This is the eulogy I gave for my Mama on 12 February 2013 at 3:00 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church in Warner Robins. RIP Barbara Lord Joyner, 15 January 1946-10 February 2013. You are loved.
On behalf of my sisters and brother and all of us, I thank you Trinity United Methodist family for opening your doors and your hearts to us today, as you have to Mama for more than a year. You are a blessing to us as you were to her. Being with you brought her great joy. Sunday was her favorite day of the week because of your open arms and love.
My Mama was a miracle. Who she became had no direct correlation to what she came from. She had every excuse in the book not to become the kind and caring person she did become. She made no excuses though, and she learned from the good around her to rise above those challenges and become the dear woman we all know and love. Perhaps this is why she didn’t let us make excuses. She challenged us to forgive when forgiveness was the last thing we had in mind, to be thankful even when things were hard. “If that’s the worst that happens to us, then we’ll be all right,” she’d say. Or “At least they’re not shooting bullets at us,” she’d often tell me when I would call to report something that was not making me very happy.
In the past few weeks, no one has shot bullets at us, but I guess we’ve felt like we were constantly dodging them. It was then that Mama’s voice in my head kicked in, and I found myself giving thanks in the midst of this. Mama is amazing like that. Sandy and I often heard her voice in our heads over these past few weeks when she was not able to communicate except with head shakes or nods. Now that’s a good Mama. One who can speak without making a sound. It was my brother I believe who once told someone we were raised on sale, with a coupon. I can remember Mama shopping at Sears, looking for sale items, finding a top for me, and telling me she was going to get it next week when they marked it down further. She was an incredible steward, generous to bless others, but she had simple tastes so our shopping trip to Goodwill thrilled her. She loved it. She made things fun—remember the Barbie wedding in all its glory? Taite loved her birthday treasure hunts. Mama LOVED playing word games and doing the puzzles and riddles every day in the paper. She was involved in our education—she insisted we give it our best. And Mr. Martin our principal respected her for it.
Growing up I hated mushrooms. DESPISED THEM. Seriously, weird texture, blah taste, they did nothing for me. Everyone else was okay with them. She didn’t cook with them all the time, but when she did, I was expected not to be impolite, and I was made to eat them and clean my plate because there were hungry children all over. The thing is, I get it. I grew up able to eat at dinners where there were things that weren’t my favorite. I appreciate that, as a lot more people than I thought like mushrooms. And such things. Here’s the funny thing though. Mama and I loved Stevi B’s veggie pizza. As an adult though, she loved for me to toss my mushrooms over to her plate. That’s how she was. We grew from mother and daughter to best of friends. The kind of friends that can call each other on stuff—oh yes, she did, and I guess I did too. And the kind of friends who can get miffed but are always right there in your corner.
Mama was a people person. She just loved people. And the funny thing is, people seemed to be drawn to her. Folks would tell her their story without her even asking. Family lore has it that almost forty years ago, the phone rang in the middle of the night. Mama got up to answer it in the kitchen. It was a wrong number, but Mama was kind. She went back to bed, and a few minutes later the phone rang again. The wrong number person called back to apologize and then proceeded to tell Mama her life story for the next hour. She just needed a friendly ear. Which Mama often was. In the hospital one of the nurses’ techs, a woman not much younger than Mama told Mama all her relationship issues. It was precious. Mama was ministering even in her time of greatest pain. And she didn’t mind at all. Mama had sayings that I will continue to hear in the days to come. Growing up it was, “The Lord loves a cheerful giver and so do I!” Or when we were fussing with each other, she’d call out with a sigh, “I’m sure you’re all really very wonderful.” TCB—Take care of business. She believed in doing things right. Her bottom line was “Do unto others.” Period. And when as we grew into young adults, she would tell us, “Act like you are somebody.” Yes ma’am. And woe be the child of hers that tried to leave someone out. That was just simply not done. And she believed in teamwork, and instilled it in us. I guess that’s why Lee talked about us all on the same team up at the hospital. So thankful for that.
Mama made the best biscuits. Ever. And sugared pecans. And every Tuesday (that was our set date) she made extra sweet tea (decaf) for me to have a big ol’ glass and some to go. She made the best just about everything, as Auburn is often happy to tell me. Well except for chicken chow mein. Never chicken chow mein. I even grew to love and miss the Easter Egg casserole. She loved you and she loved you best with food. She was happy if she could feed you. I gave Mama this print by Brian Andreas last year for her birthday. I think it is the essence of Mama: There are things you do because they feel right & they may make no sense & they may make no money & it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other & to eat each other’s cooking & say it was good.
My Mama was a storyteller. Daddy had me embroider her a shirt with Lady Reads-a-Lot on it. She read mysteries and westerns and all kinds of books as an adult, but her favorite books I think were children’s ones. She and Daddy worked to get this book (Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm) , a favorite from our childhood, back in print. Then they ordered many, many copies and gave them away to children they knew and many they ran into at doctor’s offices or at the store. They kept copies in the trunk of their car. She always read to us. I can still hear her reading Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? A hippo chewing gum, “Grum Grum Grum Grum.” While Daddy was camped out in the living room during those last few months, I was sitting with him one day while she was reading to Taite and Kurt. We heard her animated voice rising and falling. Daddy smiled and said, “There she goes.” She took great delight in picking out just the right book for each grandchild and great niece or nephew like it was a riddle or puzzle to be figured out. She was full of joy when she would report that she had finally found it. The many years she read to children at Byron Elementary, her favorite day of the week was that day. She planned out her themes and loved coming up with fun experiments to share with them too. Children are her passion. She believed every child should be wanted and loved, and if it was between helping her with something she needed or taking care of our children, it was always our children that she insisted came first. The night before her surgery she tried to kick me out early, so I could go home to my family.
Family was Mama’s number one priority. She was raised and influenced and blessed by strong women and the men who stood beside them—her grandmother, Aunt Wease, Aunt Sadie, Aunt Hattie, Aunt Maye, my Granny. I am thankful to those who shared their Mamas with mine. She had no sisters early in life, but she was blessed with several who are here today. I am thankful for Daddy who loved her as she deserved and beyond, and for my Daddy’s family who call her their own. I guess that’s why she has so many out here who call her Maemae that aren’t blood kin. That’s kind of how we roll. Once you’re in, you’re in for life. And there are so many who can’t be here who call her Maemae, friend, sister. My brother and his family who are expecting a precious new Joyner boy any day now. Aunt Donna and Uncle Dan. And Heidi and her family—when my family moved to Japan, Heidi, a friend whose husband was stationed at Robins, and Mama became close. So much so that when I was home to visit, I discovered that Heidi had replaced me as number one on speed dial. Heidi’s girls are also Maemae’s grandchildren. And Uncle Chesh, who introduced Mama and Daddy. Once you are family, you are always family. And you knew when you were loved by Mama because she loved fiercely. She had a way of saying it just by wrinkling her face. I will never forget that look.
Jim called last night and was talking about how much he’s been thinking about our family. And Mama. And he said the thing he’s learned is that family is not who you are born to, it’s who you love. So thank you all for being our family. Mama loved each of you in here. Each one of you made a difference in her life, especially making it possible for her to find joy in the past fifteen months. And Mama did find joy. On my birthday two weeks before Daddy died, Mama gave me this journal. It is a gratitude journal. I find it highly ironic and somewhat fitting that is has only been in these, the darkness of the past few weeks, that I think her voice in my head has helped me to get it. And to find something to be thankful for. I couldn’t believe it when she gave it to me. With all that’s going on you want me to do what?! Be thankful. Um, thanks I’ll get to it eventually. However, I found that it was when I thought about something to be thankful for each day during these three and a half weeks, I could settle my fears, even if just a tiny bit, and be hopeful for the next moment. I give thanks today for a Mama who kept at it until I got it. I don’t have it completely, but maybe that’s what Paul meant by giving thanks in all things we can do all things. And the only way we can be thankful in all things is if we let Jesus sit with us in the darkness. Mama leaned on Him greatly and never forgot to praise Him. I give thanks for that example that may be finally rubbing off. I think that would make Mama happy happy happy.
The thing is, I have come to appreciate and respect that we, our bodies, are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are. But so is this community, this body. Fearfully and wonderfully. Love is like blood and if it keeps flowing between us, through us, we can continue to grow. But if we cut off that love relationships and spirits die. Don’t let unforgiveness or anger or judging make you the blockage. “It’s only hurting you,” she’d say. She was big on that. Forgiveness and giving thanks. Here’s the thing. There are things around us that remind us we thought that we had more time. Coupons for fried fish sitting in a drawer. A finished green scarf never given. Trips to Olive Garden or Georgia Bob’s. Thoughts of phone calls or words put off for another time. Conversations we meant to have. Stories we meant to share or listen to. Instead of focusing on that, let us remember and hang on to the love that we shared with her that made these things special. Our joy that came from being Maemae’s favorite in that moment. Cause that’s what she said, “My favorite is the one I’m with at the moment.”
When I was moving to Wesleyan for college, Mama hugged me and said, “I’m sad to see you go, because I’ll miss you very much. But I am happy knowing you are right where you are supposed to be.” I say that today about Mama. There is a hole in my heart, but I know that Sunday night, there was a long line of aunts and grandparents and family gathering in close to hug and welcome her and say, “Come on up to the house.” And Daddy standing there waiting his turn like he does. But as Aunt Jackie said, I don’t think she’d have any of that. Today my soul is weeping, but Mama is right where she is supposed to be. With her God, with her best friend, and for that today I give thanks. It’ll do for a Tuesday. Love to all. Booyah!