So I’ve been thinking about posting my mom’s eulogy on my blog for a couple weeks now. I can’t believe its been three weeks already since the memorial.
Because it is a story that means everything to me I want people to read it. And because it is a story that means everything to me I don’t want it to just hang out on the internet, just waiting and exposed, then forgotten. So I am posting the eulogy for about a month and then I will take it down. It is a precious and tender story that I want you to know.
I want you to read it because I want you to know my mom in the way that she knew herself. I want you to know what made her tick.
I want you to read it because I want you to see your own story within it.
I want you to read it and I want you to know LOVE. I want you to know that you are seen and you are not alone – whatever and wherever and whoever you find yourself to be.
I want you to read it because I want to remember my mom. Because its so surreal that this has happened and that she is not here and that she will only be thought of from time to time by all of us going forward. I want her life to linger in the way that good stories linger and in the way that good stories can become a voice in our heads, speaking up when they have something to say. Speaking up when we need it most. Speaking up when we are least expecting. Speaking because she was and is a life that spoke.
Read it with a glass of wine and a prayer. Thank you everyone near and far for all your words of love and peace to us……….Big slow sigh.
So I’m here to tell you the story of Wendy, the story of your friend, your sister, your grandma, your heart and wife, our momma. We are going to tell the story of this woman who was kind to you, who made you laugh, and who probably exasperated you and who challenged you with her very clear and discerning eyes. She also probably encouraged you without condition, who, if you were honest with yourself to her, probably pointed you to Jesus in a real and life-changing way and who, if you were lucky, made you dance uncomfortably in her living room with the music turned way too loud. It would take every one of us telling the story of Wendy that we knew to each other to get the fullest picture of her. We could be here all day, it was a really good story and its Author is a really good storyteller. But we also want to have a chance to talk and laugh and remember mom together with food so Dad told me I couldn’t talk for too long. I’ve whittled it down to 40 minutes…..
So the story of mom starts when she was little.
She was a curly headed girl, quiet and intense and watching in a time and place that was not always kind to her. One night, when she was very little, she dreamt about a dark black bear in her room, in the shadows at the end of her bed, trying to devour her. The next morning, she was scared and alone. She went into the fields and found a tree, a chestnut tree and she sat there. And there, There, my friends, is where He first came to her. God announced his presence to her like he does with us all, as that sense that we are not alone, that sense that we are known, in that sense where we know we are seen. She told me often of that time in the tree. Because of all that her life threw at her, all the half-truths and brokenness that she lived through, (that we all do) this moment was the moment she knew to be the ground of her life. In her little kid fear and terror, this Love made itself known to her – with no agenda other than to bring her close, to bring her to His own self, and to show her love. If there is anything you need to know about mom it is this story – everything she was and did was grounded in this experience of love, a love that came and found her in the chestnut tree.
She grew up in the Comox valley, mostly in Courtney, in a small house on the edge of town. G and E Peterson had 5 kids, P, her older sister, mom, the second girl, J and then D, her troublemaking brothers and her youngest brother B who was lost too soon. She didn’t talk a lot about her growing up years—we heard a few stories about her brothers chasing her with snakes and how she went to school with Kim Catrell and about accordion lessons, but we knew there were probably both struggles and laughter. But she loved camp and one day at camp, she found that the Jesus they were talking about WAS THE SAME love that wrapped her up in its arms that night in the tree. And she also found that she could sing.
Mom moved to Alberta when she was 19 where she found herself living with her newlywed sister, in an apartment just off Elbow Drive where at the same time, a young R found himself also living with his newlywed best buddy in that same apartment. These two kids, dad slept in the living room and mom slept on the kitchen floor…..Mom was pretty open with how much Dad annoyed her when they first met – and He just got a kick out of her and thought she was cute. And, they found themselves wanting to be with each other so much that they started dating in February 1975 and were married the following August. She loved his cool, bass playing self. She loved his quietness and strength. He loved her fire and her strength. He loved her uncontainable self.
My parents marriage would be, from both points of view, the defining relationship in both their lives. It was where everything about who God made them to be and how God brings people into unity was practiced and lived out – with very real struggle and with very real and immense grace. Anyone who spent anytime with them knew they adored each other and this came out of 40 years of choosing each other and welcoming each other. They were curious about each other and each other’s points of views and were willing to learn to be wrong sometimes. And they just got better and better together. Four weeks ago, 41 years after their first days together in that small apartment, my parents had some pictures taken and the photographer asked them about how they met. They laughed and looked at each other and mom said something about how they were an odd couple. And dad, a few beats later, with a smile on his face, said, “mismatched” while mom looked at her hands with an inscrutable smile that held a lifetime of knowing in it and held a lifetime of loving and being loved better and better within it. Their love is more than a testament to God’s grace—it is exactly an icon of who and how God is in this world. It is a picture through which we see how God works and how we are only transformed into something that looks like the love of God through the real world of real relationships. And this is the gift of Rob and Wendy and it probably deserves 10,000 words about it but it is the gift that we got to witness from the front row.
These two crazy kids had two kids of their own and settled in the up and coming new neighborhood of Midnapore, on the edge of Fish Creek. Mom loved Fish Creek and they didn’t live more than a two minute walk from it their whole married life. Mom needed to be in Fish Creek a lot – and I think it was because it was big enough to hold all of who she was.
Chris and I were loved children. Raised with humor and openness and the occasional spanking and mouth washing with soap. We were allowed to talk and explore.
Mom always said she wasn’t creative, she didn’t like to sew or do anything crafty, but she most definitely was a creative parent. Mom was a creative discipliner – once when Chris and I were fighting she decided to tie us together with socks until we learned to work it out. Once when she was tired of us leaving our stuff around after being continually told to put it away, she gathered it all up into a garbage bag and “threw it out..” (she didn’t really but hid it in the basement). I remember once she discovered that I had just swept the dirt from the kitchen under the hall rug instead of putting it in the garbage and she made up a long song, sung in her best opera-ish voice about how I should “be sure my sins would find me out.”
She was also creative in the first aid department. I remember choking on my food one day and she quickly rushed in to do her version of the Heimlich manouvre which was to grab my ankles, hold my up above her head, shaking me up and down until I threw up…. That was mom…not really known for her small or calm reactions….
She prayed for us and sat outside our schools for untold days praying for us and our friends. She dreamed about us from the time we were little up until last week, especially Chris, and she was always calling him with a dream she had about him. And I think it was her way of telling him he was seen and known by her and by God.
I know mom struggled a lot during our little years with fear and depression and loneliness. She lived what a lot of women live out in silence—the exhaustion and depression and anxiety that comes from constantly caregiving but with something gnawing in her gut for the next thing. It’s a testament to her and her praying self and that Love that would not leave her that even while going through all this, we were happy and normal and thriving kids.
When we were little my parents stumbled onto this tiny church that met in an equally tiny blue house in Bridgeland, The Garden. There they found a home where both of them would be affirmed in their gifts and where both my parents would find lifelong friends – friends that are still constantly around and haven’t let more than a few hours go by without contacting mom and dad in these last few weeks. This church affirmed my mom’s gift for leading worship. Together, my parents would lead this church from the front, and I got to see what church leadership looked like in the right and equal way of Jesus. She wasn’t just allowed to sing but was encouraged to lead and she did it so well. It was this time at The Garden, where mom led from her heart and sang about that Love that met Her with confidence that laid the foundation for my own conviction and the conviction of my daughters that Jesus has indeed created us exactly as we are to participate in Him and speak and sing of Him with all the songs we might have. The Garden was good and fruitful, in that season, for mom.
As we grew up, so mom grew too. She started going to school. She completed all ten grades of the Royal Conservatory of Speech Arts. Her voice was mesmerizing and she powerfully learned how to use it. She took so many courses – Dad jokes that she could have a master’s degree by now with all she undertook to learn – art classes, writing courses, English courses, Religious Studies courses, Conflict Resolution and Small Business and Entrepreneurship Certificates. She settled in Early Childhood Education and got her diploma at Mount Royal. She became one of the best preschool teachers around, working and teaching at Lakeside, at Bright Beginnings, At Master’s Academy, at the YMCA, at Mount Royal College and lastly at Learning Experiences. We were proud of who she was in the community. She had such a passion for teaching kids about their social selves and their emotional selves and for teaching parents what it means to shepherd them through their crucial early years. I run into people all the time who knew mom as their kids’ teacher and everyone of them is grateful to her for how she was with their little people. Even the outpouring of love from mom’s colleagues in those last couple of weeks, with food and kind words showed us the impact she had because of her gracious presence with those kids. And even I, as a mom to little people, know how extremely lucky we were to have her voice in our lives – Reading to them with her beautiful voice, loving and praying for them to know God even as they come to know themselves in this world. If there is one thing I don’t’ want, its that I don’t want to parent my girls without her. She is the person I could call and she could remind me of their goodness. She could call me back out of my own confusion and exhaustion and frustration and call me back to loving them for their own God-given beauty. And I see so much of her in them – their uncompromising devotion to a loud and passionate life.
The thing with mom is that she was deadly smart and loved to read and loved to learn. And when you start reading, you usually start growing. Without a doubt I know that God led mom and dad both to come across some books that echoed their own hard questions and helped to change their lives. And this in turn gave my brother and I the greatest gift of our adult lives – the ability to ask questions, hold tensions, live into gray areas. They asked hard questions about their faith and they held tensions of belief and doubt, the tensions of belonging to a group and also being able to challenge some of the things that did not make sense to them any longer, some of the things that didn’t make sense within that love that kept meeting her. And it was hard and a lonely time for mom. Maybe we could call it Mom’s Dark Night of the Soul, maybe we could call it God hiding her under the shadow of His wings. Maybe we could call it that mystery of transformation that happens underground, and the only recourse is to wait for God to meet us. Uncertainty, asking questions, finally acknowledging that we don’t always have the answers is a scary thing, but it is THE thing that finally enables us to let go and let something else in, someone else in to our hearts.
No matter what this time was, the result was this: That anything that did not belong to the love of God, to that love that brought her to Himself so long ago, was let go of. And then Mom, never one to let herself be tied down and defined, found that she belonged to something much more than she could ever imagine during this time and it was good and it was hard and it was grace.
In the last years, Mom did things she had always been afraid to do, especially with her very bad back that had plagued her for years. Her and dad went to Italy and she was terrified her back would act up or she would be stuck and in pain in a foreign country but it ended being a beautiful and life-giving time for both of them. Even last year, and this might sound small but it wasn’t to her, she got herself in a bathing suit, walked down a 100 foot cliff and went kayaking in the Okanagan with dad. She was so proud that she got in that little boat, that she lived instead of being afraid of getting hurt.
And then 5 years ago she finally decided to do it and called the FCJ Centre downtown and asked if they could recommend a spiritual director for her. She wanted to trust someone with herself and her not so ordinary life with God.
God brought her a soul friend, in C—— her spiritual director, and a community with the Living From the Heart course, that restored her in very real ways. We all would say this, that in the last 5 years of her life, her soul and her mind and her heart were transformed into something soft, life giving, trusting. Dad would say that she even threw less things at him when he was being stubborn….real transformation. And she would say and did say that this transformation happened because of love. She would say that finally she found that she was not defined by fear, was not changed by her own willpower, or by saying the right words over and over. She could finally articulate that she was not saved by having the right answers and forcefully standing behind them but by stopping, by letting down her defenses, and by being loved. And that was what this community showed her in very real ways, holding her words, her experiences, her heart with love.
5 years ago, mom wrote this in a journal that we found a few days ago:
“I exist to bring the beautiful, loving energy God into this world…I can’t fix myself or this broken world—yet I can say YES to God’s voice and loving energy in my life moment by moment. I am no better and no worse than anyone else. My life experiences have taught me and are still teaching me that grace and mercy are ALIVE and PRESENT in this life. That love does truly cover and redeem a multitude of sins – that all of this healing is God’s gift to us – to my world, to what He has created. I say YES to this gift and also thank you.“
And we can attest that she lived truly did live into this transformation and her spirit blossomed in beautiful ways. She smiled so easily these last few years.
In the fall of 2015, mom and dad were planning a trip to France for the spring. They were thinking about retirement. They had just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary and both their 60th birthdays. Mom was struggling with her back, it was acting up on her again.
And then December came and through a series of normal tests to find out why a lingering cold would not go away, we got the news. We found out on December 13 that mom had lung cancer. That night, her friends of 35 years gathered in a house in Midnapore and prayed for them. And then on December 24, we found out that it was the worst news we could get – it was terminal, it was extensive, there was no treatment they would recommend that would have any effect.
Because we had known of the cancer and mom had to be careful not to get a cold, and because my beautiful children are walking virus factories, we weren’t going to have a Christmas celebration, at least not until we were all feeling better. But then we heard this news. We all wept and sat stunned. And then we woke up the next morning, my brother and his girlfriend came back from Edmonton and we pulled together a beautiful last minute Christmas feast of frozen soups, frozen veggies, potatoes, frozen spring rolls and phyllo pastry appetizers. We drank wine. We were together–despite the inevitable colds, despite the inevitable everything, we were together. And it was our very best Christmas, our very best celebration of that time when God came very, inconceivably near.
And mom began walking down the road towards this door and we all tried to keep pace as best we knew how. She was honest with how she felt – scared but at the same time , strangely prepared – like all the reconciliation and all the redemption of her past was coming into a fruition with this. And at every point on this road, every single point, there was no moment where she was not aware of that love, His love.
When she was in the hospital around Easter, a dementia patient wandered into mom’s room in the middle of the night. And mom woke to voices yelling in the hall and this person looming over her in the dim light and mom panicked. She was drugged, she could barely breathe and was tied up in so many tubes, fumbling for the nurse call button. And God pressed into her. In that moment, she heard His voice. Tangible, knowable, there. “I am with you” she knew in her bones. “You are not alone” she knew in her racing chest. “Don’t be afraid,” He said to her mind, to her body, to her deep soul. “You are always mine.”
Before she even knew to lift her head, she was already surrounded. Before she could think to say the words, she was already held. All the questions and hurt and joy and exhaustion of a life lived were heard, were covered, and were brought in close to the beating heart of that LOVE she couldn’t seem to shake.
Mom felt fear but, as she told her friend R and I one afternoon, she also knew that the fear took up room that LOVE wanted to be filling within her. And so she kept going and kept talking about God’s unimaginable love for her. And for us.
A week before mom passed away, she took a dramatic turn. We knew it was different this time. Her pain and the physiological anxiety that comes from not being able to breathe was suddenly unmanageable. The doctors prescribed heavy drugs that made her sleep a lot. But she at least could sleep without pain and without panic. They told us it was time to pack for hospice. And so we started to sit with her. For hours, Dad, my brother, me, her spiritual director, her dearest friends, the girls, would come to be with her. To hold her hand. I never ever want to forget what her soft arm felt like. On Saturday, June 18, we had been planning to have one last family dinner at mom and dad’s house, before she went to the hospice. I was out shopping for it when I got a text from dad to come right away. We went and found dad sitting with mom who had been unresponsive for a few hours. He sat there looking at her, wiping her eyes and her lips with tissue. Her breathing was intensely labored and the nurse came, did some response tests and confirmed that she had indeed slipped into a coma. We sat with her, J and my husband and the girls came and talked to her. Her spiritual director came and told her that falling into love was hard work. Her brother and his family came and kissed her. Everyone talked with her for awhile, taking turns at the head of the bed, holding her hands, feeling her skin, holding her in loving vigil.
We were all there, in the room, when at about 7 pm she sat up suddenly. Her eyes flew open and with struggling words she said she wasn’t ready to go yet. That she had stuff to say. And she said this, “You are my everything.” And “I love you guys.” And we all got to tell her we loved her, to her open eyes. And my daughters gave her pictures they drew and spread them out on her legs. Everyone got to say their words to her, got to tell her she was so beautiful, she was so loved, she did this life so good. We got to pray and have communion together. Eventually, most everybody went home and my brother and I stayed the night.
She died early the next morning, just slipped away, surrounded by her adored husband and lucky, lucky son and daughter—our family, the one thing she was ok with being beholden to. And we felt loved. By her. By each other, by God, the Author and Finisher of all of this – He was there too with his big, big invitation, for us and for her, to let go and to let love come in.
It was the hardest day but probably the most beautiful of our lives. Because it was filled to the unimaginable measure of the fullness of who God is in this world. It was a day where we saw exactly what God does in this world.
Mom’s story, Wendy Anne’s story, closed as it began, written in love, held in love, drawn out to its fullest through love, being brought back to health and unity in love. And her story holds a place within that big story of the world, that story we find in Jesus if we look with eyes changed by love.
She continued in that journal post from 5 years ago:
“ I have been seen and known in all of my brokenness with all of my “stuff” and have been loved and cherished, not abandoned or punished.
I have been accepted, nurtured and lovingly guided through the stages of my life – I would like to give this “knowing” away to someone else now.”
And this, this story, is what she has given to us and given to you. The story of her life, lived, within the call of God’s love. All the brokenness, all the hurt, all the fear, all the missing of the mark that is abundant in every one of our lives and was in hers, was brought in, gathered up before this love that sees us, calls us, always holds us close. These are not empty words, even if we don’t understand the fullness of them yet but words to be lived into , as Wendy did. She lived into what that love called her to – a life of the hard work of letting go and knowing love with the author and finisher of her faith—a life where God was as much with her in the chestnut tree as in the young church, as in the questions and heartaches and fear, as in restoration and redemption, as in the valley of the shadow of death. He always came to her and He always found her.
Mom would say now “ well enough of that….doesn’t anyone just feel like dancing?” and she would be off turning up the music and being….well, ….Wendy. And we can remember her, knowing she’s off dancing, vividly with her LOVE. And probably asking him if he could do anything about the ridiculous gender bias in scriptural interpretations….
As you, and we, continue to remember mom and remember Wendy, just know that she was seen and so are we. She was not alone and neither are we. She was loved to her fullness and so are we.