This eulogy was written for my mother’s funeral on August 29, 2014. A few months before, she was diagnosed with a Class 4 glioblastoma (brain cancer) which ultimately claimed her life. A somewhat shorter version of this text was delivered at the funeral service.
Funeral Service of Sandy Damick, August 29, 2014
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
Colorado Springs, Colorado
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
As a Christian pastor, I have delivered many eulogies and sermons at funerals. Some have been for people I have known for some time, some for only a short time, and some for people I never met while they were still alive. No matter how well the departed person is known, anyone who speaks at funerals can tell you that it is never an easy task to find the right words to shape fittingly for the moment. Yet nevertheless, a eulogy must be spoken.
The people of our family often like to pause and reflect on what particular words mean, and today I want to draw attention to this word eulogy. It is from Greek, and it means “a good word” or “a blessing.” Colloquially, people use it to mean the good words that are said about someone at his funeral, but in its Christian context, it is larger than that. A funeral blessing must be a blessing for those who hear it, not only to bring fit remembrance of the person who has departed, but to affect the hearers in a larger way.
So what “good word” can a son offer for his mother?
There is no more powerful nor vivid image of motherhood in Scripture or really in human history than the relationship between the Firstborn of all creation and His mother, that is, our Lord Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. And if one is to search for that “good word” for a mother, here is a good place to look.
When the Archangel Gabriel said to the young Mary that she would become the mother of the Son of God, her response to him was “Let it be to me according to your word.” Some may see in this statement a mere acquiescence. After all, what does one say in the face of an archangel with a message from God? One hardly says “No, thank you.” But we must remember that her consent was preceded first by a question of wonder, that she did not understand how this conception could be. The consent of the Virgin was not given out of a sense of inevitability or fate. She was not the helpless plaything of an overbearing deity like the women who encountered the pagan gods of old. No, this was the chosen alignment of her will with the will of the one true God.
And as I think of the life of my own mother, she really was the same. There were many times when she was presented with some great task—whether it was a task that the world would consider great or not does not really matter—and she did not merely resign herself to its inevitability. She could have said no. Should could have escaped. She could have quit.
But that wasn’t my mother. She chose to give her consent. She chose to align her will with the will of God, and just like the mother of the Lord Jesus, that choice put into practice again and again throughout her life eventually became almost reflexive. She got to the point where she did not have to mull over in her mind whether to do what God set before her. She simply did it. She chose kindness so many times that she became kind. She chose service so many times that she became a servant.
There are other incidents in the life of the mother of Jesus that are also worth mentioning here. The Gospels mention a moment when she and his brothers wanted to see Him, and He responded “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:19-21). And there is another moment when a woman in a crowd shouted out, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” and He responded, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28).
These are not rebukes of His mother, despite what some may say. What son could rebuke his mother like that, especially publicly? Rather, these sayings from the Lord Jesus underline how He felt about His mother—her motherhood and the blessedness that she had were because she heard the word of God and she did it.
This is something that I not only admired about my mother but which imparted to me and to many who knew her a core sense of identity—blessedness is to hear the word of God and to keep it, to do it, to make it who you are. No one could ever doubt this about my mother. And although it may not be that “all generations” will call my mother blessed as they have the mother of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:48), there is no doubt that this generation will call her blessed.
But why? Is it because of these qualities that my mother has? Yes, but we have to ask where she came by them, and not only what the content of her character was but what the context of her character was. It is clear to me that it is the same for her as it was for the mother of Jesus, who said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, / And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. / For He has regarded the lowly state of his maidservant; / For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. / For He Who is mighty has done great things for me. / And holy is His name. / And His mercy is on those who fear Him / From generation to generation” (Luke 1:46-50).
This is indeed the message of my mother’s life. It is the same message as anyone who says to God, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Christ’s mother followed Him even to death, and she even stood at the cross and watched her Son die. And now my mother has followed that same Son even to death, and we have watched her die, some from nearby and some from far away. But as the Lord’s mother witnessed just a few days after her Son’s death, death is not the end. For there was something much bigger happening, something much bigger even than that which can be encompassed by the grief of those who love watching their beloved slip from this life.
Earlier this week, as it became known among my friends that my mother had died, many of them greeted me with what might be thought of as a curious greeting. It is a greeting which, when used upon someone’s death, may be unique to the Christians of the Middle East, who have stood as witnesses to the reality of Jesus Christ for some twenty centuries now, and many of whom make up my own flock and are in my circles. And how did they greet me on the death of my mother? They said to me, “Christ is risen!”
The Lord Jesus said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:24-29).
This is the truth which my mother knew and which she witnessed to again and again—that the Son of God, Who is God and therefore has life in Himself, will someday raise His divine-human voice, and every single person who has ever died will stand up out of their graves and live. But first we wait. My mother has now gone to that place of waiting, where she receives a foretaste of what is to come, where she along with her mother and father and all of departed mankind await the resurrection. And it’s coming. Because Christ is risen, death is slain. Because Christ is risen, Hell has no victory. Because Christ is risen, this moment which seems now to overwhelm us will someday pass away and be just a memory.
The memory of these recent days which will be most treasured for me will be how my mother on that Sunday night now about a month ago called her closest family to her and took each one of them into her arms and prayed a blessing for us. Her thought was not to her own suffering nor comfort. Rather, she wanted to give each of us something of what she herself had received from the Lord of Resurrection, and she spoke also of the work that God had appointed for each of us.
An ancient account, preserved in Christian history, recounts some of the words which the mother of Jesus said before she herself was about to depart this life. They may be legendary—who knows?—but their truth rises above the issue of historical fact. Having gathered the Apostles to herself, brought there from the ends of the earth where they had been preaching Christ, she said to them:
“Do not sorrow, my children, for you make me sad when I see you cry so. Although I shall be going to my Son, O friends of my Son, yet I will not be apart from you… Do not darken my joy by your sorrow and mourning. Much rather, rejoice with me, for I am going to my Son and God. My body, which I have myself prepared for burial, commit to the earth in Gethsemane. Afterward, return again to the preaching of the Gospel appointed to you. If the Lord should will it, you shall see me after my departure” (The Great Synaxaristes, August 15).
This is what life—and death—are really about, a longing to see the Son of God. It is what gave my mother joy and peace as she began her own passage from this life. One might say that she stared death in its face, but really, she had no time for that—she was looking into the Face of Christ. We long to see her now, to wish that this all had never happened. But no matter what happens, we shall all someday die, as well, should the Lord tarry a few more years. But the direction we all must aim for is this same one, the one that will enable us to see her after her departure.
That direction is the great and holy hope of Christians, the hope of the resurrection of all. For just as Christ rose from the dead, we too shall all likewise be raised. And rising, our song shall be:
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave! For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen” (Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom).