Hello and thank you all for gathering with us to remember and celebrate the life of Marilyn Cleland. I’m Marilyn’s son, Tom and I will be the officiant for this service. We're holding the service in a non-denominational chapel in a somewhat secular format. I think it’s a good question, how religious it should be. It’s hard to think about life and death without thinking about religion.
Mom was once asked what her religion was, and replied, "None of your business!” She attended North Como Presbyterian Church one block west of here, when we were young, but said she quit after learning they had a quota on the number of black families who could join. I think she taught us critical thinking before we even knew what it was. Or perhaps she just didn’t feel like going to church.
In Mom’s final week, when her health was failing, she finally agreed to a full health care directive, which asked about religion, and she said Anglican Episcopalian. I remember attending an Episcopalian service once, with Mom and her parents. She said it was the one protestant denomination that was most similar to the Catholics. I did some research on Episcopalianism, and found out a few things.
The Episcopal Church is considered apostolic, as it teaches that its bishops can be traced back to the apostles. It has its roots in the Church of England, which separated from the Church of Rome during the reign of King Henry VIII. The Episcopal Church was organized after the American Revolution, when it became separate from the Church of England, whose clergy are required to swear allegiance to the British monarch.
As I was researching all of this, I was reminded of Mom every step of the way. I was reminded how Mom took a DNA test which showed she was related to the Apostle Luke. I remember watching the TV miniseries, “The Six Wives of King Henry VIII” and Mom providing all sorts of interesting background information. Mom was a student of history, and I recalled that, while she was fascinated by war, she was saddened that each generation seemed to forget the horrors of the last.
The Episcopal Church uses the Book of Common Prayer, which contains the forms of service for various occasions including funerals. I would like to read a short section from it.
"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord;
he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;
and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
I know that my Redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth;
and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God;
whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold,
and not as a stranger.
For none of us liveth to himself,
and no man dieth to himself.
For if we live, we live unto the Lord.
and if we die, we die unto the Lord.
Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord;
even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors."
(Please be seated.)
I am not sure how much of this prayer Mom would have felt that strongly about. I think Mom was influenced by her Unitarian great grandmother, Mary Ladd, who believed in the teachings of Christ, but did not believe in the miracle birth, and did not believe in hellfire.
This service is being held five months after Marilyn's passing. Mom passed away January 13. Dad also passed away in the month of January, on January 31, 1982. We remember Marilyn upset that Burton had to be buried in the miserable cold of winter. So we decided to have Mom cremated, and have the memorial service at a warmer time of year. Her ashes will be buried after this service, today, June 10, which would have been Burton’s 91st birthday. We have had several relatives who have died in January, including our great grandfather Andrew Boss III, who died on January 13, the same day as Marilyn. By having the service in June, we will have a chance to visit the graves of our relatives.
Next, this was Mom's iPad, or as she called it, her Facebook. On it we have a video running in a continuous loop, as you pass it around. Mom wanted this video shown at her memorial service.
It’s of her and Burton next to their garden. They both enjoyed gardening. I think this is the image Mom wants you to have in your mind when you remember her.
There's so much to say about Marilyn, I'm sure I'll leave something out. I feel it's easiest to start with a factual overview, starting with her obituary. This includes some additional material not submitted to the newspapers.
"Marilyn Joyce Cleland (born Harper) died peacefully at Northridge Health and Rehab on January 13, 2016, in New Hope, Minnesota at the age of 87.
Marilyn is survived by her children, Constance, Bruce (wife Sandy), Thomas, and Janet; grandchildren Emily, Elizabeth, Suzanne, Spencer, Kathryn, and Lydia; and brother James. She is preceded in death by husband Burton, son Scott, brother David, and son-in-law William Butler.
Marilyn was born on October 1, 1928 in Waterloo, Iowa to Bernard Lloyd Harper and Evelyn Lolita Harper (born McDonald). She graduated from West High School, Waterloo, Iowa in 1947. She met Burton Cleland while working at a John Deere tractor factory, and they married April 22, 1950. After moving to Roseville, Minnesota, they had five children. Burton died suddenly on January 31, 1982, and a few years later, Marilyn moved to Golden Valley, Minnesota. She continued hosting family dinners nearly every week until checking into assisted living in October 2014. Marilyn stayed sharp by doing crossword puzzles, and in her final years played Words with Friends on her iPad. She also enjoyed posting her descendants’ childhood photos on Facebook. In her final days, she especially enjoyed jigsaw puzzles."
After Mom died we received several thoughtful condolences through email, postal mail, and social media. One theme that kept coming up was how Mom would invite neighborhood kids to talk, and listen to what they had to say. Maybe I took it for granted, though more than once I remember talking until I couldn’t stay awake any longer. When I was depressed, she taught me basic social skills, and when I ate dinner with her and her neighbors in assisted living, she let me know when she thought I had too much to say. Of all the remembrances on social media, I think the funniest came from granddaughter Lydia, who listed several of Mom's "burns" like "You hug a lot. Didn't you get enough hugs as a child?"
There are so many good memories. Our trips to Iowa, Wisconsin, Florida, the Bahamas, and the Door Peninsula. Her encouragement of us in sports, concerts, plays, and the school paper. The Halloween costumes she made, the holidays we celebrated.
Mom liked to stay home a lot, having the TV on to keep her company while she focused her attention on other things. She had some introverted and sometimes peculiar hobbies, like hooking rugs, adult coloring books, and making confetti. We sometimes joked that she had agoraphobia, fear of public spaces. She would go out at least once a week, though, and had a knack for striking up conversations with strangers, often asking them where they were from. One time, Marilyn and I were in a community summer play together, complete with singing and dancing. The play was titled, "Once in a Lifetime," and for me the experience was truly once in a lifetime.
Mom was strict in some ways and lenient in others. On the strict side, we had babysitters practically into our teenage years. On the lenient side, she let us throw a dummy off the roof for a home movie.
One of my earliest memories of Mom was her calling me upstairs in the morning after hearing me arguing with Janet. She made me lie in bed with her, and every time I moved, she said "be still."
I remember feeling sorry for Rodney Dangerfield, whose mother never made him breakfast, and then I thought, "Hey, wait a minute, our mother didn't make breakfast either!" She made dinner, though, and when we were adults, she encouraged us to visit with each other while she did the dishes by herself.
When I lost my job in 2002, Mom offered to take me in, and we ended up assisting each other in different ways. As an adult, I got to know Marilyn better than I had as a child. We didn’t always agree, but I came to understand that she had a consistent sense of what was fair. I had to water her plants, but she did my laundry. I had to scan and post her photos to Facebook, but I also got reduced rent.
During family dinner, as Mom’s hearing was failing, she would tend to start with a story before letting the conversation go off in different directions. Like her mother Evelyn, Marilyn was a storyteller, and she liked to repeat her favorite ones. There was a TV show, “Name That Tune” where they would play the first few notes of a song and contestants would guess the title. We had a version of that called “Name That Story.” Every once in a while, I would hear a story that I hadn't heard before, and take note of it. I would sometimes ask her if she would write or record her stories, but she mostly just enjoyed telling the stories in the present. Occasionally I would repeat what she said into some voice dictation software, and from that I am able to recall a few, some old and some new.
At age two, Evelyn would drop Marilyn off at the fire department while she did some shopping, and the firemen loved Marilyn as a toddler. Marilyn had a special place in her heart for firemen and remembered them on 9/11.
Mom was born the year before the Great Depression began, and when the bank in Fredericka, Iowa failed, the family moved into the bank building. There was a big vault and safety deposit boxes with little keys that Marilyn could use to open them. People had just abandoned them because their stocks were no good anymore. The stocks were colorful, with medallion designs on them, and she made paper dolls out of them.
Mom’s parents were known by their first names, Bernie and Ev, because there were three generations living under the same roof. During the Depression, they moved back to the farm. Mom said Bernie brought peanut butter sandwiches to share with coworkers.
One time Mom’s family was out in their car. Bernie needed to stop for some reason, got out, and started doing sign language with a guy. Mom never knew Bernie knew sign language. It turned out he needed to learn it as a kid.
Bernie’s dad Glenn Harper walked a rope in the circus. Glenn had a brother who was also named Bernie, and he was the exact opposite of Glenn, more of a family man and church goer. As a young man he came to the aid of another man who lost his hand in a foundry accident, applying a tourniquet and saving his life. The man later became a judge and ended up hiring Marilyn’s great uncle Bernie to be a bailiff, so the family had an income during the depression. They had an apple orchard, and his wife baked bread for the neighbors. Coincidentally, great uncle Bernie’s son-in-law was a mason and laid the brick for Marilyn and Burton’s chimney on Churchill Street.
Marilyn’s grandmother Myrtle was struck by lightning twice and survived. Myrtle said that when the locusts came, they ate the clothes off the clothes line. Marilyn’s grandmother Ella kept an ax and a can of water in the storm cellar in case of cyclones. When mom was eight or nine the barn blew down and she loved helping the carpenter rebuild it.
One time Marilyn and her brothers left a suitcase full of garbage on the highway as a prank. Another time they locked their Aunt Floss in the outhouse with some chickens.
Mom fondly recalled all the bridal showers she had, with her coworkers, church goers, high school buddies, jinx club girls, and some family friends who owned a hotel. One day she was working at the newspaper office and got a call from the post office saying they had a big package. Her coworkers said to go get it, so she did and brought it back and opened it. It was several sterling silver place settings from Burton’s relatives. The boss put them in the safe for her until the end of the work day.
One time Mom listed what she considered the seven wonders of the modern world. The Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Panama Canal, the Palace at Versailles, the Interstate Highway System, Christ the Redeemer, and the Hoover Dam.
Her list of natural wonders was a little bit longer. The Giant Redwoods, the Grand Canyon, Lake Superior, Cypress Gardens, Okefenokee Swamp, the Badlands, the Petrified Forest, Mammoth Cave, the Great Salt Lake, and the Great Plains.
While I may have a catalog of memories, at my core are the simplest of impressions.
Mom would tell us to “drive safe.” We heard it so often we became critical of the grammar, thinking it really should be an adverb, “drive safely.” But it was a constant reminder that she cared about us and valued us.
When we were young, we would wake Mom, and she would see us off to school. I remember her sitting at the bottom of the stairs, saying to cross the street and then turn right to go to school. I asked her which is left and which is right, and she said this is your left and this is your right. As we were leaving, she would say, “be good.” Be good.
In her final week, Mom’s quality of life declined to the point where she didn’t feel it was worth living. She wasn’t in pain, but she was so drained that she said she wished she had Dr. Kevorkian. She said it’s frustrating when you’re ready to die but you can’t. She talked about being with Burton. She thought about her parents, her son, her brother, and said, “All you guys. If there is a heaven, I’ll get to see those guys again. What do you think?”
Several years before her death, Mom told me that she wanted the song “Going Home” performed at her funeral. The music was composed by Antonin Dvorak and the words are by William Arms Fisher. Dvorak lived in Mom’s home state of Iowa for a time, and I remember seeing the Dvorak exhibit when we toured the Bily Clock Museum in Spillville, Iowa. The song talks about seeing your loved ones after you die. We will sing it now.
Going home, going home, I'm a-going home.
Quiet-like some still day, I'm just going home.
It's not far, just close by, through an open door.
Work all done, cares laid by, going to fear no more;
Mother's there expecting me, father's waiting, too,
Lots of folks gathered there, all the friends I knew.
Nothing’s lost all’s gain, no more fear or pain,
No more stumbling by the way,
No more longing for the day,
Going to roam no more…
Morning star lights the way, restless dream all done.
Shadows gone, break of day, real life just begun.
There's no break, there's no end, just a-living on;
Wide awake, with a smile, going on and on.
Going home, going home, I'm just going home.
It's not far, just close by, through an open door.
Every morning you greet me
Small and white clean and bright
You look happy to meet me
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Bless my homeland forever.