On the Passing of Louise Troutman

This is the speech I wrote for my mom’s memorial service at the Bellville Unitarian Universalist Church in 2003. I lost the original file but found the print-out of it in the blazer I wore on that occasion (and few times since).


About grief, I feel barely qualified to say anything. For many years, I had not much reason to think about the basic condition of our mortality. That state of innocence came to an end in October, when I received several phone calls from my mom, first telling me about her illness and then a few weeks later, about its severity. I feel like a different person from the one who returned home from a morning walk and was handed a phone from my wife who was speaking rapidly about medical tests and a tumor. Nonetheless, I feel like have little to say to all of you, whose collective wisdom far exceeds mine.Two quotations, however, have been on my mind for the last six weeks. The first is only one sentence:

The essence of being human [it reads] is…one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which in the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human individuals.

The quote has a bittersweetness to it, as it recognizes the profound cost of embracing life yet urges us to do so. It is what we do; it is who we are; it is our fate. In the end, my mom was incredibly stoic, it’s too much for us to be the same. This is a time when we feel broken up.

The second quote is also bittersweet and wise, but it has a quietly triumphant vein in its humanism. It is much longer and was written in an older English:

Who [this meditation asks] casts not up his Eie to the Sunne when it rises? But who takes off his Eie from a Comet when that breakes out? Who bens not his eare to any bell, which upon any occasion rings? But who can remove it from that bell, which is passing a peece of himselfe out of this world? No man is an Iland, intire in itselfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine,; if a Clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the less, as well if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of they friends, or of thine owne were; Any Mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde;

The author was writing about the death of a stranger, but this humanism in the face of death is apt now, I think. My mother knew people from all across the spectrum of religious beliefs. I have seen many of them take the news of her passing. At heart, everyone responds in the same way; they all share in the same human sense of loss. It is a reminder that we have more in common than we often realize and that we should share the time we have together — as it is finite.

And yet we all suffer a distinct loss. We knew her in many different ways: coworker, mother, wife, cousin, friend, student. I wonder if we will ever fully appreciate everything she did, as she wasn’t one to bring attention to herself. Let me end with one example.

I remember for Easter one year, she decorated a bunch of eggs and then put them in the mailboxes of the other faculty at Ohio State. She tried to match the decorations with each person’s personality, like using their favorite color if she knew it. People knew that whoever was responsible had to have known them well, but to the best of my knowledge, she never admitted it was her. I know that there are many other examples of her quietly thinking of others.