Thank You Mom

At my wedding in 2009

Eulogy for Anne Ferris

So, when my dad mentioned to my mom a few weeks back that I was going to do the eulogy, I am told she shed a few tears and then said “Well, I just hope he speaks slowly”. So, Mom…I’ll do my best.

The last 15 months since we found out my mom’s cancer had come back have been incredibly difficult. Maybe the most difficult period of my life. But at the same time, I have one emotion that I feel more than any other, and it’s the one I want to focus on today. That emotion is gratitude.

First of all, we are all so thankful for the incredible support from everyone here. The prayers, visits, calls, meals, texts, emails, flowers, cards, thoughtful gifts were a constant buoy for all of us. You all made my mom feel loved and appreciated every single day. We are also so thankful for my mom’s care team. Her love, appreciation and awe of her oncology nurses and Dr. DeFusco has given her so much strength. And Eve, my Mom’s hospice nurse, has been such a calming, positive influence on all of us over the last weeks and months. And, last, but certainly not least thank you to my Dad who has been nothing short of amazing on this journey. Mom was lucky to have you by her side for the last 42 years and for the last 15 months and we are blessed to have you as our father. Thank you and we love you. I could go on and on, but just know that we have all felt your love, support and compassion every day and my mom was so sincerely appreciative. So, from the bottom of all of our hearts: thank you.

The second thing that I am deeply thankful for is the fact that my brothers and I had over 30 years on this earth with the best mom a kid could ask for. Beyond her being incredibly loving and supporting, we got a front row seat to seeing a blueprint on how to live a full and fulfilled life. A few weeks back during one of our last meaningful conversations she mentioned she was at peace with everything because looking back, her life “was the most you could ever hope for”. So, today, I want to share how my mom measured success and the impact she had on all of us as a result.

First, my mom had an uncanny idea of who she was and who she wanted to be. This was shaped through her relationship with her mom who was her hero because she selflessly sacrificed for the good of her family. This is maybe best exhibited by an email my mom sent to Jonathan when he was studying abroad in Australia in 2001, and I quote “my big hope in life is to make my kids feel like my mom made each of her 6 kids feel, that each of us was truly her favorite. To me, that is my mom’s greatest legacy.” That one quote epitomizes my mom. She didn’t care about recognition, money, outward appearances or so much of the stuff that creates stress in each of our lives. She, more than anything else, wanted her children, and really everybody close to her, to feel unconditionally loved.

So, my mom knew who she wanted to be, but she also had a vision for how to get there. In my room as a kid, she had personally sewn a picture of a boy sitting on a bench looking out into the world. On the top there was a saying: “There are only two lasting things we can give our children: one is roots, the other is wings”. I found it in the basement last month and brought it back to North Carolina and it now hangs in Julia’s room. It dawned on me: giving us roots and wings — that was her goal. That is what she wanted to give to each of us. And I think by any measure, she succeeded.

From the earliest of ages, our roots began to grow, centered upon the importance of family and the true beauty in enjoying the simplest moments of life with those you love. She lived it every day. As young kids, it was her unending patience and willingness to help us, no matter what it was, no matter what else was going on. As we got a little older it was her constant reminder for the three of us to look out for each other and to treat others like we’d want to be treated. Those basic principles grew into more profound ones as we grew older and we saw her tirelessly take care of Uncle Phil, Grammy P and later Pop when they were sick. As adults, it’s been her amazing, endless joy she has gotten from her grandchildren and her thirst to soak up every tiny detail of who they are and what they are doing. And throughout it all, her marriage with my dad has taught us what being a team is all about and that through all the stressors of parenting there is room for a passionate, flourishing marriage. These roots that been strengthening and growing throughout our life are now stronger than ever and will continue to keep us strong, even in the toughest of times.

With the roots establishing the importance of family and what truly matters in life, the wings have given us the ability to fly. I could speak for days about how my mom’s belief in us pushed us to heights we didn’t think were possible. But, more amazing is that she made everybody within her orbit feel like they could do better and they could be better. She was the ultimate life coach: caring deeply about everyone around her, seeking to understand, asking the right questions and living by the ultimate example. My mom had strength, she had courage, she had grace and you couldn’t help but want to aim higher. She also knew that the best motivator was praise. She didn’t let an achievement — in the classroom, in the pool, in life, go by where we didn’t know she was proud of us. To this day, my mom is still the first person I want to call when something good happens because I know she’ll share in the joy and because in a big way, each one of my accomplishments is her accomplishment too. Coaches say their goal is to maximize the potential of their team. Well, I truly feel like my mom was able to maximize me — my character, my intellect, my outlook on life. Everything I have, I owe to her.

So, thank you mom. Thank you for teaching us about unconditional, selfless love. Thank you for giving us roots and thank you for giving us wings.

And, that brings me to the last thing I am grateful for: I know you will continue to look out for us, for dad, for Chloe, Michael and Anita, for Julia and Will and for Henry, Hannah and Sammy. We will do our best to shower your grandchildren with the love you showered them with every day and to give them roots and to give them wings. Your grace over the last week and your willingness to let us share in your journey has given us so much peace and we know we will see you again. Until then, we’ll continue to fly knowing you will be sharing stories and laughs with Uncle Phil, Grammy and Pop, guiding us to keep what is important at the center of our life. And that puts a smile on our face, because none of us can imagine life without you in our corner.

Thank you mom. We love you. And as you told dad in some of your last words, “I’ll see you after.”

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P.S. My mom’s last few days were her last gift to us. My brother Jonathan wrote about them here:
https://medium.com/@jonferris/our-last-gift-55b467c842e6#.w7mwmaubs