My wonderful mother, Eulalia Veronica Donehue Schepers, passed away in her sleep last night. She was 89 years old, in fairly good health, and still had her mind and sense of humor. She was the sweetest, most selfless person I have ever known.
She had 12 children, 8 girls and 4 boys, of which I was the youngest. She was strong and self-sufficient, never wanting to bother others with her needs, and she struggled hard all her life to provide for us growing up, at work and in the home, while my dad was on veterans’ disability.
She was the epitome of a patriotic Christian, who deeply loved her family, her faith, and her country, and who lived by those values with a humble, quiet dignity, shakeless in her devotion. She volunteered at the VA hospital 30 miles away every week, for decades, and was active in the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary. She was a Republican, because her dad had been a Republican, and to her that meant taking care of people who needed help; she was a believer in the social safety net, and in jobs programs, and in giving people another chance.
When I thought of a good Christian, I thought of her. She was my moral compass; though I didn’t share her religious belief, I tried hard to live up to the values she exemplified. Her faith never led her to judgment; she helped others whenever she could; she lived the Catholic credo that faith without acts is dead, which I’ve taken as one of my own core beliefs. She drew comfort from her religion, and that’s the best reason I can imagine for religion.
She was surrounded by an extended family of children, children-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who all loved her. She was easy to love, and her in-laws quickly found a new mother in her. We had to rent a hall whenever we got together, to fit the 50+ offspring who orbited around her.
Megan and I last saw her a month ago, at Christmas. Mom loved Christmas. It was the only time of the year all her kids were together. She rearranged her apartment to fit all the decorations. She had a tree, her beloved nativity scenes, her winter village, and every surface and wall was festooned with some old or new decoration that held a story for her. She got such joy, even childlike glee, over sitting with family in a darkened room lit only by the lights on the tree and her cherished village, which she would talk about in detail. She grew up in small towns in Mid-Missouri, and I think in her heart, she lived in that little village. The last photos I have of her are in front of that tree, and that village, her last village.
She was, in many ways, a simple woman. Not unintelligent, not incurious, but with pure, clear values, a gentleness with no malice, a trusting mind that took the world at face value. She was born in 1927, and lived though all the changes in our society, which she wondered at. In those 89 years, she’d known pain, and loss, and struggle, and joy, and love, and devotion, and she took it all in and radiated goodness and wisdom from it all. She had a simplicity of life I’ve never known, probably will never know.
She died once, for a few minutes, before the doctor’s brought her back, back in the 1960s, before I was born. She came back to life, then she gave me life. I hope I can live my life in a way that makes her sacrifices worth it.
All of us siblings grieve her loss, are united in our pain. Pat, Christie, Becky, Tim, Roberta, Tom, Cindy, Lisa, Jackie, Jennifer, Dan, and all your spouses and children and grandchildren, you made her life complete. She loved nothing more than family, and you gave her a good family to be proud of.
We had a little script, every time I’d call her:
“This is your youngest son.”
She always played along with it, put up with our gentle teasing. We’d mock her about calling us by the wrong name: “Tom… Tim… Dan… Oh!” She’d shake her head, lips pressed tight in frustration, “Douglas!” (Hey, when you have 12 kids, it’s hard to keep them straight.) Or we’d rib her about how she used to say, in exasperation with us, “Well, I’ll swan.” Swan? Who says “swan”? What does that even mean? “Are you going to swan, Mom? Make sure not to swan!” It was only years later that I looked it up in a dictionary… it’s really a word, a variant on “swoon.” It was the closest thing my mom had to a curse word. She didn’t mind the teasing. She had an impish, sly sense of humor herself. I’ll miss that, and so many other things about her, and I’ll carry it with me.
Eulalia, Mother, I love you, and I will deeply miss you, and I will think of you fondly always. Thank you for sharing your life with me.