I took my teenager to see the new version of Cinderella this weekend. My daughter is a very mature 14 year old, so I have to admit that I am a little shocked that she isn’t embarrassed one bit to be seen with her mom in public! Not only that, but she didn’t hesitate at all to grab my hand and ask if I was all right when it was clear the movie was straying into painful territory for me.
For the last couple of days the theme of this movie has unrelentingly floated around in my head. “Have Courage and Be Kind” Cinderella’s mother reminds her. I have also thought about how concerned my daughter was for me…. And then it dawned on me…she really does pay attention. Two months ago I wrote and gave the eulogy at my mom’s funeral. Many elements in that message paralleled that of Cinderella and her stepmother (although in my mom’s case it was her real mother who mistreated her.). I truly do feel as though she was Cinderella personified.My mom was the most kind and courageous woman I know – a fact that I talked about the day we laid her to rest. Rather than write a whole new blog post about it, I am simply going to share the eulogy that I gave for her….because I need to. I love you mom!
February 12, 2015
Rose Hills Cemetery, Whittier, California
Walt Disney said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
That quote seems so fitting for my mom, who was such a big Disney fan, because she was truly the most courageous person I’ve ever met, and she accomplished things bigger than any other little farm girl from Kansas might have thought possible.
Born on June 2, 1944 in Smith Center, Kansas, she had a very challenging childhood. The fourth of five daughters born to Helen and Lawrence Hillman, the family moved back and forth from Kansas to California depending on where the work was. Every move meant abandoning most of their possessions and traveling across the country along Route 66 to a new destination. Add the divorce of her parents and other hardships into the mix and it would be natural for you to think that her upbringing left my mom bitter, selfish and hateful.
But I think everyone in this room knows that she was anything but that. She was amazing. She was kind and gentle. She was generous and thoughtful. She was a hard worker. She was physically strong (the neighbors called her the “Hulk Lady”) and she was mentally strong. So strong…rising above adversity that would have crippled most other people.
At the age of 18, she got the courage to run away from home and find her dad. She found encouragement with him and started building a life of love, kindness, charity and adventure.
She married in her early 20s, and faced tragedy when a car accident left her a widow. Again, this courageous woman picked up the pieces of her life and moved on. She worked, took college classes and found a passion for the martial arts. The dojo was her safe haven. If she wasn’t working, studying or sleeping, she was at the studio, where she was embraced by a new family…some of whom are with us here today. Thank you for being here.
It was Kenpo Karate that brought my parents together. Mom didn’t want to travel to an exhibition in Santa Maria alone…and this dude, David Hurley, had this nifty house car and was going up there anyway. Their Sensei, Danny Guzman, suggested they ride together and it wasn’t long before they decided they never wanted to be apart again. They married three months later on June 29, 1968.
Mom and Dad continued to train at the studio. Mom went on to earn her second degree black belt, taking first place in national competitions and third place in the internationals. My mom was AWESOME!
In 1970, their first child (me) was born and in 1973, my brother, Sean, was born….our family was complete. And oh what a life we had.
Even though money was tight, my parents made sure we had a great life. We might not have had everything we wanted, but we had everything we needed. We had more meals made out of bologna and potatoes than one might think possible…but we were fed. Dad worked swing shift or night shift most of our lives to keep a roof over our head and food on the table so it was mom who had to go to all the parent teacher conferences, the school plays, the band concerts, the choral festivals and everything else we were blessed to do. When the microwave broke and the house car needed new tires, mom went back to work…and still attended our functions and kept our house in order. I don’t know how she did it. Our family lived from paycheck to paycheck, but mom made sure we got to take dance classes, play sports, be in cheerleading and a number of other things that enriched our lives…including traveling.
We went all over the place in that little 16-foot house car as part of the Lazy Daze Caravan Club. Every month we would go to a different campground. Because my parents worked, we’d often pull into camp after dark on a Friday night and return home on Sunday night. I was in Jr. High when they upgraded to a 22-foot “rig” as we called it, and our adventures continued. I know a lot of teenagers who would rather take a long walk off a short peer than to spend the weekend hanging out with their parents and, often times, other folks a couple of generations older than them. Not us. There was no place I’d have rather been than right there with my parents. And thank GOD for that. Thank God that we had those experiences to remember and treasure forever.
People say that good things never last. Well, I beg to differ. Mom and dad continued traveling with the caravan club as recently as last December…Many of those club members are here today. Thank you for coming. Riddled with cancer and aching with pain, my strong and courageous mom continued to pack the motorhome, travel miles away from home, visit with friends, play dominoes and live life to the fullest with people whom she adored.
Their traveling wasn’t limited to weekend camping. They’ve cruised to Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean. They’ve driven cross country to see the leaves change color on the east coast. The girl who got dragged back and forth from Kansas to California with practically nothing to her name overcame those experiences and got to see the world.
And mom had other interests too. She loved to play Bingo at San Manuel. She collected hundreds of Beanie Babies. She’d buy lottery tickets and scratchers hoping to hit it big…even though she had already hit the jackpot in life. She loved to watch the Panda Bears on the San Diego Zoo web site. For many years she created handmade cards with rubber stamps. I heard once that the Osborne Post Office always knew when mom sent mail to her sisters because they would ooh and ah over the decorated envelopes. She loved sunflowers and windmills because it reminded her of her roots in Kansas. She and dad made quilts together. She made strawberry jam and canned peaches. She was generous, crocheting afghans for children at the Painted Turtle, a camp for terminally ill children. She supported the local humane society when she could as well as the disabled American Veterans…because my mom believed in giving back.
My mom was an amazing grandmother. She was there when each of her grandchildren, Shane and Kayla, were born. She loved to spend time with them. She would go to Shane’s plays. She would come up and stay with us for a few days in the summer when Kayla was small and we didn’t have child care. She sent decorated cards and notes and was just everything that a grandmother should be. Kind, loving, gentle, but firm when she needed to be.
Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Well, I think my mom did a terrific job in training us up. Her lessons extended to her grandchildren, and for that I am grateful.
If my mom were a Disney Character, she would be Cinderella. She was raised by a mother who mistreated her. She grew up working hard, dedicating her best effort to every task. She met her prince, fell in love…practically overnight…got married and lived happily ever after for 47 years.
She was the backbone of our family…the foundation of so much of what I am. There’s a song by Christian artist Natalie Grant called “In Better Hands” that illustrates how I feel about my mom. The second verse says:
I am strong, all because of you
I stand in Awe of every mountain that you move
For I am changed, yesterday is gone.
I am safe, from this moment on.
There’s no fear when the night comes round
Cause I’m in Better Hands now.
My mom IS in better hands now. She is safe in the arms of God. While I don’t understand why God decided that such an amazing woman needed to get cancer, I am grateful for the time we got to have her. Her lessons are a legacy. Her kindness will live on in future generations. And I will forever be proud to be her daughter.