While in my speechwriting class, I was asked to write a eulogy. I loved the description it went something like: You can write a eulogy for a dead person, an alive person, on yourself, but, no animals. Anyway, I chose my mother. I never had to chance to speak these words from my heart.
For those of you who don’t know me, let me introduce myself. I’m Tracy Danelle, Sheila’s only child. Or as mom would tell the world, “I did it once and I did it right.” It is a dark day for many as it is for me. I have spent four, soul searching days trying to find the words, to write them, while finding the courage to speak them on this day. I have my eulogoly in hand, but these words come from my heart.
Today we should not shed tears. Today we should not use a box of kleenex. Today we are here to celebrate and reflect on life. A life that has been very dear to me, my mother’s life. She would not wanto us to cry her a river, but to learn how to sail on it.
My mother’s essence was filled with an abundance of love, courage and humanity. Sheila’s heart was of a saint as she applied herself to helping others. Those who were close to my mom could feel the radiance of love and dedication deep within her soul. It encircled her clients, friends and family.
I can recall a statement she made that went something like, “I have always been a dedicated supporter of anti-poverty programs. Whether paid or not, change must come, to serve community needs.” Mom began the first runaway shelter in Pennsylvania, implemented life skills programs for youths and job training projects. As a mother, social worker, journalist, photographer, counselor, poet, grants writer, as well as working with ex-offenders, street gangs, and delinquents, Sheila has enriched many lives.
Sheila Ann Jobe was born in Wisconsin in 1944 and was raised in an elite environment of the rich and famous.
When she was 17 and a recent graduate from high school her parents arranged for her to be married. Mom married a Navy man who had a woman in every port. Nine months later I was born. We traveled from state to state never staying more than six months to a year. When the pressure became too much, mom and dad divorced in 1968. I was four years old. It was then she became the black sheep of the family. Sheila had been disowned by the only family she knew. We traveled from state to state as mom tried to support us. It was through her trials and tribulations that she found the courage to persevere. All that she knew was that motherhood had not been anything like the stories told to her. As time went on it was the holidays that she missed and cherished most with her family.
(Mom: bottom left)
With all of her family and money gone, she found herself a single parent. She was working two jobs as a manager at local bars in California. We were surrounded not only by straight people but, gays, lesbians, and I can’t forget those drag queens.
And that is where I leaned about diversity and acceptance. To accept people for who they are not what they are.
My mother always followed her heart. Married once, to my father, twice, second husband and thrice. In 1973 mom married a woman with five children. It was a gay Rabbi in New York City who pronounced them wife and wife. It was a moment that warmed my heart as I watched love blossom before my eyes. We laughed then we cried during the ceremony. The marriage only lasted two years, but the memories of my mother’s happiness lasted a lifetime. Sheila finally found her true self.
She was a social worker for 20 years and loved by all of her clients. Everyone called her, “Mom.” Sheila had worked for different agencies and even in Ryker’s Island, New York City’s jail facility counseling inmates. Sheila worked with street gangs in Harlem, New York. You could say mom was in the middle of the stereotypical members who would kill for $10 bucks and the bloody massacres of street gang wars. These kids would do anything to survive and I do mean anything. Not only was mom able to help those disadvantaged youths who wanted to better themselves but, also gave love to each and every one that crossed her path. She guided them to a better place, a safer place, a place of hope.
One moment in time enhanced our lives forever when she was employed at Woodycrest, a home for neglected children, homeless children. It was there that she befriended a young African American boy about to turn 18. He had been sent there for juvenile protection. It was a cold place, but at least he had a roof over his head and food to eat. It was state mandated that once reaching the legal age that the child now adult be given $50.00 and told to go and face the world, on his own, alone.
I was 13 years old and we lived in upstate New York in the Hudson County Valley area when my mother came home with the news. “I have been counseling a young man who was going to be placed out into the cruel world without any help. I wanted you to know that there will always be people in need, but if I could help just one of them…” she said. My mother had a heart of a saint. Sheila opened up our home to a lost soul. It wasn’t soon after he moved in that I realized I had found the brother I never had.
Sheila’s heart shinned through during the holidays. Holidays meant a lot to my mother especially Thanksgiving. We would cook all day and then go out into the night. Driving through Greenpoint, Brooklyn looking for homeless people on the streets. We invited them home for dinner. I remember her words, “No one should be alone on Thanksgiving. And everyone takes a doggy bag with them.”
Sheila had a heart of a saint. But few knew of my mother’s physical hardships. At 34 she had a hysterectomy and was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer and severe diabetes. Then told, “You have six months to live.” My mother proved them wrong and lived twenty eight years longer than expected. She was in an almost fatal car accident and was told walking was out of the question. My mom proved them wrong after six months.
She had a strong will and resilience but, it is her zest for life, search for knowledge and the love of mankind that will live on through all of us. She has touched us deeply.
While going through my mother’s belongings a few days after passing over, I came across a poem she had written right after being diagnosed with Cancer. I would like to share it with you now.
But Ms., Dying isn’t my fear…
One day after surgery
ah yes, the pain still lingers
one day after surgery a kindly
social worker came in to ask:
Are you afraid of dying?
Pressing the issue, ever demanding
my strength, my last blood,
Let’s talk about dying, you’ll feel
so much better, dear.
Dying? What a queer subject
when one is supposedly recovering.
The contradiction of will and reality.
I’m overcome, Ms., please leave.
She stayed on,
ghoulishly awaiting a cathartic breath, a sentence she
could transcribe into: service.
You want to serve me, and not waste
an ounce of your precious education
then serve me.
Teach me to live with the knowledge of
Her face grimed. I cannot.
I was sent here to discuss dying,
To err is human. I learned this hard lesson the morning my mother passed over.
It was a dark and wintery night when the first call came in, probably around midnight and the nurse stated she was having some problems and was calling the doctor to confirm placing her on an IV bag. I should have jumped up that very minute. Not once in two months had they called me to tell me her status. I was half awake and half asleep…but that was no excuse. I didn’t rush down there to hold her hand. I didn’t get into the truck and speed over to the hospital to tell her I loved her. I just rolled over and went back to sleep. Two hours and seventeen minutes later the phone rang. My heart sank. The nurse on the other end said there was nothing they could do…she was gone.
I dropped the phone, speechless. I was hysterical, barely able to speak. To say the words, my mother passed over. My friend, confidant, sometimes worst enemy yet, the one who taught me about life, strength, courage and love in her own way, has left her earthly body.
I know she is here in spirit and I want her to know that you have not only inspired me but so many others along the journey of life. You taught us of the meaning of living. “Follow your heart”, you always said. Never again will I talk to my friend, confidant, sometimes worst enemy yet, the one who taught me about life, strength, courage and love. Never again will my mom call to me in the evening to tell me to turn the channel to the dog show competition or to call just to say I love you. They say, “Never say never because it will happen” and I believe it to be true because those vibrations go out into the universe. So, when I meet my mother in heaven, we will talk again. I will embrace mom as if one day has not passed.
You are my inspiration, my guiding light, my mother. You have touched the world with your heart and we thank you for you being you.
Mom always thought that I was the queen of clichés. That my humor was dry. Well, before I say my last goodbye to the woman who had a heart of a saint, I will not disappoint her. Jerry Seinfeld once stated, “A recent survey stated that the average person’s greatest fear is having to give a speech in public. Somehow this ranked even higher than death which was third on the list. So, you’re telling me that at a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than have to stand up and give a eulogy.”
Mom, I love you. Thank you all and remember, love is stronger than death.