As you probably recall, Toni suffered a stroke six years ago. That experience and her journey since have been pretty well-documented here. I have written much about her strength and have shared how much I admire her, and how much it has meant with us that her fighting spirit allowed her to be around with us for the last six years, including for the birth of her three grandchildren. However, since we last saw her over Memorial Day, she took a turn for the worse and ultimately found her peace last weekend.
We have been in St. Petersburg for the last week and a half, being with family and making arrangements. Toni was laid to rest in a private burial service on Thursday morning (followed by a family lunch at Olive Garden, her favorite restaurant) and today was her public Celebration of Life service. Both events were beautiful and, I think, perfectly paid tribute to a truly exceptional woman.
I will share more with you in the coming week, but in honor of Toni's celebration today, I wanted to share the eulogy Eric wrote for his mother. He so eloquently captured who Toni was and what made her so special to all who knew her. I think she touched more lives than she ever could have known, and so many people are so much better for having known her.
And so, in Eric's words:
First of all, I am tremendously humbled by this opportunity to speak about the life of someone who means more to me than I could possibly put into words. I will do my best to explain some of what I think made her so special, but I do think we would be remiss not to take advantage of the personal reflection brought on by death. In processing it, we are given a precious opportunity to appreciate our own lives more deeply. Going forward, I am convicted to love others more; to approach each day on purpose; and to faithfully pursue an honest relationship with our God.
The reality of death also gives us a natural occasion to consider life's existential questions: Why are we here? And what does it all mean? But as I began to ponder the imponderable, I realize that if my mother were here, she would almost definitely be rolling her eyes at me. Actually, there's a good chance she would have slapped me by now.
I think that was one of the things people loved about her. Not only did she live life in the present, but she was rather irreverent. She not only spoke her mind, but she was never afraid to say what you wouldn't because of social convention or some other such nonsense. Just this week, Meghan was telling me that one of her favorite memories is the giant smile my mom used to get after she would say something really inappropriate. She was very easy to talk to and so much fun to be around. Her personality was endearing and it was adorable. Which is why she was able to be hilarious in that off-color way where you know the kind of thing she's about to say, but you're still caught off guard when she says it.
My mom was very real and down-to-earth and honestly didn't care what other people thought of her or what she was doing. However, I think the reason she didn't care what other people thought is what made her unique. I believe it is because she was just too busy caring everything she had to care about those she loved.
You see, my mother was an unconventional angel. While she was every bit of the lovably outspoken friend we all hold dear, she also devoted more of her existence to the things that really matter to anyone I have ever known. She leaves behind no estate whatsoever, but, instead, a legacy of unconditional love and an invaluable example of selfless devotion.
In the time that I knew her there was never a doubt about who she loved, how sincerely she felt, or what she thought was important. She spent the second half of her professional life in the service of children, countless numbers of whom now benefit from that devotion. Many of whom are here today. For my brother, sister and myself, she sacrificed a professional career and a personal life because she believed doing so gave us the absolute best chance to achieve both for ourselves. It's one thing to speak of love in an all-encompassing way, but a completely different thing to live it.
Before I close, I want to share one of Meghan's favorite Bible verses with you. It comes from Romans, Chapter 8:
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."My mother came as close to living out that kind of love as I believe is humanly possible. To the extent I am able to love others in any meaningful way, I know it will be because of the example she set for me. She is loved and will be missed dearly.
Toni Alice W.aters: beloved mother, daughter, sister, friend.