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On behalf of my family I want to thank you all for being here and also thank those who have offered their prayers and condolences over the past two weeks. Your love and caring has buoyed us all. I also want to thank those in my family who took such great care of mom over the years including my sister Sharon, who has been mom’s constant companion, and my nieces Amie and Heather. But there are many other family members, too numerous to mention, that stepped in and helped when they could or when they were asked. It was truly a family effort and you should all be proud because I know, without a doubt, my father would be proud of you all.
Just over twelve years ago I stood at this very spot delivering a eulogy for my father who had passed, not unexpectedly, but very begrudgingly to cancer. My family was devastated. Now, although I’m back delivering another eulogy, the situation is completely different. You see mom and dad were so extremely close and dedicated to each other that we weren’t sure how mom could carry on after dad died; but carry on she did, and in fine fashion too. Now reunited, their mortal story is complete and neatly bound with a prologue, epilogue, and eighty-five amazing chapters in between. We should all rejoice that they are together.
Before dad passed he enjoined my brother Steve and I with specific tasks to ensure his unfinished business was completed and that my mother had the support and resources on which to live. I know it was difficult for him to leave everything behind and it was a real honor for both of us to step in and help her. Through the years I was able to work with my mother on several fronts and it was a privilege to be able to serve her plus it gave me a chance to talk and visit with her more often so it was a real bonus for me. I will never forget the satisfaction we shared as the various tasks were crossed off the list.
It was always puzzling to me that mom couldn’t totally grasp the concept that she was never going to have a problem with her finances. I guess it makes sense because she never had to worry about that sort of thing when dad was alive. She was always thrilled when Holly and I handed her gift certificates to “Chicos” her favorite clothing store; as if her net worth had just doubled. She always dressed elegantly and looked absolutely beautiful but she was curiously reluctant to splurge on herself, choosing instead to focus on the needs of others. Such was my mother, selfless, caring, and, to my way of thinking, simply divine.
Mom was a hopeless romantic and the consummate “stand by your man” kind of woman. I remember in the early days, when we lived in Spanish Fork, dad was at the helm of a fledgling company; money was tight and the hours long but mom never complained, at least not in front of the family. If fact, over the years of ups and downs, and running a surveying company and dabbling in real estate will create plenty of ups and downs, I never once heard her disrespect or utter a discouraging word about him. Her love was unflinching and her trust unwavering.
She loved Christmas and passed that love to me. She taught me how to wrap presents and we would spend hours wrapping and then admiring each other’s work. Her results were always a bit better but she would never admit it to me. I will never forget the year she converted the Christmas tree into a valentine tree. Spending Christmas as a family in Woodland Hills was nothing short of magical but I’d better save the details for others if they are so inclined. Mom also loved to piece together jigsaw puzzles and read romance novels. I cherish the times that my wife Holly, my sister Sharon, and I were able to work on jigsaw puzzles together with her.
Growing up, she wanted the best for us and so we found ourselves getting up before daylight in the dark of winter to travel to Provo for ice skating lessons and when summer rolled around we were off to early morning swim team practice. I even remember ice skating on the old mill pond in Spanish Fork as a wee lad. We were encouraged, well required, to take summer school classes so-- while many of my friends were off the hook for the summer, I found myself going to school – learning about electricity, art, golf, tennis, etc. I even built my own AM radio at the age of ten. When I turned fourteen the party was over and I began to work full-time in the summer on a survey crew in dad’s company. Mom always made the best lunches for me. It was back when hostess pies were twice as big as they are now and I could always count on a berry or cherry pie for desert. She made the best turkey stuffing on earth and I know the recipe has been handed down because it was just so good!
Such are the sweet memories that never fade and debts of gratitude that can never be repaid.
Growing up, mom was my teacher for all things good and wonderful. She taught me about compassion, empathy, propriety, resolve, and commitment to one’s family and friends. She was a den mother, a primary leader, a shuttle service, a doctor, and a psychiatrist all rolled up in one neat package with a purse full of atomic energy that she inherited from my Grandma Killian. I’ve heard people describe her and her younger sister, my Aunt Myrna, as “two of the sweetest people we’ve ever met” and that was the truth. The only major difference was that Aunt Myrna inherited a suitcase full of atomic energy.
Mom was never quite complete without dad and that is as it should be. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy life, it was just that life wasn’t’ the same without him. Winters were especially hard on her these past few years and I always joked with her that she had waited too long to make that move to St. George. In truth, she would never have left her home in Orem because it was the place where dad’s memory was most recent and vivid.
When we lost Aunt Myrna earlier this year after an extended illness I wondered how it would affect mom because she and Aunt Myrna had always been so close. They spoke all the time and supported each other so I’m not surprised that, as the ‘big sister”, mom held on to see Myrna off. After that, I think she really considered her mission here on earth to be complete.
Holly and I were fortunate to be in the Orem area the day before she had the stroke. We offered to bring over some seafood, one of her favorites, but she wasn’t feeling up to it. Of course she received us anyway and we shared a laugh and a smile. Mom was weary of doctors and hospitals and ready for a change of scenery. There was nothing to be done.
I stopped by the Salem City Cemetery this week and paused at the gravesite I had visited many times these last twelve years. Everything looked and felt different. This time, instead of asking dad to be patient for a while longer, I just stood there with a full heart, thankful that mom and dad were together again.
I will leave you with these words.
To everything - there is a season - and a time to every purpose under heaven.
Heather's & Amie's talk at the funeral:
Click here for their wonderful tribute to their grandma.
Thanks for coming. I know no one really wants to attend a funeral, yet
some of you have come from long distances to do so -- we appreciate it.
I'm going to share some memories of Mom and me as a boy that may be unique to
me, to my time, and my younger years. But I also want to make sure that I try to
teach some Gospel principles -- I think Mom will be disappointed if I don't try
to do that too.
Mom was an anachronism to me -- an enigma to me as a boy. I watched men walk on the moon as a teenager. She watched with me. Yet, she actually knew people who walked across the plains as pioneers. How can that be!? Well those people, her family members, were long-lived, had come across the plains as children, and as members of the later pioneer companies . . . at perhaps 5, 6, even 8 years old they 'walked, and walked, and walked' as that Primary song goes. Mom had a box of memorabilia from them: a pair of shoes, an arrow-head picked up on the trail, a rusty iron piece from a wagon, etc. A humorous incident from Mom’s early life shows how she felt about these people – her aunts and uncles and grandpas and grandmas . . . and on back. Some boys had dropped off Mom and her friend on one side of the Payson Cemetery, late one very dark night, and told them they’d be waiting to drive them home on the other side. It’s rather a humorous story – check it out on my website -- in which Mom and her friend turned the tables on them. As a little boy, I once asked Mom why she wasn't scared in that cemetery in the darkness. She said, "I've never been scared of the cemetery. You know we don't believe in ghost and goblins and that sort of thing. When people die, they go back to Heavenly Father right away.” Just as an aside, that is doctrine straight from Alma in the Book of Mormon (Alma 40:11). “Besides, she said, even if I had believed in such things, I have family members buried in that cemetery who loved me very much, and they wouldn't ever have allowed anything to hurt me."
Mom's house in Salem was one of the last, if not the last, to have indoor plumbing. I asked her if that bothered her -- having friends over, for instance, who maybe had never known anything but indoor plumbing. She thought for a moment, and said, that yes, it could have bothered her, but she decided to not let it. That's a good, strong attitude. One of my earliest recollection of Mom -- I could only have been 2 or 3 -- was her teaching a Primary class to some giants (she later told me they were around 7 or 8 years old -- mere kids, but they seemed as giants to me). She took me with her to class, and those 'giant' 7 and 8 year old would pick me up with their strong arms and sit me on their laps. But there was Mom, teaching. She did a lot of that -- Den Mother, Primary teacher, Chorister. I remember wonderful Primary Halloween parties where Mom would make sure all of us, all the primary children, had loads of fun -- I can still see her behind the partition working at the fish 'pond' and hooking good treats and knickknacks to each line tossed over the wall. She was the Primary Chorister for many years -- she always made it a happy time for us -- and as a consequence our home was always filled with flannel boards, and flannel board figures, and primary music to go with.
Do you know what the best smell in the world is? When you'd come home from school -- elementary school -- and walk into the house to the aroma of fresh baked bread. Oh, if a boy could live forever! But, if you walked in to the aroma of split-pea soup, it meant Grandma Cloward was over visiting -- she loved split-pea soup -- and Mom would always make her some. Grandma Cloward was a second mother to Mom when Grandma and Grandpa Killian were away on road construction projects in the nether parts of Utah. When Mom neared Junior High age, Grandma and Grandpa Killian realized they couldn't keep moving Mom around and arranged for her to stay with Grandma and Grandpa Cloward. Mom loved them and loved living with them.
Mom was full of life and vigor -- young, so young. When I think of Mom I compare her to my daughters today who have young families and young children. That's how I think of her. We lived in Spanish Fork, on a large cul-de-sac which was perfect for a neighborhood game of kick-ball. Mom would come out and play on a team with us when the sides didn't equal -- she was that active.
Every Christmas, the mailman, the milkman (yes, everyone had a milkman back then), and each of the garbage men would get a nicely wrapped Christmas gift -- usually one of those huge candy bars. Delivering it to the garbage men meant that Mom would have to run out there in the snow and hand them out personally -- you couldn't secret those in the mail box or the milk box. I’d watch from the window and smile.
In those days you could head out west to Lake Shore or Benjamin, buy some sweet peas from a farmer right from the field, and sit in the back of the old station wagon and eat them right from the pod -- those are good memories. Mom wasn’t afraid to help me catch – in a glass jar -- those big, scary-looking striped garden spiders in Grandpa Killian’s garden, and she would take us to see the cow in the shed near the house. Do you know what a cucumber boat is? Mom would help us make them . . . carefully hollowing-out a cucumber, adding a tooth pick or two, with a scrap paper sail, and viola . . . they would sail down the ditch in front of Grandma and Grandpa Killian’s house just like the real thing.
She hiked many times with me to The Grotto in Payson Canyon – such a wonderful, easy, hike for us kids and so much splashy fun at the end. Warm weather brought a family pool pass and Mom would sometimes come in the evening to swim with us after we had spent literally all day there ourselves. Sports were important to us and therefore to her. During Little League Baseball season, I remember spending whole days at the baseball park, and I don’t think Mom, or Dad for that matter, missed a single one of my games. Yes, summers seemed to last forever and Mom was the center of our lives.
Mom was well educated, though she never went to college -- she and Dad married right out of High School, you see, and she had to work hard to get her PHT (which stands for 'Putting Hubby Through'). They both had to work hard. Sometime, go to my website and see a picture of that little trailer they lived in ("20 ft long, including the hitch" as Dad told me) while Dad went to the U of U. “At nights, in the bitter winter wind, the blankets froze to the sides of the trailer . . .” Even after they graduated from college and Dad took a job as an engineer at Lockheed in California they were just barely scrimping by. Mom told me how bad she felt that they had had no money to buy Sharon, who was just perhaps 1 year old, a Christmas present when they came back to Utah for the holidays. It made her feel sad.
Mom told me, though that The Lord had always watched over her and taken care of her. I reminded her of such when James and I gave her a Priesthood blessing before they wheeled her in for that last-ditch effort to clear the clot. A sea of helicopter crew, nurses, and doctors, receded for just a moment for us to slip in and back out. The blessing had to be brief -- time was of the essence. But I promised her that He would take care of her now, too.
You might wonder if He did -- He did!
Let me explain by quoting a few passages from Elder Boyd K Packer's October 1988 Conference address:
"Death can be tragic with the loss of one upon whom others depend for happiness, for many die too young.” That was Dad -- we lost him too soon. “Sometimes, “continues Elder Packer, “it is slow in coming to one who yearns to join the loved ones who have gone before." That was the case with Mom.
Mom missed Dad terribly. She loved us, but as her health and mobility declined, she longed more and more to be reunited with him. And not just him. Her sister Myrna passed away just a few of months ago and they had a pact that whichever one went first was to bore a hole and pull the other one through. Plus Mom had a sister she never met – but now she has. And to meet her Mom and Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa Cloward again -- well that must have been a happy occasion. There were many others there too -- family who loved her from her youth. There are many more of 'them' on the ‘other side’, than of ‘us’, here on 'this side'. Sure, she misses us and worries about us -- but oh my, to be back in all those loving arms . . .
There was a spot, just a few days ago, on the side of the freeway, somewhere between Cedar City and St. George, a dark, tear-stained spot, in my mind's eye at least . . . I've always imagined it to be along that steep incline parallel with the massive lava 'Black Ridge' . . . where Mom and Dad, rushing to get to Las Vegas and their dying granddaughter, pulled off to the side and wept. Nicole had passed away before they could get there. They were too late. Now, that spot is no longer dark and those stains have been wiped away. How happy is that!
Let me share something with you. Dad, on his deathbed, told me he had finally worked out his mission here on earth – his mission was simply "to take care of your Mom." He told me that, in a moment of rare clarity in those last few days, when Mom had left the room for a moment. Could it be, with all his accomplishments that the only thing he did in this life that really mattered to his Heavenly Father was that he took care of Mom? Sure! Heavenly father couldn't care less what worldly honors you achieve and what trinkets and baubles you collect. BUT, He does really care about His children -- they are 'His work and His glory’. I suspect most of us have similar, and just as simple, missions in life . . . having nothing to do with what the world might call important, but everything to do with helping His children return to him safely.
Quoting President Packer . . . "It is my conviction that in the spirit world prior to mortal birth, we waited anxiously for our time to enter mortality. I also believe that we were willing to accept whatever conditions would prevail in life. Perhaps we knew that nature might impose limits on the mind or on the body or on life itself."
We longed to come here, but we were counting on getting back home too.
Let me quote a little more:
"Alma’s son thought that death was unfair. In his remarkable sermon on
repentance, Alma taught his son about death, saying:
“Now behold, it was not expedient that man should be reclaimed from this temporal death, for that would destroy the great plan of happiness.” (Alma 42:8)
Alma did not say that setting mortal death aside would merely delay or disturb the plan of happiness; he said it would destroy it.
The words death and happiness are not close companions in mortality, but in the eternal sense they are essential to one another. Death is a mechanism of rescue. Our first parents left Eden lest they partake of the tree of life and live forever in their sins. The mortal death they brought upon themselves, and upon us, is our journey home."
Death is a rescue. Think of that! Mom was rescued, as each of us will be in time.
D&C 42:45 commands us "thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die, and more especially for those that have not hope of a glorious resurrection.”
Was Mom perfect? . . . Well, to me she was. She did everything she was supposed to do in this life . . . and that included a good deal of "enduring to the end". I believe she surely has hope for a glorious resurrection. I am happy for her.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Trish's scrap-book pages:
Click here to see Trish's scrap-book pages.
Important family history resources
Streaming version of the CD and file -- 'Neeleys_Our_Family_Pat_and_Rowena_Neeley.mp4' -- is found here. (Thank you HandBrake!)
The latest version of 'Index and Commentary PMN and RKN Family History Media.docx' is here. (This document indexes a collection of family history media that is 90 GB in size and consists of some 1,870+ files of jpegs, mp3s, and mp4s. You can arrange to get a copy of the collection by sending me an email -- P.S. Neeley @ firstname.lastname@example.org)
Happy b-day Grandma Rowena!