A eulogy for my mom, Isla Cole. 1933-2019
It’s kind of difficult to put into words and summarize the life of someone that has lived 85 years, and my mothers life was rich and full of experiences that are pretty difficult to capture in just a few sentences. She was a complex character who, for the most part, lived a simple life of working hard, raising a family, and praising God. She eventually succumbed to a disease that threatened to steal her mind and her memories, but never laid a hand on her kindness and her love for others. I’ve decided to take on my moms life in 4 parts; her life at work, her life with family, her walk with God, and her life with dementia.
My Mom worked in various places over the course of her long life, but there are 3 jobs that I remember the most. She worked as an operator for Michigan Bell, she worked as a teacher aide at Bursley School in Jenison, and she worked for many years at Steelcase, eventually retiring from there in 1994.
The one constant that came from everyplace she worked? She made lifelong friends. My Mom was always a great listener, and the friends that she made in every job were loyal to her and loved her very much. She worked at Michigan Bell before she was married, and every year our family would get together with her friends from Bell for picnics, and this was after she became a full time mom. I had no idea who these people were, I just knew that we got together with them every year like kind of a disjointed family reunion.
She was a full time wife and mother for years, raising Randy, Paul and myself. Eventually, she went back to work. To my great distress, the place that she chose to work was Bursley Elementary School, where I was 3rd grader. By then, Randy and Paul had safely escaped to Jenison Junior High, which meant it was just me and mom for the next four years. To my relief, she pretty much stayed out of my way at Bursley, where she worked as a teacher aide, reading instructor and playground monitor. I was smart enough to stay out of trouble on the playground around her, but some of my friends weren’t so lucky. Her preferred method of punishment was to put the offending child’s nose right up to the the bricks of the school and have them stand there for awhile. I never had to do that, but I’m sure my friend Jack was a multiple offender.
I did have one incident back in 3rd grade, that, to this day, still amazes me. I had Mrs. Robertson for a 3rd grade teacher, who was pretty strict and ran a very ordered classroom. One day, I was sent to stand in the hall for something I honestly can’t remember. I’m sure it was for talking out of turn. I enjoyed talking to my friends, so I was probably sent to the hall to atone for my verbal sins. While I’m standing in the hall, doing my time, much to my horror my mom is approaching me walking down the hall. You know that phrase, “My moms gonna kill me?” I didn’t use that phrase that often, but I certainly thought it applied here. To my amazement, she walked right by me and never said a word. After school that day, I thought for sure I would be punished.
Let that be a little lesson for the helicopter moms and dads out there. She let Mrs. Robertson take care of the problem, and believe me, after that, there was never another problem. That incident scared the crap out of me.
To this day, the people that went to school at Bursley remember my mom as a sweet lady who cared for the children she worked with. She taught kids how to read that had learning disabilities. She knew all about dyslexia before it became a thing.
She started working at Steelcase back in 1981, first in food service, and then in employment, and eventually retiring out of the benefits department. She moved jobs often, signing postings to areas that she thought were interesting. In employment, she sat at the front window, where a lot of the time she had to tell people that Steelcase wasn’t hiring. There were some people that weren’t too keen to hear this bit of news, but with patience and grace she explained the process of getting hired, and what they had to do to get a job there. She had a panic button right next to her desk that called security if she needed it, but, to my knowledge, she rarely used it. With no training whatsoever, she could probably talk a terrorist into giving up his weapons, and he would probably feel bad for bothering her.
Mom and dad were married in October of 1956. Dad was 27 and Mom was 23 when they were married, which was considered very old back in 1956. They didn’t waste any time having kids, Randy coming 10 months after their marriage and Paul 14 months after that. I followed 3 and a half years after Paul. I always kidded my mom that she learned her lesson after having two kids so close together, and she knew the best was worth waiting for.
My mother was, without a doubt, the leader of our family. My dad came into the marriage a bit broken, having been part of a family that did not have a great father figure. She had to do everything for us boys because my Dad just didn’t have the capacity to do it. “Wait till your father gets home,” was not a phrase used in our house. Mom took care of the discipline. She also made the meals, cleaned the house, planned the vacations, took care of the appointments, ran the family budget, and just about every other aspect to running a family. My dad worked very hard at Steelcase everyday, working long hours and dutifully turning over his paycheck to Mom every Thursday so she could pay the bills. It’s what she did.
My mom simply adored my dad. Their love through 62 years of marriage is an inspiration for all of us.
Eventually, all three of us boys grew up, got married, and had families of our own. She became a loving and doting grandmother of 5 grandchildren, often letting them get away with far more than we ever did. My brother Paul was a challenge for her growing up, always testing her limits, but he also provided her with her first grandchild, Cassie, whom she dearly loved and spoiled. Paul would come to the condo to pick Cassie up after she spent a day at Grandmas doing whatever she wanted, and he would look at his mom in amazement and say,”Who are you and what have you done with my mother?” She treated all 5 of her grandkids with grace and love.
A life of faith
Mom was always a faithful servant of God, a member of the Reformed Church of America for most of her life. Mom and Dad were married in Homeacres Reformed, and were members of Oakdale, Zion, and Fair Haven Reformed Churches. She had a great singing voice, singing duets with my dad and other friends. She also sang in the church choir. She was a faithful alto. My brother Randy recently posted on Facebook that she is now singing in Gods celestial choir, and if she is indeed a member of that choir, she’s sitting in the alto section. Her Bible contained many underlined verses and was well used, and she loved her Savior very much. That fact gives me great comfort.
The final years
This is the hard part. Over the past 5 years, my mother suffered from the effects of dementia, a debilitating and frustrating disease that robs the afflicted person of the ability to think clearly and care for themselves. Mom was a very independent person, a very capable person who had the ability to take on most things that life threw at her. She was very active for most of her life, going for bike rides with Dad, climbing mountains in Colorado with their friends the Schippers, and walking everyday. There were a lot of days where my friends that lived in the Grandville/Jenison area would tell me,”Hey, I saw your mom walking yesterday.” Someone would see her walking in Grandville, and ask me,”Doesn’t she live in Jenison?” Yep, that was part of her 7 mile loop. Dementia eventually stole that from her.
For the last 4 years she has been a resident of The Laurels in Hudsonville, a full time nursing care facility. It is difficult to put a family member in a nursing home, but both her and my Dad received a lot of love from the people working there. My Mom continued to be a loving sweet person, and the staff members loved her for that. My Dad noticed that there were a lot of people in the home that never received visitors, and he would stop in their rooms to give a quick hello and find out how they were doing. It was a testament to both of them that in the final days, both staff and residents came into my Mom’s room to tell them that they were thinking of them and that they were praying for them, and that they loved them.
A life well lived
A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about my mom and our camping experiences that took us all over the country. In the last paragraph of that blog, I vowed that when my mother passed from this earth, I would not think of her as the little old lady in a bed at a nursing home, trying to piece together the memories of her life. Instead, I would think of her as the strong woman who was the leader of our family, who made things happen and made things work, and who was a faithful servant of God. That’s the woman I choose to remember today. Mom’s life was a life well lived.
Thank you, Mom. For everything.
I will love you forever.