Life Well-Lived: A Eulogy for My Mother

“It is a sign of life well lived when you leave the funeral with a smile on your face.”  Angela Drezner, D.C.

Mary Jones Dickens Pierce

August 25, 1925 – February 1, 2012

My very first memories with Mama are colored in a mixture of kindness and love in the midst of pain – her love mitigating my pain. At six months old I began being restless in the crib, crying and crying, then finally throwing up. Once I was old enough to talk and could tell them how I felt, Doctor Roberson was able to say to my parents, “She’s got Ila’s migraines.” Ila was daddy’s mother. Until that moment, I can only imagine the fear she must have felt watching her baby suffer. Many were the days that Mama and I would spend in a room darkened to outside light. It was her light that sustained me during those painful hours year after year. She’d sit by my bed, rubbing or scratching my back, placing one cold cloth after another on my forehead or neck. At some point late in the day, the moment we’d both endured all this for would finally come: I’d throw up, then be able to rest or sleep, then we’d arise from the tomb together in time for supper, which she’d, of course, cook after an almost endless day of tending to her oldest child.

Mama was a good cook, a good Southern Cook! She’d often fix pancakes for breakfast, which I didn’t like, so she found a way to make special ones for me after she’d made regular ones for everybody else. She’d make mine very small and thin, so they’d fry up lacy and crispy, then she’d sprinkle a little bit of sugar on the tops. I’d eat them like cookies.  She did the same thing for me with cornbread, but without the sugar.

Our mother was a very welcoming woman. Any of our friends were welcome at our house anytime. My friends often called her Mama Mary and would sometimes visit her whether I was there or not. She treated them and loved them like daughters, and they’ve told me how much that meant to them through the years.

Mama grew up in a mill village. Her family lived in Roanoke Rapids, where her father was a carpenter and her mother a millworker who loved beauty, wore large hats, and raised chrysanthemums. Two of their four children were especially talented. Joe was an artist who could draw anything, and his little sister, Mary, began playing the piano by ear at a very early age. Even though there was very little money, Grandmama found a music teacher for her daughter and a way to pay for it. After a few lessons, the music teacher told Grandmama not to send Mary back again, because lessons would “ruin her playing and ruin her enjoyment of playing.”So Mama was allowed to just do what she did so well, which was to be able to play any song she ever heard in just one key – B flat!

Like her mother, she also played the harmonica. In fact, she was a member of an all-girl harmonica band in high school. She was a fantastic dancer, had a beautiful soprano voice, and was a soloist in all the choirs of which she was a member, including Rosemary Methodist in Roanoke Rapids. She was also featured in a professional recording of her choir at Jackson Baptist. Mama’s talent and creativity was passed on to Jimmy and Don and me. I’m so grateful for that legacy and the ways it has shown up in my life.

Knowing this day was coming, I’ve been reflecting on her life and the way she lived it for some time now. There’s something beyond what I’ve already shared that I consider to be her finest and longest lasting attribute and legacy – and that’s her amazing ability to always face forward, no matter what, and to do so with exceeding faith in God and in Life itself, no matter how it was showing up. She did this with optimism in the present – she lived in the present – and she did it with hope and expectancy for the future. It took me a long time to really see this about her – not because it wasn’t always there and showing, but because it wasn’t always available within me. I’ve finally realized that it is this constellation of qualities that underpinned her every move. And I pray that some of this has also been passed on to me.

Finally, her devotion to my brothers and me, and her pride in us and in her grandchild, Ben, is also a long sustaining gift for me. I am humbled to be her firstborn child.

© Amy Pierce and In Spiritual Wonder, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amy Pierce and In Spiritual Wonder with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.