attitude. She connected with warmth and affection. I think she sometimes brought out the best in us.
We are a little better for having spent time with her.
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