Today, August 26th, I am celebrating my mother’s 80th birthday. Marilyn Schopfer Brown died about a month ago. She wanted to live long enough to see eighty and to see the Downtown Abbey movie. She didn’t make it to either, but she’s with me in every idea I write, every moral decision I make, and everything I goof up too.
I always wondered who writes the obituary when someone in the family dies. Among my brothers and sisters, the job fell to me. But first I’m also posting the text of the remembrance I gave at my mother’s memorial service. I’m really proud of it, and I hope I captured her view of the world.
Last winter I called my mother on a Saturday morning, she was busy listening to the soundtrack of Johnny Appleseed, that’s a Disney musical movie from 1948. She was alone, tethered to a walker and an oxygen machine, dying of cancer, and she was having a great life. Johnny Appleseed is the story of a 19th Century apple farmer who is sent on a mission by an angel to travel across America planting apple seeds and preaching the Gospel. He wears a tin-pot hat, befriends a skunk, and sings a ceaselessly optimistic song proclaiming: The Lord’s been good to me. There was a lot of Johnny Appleseed in my mother. She believed in a benevolent and nondenominational God, she loved unlovable animals, and would likely have sung showtunes with a tin-pot on her head if someone had asked her too. But I’d like to make another point about Marilyn’s Appleseedian optimism. It isn’t hard, even for cynics like me, to grasp that some unique people wake up everyday with an optimistic outlook on life and see the positivity they project fulfilled. In her life, my mother came west and planted seeds of optimism among her family and grandchildren, her friends, her co-workers, her students, her church congregations, her clubs–elevating every flagging person and feral cat she met, everywhere she went. I get it–life is grand if you make it that way. What I struggled with on the telephone that Saturday morning was understanding my mother’s ability to translate her harmonious optimism into a joyful noise about dying. My mother told me that her terminal illness was a gift, not because she wanted to die, but because death comes to all and in knowing the end she saw an opportunity a lot of people don’t get. She was glad to have the time to reflect on the happy things about her life, past and present. Besides, my mother was 99% sure that God was waiting for her on the other side. And if she was wrong all this time, she was prepared to pass into oblivion grateful for a life that gave all the things she needed, and that her apple trees would still be there. I still don’t get it, but I like it. I admire it. And today my mother inspires me. In the last scene of Johnny Appleseed, after years of walking barefoot over hundreds of miles while planting seeds all along the way, Johnny rests under an apple tree. His angel appears and says that Johnny’s mission on Earth is at its end. At first Johnny doesn’t want to go to the resting place, believing that the work isn’t done yet. The angel tells Johnny that where they’re headed is low on apple trees and that there’s still a lot of work to do. So Johnny picks up his apple seed bag, his Bible, puts the tin-pot on his head and happily goes. May we all go as optimistically as my mother in the sun and rain of life, and in the looming shadow of death, without complaints, or resentment, or fear, as happy as we’re willing to be.
Published in The Gazette on Jul. 23, 2019. https://www.legacy.com/amp/obituaries/gazette/193457037
Marilyn (Schopfer) BrownBrown MARILYN (SCHOPFER) BROWN 08/26/1939 – 07/21/2019 Marilyn Schopfer Brown died peacefully, after a long illness, in the company of her children and grandchildren in Grand Junction, Colorado on July 21st, 2019. Born August 26th, 1939 in Syracuse New York, her parents were Irving F Schopfer and Marion Schopfer Cabrey. A graduate of North Syracuse High School and SUNY Oneonta, in her professional life she was a teacher of home economics, and worked for the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado for over twenty years before becoming a freelance trainer for the city. In 2000, she retired to life in Tempe, Arizona and Grand Junction, Colorado. In her personal life, Marilyn loved babies and being a mother. She was proud of being the “best grandma ever”-her grandchildren told her so. Blessed with many loyal, caring, and fun-loving friends, she returned those qualities to the world around her in many ways. Marilyn is survived by her siblings Suzanne and Thomas (Carol deceased); her children and their spouses Steven, JoAnn, Christopher and Rachel, Richard and Colin; her grandchildren Christopher, Brennan, Briony, and Braewyn, and by her four feral cats. Marilyn requested no flowers, but asked memorial contributions be made to Campus Ministries at University Lutheran Church of Tempe, Arizona and “She Has A Name” at Heart of Junction Church, Grand Junction, Colorado. A memorial service will be held Saturday, July 27, 11a.m., at Heart of Junction Church, 755 N 4th St., Grand Junction, Colorado, 81501.