The Rev. Dianne O'Connell
Schroeder-Lauer Funeral Home
January 22, 1999
Honoring the Life
of My Mother
Ellen J. Shullaw
December 5, 1921
January 16, 1999
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in her may be clearer in her absence,
As the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain...
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter,
And sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning
And is refreshed.
...from "The Prophet", by Kalhil Gilbran
Good morning, my name is Dianne O'Connell, but more importantly, I am Ellen Shullaw's daughter. I want to thank each of you on behalf of my family for joining us this morning to honor the life of my mother. My husband is here: Chuck O'Connell, as are our two daughters, Jennifer Ellen and Jessica Dianne. I would also like to introduce my closest girlhood friend Linda Stoikowitz Cannon and her husband Bob Cannon, and their two children, Alex and Stephanie.
My heart is very heavy. Although I am an ordained Presbyterian minister and hospital chaplain, this particular service will, undoubtedly, be the most difficult of my life so far. But I am certain that you will bear with me. Let us open with the invocation. Please join me:
Gracious Lord God, you have called us from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners. You have said to us, "You are my servants. I have chosen you and have not rejected you." You have told us, "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you." Lord, we need you today. Be with us as we celebrate the life of our loved one and friend Ellen Shullaw. Comfort us, as we comfort one another, at her death. Teach us to be grateful for this life even in the midst of sorrow at its closure. We ask your blessing upon the people gathered here today, family members and friends. We pray these things in the name of your Son, who taught us to pray with these words:
Hymn: "Morning Has Broken", Penny Triezenburg, vocalist; Jean Walstra, organist
Hebrew Scripture Lesson: Ecclesiastes 3:1-4
New Testament Reading: Matthew 5:1-12, Ms. Sylvia Komyatte, Hospice Chaplain
Hymn: "Be Thou My Vision", Ms. Triezenburg and Ms. Walstra
Meditation: The Rev. O'Connell
Thank you. I want to thank Ms. Triezenburg and Ms. Walstra for the music this morning and also Chaplain Komtyatte. I should also take a moment to honor the folks who cared for my mother during the last three months of her life:
Cynthia Gunkel, Hospice nurse;
Joan Clare, Hospice social worker;
Dee Deinma, the woman from Hospice who helped with her personal care;
Sylvia Komyatte, the Hospice chaplain; and most especially a woman who could not be here this morning, but who is a Very Special Lady, Mrs. Josephine Ziolkowski.
I also want to thank Carol and Gale Osgerby, Carol Kutak, Harriett Pinkerton, Linda and Bob Cannon, Generosa Novak and each of you for being such very good friends throughout my mother's life, but especially during these past very trying months. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Talking with each of you, and many others who have telephoned during the past week, I have had confirmed something I always knew, but it's nice to know that someone else knows it too: My mother Ellen Shullaw was a strong, capable, generous, loving and very special person.
I have been gone from this area for the past 35 years. So, I haven't had the opportunity to get to know each of you as I might well have liked to. I have heard names and a few lovingly humorous stories -- but I haven't known you. During these past three months, that has changed somewhat, and I am grateful. Thank you.
Most of us here are old enough to recognize that life comes in pretty distinguishable phases. My mother's life was no different. There are several of you here today who have known Ellen Shullaw for more than 40 years -- Jack and Iola Hammond and Linda Cannon. Marie Plack met my mother through her career in Real Estate, a field she entered in the early 1960s. she worked for the Arquilla family for many of those years, through Burnside Construction and the Arquilla Company.
My mother was the first resident to move into the condominium building where she lived for some 27 years. Condominiums themselves were pretty new as a concept back then, and I remember her patiently explaining to me the legal differences in ownership and maintenance responsibilities. There are several people here today who have shared that condo building -- with all its challenges and decision-making -- with my mother and have become close friends during the intervening years.
Following her retirement from the business world, my mother struggled to find new challenge and new friends with whom to enjoy her changing life. She found both challenge and friends in playing pinochle and bridge. Many of you are here today, and thank you so much.
Each of you has known a special slice of my mother's personality and life. I hope you will be willing to share a bit of it with the rest of us later in the service. I have known a certain slice of my mother, as well, and I hope you will allow me to share some of that with you, too.
My mother was born December 5, 1921 at Toledo, Ohio, the daughter of Benjamin C. Bartel and Alma Mary O'Harra Bartel. Alma later became Alma Wagner and was a frequent visitor to our home during my childhood and youth.
My mother's own childhood and youth were spent in the Toledo and Findlay, Ohio areas. Following graduation from Burnham High School in Sylvania, outside Toledo, she first moved to Findlay and then to Cleveland, Ohio, where she worked for the Canfield Oil Company for a couple of years.
During that time she met a girl named Marion in the boarding house where both young women were staying. They became life long friends. Marion, now 80 and living in Tucson, Arizona, wrote my mother constantly throughout her illness and truly wishes she could be here today.
Marion says my mother always blamed her for talking her into joining the United States Coast Guard during World War II. Marion remembers doing no such thing, but it could not have been too bad a decision in that my mother's military service was something of which she was always terribly proud. You will see a newspaper article written just last year in the Hammond Times telling of that service. The article and other pictures and stuff are included in the Memorial Scrapbook at the back of the sanctuary. You are invited to look through it at your leisure and during the luncheon following the service.
My mother met and married my father while in the Coast Guard stationed in New York City. I was born the day the Japanese surrendered, August 14, 1945.
The next 13 years were ones of struggle -- as are the early years for most young couples. My parents purchased a newspaper in Mantua, Ohio, and operated that for a time. They sold the paper and re-located to Pekin, Illinois, and Hudson, Iowa, before pulling into Lansing, Illinois, one summer day in 1952.
That means my mother has lived in either Lansing or Calumet City for 47 and one half years. There were only eight years in Calumet City, which seems like a short time in comparison to 47 and a half years. She sold Real Estate throughout the south and western suburbs, but she loved Lansing and she chose to live and die right here.
So, each of you know a little bit about my mom and have known her for a longer or shorter period of time. But I venture to say that I am the only one here today who has known her for more than 50 years.
And there may be some talents she had of which you were unaware. For instance, when I was a child, she painted in oils and sculpted. I brought one little painting and a bust of me as a child to show you this morning. They are also displayed. She was fond of remembering that she made several versions of that little painting one year and gave them as Christmas gifts to several family members. She did them all with a palette knife, rather than a paint brush.
My mother was an avid reader and our home was always filled with books. She loved the theater and we often attended plays at the Drury Lane theatre or went downtown to Chicago. The music from Camelot that was playing this morning was in memory of the fact that this was the last musical we saw together just a year or so ago.
Mom loved sports -- baseball, football, basketball. She followed it all. Here was a place I could not go with her. I never could keep the names of the teams straight let alone the players and the game itself. But she loved it. At one point in her career, I think it was the Bears football team -- anyway, one of the team members purchased a home where she was currently selling Real Estate, and several other team members followed suit. She was ecstatic.
My mother also had a deeply spiritual side. Raised as a Lutheran, she developed a yearning for more and more understanding of the spiritual universe. She read, she attended seminars, she delved into Edgar Cayce materials, and she meditated and prayed. Simple, final answers were not for her. She wanted to know for herself. She was always seeking, always yearning for spiritual serenity.
When I was a young adult, I often said that I thought my mother had converted to Hinduism, because I had learned that she was interested in the idea of reincarnation. Now I realize that you don't have to be a Hindu to appreciate the justice and reason embedded in the concept of reincarnation. I can understand how it would attract a person who wanted always to learn, to grow in knowledge and spirit -- a person who knew that all that was to be learned and understood could not possibly be experienced in one lifetime.
The reincarnation piece made me uncomfortable at the time. But not anymore. My mother was a Christian, but a Christian with an open, searching mind.
She once asked me how I developed my spirituality and my desire to enter the ministry. We certainly weren't weekly churchgoers in my youth. I looked at her in disbelief. How could she not know that she was my source, the one who had given me the desire to know, to experience, to catch the vision?
In seminary, they teach us that some ministers evolve into priests and others evolve into prophets. What that means is that some concentrate on the "priestly functions" of ministry -- the births, the deaths, the sacraments, the consoling of the bereaved that makes up so much of ministry. Others concentrate on the "prophetic functions" -- the calling of the people into a better world. The prophets range from those who rail against Demon Rum to those who call for Love and Justice for all -- even the marginalized, the poor, the mentally ill, those whose sexual orientation is not the same as our own, those whose politics are different from our own.
My ministry has consisted of a good measure of both priest and prophet. I have consoled my share of the bereaved; I've baptized my share of babies and married my share of persons in love. I've also pounded my share of pulpits in support of one righteous cause or another.
But my mother represented yet another focus of ministry, of spirituality, if you will. "Saintly" is hardly the word. But what do you call the person who concentrates upon making themselves a more worthy person, who spreads love like so many candy kisses, who joyfully drives folks to their medical and other appointments because she truly enjoys that person's company? One woman called me this week to tell me that my mother was extra kind to her during bridge classes. My mother was an experienced bridge player. This woman was a beginner. And my mom was her partner -- never criticizing, always helpful, and a good deal of fun to play with.
What do you call the businesswoman who spends her rare free moments roaming toy stores and children's apparel shops so that she can send a special package to her grandchildren living so far away? And the woman who in her quiet moments focuses her mind on God and how the Universe just might work?
My mother was certainly not a saint in the traditional sense of the word. Neither she nor I would ever aspire to such status. Just seems like saints don't enjoy life much -- and both she and I are committed Life Enjoyers. But when the Universe decides to unveil its Secrets, I'm betting that we'll find more saints among folks like my mother than we'll find among the priests and prophets of the ministry.
Yeah, my mom had feet of clay. So do I. The two of us, like many mother-daughter pairs, had our share of differences, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings.
A good many preachers might stand here and remind us all to tell those we love that we love them every day. To remember the good memories, the positive influences, the joyful times -- and talk about them frequently,. My mom and I did this. But, of course, now I wish we had done it even more.
But I am also here to tell you that I wish we had argued more. I might have learned something. Now there are such things as fair arguments and unfair ones. Mean ones and loving ones. I'm talking about the fair, loving argument. My way of dealing with conflict, or even potential conflict, has always been to avoid it at all costs. If I knew my mother and I were going to disagree on a political or personal issue, I steered away from that topic, period. I wish I hadn't. I wish I'd had the courage to enter into such talks with abandon, letting the fur fly where it may. I would have learned something. I would have understood my mother better and she would have understood me better.
I'm not sure that either of us had the skill necessary for such a conversational adventure, but I feel certain that with practice, we could have learned. I'm sorry we didn't argue more. It might have been fun.
My mother had one friend with whom she argued all the time. They disagreed on just about everything, but their friendship lasted 40 years. That takes courage and trust. Trust that disagree as you may, you'll still be friends the next day.
I'm almost finished here. You will soon be able to add your memories of Ellen Shullaw. And I will be eternally grateful.
And when I say eternally, perhaps I should speak just a short while on the eternal -- life beyond this life. I'm not so sure I am a believer in reincarnation, but I am a believer in a state of being that is warm, safe, and full of love and understanding. Don't pin me down to the geography, nor the composite building materials of the streets and gates. But I believe that each of us, if we want, can reach this safe, loving and understanding state of being, which for me, would be heaven.
My mother did not want to leave this life. She told me time after time, she was having too much fun and that she enjoyed her family and her friends way too much to ever want to leave them. It was a struggle for her to come to terms with the fact that leave, she must. But her faith and her spirit and her love of God carried her through and will envelop her for eternity. Of this, I am certain.
On this plane, she will live through us. First, her biological family. There are me, my son, my daughters, and her great granddaughter living in Alaska and two younger sisters living in Ohio. We are all a part of her and she is a part of us. That will never change.
Then there are you, her friends. There is a part of her that she shared with each of you and a part of you that you shared with her. You touched and influenced each other. And that will never change.
And thirdly, my mother and I have a confidence in eternal life beyond this world, beyond the limits of death and the finite.
Christ called us to live, to love, and to fully be all we can be. I believe that life is infinite, and that we are called to explore its depths and to drink deeply of its sweetness. I, like many others, believe that we prepare for eternity, not be being overly "religious" and "keeping all the rules," but by living fully, loving wastefully, and daring to grow and be and experience all we can. Making it possible for everyone else to live, to love, and to be is also part of the Mission. That was Christ's assignment, and I believe that my mother fulfilled the assignment with grace, skill, humor, and love.
And now it is your turn.
Sharing from Family and Friends
Hymn: "Rock of Ages", congregation
Christ went before us in death,
as has our loved one Ellen Shullaw,
showing us the way into eternal life.
We celebrate the good life we have shared with Ellen.
God has given.
God has received that which was loaned to us.
We are thankful for the good days we shared.
A life that touches the hearts of others goes on forever.
And John said,
"Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth,
for the first heaven and the first earth hath passed away."
And he heard a loud voice saying,
"and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes;
there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.
There shall be no more pain,
for the former things have passed away."
And the Comforter said,
"Fear not. I am with you always, even unto the end of the age."
Go now in the peace of the Lord.
Ellen and Her family Invite You to Join Them For a Hosted Luncheon Following the Service At the Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Indiana Click to Return to Sermon Index