Mrs. Gleason Funeral Homily
When I was a middle school kid, my brother and I would go over to Mrs. Gleason’s place and mow her yard, weedwack, gather leaves in the fall, shovel in the winter, and that sort of thing. As my brother grew up and moved on to college, I began to take on all the duties myself. Every time I’d help, after we were done with the work, she’d normally order a pizza for delivery. I remember like yesterday sitting on the steps in front of her place shoveling pizza into my mouth. (That was, of course, before she moved to her new place 15 years ago.) Mrs. G never really approved of my weedwacking skills; very often, I’d leave bald spots all over her yard. She said it was my signature. She’d often say, “it looks like a drunken sailor did weedwacked my yard!” Then she’d point to this or that area and say, “Um…Mike”
Mrs. Gleason loved to garden while I would be out mowing and weedwacking and so forth. I learned many gardening skills from her because as time went by and her back pain increased she would have me help her garden. When I got to my first parish assignment in Greenwood, the priest before me had had a garden so I decided to continue it and put the skills I learned from Mrs. G into use. When I told her about it, she was so excited she had to come see it for herself. There’s a picture on her Instagram in that garden. I remember she looked at my pathetic tomatoes and said, “What are you doing? Those look terrible!” I said, “What’s the problem?” She said, “Well you have to stake your tomatoes.”
In a way, I think we are all like a tomato plant and Mrs. Gleason was the stake in the ground. She was always our support. She helped us grow up. She helped us be fruitful, be rooted. She helped us to become strong and to become our own. She was always there. In my own case, she was my Confirmation sponsor, my boss for over ten summers, my teacher and mentor, my friend and travel companion. She gave me this vestment and all my vestments when I was ordained. It was appropriate, because she was one of the first to tell me: You should be a priest.
She was such a support to all of us. In the past several days I’ve heard many things like this from folks: “Mrs. G gave me my first job. Mrs. G came helped me move into my dorm. Mrs. G always came to my games. Mrs. G came to my graduation parties – even if she was late because she got lost.” She always got lost. “Mrs. G wrote me letters of recommendation for my college, scholarship, job.” “Mrs. G was always there for me.”
What you have to understand about Mrs. G is that teaching at St. Charles was NOT her job. It was her calling. It was her life. That’s probably why she was the first one in that building each morning, arriving by 4:00am to get the day going. She always joked that she was a Martha through and through, and the word NO was not in her vocabulary. It was her life’s meaning to be a stake in the ground for her students, for this parish, for this school. – and so much did she care for us that she became a second mother to so many. What I mean in my own case about that is that, aside from my own parents, there isn’t a soul in this world who has ever cared about me as much as Mrs. G did. That’s not because there aren’t many people who care about me a lot; it’s simply to say that she cared so very, very, very much about me, about us. We were her life – and it was a full life. It was a happy life. It was a holy life. To her students out there: you must know how much she loved you. And Marie: we know this all applies to you in a particular and special way. She loved that her daughter was her best friend.
Mrs. G had a way of making learning fun – that was the inspiration for Summer Institute—and she had a way of making life in general fun for us kids, even when we became big kids. We could all tell stories, but since I have the microphone I’ll mention a few that come to mind. There was the time:
- we threw a TV out of her 2nd floor window into the dumpster and it didn’t make it to the dumpster
- when we put her shelves or other furniture together backwards … that was many times
- when I swept dirt under the stairs
- when Mrs. G got onto a scooter and I pushed her down the hallway…then Marie called and yelled at me for it
- the flying chicken nuggets in the backseat of the car and brushed them off and gave them to the kids
- when we launched rockets by accident onto the roof of the church next door and had to climb onto their roof…
When you went to Mrs. G, you felt cared about. You felt loved. You felt supported better than any tomato plant ever has been. She loved “her boys”, and her girls too. She was gifted with the ability to relate to teenagers in an incredible way: When kids or families would go through things, their parents would often have Mrs. G talk to their kids, or the kids would ask first…because she knew how to talk to them and help them. She supported us all. And we supported her too. That’s probably why there were hundreds of cards written by us found in her house. She treasured them. Because she treasured us more than anything in her life.
So far I’ve been talking about her heart. I must also mention her mind. She was deeply intelligent and she loved to study. I don’t understand even the titles of the books that were on her bookshelf, and there were many. She was the president of the Junior Classical League in her high school and she majored in European Medieval and Renaissance History. She nourished that interest for the rest of her life. She dreamed about teaching history in a college setting and would sometimes lament that God didn’t bring that all about. BUT at the end of the day, she knew God had a better plan. Here at St. Charles – by caring about each one of us so deeply, she became not just a student or professor of history; she became a maker of it, by investing in her students as if they were her own sons and daughters, and in our futures.
Mrs. G is now free from all the headaches, backaches and heartaches of life: she is free, free indeed! Her life did not end when she took her last breath; it only changed, and for the better….praise Jesus! Now, she left us in a very Mrs. G kind of way – quietly, and out the back door. Hard as it is for us, it was a gift from God to her. She said a thousand times she never, ever wanted to be in a nursing home or on any tubes or wires. When she got home to God, she even put a rainbow up on top of the church….many of us saw that picture from a week ago tomorrow. We may think it not fair we didn’t get to say goodbye, but that’s how she would have wanted it. Because she knew there is no such word as the word goodbye for the faithful Christian; it is simply, “see you later.”
And we will see her later…so long as we follow in her footsteps of faith. Of all she studied and taught, it was the Catholic religion that was her supreme passion. She loved to bring people to God. If you’ve fallen away from God, she will be working on you from Heaven! God was everything to her. So I will end with this. She left clear instructions for her funeral today. She wanted her boys carrying her casket, students serving, me presiding, a particular kind of incense, this black vestment. And she picked the readings and songs – and she even gave a reason for her picks. In explaining why she wanted the song O GOD BEYOND ALL PRAISING, which will be our closing hymn today, she wrote this:
“Why I chose this song: I love not only the beautiful music, but the very words ‘beyond all praising’ shake me to the core. We will never be able to praise God enough. He is so infinitely good and infinitely loving that all we can do is tell Him we love Him and ask Him to cradle us in His mighty arms.”
We pray you to rest in those arms forever Mrs. G. We love you so much. Thank you for loving us so well.