• 64 years old
  • Born on June 9, 1948 .
  • Passed away on September 27, 2012 .

In preparing to write this, I did my research. Read many of other eulogies. I found them to be eloquent, touching, and heartbreaking. They were all filled with sticky sweetness, scripture, and words of faith. While that may bring comfort to other families, I am sure that writing something like that for Mom, she'd roll her eyes and proclaim,“Nicole, you are full of shit”.

In that spirit of properly evoking Shirley in true fashion, I am going to do it MY way, with humor, honesty, and a slight flair for the dramatic. Anyone who disapproves can just deal with it.

Being her eldest child there is a seven year gap between me and Joe. The perception and image of her imprinted on me is different than that of her boys.

When I think of mom in my mind's eye, I do not see the Shirley that was there in recent years.  I see that fierce woman that was there, when it was just Shirley and Nicole against the world. When I was her only child. At that time I was too young to have many clear memories. However, the what I do remember of her is strength. When i think of her, I only see long black hair. I see stylish clothing. Deep blue eye shadow. It was, after all, the 70’s. There were fast cars The smell of smoke and her singing loudly, and  badly to whatever was on the radio.

When I think of Shirley back then I see her as an impossibly independent, glamorous, and exquisite 20 something of a woman. I have always admired and envied that woman. I have aspired to be like her. I owe a lot of who I am to that woman. She taught me strength and empowered me to have the ability to hold it all together. Even against absurd odds, that can easily translate into stubbornness to the point of foolishness. Thus making it the best and worst part of who we are.

The boys came along after she was more settled into the role of wife and mother. Joseph and Josh were born into a completely different climate. Yet, even if the stylish clothes gave way “mom” dresses and “fast cars” were traded for mini vans, that tempestuous spirit never changed.

Mom was always a force of nature.

I used to think my mother as like a rocket — propelled powerfully, at unbelievable velocity, unstoppable. More recently I’ve realized she was actually like a whole rocket program — one spectacular launch after another, each ripping a huge streak through the sky. Some launches bellowed a fearsome noise and power; others traced graceful arcs of beauty; a few exploded, scattering hopes and debris, causing the entire operation to regroup for a while … before launching another that caused the same sharp intake of breath, the same apprehension, the same awed admiration.

Shirley had a quick wit, a sharp tongue, and at times, seemingly poor judgment when it came to knowing when, or on whom, not to use them. Consequently, she was always surprised to learn when she had hurt someone's feelings. Her sense of humor endeared her to most people, but her blunt, to the point attitude did on occasion cause some drama. However, one rarely had to guess how she felt about you.

I'm sure that she never intentionally hurt anyone, because she was also one of the most sensitive people I have ever known.Shirley wore her feelings on her sleeve, and she was easily wounded. Yet, those wounds could easily turn into grudges. Ultimately, she was willing to give just about anyone a second chance. Almost everyone did the same for her.

My mom was a fighter. As a matter of fact mom enjoyed a good fight. She fought her way through divorce. Heartache. Death. Personal and monetary loss, and so many other hardships. Too many to list. Shirley always came out swinging and looking for the advantage that would give her the edge. When each battle was won, (and in her mind she ALWAYS won) she would stand there smug and confident, like there was never a doubt in her mind that she would be victorious. 

She was tremendously complicated, and you can comprehend her only by fully facing her contradictions. She thought nothing was impossible, but was often impossible herself. She was immensely tough, yet vulnerable and loving.

Her family was the most important thing in her life. She worked hard to see to it that we all got along with one another most of the time. Shirley played the matriarch, the referee, the bouncer, and the loving parent with equal skill. Somehow, her children all managed to reach adulthood without permanent injury.

My mother was my rock and my fortress. When I failed, she would remind me that it wasn’t the end of the world. And when I acted like a jerk, my mother was not afraid to call me on it, love me through it, and forgive me for it. She often loved me in spite of myself.

Several years ago, my world fell apart and I did everything in my power to push everyone around me away. I made people’s lives miserable. But my mother never wavered in her love or her support. I could always reach out to my mom and she would take me by the hand and walk me through the crisis. I cannot even count the times I did not have enough money to pay rent, buy groceries, or get medication. Whatever it was I needed, she would always find a way to remedy the situation, pick me up and help me start again anew.

In her later years, my mother would sometimes be what we called “a bit difficult.” Illness and medication dulled her once peerless mind, and she sometimes grew confused and angry. She forgot things. She sometimes could not think well. She was a hammer that could not smash a bubble. It frustrated, frightened, and infuriated her. Occasionally she took this out on those around her.

Yet on she fought, insisting on
being there. She would not ignore life, and she would not have life ignore her.This speaks of her frustration. But it also speaks of one of her most essential qualities: She had an immense drive to live, to do, to be.

I have never seen anyone so strong, so determined, so capable of prevailing in virtually any situation.

She told me the last time I spoke with her, “that I had allowed her to have too big of a role in Mya's life”.

I love you mom, but I am going to call bullshit on that one.

You were the best grandma that girl could have. I knew from the moment Mya was born. You wouldn’t even hand her over to the doctors to weigh and measure her. The two of you had a special bond. A bond that no matter what issues we may have had between us, I would never stand in the way of.

Shirley loved Mya so much that when she was not around her, or couldn’t talk to her on the phone, her heart would ache with sorrow and beg to be with her grandmother again.

I know part ofmoms heart died the day we left Iowa. But she knew that was the only way her daughter and grand daughter were going to heal. The only way we had a chance at the life she always dreamed for us.

Mya and I did heal and grow. Because of this we were able to give mom the one thing I think she would have wanted most in her last days.

All of us together, as a family. No distance. No prejudice. Nothing but the things Shirley held most dear. Love and laughter filling the room.
My mother spent her last days comfortable, hearing the voices of her family all around her.

Each of us telling her in our own way that we would be okay. That the gifts she has given us, humor, intelligence, love (and yes even stubbornness), would allow us to build the lives each of us wanted.
And while we may not be with the Super Models and Millionaires she wanted for us, or be the Doctors, Lawyers or the like, we are all finally on our own the path to being happy.

Each of us who knew her and loved her, carries with us our own distinctive part of Shirley Enos Gerk. It becomes our obligation to keep that part of her alive by passing it on. It's what I believe the life and death cycle to be all about. It is the only "life after death" that I'm certain of.

It is still hard to imagine she is gone, she was always larger than life. Yet, here we are left with this void. While we all saw it coming ... In the aftermath we stand stunned.

We hardly know what to do.
Where once rose a beacon, now stands nothing. The world, we say, will never be the same.

And that is true. It will not be the same: We must find a way to go on, to lead our lives well, bravely, intelligently, and with humor.

It’s tempting to say also, when we lose someone like my mother  that the world is now a smaller place. And that makes a certain sense – that the world should be made lesser when we lose the giants on whose shoulders we stand.

Yet this is not so. The world is not left smaller by the passing of such a person. Rather, it’s that for a time, lowered to the ground, standing with our heads bowed, we cannot see as much of the world as we did before. And for a brief time, our heads lowered in sadness, we lose sight of all she has left.

But then, lifting our heads, we will begin to see – all that she has left us: for me that is the wounds she has helped me heal.  how she has inspired my ambitions that I had before ignored; and the children she has raised, imperfect but brave, smart, and charming, and her three  impossibly beautiful grandchildren.

In closing, I came across this poem written by Mary Elizabeth Frye. I think it sums up what mom would say to us now.
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there;
I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond's glint on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush I am the swift uplifting rush Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die."

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