Greetings and good morning from the beautiful Bitterroot Valley! Two days ago, Stevensville got hammered with high winds and 4” of snow. Yesterday, the temperatures were in the 50’s and sunny. My 8 year old granddaughter Kathryn asked if I would take her swimming because it was so hot. When I explained the temperature difference of what summer heat is versus what she felt right now convinced her that perhaps she should wait a month or so. You know you’re a Montanan though if on a 50 degree day, you’re wearing a tank top and flip-flops.
On such a nice day, I went for a walk. I noticed a sign on Main Street that Mother’s Day is coming soon and to order your flowers now. I felt a deep sadness that my mom isn’t here this year to do anything loving for her. She passed in August 2020. My younger sister Sheila and I are co-representatives of her estate and planning her a July funeral. Due to Covid, all . . . or most funerals have been delayed. My siblings and what few remaining family/friends will be joining us at Black Hills National Cemetery outside of Sturgis, South Dakota for a “drive-through funeral” this summer.
It’s a crazy world, eh?! A drive-through funeral, given 30 minutes to get in, say what you want to say in record speed of 15 minutes, put her ashes next to Dad, and get moving for the next vehicle and family’s turn. It hardly seems easy to give a grand testimony to someone who was such an important person in life to be given such a short amount of time for the celebration of that life.
So, to ease my soul and give my mom a “Happy Mother’s Day” salute, I’m extending her funeral near and far through this month’s column.
Greetings and good afternoon, and thank you all for coming.
We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Esther Mae Dunkelberger-Hale, born on May 12, 1930 and passed on at 90 years of age on August 2, 2020. She is survived by her five children, 8 grandchildren, 10 great grandchildren, 2 great-great grandchildren, and her younger sisters Darleen Stritecky and Alice Boyle.
I am Gloria Benish, #3 daughter of Esther and was chosen to officiate because I am an ordained minister, a natural-born writer, and a third generation motor mouth. Any one of my siblings could have been up here doing this because we all inherited the ability to speak not only from our hearts and memories, and also to speak our mind — but any one of us would have plenty to say in celebration of our mother.
Dad told me more than once that he hated to go to funerals and listen to them make that individual sound like a Saint if he had been an asshole his entire life. Today, I am going to honor Dad and Mom by speaking of who she was as an individual not only to us kids, but to anyone who entered her home and life.
Sheila and I discussed what to put on her tombstone. She read her choice and the phone got very silent. I knew what that meant and asked, “Are you breathing?” Several seconds passed before she could say yes. Each of us children have our emotions tied to our throat when we are emotionally touched. I admired Mom that she could get angry and not shut down like I did when I got angry, crying instead which was so frustrating to me. Not that Mom didn’t have emotions, she did and her tone in anger at us kids, Dad, or a grandchild was nearly every day of her life.
Anger and her expression of it wasn’t a negative per se – it made her into a warrior and she would do battle in a heartbeat, at your back without pause, and fight for what was right and just. She would have made one hell of an amazing attorney! Oh! That’s right! She did . . . she took on a Ford Motor dealership, representing herself and won!
Esther Hale would have had to live many lifetimes to do everything she wanted to do. In this short 90 years of life – she wanted to see the nation and the world. If anyone mentioned wanting to go for a ride, she was packed and out the door, ready to roll, and waiting for you to get your butt in the car. She was a runner! Getting in the car and traveling was one of her favorite things to do. She absolutely loved the Oregon Coast.
Her second favorite hobby was fighting. Her third hobby was gambling. Growing up with a compulsive gambler, I often said, “She’s out either spending or earning my inheritance, good or bad, who’s to say?” Mom didn’t play games with us kids, unless it involved cards. And just as soon as those dishes were done on holiday meals – out came the cards, usually to relieve Uncle Sonny’s money.
Mom’s perfect day was perhaps getting to do all three hobbies in the same day. Dad, of course, played along. He was a pretty smart cookie, knowing that the fight would begin with her, “We never get to do what I want” and would end with taking her on a road trip up the mountain to gamble. It took well into my 50’s to realize it was just part of the game they played in unison.
Mom wanted her kids to have an education, and herself as well. She prided herself with graduating late in life, achieving her goal. She lived her life through her children through osmosis. As the mother she wanted to be and couldn’t sit to read to us kids or hold us on her lap because she had elderly to care for, neighbors for coffee klatches, chores to do . . . she watched Terry grow up and be that mother.
Her love for nursing unfolded with Vicki walking in those nursing shoes. She wanted to write a book about the senseless murder of Alvira. Even in her final years, she still found herself confounded at the serendipity that occurred the night of Alvira’s death. Sitting at a stop sign with her and dad trying to decide which way to turn that evening, fate stepped in – or they would have been in the center of the tragedy. Knowing Mom, her mouth would have escalated her possible demise. But her love for wanting to write a book found its way through me as one book after another was born and brought into print.
Her love for working for the government and accounting found its birth through Sheila and not that Sheila was any more loved than the rest of us . . . Mom, at a time in her life most needed . . . found Sheila as that best friend. I believe that every one of us kids would agree that Mom was blessed in that choice and each of us owe Sheila a grand gesture of appreciation for everything she did in mom’s final years.
And then there is Bill. Mom, as a warrior fought for each of us and often times with us when push came to shove. But, with Bill – everyone and anyone heard the story of her becoming a Warrior in his time of need. Bill, of all of us kids, inherited Mom’s passion and voice and uses that gift as a Union Rep at work – standing up for people and being their voice to represent and defend the interests of his fellow employees. In my opinion and hope for his future to broaden that gift lies the book on “Georgia Justice.” Bill’s writing ability far outranks mine and has the potential to heal . . . not in the medical field, but in the area of heartache for men whose hearts have been broken by injustice. The only boy in this gaggle of girls . . . Bill was Mom and Dad’s pride and joy. Not that they treated him like most little boys in the movies – going out and playing ball with him or making him a rough and tumble little boy . . . but building him in strength to face the world head on and succeed.
Through Dad, us kids may have inherited a sense of humor . . . warped as it is at times. But Mom gave us a reason TO laugh. Her story telling and her casual remarks that came out of her mouth like it was generational gospel became the cornerstones of understanding. Just a few, “I feel like I’m being pulled through a knothole backwards,” “I could eat the south end of a north bound horse, I’m so hungry”, “I call a spade a spade, not a “f’ing” shovel,” and on and on they would be quoted.
You knew where you stood with Mom. There was no stranger that entered our home. She demonstrated keeping your coffee cup filled and re-warmed, you were fed when hungry, and you had clean sheets to rest your weary head upon.
It was important to Mom what other people thought of her. She put us girls in every wholesome activity she could to give us a well-rounded experience of life, growing up in a small town. She made sure our clothing was pretty and clean.
She didn’t buy us lots of toys and made sure that we knew the necessary grind of housework and doing dishes at an early age. She taught each of us pride in ourselves, how to carry ourselves in public, how to act with manners in someone else’s home, and that life wasn’t going to be a free ride.
Almost two decades had passed with all of us as adults with children of our own when we gathered together at mom and dads for a Christmas dinner. Following it, I asked Bill to go around the table and say something kind about each one of the family. When he got to Mom, in a very serious tone, he said, “If we ever go to war . . . I hope you are on our side!” It was true. It was also funny, but damn . . . it was true! You didn’t ever want Esther Hale as your enemy.
We all hate the idea of leaving this world with regrets. If I had one that was family generated, it would be that I was denied the ability to be close to Mom’s sisters. A family rift had occurred and only on brief occasions got to see Edna and Darleen. As an adult, I found myself so loving them and had always wished we could have been closer.
And, so it is with all of us siblings. Until the Covid, there wasn’t a day I didn’t talk with Terry. Sheila and I have been undoubtedly close . . . but it’s only on occasion for birthdays and holidays that I speak with Vicki. With Bill, generally only when I make my way to Denver. My point in bringing this up – life is too short to hold on to grievances. We should make the most of every opportunity to be together and take advantage of those God has placed in our lives to love and to cherish.
It isn’t that any of us love one another any less than the others, but time and distance along with busy lives interferes in the closeness with one another. Although Mom and Dad had a tendency to play “Good cop/bad cop” with us kids and put wedges between us from time to time, as generationally taught to her . . . she brought us together today to celebrate her final resting place.
When Sheila and I were discussing what to put on her headstone, Sheila shared a saying that touched her deeply, but it was too long and I had her forward it to me to say in Mom’s Eulogy.
It said, “To know even one life has breathed easier because she lived is to know she truly succeeded while here.” Whether in youth or elder years, I’m sure Aunt Darleen and Aunt Alice can attest that Esther Hale did something to achieve this for them. And the same with each of us here today physically or in Spirit: Terry & Rod with Heather, Chris, & Adam, Vicki & Chuck with Scott, Me with D.W. and Danielle, Sheila with Tiffany & Brandy, Bill & Heather . . . and friends and family now long gone . Mom touched the lives of so many, either making their stay in her home nicer or going into full blown battle if need be in their behalf.
On August 2, 2020 when mom was preparing to leave this world, Hospice had asked all of us to call and give her permission to leave. During my telephone call to her, I was sobbing my words out. I asked her to pay no attention to my crying. I told her that I would miss her, but in all truth – while she was still alive I had already missed her. Until she moved to Oklahoma City, I had spoken to her every day of my life.
I was so glad that I had the entire month of February 2020 with her. I would walk across the street from Sheila’s to the nursing care center and just sit at the foot of the bed watching her breathe and sleep. I didn’t want to awaken her, because while she was sleeping, she wasn’t conscious of hurting. I just needed to be with my mother and didn’t selfishly need her to be or to do anything for me.
I asked her at one point during all those visits, “Mom, do you have any wisdom you need to share with me?” She cocked her head, rolled her eyes up like she was searching her memory bank and replied, “I can’t think of anything right now, Gloria.’ Mom’s days of being a counselor were over.
To Esther Mae Hale, here you rest as our heroine at Black Hills National Cemetery with Dad . . . once again re-united as the “King & Queen of Hearts.” You have fought the last battle you will fight in this life and have earned the Purple Heart for how many of us who were saved with the wisdom and the fight you had in you to do so. May you rest in peace forever more.
For those of us she touched who are still living, we take her with us in our hearts and in our memories.
In closing today, I will read a poem Vicki wanted to share with each of us here. The author to be given credit is unknown, therefore, I’ll give the credit to God as the source of inspiration:
“God saw she was getting tired and the cure was not to be.
So He put His arms around her and whispered, “Come with Me.”
With tearful hearts we watched her fade away,
Although we love her dearly, we could not make her stay.
A golden heart stopped beating, hard-working hands to rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us, He only takes the best.”
It is only because we have limited time here today that I can speak no longer, not because I couldn’t say more in behalf of this amazing woman. Therefore, I will close with the Lord’s Prayer and ask you to close your eyes, bow your heads and join me.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done,
On earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who
Have trespassed against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil –
For thine is the Power, the Kingdom and the Glory
Forever and ever . . . Amen
Thank you all for coming. **********
I am a reflection of mom. I embody her good AND bad qualities, taking pride in the growth I have achieved to overcome any generational abnormalities. I pride myself that I hand down the warrior part of her personality to my off-spring to fight for what is right and good, to have a moral compass, and impart grace and mercy when sometimes we fall short of living up to the ideals handed down from our parents.
To every mother, youthful or aged, today – with skin on (or not) on this side of the Veil or the other — I wish each of you a Happy Mother’s Day! May you be surrounded by love from all those near and far who are who they are because of you. Good or bad, who’s to say? Your shortcomings just may have been laid to rest or helped to transform the world in the greatest sense of love for your descendants and for humanity as a whole.
Until next month, take care . . . I care . . .
Gloria D. Benish, Ph.D.
Alias: Dr. Glo-bug (Just here “to lighten things up”)
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