Monday, January 10, 2011

Susan Dayton's Big Book of Instructions

[The following is an attempt to recreate the Eulogy delivered at my mother's funeral. I spoke from notes so please excuse the discrepencies. I may have added a lesson or two].

As I sat beside my Mom's bed in the hospital, I read her journal. She was having it transcribed and I got to read portions of it (specifically 1979-81). She was so full of life. Just reading about what she got done in one day wore me out, so you will excuse me if I don't try to list her accomplishments. They are just too many. If you'd like to read about the facts of her life you can read her obituary. Mom was an unconventional women, so I will try to give her an unconventional eulogy.

Mom was always full of practical advice, like "take the recipes that you cook most often and stick them on the inside of the cupboard, that way you won't lose them, and you won't get them messy।" After Mom passed, we found she had packed two boxes and a suitcase for us। In them we found pictures and the wedding dress she made, the dress that she would be buried in. On top of it all was a large white binder with the title "Susan's Big book of Instructions." So that is what I will title this Eulogy. Get a pen out, because you will need this later.

LESSON# 1
The News is for listening too, but music, music is for dancing.

She always listened to the news on the radio, from NPR to talk radio. She even listened to Doctor Laura (until she said something bad about the PTA). We woke up on Saturday mornings hearing Mom hard at work on some project with the radio talking in the background. Which is strange for a dancer. Since she began dancing at the age of 3 with her brother James, dancing defined her life, and when the music played, it was time to dance. Some would say, "She is just a cheerleader", "She is just a dancer", "She is just a choreographer". She danced in High School, In the Young Ambassadors, She arranged dance festivals and road shows. She danced with her brothers, and partners. She even danced with the devil, not once, but three times. Most of all she danced with her sweetheart, my Dad. But even when she wasn't dancing she was choreographing steps. arranging groups of people to move together to get something done. Many people here have been dancers in her productions.

LESSON #2
"If they aren't your sons, then they are your daughters"
My mom only had 5 sons, but she had countless daughters. Her journals revealed how perplexed she was by her boys, and what joy she found in working with young girls dancing. She never let us know that though. Whenever someone expressed pity on her for having all boys she would say, "Boys are easy on me, but hard on the furniture." But she found countless daughters, in dancers, in nieces, in neighbors and friends.

Living in LA, in a two bedroom house with four young boys, she developed a few pragmatic rules. Rules that can apply in many areas of Life.

LESSON #3
"Pick one day for laundry, and do do anything else. If something doesn't get done, leave it until next week."
You know that applies to so many areas of life. Focus on what you are doing, and if it doesn't get done, don't let it ruin the rest of your week.

LESSON# 4
"You can never run more than 3 errands at a time."
You can't do everything. Make the most out of the errands you can run today.

LESSON#5
"Work where your heart is."
Now Mom never said this, but she certainly lived it. It's been decades since she collected her last check for teaching dance. But Mom never stopped working where her heart and passion was. She taught dance to young girls when the check barely covered our babysitting. She worked in the PTA, and Granite Education Foundation. She worked with the Worldwide Organization of Women. She worked in the Network of Religious Community. She worked in her callings. When people ask if my Mom works or is a homemaker. I say "She works hard, she is my Mom." And I was the "good son".

Which brings me to the next lesson. When I was barely a teenager, I was sneaking out of the house and getting into mischief with my friend and cousin Joe Jeppson. I didn't tell my mom I was off trying to discover girls, just that I was over at Joe's house. In fact I was just a few doors down, up to no good. So one day Mom asked me to take a drive with her. We were going to run an errand or three. While we were driving she taught me another great lesson.

LESSON#6
Love is free, and I will love you forever. But trust, trust has to be earned.
I had lost some of my trust. She didn't blink away from loving me, but I had to slowly and carefully earn trust back, through honesty and diligence. I hope I did. But what a great legacy. Trust and Love are important to a good relationship, but they are not the same thing, and they can and should work independently.

Another great lesson that defined her life was a lesson that she lived more gracefully than the lesson sounds.

LESSON#7
"You need to be about doing what you need to be about doing"
I got this message a lot when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. Whenever she told me this, she tried to reformulate the verbiage, but the message was always the same. You don't get anywhere by waffling over destination. You need to get moving in a good direction and the destination will find you. She never set off to become the Utah PTA president, or to run an International Organization of women. She just started being about what she needed to be about, and the destinations needed her. After our lives were spared in a car accident, Mom would often say, "Our lives were spared for a reason, we need to find out what that reason is."
Aren't all of our lives spared on a daily basis, should we figure out why? I don't know if she ever got a specific answer on why her life was spared, but a couple of months ago, as I drove with her, I asked what she was thinking about all of this, and she said she felt peace, that she had done what she needed to do.
Once you are moving it is easier to change course and heed inspiration.

LESSON #8
"Don't wait on inspiration"
If you get inspiration, don't wait for the right time, or the right way to act on it. Don't wait for the right words, just act. Each one of my brothers has received a hastily penned email full of spelling errors written at 4 am. Those emails are now treasures to me. I found one this morning while I was preparing this talk. Mom was helping, or at least trying to help me with some dating advice, but the wisdom has such wider applications.
She gave me

LESSON #9
"There is no perfect ONE, there is only a perfect WAY"
and I believe that perfect way is love. Mom taught us to love. To love our neighbors, both figuratively and literally. To love our family. To love when it was difficult, especially when it was difficult. To love when it is imperfect and awkward. That is the perfect way.
And there is no one that she loved more than her sweetheart, her dancing partner, my dad, Merril.
When her sweetheart gave her a ring, there was nothing that she loved more. Which leads me to one of her last lessons. Shortly after She married my Dad, her wedding ring was stolen out of her car. She spent a month in mourning. She told us how she wept and wept over that ring. Then one day, she woke up and thought, "What am I doing." The phrase we heard over and over again was this:

LESSON # 10
"Oh well...It is just a thing."
She didn't lose her husband she just lost a piece of metal. So later in Elementary school when I broke a picture of her dancing she said "Oh well...it is just a thing" and when I burned up the engine to the family van in High School she said, "Oh well...it is just a thing". And if there is any abiding lesson that she taught us, it is the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and the reality of the atonement and the resurection. And as I look down at this coffin and the body inside, I think "Oh well... it is just a thing." I know that Jesus Christ lives. I know that my mother will live again and see him in the flesh, and I know that we can be together again. I know the lessons my mother taught me were true. I love her and know that she loves me. and I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

11 comments:

sharpandkeen said...

Damian, I'm so glad to have read this. I feel so inspired by these lessons. I never knew your mom, but from what you have share of her here and elsewhere, I can tell what a wonderful woman she is. I think I might print out these lessons from Susan's Big Book of Instructions and tape them in my cupboard so they don't get messy and I can refer to them often.

Barbaloot said...

Damian---you, and your brothers, did a wonderful job at the funeral. It was an inspiring meeting and I'm sure your mom is very proud of her family!

rachel thurston said...

I'm so glad you posted this since we couldn't be there. What amazing life lessons for all of us. I love the part about the difference between love and trust and my favorite line was "Aren't all of our lives spared on a daily basis, should we figure out why?". I feel inspired.

Damian said...

Thanks all, my Mom always hoped for a positive influence on others. Her legacy wasn't a specific one, but felt like we should be actively engaged at trying to be our best and that only good would come of it.

k8 said...

this is beautiful Damian. I had forgotten the blue eyes/brown eyes dance your mom choreographed in fifth grade until Rebecca D said something about it. It was maybe one of my favorite dances ever (to herbie hancock!!!).
What great lessons, i think i need to print them.

Maria Petrova said...

What an incredible woman. This is very lovingly put together, Damian. I'm so glad you shared it.

miche said...

I particularly love #7 and #10. Thanks for sharing such personal things that mean so much to you, but which help everyone who reads them.

MamaM said...

What a great tribute to your mom, Damian. Thanks for sharing.

Lisa said...

Damian,
I thought the eulogy you delivered for your mom was very touching. You did a wonderful job honoring her. I'm glad to see your thoughts reposted here. It was nice to read them again.

Meike said...

Beautifully written! She sounds like an amazing woman, mother and wife. And it seems to me that in addition to all those things she managed to raise children that love, admire and respect her dearly. I hope I can become a woman like that one day.

Jolene said...

I met your mom while we lived in Buffalo and since we have now moved away, we haven't been able to attend any of the services for her. So thank you, thank you for posting this. I remember a talk she gave once in Stake Conference called "Keep it Simple Susan or K.I.S.S." She always had great wisdom to share and will be greatly missed.