Lois – Eulogy for My Sister
Thank you for coming. It is a blessing and a miracle that we are all here today. In the same way life itself is a blessing and a miracle.
I am Lois’s little brother. Look no further; there is no other. Mom, Dad, Margot, Lois, Marilyn, Bob, and Marysue. Once we were seven. Now we are three. (Needless to say, I do not like this trend line.)
Lois was named after our Grandmother Lois on Dad’s side. Lois Gemeny Moses was a published Kansas poet of some renown. After all five of us had arrived on the scene, she penned this verse:
“Five lovely children in a row
Smiling from my bedroom wall;
Small wonder I love them so –
Five lovely children in a row!
Stalwart and strong. God keep them all –
Five lovely children in a row
Smiling from my bedroom wall.”
In a poem about Lois I still hold in memory, she wrote:
I do not know
How God may feel
About these grave affairs,
But I forgive her everything
When my small grandchild says her prayers.
We were a family that ate dinner together every night. Mom and Dad would tell us to clean our plates, especially of those items we did not like. Often, they reminded us of the starving children in a land far, far away, who were not as lucky as we. When Lois was 5 or 6, Mom went away for a week or two to visit her mom in Junction City, Kansas. Lois wrote her a letter.
“Dear Mother,” she wrote. “We are having lots of fun, but we could have more if you were here. Miss Morely is very nice. I’m glad you got her. Daddy showed us the pictures we took Saturday. I miss you almost as much as some people in Europe miss food. Well, I must say good-bye. Lois”
It was challenging, and a blessing I suppose, to grow up with four sisters. I have three sisters who preceded me – Margot, Lois, and Marilyn – and one who succeeded me – Marysue – and all four, I daresay, have exceeded me. Marilyn and Marysue, happily, are with us today.
Margot was the first baby colt to trot out of the Moses barn. How fine and winsome she was. The perfect child. A high achiever. Conscientious. Could do no wrong. She was a racehorse who ran inside the lines.
Dad had high expectations of all of us. We were all thankful that Margot was able to live up to them. Lois and I came to view this as Margot’s special calling in life. But not ours.
As much as I adored Margot, Lois was my hero. She came out of the barn at a full gallop. Fences were something to jump over. When Marilyn came prancing from the barn, she turned her head back over her shoulder and called back to me – Watch out! There are fences ahead! As soon as I arrived and started walking about, my favorite song became Gene Autry singing – Don’t Fence Me In. Finally, when Marysue showed up, she said – What fences?
My most vivid memory of Lois as a teenager was when she returned home from Germany after spending a semester as a high school foreign exchange student. When she reappeared, you would have thought she had just won the Kentucky Derby. I remember her picking me up and twirling me about the room the moment she arrived back home and burst through the front door.
The fact that I had to struggle to rise in the wake of these amazing and talented sisters was a source of profound annoyance to me as I navigated my teenage years. When I finally entered high school in 1962, my introduction to every new teacher inevitably drew the response: Oh, you must be Margot’s little brother. Or: Oh, you must be Lois’s little brother. Indeed, I said, there is no other.
Margot was a senior at Ridgewood High School in Ridgewood, New Jersey, in 1957, while Lois was a sophomore. In her senior year, Margot was elected vice president of student council. (You may recall that women were not allowed to be presidents in those days.) At graduation, she was named recipient of the Somerville Award, given to the graduating senior most exemplifying “the qualities of scholarship, character, and service, as voted by their peers and teachers.”
Two years later Lois, following junior-year semester in Germany, was elected vice president of student council during her senior year. At graduation, she was named recipient of the Somerville Award.
Based on their class sizes and my online statistics calculator, the odds of this lightning bolt striking one family twice were 1 in 249,999.
You probably understand why I was not too excited about going to high school. The odds were stacked against me.
Lois was admired for her sense of artistry and fashion. The most-remembered gift I would receive every Christmas was from Lois. The winter scarf I am wearing on this sunny California day was a Christmas gift from Lois, several years ago. Last Christmas, she gave me a beautiful pillow, crocheted with the image of a moose – our informal family crescent in honor of our Dad – Everett Moses – nicknamed Moose. (Mom’s nickname was Maggie, to be referenced later.)
My favorite gift from Lois, many years ago, was a bouquet of painted, wooden tulips. They still brighten my backyard, reminding me of her love of gardens and flowers and birdhouses and the rolling hills of Vashon Island where she and Bill Lincoln lived for eight years.
Lois was diagnosed with M.S. in 1985. She was 45 years old. As no doubt you know, M.S. is a progressive disease. Lois managed it so well for so many years, with grace, dignity, and strength. I admired her far more throughout this 30-plus year challenge than I had idolized her as her impressionable little brother. Over all those years, I never once heard her complain or rue her fate. Such courage she had. Strong as any man or woman I have known. I struggled to help her, as did so many of us here today. Often our struggles were in vain, failing to create a better outcome for her. I felt, and I still feel, at a great loss that I did not or could not do more for her. I always sensed she forgave me. That was her way. That is who she was.
I was with her when she died. There was nothing more the doctors could do. We waited, and watched, praying that the morphine was numbing her pain as her body struggled to live on. During her last 30 minutes, we caressed her, massaged her, touched our lips to her forehead, and spoke to her, telling her that we were there with her, and how, so much, we loved her. And hoping, though not knowing, that she heard us as she slowly slipped away.
Then we stopped, for a moment, to catch our breath. In a flash, she was gone. Her struggle, over. In a few short minutes, the color drained from her face, she lay there, still and silent, looking like an angel.
We wish that those we hold dearest might never die. And neither we. That we might hold, within our hearts and mortal grasp, those individual souls that to us are unique and timeless and imperishable.
The world is made of physical stuff, of atoms, energy, light, of gravity, of mathematical equations that are necessarily true, and which, like invisible glue, knits all this stuff together. Somehow, we are thrown into this life, flailing, newborn and conscious, created by an unfeeling, mechanistic universe, with atoms flying about everywhere and following immutable laws. Yet, modern physics tells us, the universe has no idea that we are even here.
We perceive what the universe itself cannot even imagine.
The gratitude we have for this mysterious gift of life and the love we have for one another is what makes the world go ‘round. As conscious beings, we struggle to understand the world, to make it a better place, to keep it vital and alive. What we do matters. What we say matters. How we live matters. That we love, matters.
That our parents, and their parents before them, lived and loved, and suffered, and died, matters. That we pray our children and grandchildren will live beyond us, and think of us now and then, after we are gone. Yes, that matters.
Today, we reflect upon how deeply and profoundly Lois matters. She remains with us, and within us, along with everything we treasure and hold dear. We shall not forget her. Wherever we go, she will be with us, in our hearts and until the end of time.
Loie – that’s what I called you when I was a little boy – I love you. We love you Sister, Aunt, and Cousin. We love you Mom. We love you Grandma. We love you our great, great friend.
Thank you for your life. Thank you for the love you shared so generously. Thank you for the remarkable courage you demonstrated for so long that inspires us to carry on.
Thank you for being my hero.
If Mom and Dad – if Maggie and Moose – were here today – this is how they would ask us to pray:
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 trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Life is many things. It is amazing, awesome, challenging, difficult, funny, hilarious, triumphant, sad, embarrassing, awful, dangerous, painful, exhilarating. Life can be high. Life can be low. Life can be boring and meaningless. Sometimes it can feel that life is not worth living at all.
When someone you love dies, it can break your heart.
Regardless if how you feel about God – and whether or not she exists – it is a great loss not to regard life as holy. Life is holy. And precious. A miraculous gift from an unseen benefactor. We remember this when a child is born. We remember this when a loved one dies. We remember this today.
When I was little, Mom or Dad would listen to me recite this favorite prayer at bedtime:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
May angels guard me through the night
And wake me with the morning light
But if I die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
And if I live another day
I pray the Lord to guide my way.