Yesterday morning started just like any morning.
I got up, brushed my teeth, took a shower, and then tweaked the eulogy for my mother.
While I was going through the final draft, I paused to watch the final 10 minutes of the Cassini mission. Aaron and I watched as the NASA mission team in JPL (The Jet Propulsion Lab in CA) went through all the final steps for closing a 20 year mission. A junior scientist on the team interviewed her mentor. Everyone had their role and their job, and they knew the things to say as the mission leader did the final roll call.
I had already known that the extended mission for Cassini coincided with my mother’s journey through dementia, so I had built that into my eulogy (which you will be able to read below), but I hadn’t expected the scientists to have all the right words for a eulogy.
I’m not even joking that I had a few minutes of thinking I might just transcribe everything from the scientists and repeat it 2 hours later at my mother’s eulogy. Or better yet, just play the video.
Other than the fact that I spent all day Wednesday working on the thing, the main reason I didn’t completely steal the whole 10 minutes live feed and replay it was that I didn’t want a sad eulogy. I wanted people to laugh and smile.
So, for the most part, I stuck to my own words.
Pastor Mark Arni started the service talking about rainbows and how they must exist with a combination of sunshine and rain, happiness and pain. (Get the Rob Base song out of your head, this is a funeral for chrissakes!).
He read her obituary, a little prayer, and then it was my turn.
I had been nervous for days for this. I didn’t sleep well wanting to make sure I did everything right. I googled how to write a eulogy. Let me tell you, actually googling a eulogy is just as strange as actually saying “google a eulogy”. It’s surreal and ridiculous because they’re supposed to be from the heart.
Well, not only did I research how to write a eulogy, but I also did a bit of research for the content. What better way to pay tribute to a wonderful teacher than to put some educational material in her eulogy?
Without further ado…
Pastor Arni told me to take all the time I needed in giving this eulogy. Never say that to a Darling.
As you know, Darlings are a quiet, humble bunch that don’t really stand out in a crowd, so we need to be prompted to even give a speech.
I’m kidding. Because I’m related, I typed up my eulogy to keep on track.
It’s very fitting for our theme to be rainbows when eulogizing Kaye Michele Darling.
There’s the obvious connection with the color wheel and colors visible to the human eye. And you have the use of rainbows to symbolize unity and diversity which is very significant in the art community.
Not only in Genesis is there a rainbow story, but also in Norse mythology, a rainbow bridge called Bifrost (pronounced Beef-Roast) connects the world of men (Midgard) to the realm of the gods (Asgard). One translation of Bifrost is “shimmering path” referencing the fleeting nature of rainbows. Bifrost is a rainbow path to the heavens.
The Leprechaun’s gold is at the end of the rainbow because it is impossible to reach; It cannot be obtained.
There are many types of rainbows; twinned rainbows, full circle bows, as well as fog bows, and even moon bows.
Regardless of the type of rainbow, though, there is one aspect that is consistent: you cannot contain a rainbow.
It has also been discussed in the science community that rainbows might exist on Saturn’s moon, Titan. This is significant for me, a space nerd, because the extended spaceflight of Cassini, the spacecraft studying Saturn, started in 2010, the same year mom was diagnosed with dementia.
That mission ended this morning, with Cassini, out of gas, plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere and sending back amazing data it could not have otherwise been captured.
A brilliant journey with a Grande Finale.
For mom’s Grande Finale, though, I don’t want to just talk about rainbows and spacecraft.
Let’s talk about Kaye Michele Darling herself.
When I was younger, my grandparents called her Mitch. Some older friends called her Kate or Katie.
My grade school friends knew her as Michele.
Her nurses called her Kaye Kaye.
Depending on when and how you knew her, you might have called her something different.
Kaye or Michele or Darling or Ms. Darling.
Regardless of what you called her or when you knew her, you were just glad to have had her in your life.
When I think of my mom, I think of her laugh. Her snort. And then her snot. She always carried a snot rag.
And her smile, that went up on the left side.
She was somehow oblivious and observant, all at the same time.
She ran into things; glass doors, regular doors, glass walls, regular walls, chairs. She broke her nose, bruised her shins, tripped, stubbed her toes. And right afterwards, she would laugh hysterically and that’s when the snot would come and she’d probably wet herself a little.
She knew how to laugh at herself.
Not only did she laugh at herself, but she taught me to laugh at myself.
And she taught me to see all the colors in a shadow. She didn’t paint with black. As you can see in your flyer.
Black has all the colors, so she painted with reds and blues and purples and greens, all the colors of the rainbow, to make shadows.
Because she was observant, she was also the best at buying gifts because she put thought into it. Not like hours of thought, but she thought about the person and what kinds of things they liked.
Several years ago mom and I were at World Market shopping for Christmas. I’m stressing out with a list and She just walks up to a quesadilla maker and says, “Frank would like this”.
I’m like, What?
She’s like, yeah, he said he liked quesadillas.
And that’s just the way she was. She paid attention to the person and what they said. She didn’t pay too much attention to the rest of life.
One year for Easter, mom bought Aaron a box of Girlfriend Mints. It was this little box shaped like a woman’s high heeled shoe, filled with mints. She thought it would be nice for his breath to be minty when kissing his girlfriend. Thus, she gave him Girlfriend mints.
When I think about my mom, I also think about her energy and passion. She was always doing something. Painting, drawing, teaching, grading papers.
Vacuuming at 6am.
How did she have the energy for all of this?!
I’ll tell you.
Gobs and gobs of coffee. Her coffee was terrible.
When I think of my mom, I think of coffee stains. Rings on her papers, on the table, stains on her clothes, all over the car, including the ceiling of the car and the roof of the car.
When I was younger, two things had yet to be invented: cup holders in cars and travel coffee mugs.
She would get into the car with a regular mug, or worse, a mason jar, full of hot coffee. Many times, she would drive off with the mug either still on the car or pouring down the windshield. Needing to use windshield wipers to clear off coffee is only necessary if you’re Kaye Michele Darling.
If she remembered to bring in her coffee, she would try to drive her manual car while holding a cup in her hands or between her legs or balancing on the center console…or on the dashboard. And so this is how coffee would end up in the vents, on the ceiling, in the back seat.
I have a lot of stories I could tell about my mom, as I’m sure you do as well. She certainly wasn’t boring.
What was she, though?
Funny. Smart. Beautiful. Talented. Challenging. Unique.
For days I had been thinking about one word that could sum her up. I thought maybe there was a Chinese character representing a phrase that might work, but I couldn’t find one.
And then it occurred to me.
My mother was endearing. She inspired love and affection. You couldn’t help but adore the woman, even when you were mad at her! And wasn’t that infuriating? There were so many times when I’d be mad at her and then she’d do something to make me laugh.
She was hard to stay mad at.
My mom just had wonderful energy. When she was near, you knew it. She made things better.
She decorated the world with her art and her smile and her laugh.
And frequently she laughed when it was inappropriate. Like at funerals.
I couldn’t find a video where I caught her snorting, unfortunately.
Mom was a klutz.
There was a story of her in New York on 5th avenue, I think. She tripped forward, her bulky sweater went over her head and only didn’t come off because it got stuck on her earrings.
She got hysterical just telling that story.
She laughed when she fell and she laughed when others fell as well.
Years ago, my poor grandmother rolled down her driveway and broke her collarbone. My mom, standing over grandma, was immobile with laughter.
But she wasn’t always irreverent. A lot of the time, yes, but not all the time.
Whatever my mom did, she did out of love.
She loved animals. She cared so much about animals that she once released caged chickens on OSU’s campus, and rescued a cat she thought was being abused but turned out to naturally have a snubbed tail because it was a Manx.
She loved her time at North High School and was ridiculously proud to be a Polar Bear. Many Polar Bears are here this morning, and many have reached out over the past few years. I’ve heard many stories about cheerleading and road trips and all kinds of adventures. Stories that keep my mother alive.
She loved Arizona, the time she spent there, and the man she spent her time with. He was her soulmate. I fully believe that her soul went straight to Arizona once it broke free. Arizona is where she really felt the most alive.
She loved me, her only biological kid, but she also loved her students, her other kids. She went above and beyond for them, as many of you here experienced. Many of her students have told me the impact my mother has had on their lives, and it just warms my heart. My mom spent hours creating projects and grading papers, but probably she spent more time with the kids in person at school but even outside of school, making sure they had what they needed to succeed. Helping get them scholarships, and portfolios, and even helping with their babies.
A rainbow is a meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky.
Kaye Michele Darling is reflected in us, in our memories of her, and refracts and disperses as we carry on her legacy.
My mom truly was like a rainbow. She loved the sun and the rain, and you couldn’t contain her. She was beautiful. She was a force of nature.
The Cassini project manager describes the Grande Finale in a way that makes me think of my mom.
After Cassini plunges into Saturn “the spacecraft’s final signal will be like an echo. It will radiate across the solar system for nearly an hour and a half after Cassini itself has gone. Even though we’ll know that, at Saturn, Cassini has already met its fate, its mission isn’t truly over for us on Earth as long as we’re still receiving its signal.”
Her signal, her legacy echoes through all of us.
For those of you that attended, you know that I did not stick to the exact words. First of all, I did need to remove the words “many of you” at the last minute because there really weren’t many of you there. That’s what happens when you have a funeral on a Friday morning. Many of you were actually there for the wake the day before.
I also did a bit of ad lib. Some went well, some not so much. There’s only so much you can do with the genes you’ve been given.
My cousin’s wife, Heather, sang 3 verses of Amazing Grace. She kicked ass and almost broke the sound system. At the next funeral, just stand in the middle, away from the mic.
After we ended, folks filed out, we loaded mom’s casket into the car, and we made our way to Union Cemetery.
We had all wondered about the path the cop might take us on and were pleasantly surprised when we pretty much just went all the way from Worthington, through Clintonville, to East North Broadway, to the cemetery on Olentangy River Road. It was like a trip down memory lane. We went past many of the places she lived, ending with 3442 N. High, where she and I lived above my grandfather’s law office and grandma’s antique shop.
All of us pall bearers were very pleased that we got her out of the hearse and onto the spot without dropping her. That is, in fact, our one job. And we did it. Self high five.
At the grave site, since her headstone is next to those of my grandparents, I got to place my hand on my grandfather’s stone while the pastor read the final prayers. I recognized that not only did I get to sit next to the grave stone, but that also meant we were sitting on top of the grave site.
Nice. Sorry, Baba.
I tried not to laugh when, during Pslam 23, he got to the part “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” because it makes me think of the part in Sister Act when Whoopie Goldberg’s character says grace in the convent. “Yea though we walk through the valley of no food”.
It was short and sweet, though. I placed a yellow rose on my mom’s headstone and a red rose on that of my grandmother’s.
I sobbed for the first time that day while kneeling at mom’s casket and then in front of my grandparents. I released her back to them.
And then we went to lunch because being nervous for a eulogy and sad for my mother’s funeral took more energy than I realized.
In all seriousness, I want to thank everyone who sent flowers and attended the wake and funeral. Polar bears, mom’s students, my friends, my students. Thank you, all.
Thank you, Victor, my brother from another mother, who stood in as pall bearer. Also, I can tell you that my mother LOVED the fact that you brought your new little baby.
I do hope to have a celebration of her life sometime in the next month or so. Unlike these last minute services, I’d like to have something people might be able to attend. I want to hear your stories of her. She was wonderful and amazing, but did really ridiculous shit. I want us all to remember all of that.
She didn’t live long enough, but what years she did have were filled with adventures and stories, love and laughter that will carry us on until someone has to eulogize us.
P.S. Do amazing and wonderful things with your life. It makes it so much easier for the person that has to write your eulogy.