Life of the Party
I dreaded it for weeks. Calling it a “celebration of life” did not make it seem less like a funeral. I was battling the finality of Mom’s death and seeing her around every corner. She was on every aisle of the grocery store, lingering in the melody of any song that I heard, and staring back at me from hundreds of pictures on my phone.
On Thursday, I finally had a chance for some solitude to reflect and set my intentions for the weekend. This service would be an excellent way to remember Mom as she used to be before the illness robbed her mind. I was determined to remain open and gather as much light as possible. We would remember the good times. I would remember Mom the way she was before the hospital beds, diapers or nurses.
And guess what? It did turn out to be a grand celebration. My brother and I both spoke and honored her life’s work. Then, as person after person passed around the microphone sharing stories about my mother from every stage of her life, I sat tall and proud at the front of the sanctuary. They were talking about my momma! That woman who cried, laughed, prayed and willed them through some dark times in their lives. That woman who shared in their victories and believed in them even when they didn’t believe in themselves. That woman brought me into this world. I had the privilege of being her one and only daughter. I received the support and encouragement that the speakers described every single day she was well enough to offer it. I had a lifetime of that love holding me up that day. So yes, I celebrated my mom and the beautiful life that she lived.
After the service, I stood and talked to dozens of people who told me about the wonderful deeds my mother had done for them over the years. She cared for their children, sat with them when they were sick, or when she could no longer talk, she waved at them and hugged them when she walked around the neighborhood. My momma was a master light bringer. For that span of a few hours, I sat watching sparks of her light flicker in the eyes and faces of people throughout that sanctuary. And when I looked at the several pews filled with my friends from the Charlotte community, I felt a reassurance that I truly am my mother’s daughter. I might use different terminology, but Mom knew that our vibe attracts our tribe.
To everyone who came to celebrate with us, I would like to offer my deepest gratitude. Your presence was noticed, felt and appreciated dearly. For my brother, he wrote the absolute perfect eulogy for our mother, but as he mentioned, it wasn’t hard to find nice things to say about Sandra Pollard. And for my dad, he orchestrated and planned the perfect celebration for the love of his life. On that sunny September afternoon at Ardmore Baptist Church in Winston Salem, North Carolina, Mom, you really were the life of the party.
I am including below the words I read at the service.
"Mom Was Brave"
My mother was not supposed to have me. Doctors told her she might die if she delivered another baby. She had Von Willebrand's disease, a mild form of hemophilia, and almost bled to death giving birth to my older brother, Chris. But my mom chose to listen to an authority much higher than her doctors. She was confident that God wanted her to have another baby. Sandra Pollard was determined to bring me into this world.
You will hear a lot today about how my mom was a good person. She was soft-spoken, gentle, kind, and loving. All of these things are true. But as her daughter and miracle baby, I want to show you a different side. I want you to see my mom as the brave woman I knew and loved.
When Mom was a young girl, her dad was a dangerous alcoholic. She lived in fear as she watched him threatening her mother. Mom recalled nights she slept in the car to avoid his violent outbursts. By the time she was in high school, her dad stopped drinking and became an active deacon in her church, but Mom had already experienced a chance to test her bravery. She was courageous standing firm in her faith.
Mom’s trust in God was the cornerstone of her world. While there is no denying that she was a worrier, she also radiated a calm assurance that her God was in control. Whether it was a broken heart or a broken fingernail, Mom’s advice was always to “pray about it.” And for her, the answers were crystal clear. I can remember so many times in life that Mom kept me calm by her unwavering confidence that we could “do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”
Mom’s bravery was evident throughout decisions she made in her life. Whether she was moving her family to a different country to pursue her dream of becoming a missionary or moving her family back to the United States to care for her parents, who both suffered from Alzheimer’s, her faith forged her courage in an unknown future. She was confident that God had a plan for her family.
In the early years of Mom’s diagnosis, she had moments of fear. I still have emails she wrote expressing her concern at not being able to teach, drive, and eventually, ending up like her mother. But Mom’s notes always closed the same way - “Just keep helping me pray.” And mostly, she asked about me and her grandbabies. The focus never stayed on her for long.
See, Mom was my biggest fan. She thought everything I did was impressive. I never questioned how proud she was of me as a woman, teacher, mom or wife. Her words of encouragement always lifted me up. And when words weren't enough, like when I was pregnant with my first child living in NYC, she shipped me her homemade chocolate pound cake.
Through her own fears, Mom was confident in her faith and bravely faced her diagnosis. When she could no longer teach, she found other ways to work and contribute by helping women in the Hispanic community and making crafts. When one door closed, she forged a new path. She was not one to roll over and throw in the towel.
We might not have shared many physical similarities, but Mom would never want us to judge a book by its cover. She would want you to see that we both ended up as English teachers. She taught me to write - the priceless gift of discovering my own voice. Mom was always my first reader. She also gave me her love and sense of awe for nature. A tree lover at heart, she never failed to point out the beauty in the natural world. “I love trees,” she would say. I know, Mom. I do too. Her gift of words and encouragement stand at the core of who I am and shape the way I live my life every single day. Even though we did not share eye or hair color, we spoke a common language from the soul. And as I can recall standing beside her as she said goodbye to her own mother, I now know Mom was bravely teaching me how to let go.
As we say goodbye to her today, I want each of you to know how proud I am that she was my mother. I am proud of her gentle kindness, but I am especially proud of her intentional bravery. She quietly made some bold moves in her life, including the decision to bring me into this world. Mom, thank you for choosing to replace fear with deeply rooted faith. Thank you for saying yes and taking the leap. Thank you for helping me find my voice and the courage to use it. Thank you for showing me that bravery can come in many different forms.