The memorial service for my mother, Rosaline Dolak De Dan, was being held on March 26, 2010 at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Linwood, New Jersey.
My physical challenges left me unable to fly the 3000 miles from Seattle to New Jersey, so my family and I came up with what we thought would be an ingenious solution to the situation: we would Skype me in! The priest was gracious in acknowledging that we now lived in different times, and gave permission. (For those of you who may not be tech savvy, Skype is an internet communication system that allows you to see the person you are speaking with and vice versa. Essentially live video with audio—the future depicted in Star Trek is here!)
Our plan was for my two sisters, Francine and Claudine and I to each write a eulogy for Mom, and when the time came for mine I would presumably be speaking from the pulpit courtesy of my brother-in-law Steve’s laptop. Of course that was the ideal.
The reality was a bit different, and a lot more humorous.
A test run the night before made it seem all was well, but the test run the next morning before Mass told a different story; both visual and audio were breaking up, perhaps the steel beams in the soaring church roof were interfering. So, we decided to go to Plan C (Plan B required speakers for a prerecorded version)—Francine would read my eulogy for me, and I could at least be present to watch and listen.
What I was not prepared for was Steve’s volunteering, bless him, to be laptop operator for the entire Mass, not just the eulogy.
Because of the time difference from West to East coast, it was early morning for me. I was dressed appropriately, and the animals were fed, but had not eaten yet as I thought I had a half hour before the eulogy section began. There was no time to explain to Steve, and I could hardly call him on his cell in the middle of Mass.
While I considered the dilemma of breakfast, I lost connection completely from my laptop. Frantic, I ran to my desktop computer. The first time I had run Skype on it there was no video, just audio, and at the time I figured that the older monitor simply did not have the capabilities. I figured that drawback did not matter right now, at least I would be able to see and hear, and since I would not be visible I could hurriedly eat my bagel and no one would be any wiser.
Well, the universe has a sense of humor, as I sat poised with bagel in hand, munching, my computer surprised me, there was a video image of me. My brain, tired from staying up late writing the eulogy, slowly processed the information that if I could see me, then Steve could, too. I stretched to put my bagel aside while at the same moment the view suddenly did a 180 degree spin.
Later Steve told me that the priest was coming up right behind him, so he quickly turned the laptop around so that he would not see me about to take a bite out of my bagel. This is so a De Dan family story, worthy of our storytelling abilities, and one Steve will never let me forget. It brought up memories from parochial school of hiding from the nuns, my mother would have found it hilarious.
When my family and I did a Skype Christmas this past year I had gotten accustomed to feeling like one of the Harry Potter style paintings that hangs on the wall at Hogwarts; you can see and hear, but only what is directly in your line of vision. This time, because of the poor quality of the signal it was a bit more bizarre. I later described it to my family as what I imagined it might feel like to be 90 years old, with cataracts in both eyes and a hearing aid that just was not cutting it.
Everything was blurry, it was difficult to make out who people were even by body language, and while I could hear sound, I could not make out words. It made following the events somewhat challenging, I would have been completely lost without the printed program Francine had prepared.
Occasionally we would lose connection. I found out later that Francine could see the screen and would signal Steve (who would be holding the laptop up so I could see), who would then reconnect us.
He had to put me down when everyone had to stand for certain sections of the Mass; at those times I would have an interesting view at pew level. Steve, bless him, would check in from time to time, peering down and giving me a wave or a thumbs-up sign.
In my strained emotional state I alternated between feeling blessed by the care everyone was taking to include me, and an insane desire to laugh, something I did not dare do. I was certain that would be the one moment when there would be a silent pause in the mass and the audio transmission would be perfect. Then I would be the daughter who ate a bagel during mass AND laughed during her own mother’s memorial service. Since we all share a rather odd sense of humor, Mom and my sisters would have understood, but I’m not so sure about anyone else.
The delivery of the eulogies was emotionally challenging even though I could neither see nor hear well. My sisters and I have always been a trio, and I think that connection came through clearly for me.
The blur that I thought was Claudine stood in the pulpit and I could sense something was wrong, and I knew it when Francine joined her for a moment. I found out later that Claudine froze, something she does not normally do, and Francine went up and made her laugh to snap her out of it. Francine told me later that you could barely make out Claudine was saying, she was choking up so much emotionally.
Francine is much less reserved than Claudine, so I was certain it was her in the pulpit when there was a flurry of animated hand motions. She’s also a good storyteller, getting a laugh over the Mom stories she told.
I could feel when she prepared to read my eulogy, it was like she took a deep breath before diving in.
We had spoken about it the night before and I had read some of it to her, and she was worried about two things: her lack of confidence in her skills in reading aloud, as well as my somewhat controversial statement concerning the Catholic Church. She was not sure how the congregation would take it. She was so worried, it worried me, but the content of the eulogy was uniquely Mom and I, and it felt wrong to change it.
We worried needlessly. Francine sailed through with flying colors—carrying it off with animation and style—and the Church did not fall down upon our heads, nor did the priest take offense.
We collectively heaved a sigh of relief. We’d told our stories, each in our own way, shared our memories, and, somewhere, Mom was smiling.
I include each of our eulogies here in the order in which they were delivered, youngest sister first, eldest last. Francine told me that she did not stick to her written version, which was typical of her when in storyteller mode, but most of the stories made it in. In any case, I believe that between the three of us we managed to capture a bit of what made Mom unique, and the rest of us somewhat eccentric!
Thank you all for coming to celebrate the life of my Mother. We are all truly saddened by her passing. I am sure today she is enjoying many freedoms that her body would no longer allow.
I was surprised at her passing in the beginning of spring. She so loved watching all the flowers and trees come to life. Or maybe this is the most appropriate time for her to be free of her earthly body so that she can travel far and wide to see springs’ glorious offerings, soar with the birds that are beginning a new life just as she is, and breathe deeply the fresh air without restrictions.
She enjoyed a good life filled with many blessings. We shared many happy times and she will be missed at our future family gatherings. I am sure she will be present in spirit and we will preserve many family traditions due to her teachings.
I personally will miss talking to her about my practice, our family, and my children. I am overjoyed that she got to meet and be a part of my children’s’ lives and that they grew old enough to remember her—we can always share that. She loved to see their progress, talk to them on the phone, and she had an uncanny way of buying them some of their favorite toys (some of which could drive you crazy) but they will always remind me of her.
I feel although she had failing health, the final year of her life was one of the best she had. She lived with my sister Francine and her husband John, and I personally thank you both for the love and peace you brought to her life. She was stubborn as we all know, but once she let go a little, she began to soften. You could hear in her voice that she was happy, relaxed, unburdened from the stressors of life, just enjoying whatever the day would bring. She also was never one to sit still for long, so I truly feel she tired of this long awaited restful time, and decided it was time to move on, to be with God.
She is a part of all of us which is what brings us here today, to say, “We love you, Mom; we are happy you are at peace; we will miss you daily, but never forget you.”
As I awoke this morning to the sound of the birds singing outside, I thought to myself how much Mom loved the spring and how it would be music to her ears. I then realized also that it was raining. Were the heavens weeping her loss for us?
I can remember as a child and all through adulthood watching her get more excited as the winter came to a close and spring began. It was her very favorite time of year.
For those around her it meant tons of flowers and tons of gardening; as a child I equated spring with tons of work! Somehow Mom’s passions always equated to more work, because when she had a passion for something—anything—it was NEVER in a small way.
Her garden was filled with plants and flowers most of us have never heard of, and her greenhouse was so full you usually couldn’t walk around even to water. At least that was my take on it, Mom managed no problem, and got things to grow that most of us would have given up on.
For example, this year she insisted on reviving a poinsettia that I had neglected. Now in my mind a poinsettia stands for Christmas. I don’t know about everyone else, but after the season has passed I don’t keep mine. Not Mom, it was a plant in distress and she was rescuing it! I asked her why, and she told me the color and festiveness in this gloomy time of year made her happy.
One of my favorite stories involving Mom is recent, taking place just this past Mother’s Day. Mom was never one to want to go out and eat on that day. She didn’t like the crowds and thought the wait times ridiculous. So I asked if she’d like to go for a drive instead. She always enjoyed taking a ride on a sunny day, checking out everyone’s garden and visiting Lang’s Nursery because it was so colorful.
On this particular drive I wanted to take her by our childhood home, lovingly referred to by its address, “1000.” On our way up Shore Road, just past Harry Hasson Florists, this dog runs into the road and stops dead—right in the middle of my side of the street.
My first instinct was to open the car door and take the puppy to safety. Well, she had other plans.
The moment my door was open this medium-size pup leapt into the car, made a beeline for Mom, and started kissing her all over!
Mom was thrilled, but now I had a dilemma—what to do with the dog?
Since we were holding up traffic I got back in the car and drove off. Mom was having a blast and was pleading with me to keep her, just as a child would.
All I could think was, “Wouldn’t that be great, John (my husband) would kill me, we already have one dog at home and any new responsibility would surely fall to him with the crazy schedule that I keep.”
I tried explaining to Mom that I was sure the owners would be looking for her. Mom insisted that she’d take care of her, to which I replied, “You’ll never be able to walk her, you think the bathroom is too far away.”
I did break down with all her pleas and called John for his opinion. As I had suspected the gang we had already was plenty, and he suggested I should try to find the rightful owners. So, I turned around and headed back to the spot where we had picked her up, or should I say she had picked us up?
When I got there I found a little girl playing in a yard, so I started with her. Did she know anyone who had lost a dog? It turned out to be hers, and she ran into the house to get her father. When he returned they collected their adorable bundle of energy, a six-month old Rottweiler mix. As we were driving away, Mom told me she couldn’t have had a better Mother’s Day, it was just what she needed!
She then told me she wanted to go back next week and visit the dog! I told her I found that a little strange, and that I was sure the puppy’s owners would too, but that was Mom…nothing strange about it in her eyes.
There are so many stories and memories that have been gathering in my head this past week that I find it difficult to try and sum them up here. I am thankful to everyone I have spoken with over these past few days who have shared their stories with me. I always knew Mom was special and different, but I never knew how many people she helped outside the family, and how giving she could be if you needed help and it touched on one of her passions.
I will miss having her as my go-to for questions; she always had an answer, whether you liked it or not!
It is no secret to those of you that know our family well that Mom and I had a complicated, and sometimes downright rocky relationship. When I was a teenager, we had a big fight over my leaving the Catholic Church. The shouting match concluded with her predicting, “You’ll be back!” and my equally determined, “Never!” Well, Mom, I guess you were right, although I don’t believe my becoming a shaman priest in the Peruvian Andean Medicine Tradition was anything either of us would have predicted!
Mom was a true original, especially in the life lessons that she dispensed. One memory that stands out was the advice she gave me about fighting. Being a year younger and smaller made me an easy target for bullying at parochial school, so she told me, “Don’t ever pick a fight, but if you have to fight make certain you land the first punch, and make it a good one.”
Apparently it was advice I took to heart. Our parish priest, who must have been Irish to have been so delighted, told my mother that one of his fondest memories was seeing me surrounded by taunting classmates and watching as, with my large and heavy bookbag extended at arms-length, I spun around in a circle and mowed them all down.
And Mom had the concept of being pack leader down long before Cesar Millan was born and anyone had heard of the Dog Whisperer. When my sister Francine was young she went through a biting phase. For no reason at all, she would walk up to you and bite you, hard. Mom had tried reasoning with her, and it had not worked.
This time, when Francine bit me, Mom told me to bite her back. I looked at her in disbelief, even at the age of 6 or 7 I knew that this was not something that most parents would say. Mom explained, “She does not understand that it hurts. If you bite her back, she will, and she won’t do it again.” So, I did, and it worked. In Mom’s book child rearing was not much different than raising puppies or kittens, and years later, I think perhaps she was right.
Mom had a passion for animals, there is no denying it. She had dreams of being a veterinarian, but her father did not think it an appropriate profession for a woman, and so she became a dental hygienist instead. I have often wondered if our lives would have been any different if Mom had been able to pursue her original dream. I think not. Growing up we still would have had Charlie, the Arucana chicken who laid green eggs, living on our patio—the only suburban family to enjoy such a distinction, and diving ducks in the bathtub—the result of a raid by our cousins on a nest. Mom was delighted to place the eggs in the incubator she had purchased in hopes of raising peacocks, or an ostrich if only she could get her hands on an egg!
Animals in need would gravitate to her, Mom was an animal magnet. That is how Scruffy the cat came into our lives—as a tiny flea-infested kitten and victim of a dog bite she was found hiding beneath Mom’s car in the supermarket parking lot.
And there was Lady Jane, a wild dog living in our neighborhood who survived by catching rabbits and other wildlife, and whom Mom was determined to befriend. When she finally succeeded she was unable to drive anywhere for a while because Lady Jane would run after the car, and keep running until Mom pulled over. Mom was finally able to coax her into the house. Technically she became our family dog, but in reality Lady Jane was always Mom’s—she simply tolerated the rest of us.
There are probably not many eulogies given where zoo animals are mentioned, and perhaps none where the Philadelphia Zoo will be mentioned as frequently. As I sorted through photos, helping my sisters Francine and Claudine prepare for this service, I opened packet after packet of photos taken at the Zoo. There was Mom, Nana and I on a bench by the pond outside the Bird House and one of Mom in front of the copper statue of the lioness with cubs outside the Lion House. And numerous photos of me—feeding the fish, talking to the llama who was eating my backpack, interacting with the big cats.
The fact that I have so many photos of myself at the Zoo is because Mom was always taking them. It seemed I was never going to be too old. I even have a photo of myself as an adult going for a ride on the elephant because Mom was so excited about my doing it. And I have photographic documentation that the passion for the animals was mutual. Every time I visited with friends, Mom and I brought them to the Philadelphia Zoo.
In a recent conversation Mom and I talked about the zoo and discussed my book. She told me that as a child, “I had to visit all the animals, and that I knew exactly where each one was.”
And that has not changed. Now I lead groups to the zoo and teach people how to communicate and reconnect with animals both wild and domestic. In looking back over the years and the photos, I realized that Mom and I shared a bond, no one else in the family truly understood my passion for animals except her, and in her unique way she fostered who I became. Although we struck sparks off each other, she nurtured and celebrated what made me different because she was, too.
I will truly miss you, Mom, but I am glad you are finally free of pain. Every time I am with the animals we will be together in Spirit, once again.
For previous articles in this series see Message in a Mussel Shell and Sea Star the Seal, Puppy Kisses, and the Wheel of Life.
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©2010 Rose De Dan. All Rights Reserved. www.reikishamanic.com
Think Outside the Cage
A pioneer in Reiki and shamanic healing for people and animals, Rose De Dan has seen firsthand the profound healing impact of this work on the lives of others. A Reiki Master Teacher, mesa carrier in the Peruvian Q’ero tradition, and animal communicator, she teaches classes, workshops and teleclasses for those interested in learning more about energy medicine.
Rose is also author of the acclaimed book Tails of a Healer: Animals, Reiki and Shamanism, and creator of Animal and Reiki Art. As an animal shaman, she views her role as a healer as one of building bridges between people and animals, and of empowering them to reconnect with Pachamama, Mother Earth.
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