Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Eulogy for Sylvia Jean Bounds Gunn

My mother Sylvia Jean Bounds Gunn at my wedding

After a long five-month battle with cancer and other health issues, my mom went Home to Heaven on March 31, 2016.  My daughter and I had the privilege of spending most of that time with her caring for her needs. Her funeral was on Friday, April 8th, and I spoke about her life.  Following is the speech that I gave.

Good morning!  I am Ava Kinsey, Sylvia's daughter.  I want to thank all of you for coming today.  I also want to thank you for the love, support, and kindness that you have shown my mother and our family over the last five months.

Many of you know Sylvia as your cousin or your friend; some of you know her as your sister or your aunt; I have always known her as my Mama.  I'm not sure, but I think Mama may have been my very first word.  I have always called my mother Mama and it is the sweetest name I know.  This is why I prefer for my little girl to call me Mama.

Today I want to share with you a little bit about my mother's life as well as just a few of the things I have learned from her as her daughter.

One of my earliest memories is as a very young child, perhaps as an infant, being held with my head in Mama's hands and bounced up and down "wooo!" and seeing her smile at me.  All of my life, Mama has displayed a happy, positive, joyful disposition in all circumstances.  She truly embodied the Scripture that says "Rejoice evermore."

It has only been in the last few months that I have recognized just how important a mother's smiling face is to a child, even a grown child as myself.  The last three months in particular were extremely difficult for my mother and it was hard to see her countenance change from a cheerful one to one heavy with pain and sufffering.  I also think about one day in particular during the last few months when I saw a text on Mama's phone that tickled my funny bone.  It made me laugh really hard.  My little girl Gracie immediately perked up and started happily laughing with me.  That's when I realized that just like my mother's happy spirit affected me, so did my spirit affect my little girl.  My mother was a joyful person.

Some of you may be familiar with the acrostic for JOY which serves as a recipe for adding joy to your life.

The J in JOY stands for Jesus First.

Mama was a wonderful example of putting Jesus First.  When we were children, she read Bible stories to us.  I was excited the other day when Tony and I were cleaning out Mama's shed in the backyard and I found a big, red book that has a sketch of Jesus on the cover.  It was the children's book of Bible stories that Mama used to read to me at bedtime.  I look forward to reading it to Gracie.

Mama also carried us to church.  She didn't just send us to church; she carried us to church.  That's Southern for "she brought us to church."

Before that, Mama was a church pianist.  She began playing the piano in church as the main pianist at the age of ten years of age!  She continued playing in church until the last six months of her life.

She also served as a church kindergarten teacher, Sunday School teacher, and helped with the Meal Ministry by fixing meals for the shut-ins of the community.  She truly was an example of someone who put Jesus first in her life.

The O in JOY stands for Others Second.

Mama was a caregiver for over 55 years.  When she was eleven years old, her baby brother Steve was born into the family.  Mama used to say that he was her baby, but I never understood that until a few months ago when I found out that when Uncle Steve was two or three months of age, Grandma gave him to Mama to take care of at night.

Later as a teenager, my grandparents worked and Mama had to take care of her brothers during the summer.  She cooked, cleaned, and did chores around the house, garden, and animals.  Whenever Uncle Ben and Uncle Steve didn't do what they were supposed to, she was the one who got in trouble.

Later she had the boys and me and took care of us.  We were always well taken care of with good food to eat and nice clothes to wear.  She also imparted unto a love for reading and learning and ensured that we received a good education.

After we were grown and had good jobs, she took care of Daddy when he had dementia. She also took care of a lady for several years and then she took care of Grandma until she died.  Finally, she took care of Grandpa.  She was an excellent caregiver for over 55 years.

The Y in JOY stands for Yourself Last.

Mama took care of others first and herself last.  She rarely asked for anything and it was hard to buy Christmas and birthday gifts for her.  However, she had no trouble standing up for her children.

Mama was a wonderful example for the verse "In honor, preferring one another."

When Mama first became sick, she didn't want to be a burden on us.  It took several talks to convince her to accept our help.  Little did any of us know that over the last five months she would have
  • 7 trips to the Emergency Room
  • a biopsy
  • 31 radiation treatments
  • 6 weeks of chemotherapy
  • 6 hospital stays
  • 3 ultrasounds
  • 6 CT scans
  • multiple chest xrays
  • 3 PICC lines
  • numerous breathing treatments, well over 1,000
  • and many rounds of antibiotics
She lost 19 pounds in 9 days and became bedridden in about a week's time.  {This doesn't cover even half of what she went through.}

Very little of the whole experience could be called easy.  However, Mama never complained about her situation, but focused on the hope of getting better.  From her, I learned how to be strong and do the hard thing.  Standing up here and speaking is not my thing.  I can teach children, but standing up here like this is not easy for me.

Although it was hard seeing my mother go through what she did and taking care of her, it was not a burden, but it was a privilege.

One final thing that my mother taught me that has had a profound effect on my life is that she taught me about Heaven.  When I was six years old, we went to the family cemetery -- the same place where we will go after we leave the funeral home today -- so that my mother could clean some of the graves.  I remember running around, climbing on the perimeters of the graves and jumping off as six-year-olds will do and seeing all of the graves and asking, "Who's this?'  and "Who's that?"  When I pointed to a particular grave, I was surprised to learn that it was of my twin sister.  It was never kept from me that I had a twin sister, but that was the day I remember learning about her.  My mother then told me that my sister is in Heaven with Jesus and we will see her again someday.  We know that babies and small children go to Heaven because of what it says in the Bible.  King David lost a baby boy and he said (paraphrased), "He can't come back to me, but I shall go to him."  She gave me a very real, secure belief in that place called Heaven where those of us who are saved will go to spend eternity.

When Mama was in the ICU, Uncle Ben read Psalm 23 to her and she requested that he also read Psalm 100.  I learned that Psalm 100 is her favorite psalm.  My little girl memorized Psalm 100 as part of her Kindergarten Bible class.  I asked her if she would recite it here at the funeral and she said, "Mommy, you can say it all by yourself."  As I recite Psalm 100, keep in mind that if I sound like a Kindergarten teacher, it's because I am.  I teach my little girl who is in Kindergarten.  More importantly than that, listen to the words of Psalm 100 and see my mother's life.

Psalm 100
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

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