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Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Memoriam: Mary Esther Garcia Perez

by Saint Mark (bio)

At age 63, barely a week after her birthday, my Aunt Esther passed away on a Friday afternoon. She had battled cancer for over 10 years and finally succumbed to its effects on September 9th, 2011.

I was humbled when I was asked by her only son if I would give the eulogy. I accepted the privilege and honor but was overwhelmed at the weight of the task. I had never given a eulogy before. I had been to two funerals and one was in Japanese. The other funeral and its eulogy I couldn't recall because I was too young to remember the details.

So, there I was. A few days before the funeral and my mind was a tabula rasa. Where to begin? Thankfully, Google does exist and I found amazing tips on how to organize my thoughts. See for some really great helps if you are like me and have no idea where or how to begin. I also began collecting and writing down memories of Aunt Esther and poems and quotes regarding death, life, and the hereafter. Finally, and what I probably should have done initially, I prayed. I asked God to guide me so that I would bring honor to Him and honor to Aunt Esther's memory. Then, waves of inspiration came as I sat on the airplane on my way to the funeral. I drafted the outline of the entire eulogy on that flight and typed it out the morning of the funeral service.

It was a powerful, emotionally exhausting experience for me. I loved my aunt and the feelings of all in that room were palpable. Tears fell. Hearts were touched. Our collective memory of Aunt Esther was invoked. Love was shared. And, the Holy Ghost confirmed God's plan for all and each of us. My heart was overflowing with emotion and it was all I could do to get through the eulogy. I choked back tears a few times but the tips I got on the aforementioned website helped me get out most of the tears before I spoke so that Aunt Esther and her stories would be the focus and not my tears.

I have posted the eulogy below for those of you who knew Aunt Esther and for those who would like to know the great, amazing, courageous, outspoken, smart and loving woman she was and still is.

"Here She Comes"

Good afternoon, family and friends. My name is Mark and I am Aunt Esther's nephew. I pray that the Holy Ghost will guide what I say and what you hear that it may bring honor to God and to the memory of Mary Esther Garcia Perez.

A Distinct Woman
Aunt Esther was a distinct women. She had a distinct smile, a distinct laugh, a distinct manner in how she yelled "It's Jose-Manuel" across the room, and she had a distinct walk. Aunt Esther had a noticeable limp that was the result of polio she had contracted as a child. She would lean to the side and hop a little with her foot. She used this cane as she grew older. And there was a distinct sound that followed her every step. When I heard that sound, even though I didn't see her, I thought: "Here comes Aunt Esther. Here she comes."

The Cane
This cane did not always look like this. Before it was this cane, it was a piece of lumber. Before it was a piece of lumber, it was a beautiful grand tree. Before it was a tree, it was a small, weak sapling. Before it was a sapling, it was a tiny seed that was the size of your fingernail. Before it was a seed, it was a part of it's parent tree and so forth. You see, this cane has always been a tree. It has only changed on the outside. But it's inside has always existed.

Pre-Mortal Plan
Now, I know that some of you who are younger in the audience believe that your parents did not have lives before you came along. I understand. I felt the same way, too. I thought my mom and dad didn't come into existence until I was born. But, they did. And before you were born, Jose Manuel, your mother, Aunt Esther, was a wife to your father, Uncle Teno. And before you came along Uncle Teno and swept Aunt Esther off her feet, she was a sister. And before she was a sister, she was Mama Lola's baby girl, her first born. And before Aunt Esther was Mama Lola's daughter, she lived as a spirit with God. You see, Aunt Esther is an eternal soul. Like this cane, although she has changed on the outisde, her spirit has always existed.

Before we all were born and came to Earth, before the Earth was even organized, we lived together with God in his world. As God revealed to Jeremiah the prophet in the Holy Bible: "Before I aformed thee in the belly I bknew thee;" (Jeremiah 1:5). God tells us and Aunt Esther that God knew us before we were born for He is the Father of our spirits. We are all His spiritual sons and daughters. And God loves us. He yearns to bless us, to help us, to facilitate our growth. Just as Aunt Esther and Uncle Tino helped Jose Manuel to learn to walk, to eat, to dress in tuxedos, to perform mathematical equations and become the great and good man he is today, God desires the same for you and me. He wants us to progress and become like him: full of love, patience, kindness, humility, obedience, hope and faith.

Mortal Plan
So, in order to do this, God created this earth and sent Aunt Esther and you and I here to have purpose. We were sent here to gain a body of flesh and bone, to be and procreate families, to gain experience, to repent or change or improve and become like Him for we will one day return and report to God what we have experienced and what we have become. As the prophet Amulek noted: "For behold, this alife is the time for men [and women] to bprepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of cthis life is the day for men [and women] to perform their dlabors." (Alma 34:32). Our "labors" are our repenting, our changing, our serving, our loving, our caring and all the other good "ing" words you can think of.

God uses all experiences to help us to become like Him. Sometimes we perceive these experiences to be positive and good and sometimes we perceive them to be hard, negative or even cruel. Just as parents take their children to receive big, painful inoculation shots so that their children will be healthier, stronger, better, the Lord sometimes allows us to have trials, challenges, weaknesses in order to help us to be stronger, better, more godly. And Aunt Esther had her share of challenges. But, she, with the grace of God, turned these weaknesses and challenges into strengths. Aunt Esther made the most of her time on earth. She lived deliberately and was prepared to meet God.

For example, one way Aunt Esther overcame adversity was facing polio. As a young girl emigrating from Mexico with her mother and four siblings, because she was oldest, she was the only one that was not protected by the polio vaccine. She had a limp and as a young child going to school, she had to wear an awful metal brace on her leg that looked similar to what Forrest Gump had to wear. Kids were sometimes cruel, but Aunt Esther was no shrinking violet. No, Aunt Esther, like David of old, faced her Goliaths head on. In fact, Aunt Silvia remembers one day kids teasing Aunt Esther and Aunt Esther took off that brace and chased them down the street. She couldn't catch them but she got her point across.

Another challenge Aunt Esther faced was cancer. To her credit, she did not let cancer stop her. She didn't have a pity party or end her life. No. Instead, as she did with those insensitive boys of her youth, she had courage and fought back. But, she didn't take off a brace to fight with. She stripped herself of pride, of judgment, of anger, of bitterness and threw those weaknesses back at cancer and emerged like a phoenix, reborn and renewed, becoming a stronger, better Aunt Esther than we could all hope for.

Her Character
While on earth, Aunt Esther prepared to meet God by being loving.

She showed her love in a unique way. She showed her love by protecting those she loved. Yes, we all know that Jose-Manuel was wrapped in bubble wrap until he was 10 years-old. I'm kidding. He was 12. But, what some of you may not know is that when Aunt Silvia was only 15 and now-Uncle Tim was courting her, whenever Uncle Tim would come around the house, Aunt Esther would chase him away with a broom. One time, Aunt Esther turned the hose on him and Mama Lola sat and watched as Uncle Tim ran back and forth in front of the house. This is how Aunt Esther showed that she loved her sister.

She showed her love by being a light to others. As a teenager, Jose Manuel would bring friends to the house and inevitably Aunt Esther would share some of her words of wisdom with them. She was not afraid to speak her mind. I'm sure Jose Manuel was somewhat mortified and thought he would never have another friend that wanted to come over again but that's not what happened. In fact, his friends returned for more. They appreciated her guidance and insight. They saw light in Aunt Esther and truth in her teaching.

She showed her love by sharing her talents. Whether paddling a canoe with the Pink Paddles or finding an old yearbook picture, blowing it up, framing it and giving it to her friend who had yearned for years to find that picture, Aunt Esther used her talents to love. I remember when my son, Noah, was born. Aunt Esther sent a beautiful, colorful painting of Noah's ark with the animals and the date of my son's birth. She could have kept her painting talent to herself. She could have buried her talent but she didn't. She used it to brighten the lives of others and the painting is a treasured keepsake in our family forever.

She showed her love by being thoughtful. One of Uncle Fabian's favorite memories of Aunt Esther was how she would make every holiday special. Specifically, he remembers being a young boy and watching Aunt Esther gather her sisters together in the bathroom to hide from their brothers and wrap all of the Christmas presents late into the evening on Christmas Eve so that they would have a happy Christmas morning. Aunt Esther would go out of her way to serve you Oros Con Pollo, Abondigas Soup, or her Chicken soup, especially if you were sick.

She showed her love by being the record keeper for the family. Aunt Esther knew that family is the real treasure. So she took pictures and videos and DNA samples (I'm joking). But she collected these memories as a prospector collects nuggets of gold b/c that is what they were to her.

I recall meeting Aunt Esther after Mama Lola had passed away to give her all of the pictures that Mama Lola had. Before giving them to her, I had gone through all of the pictures and I came across a photo that I had never seen before. It was a picture of Aunt Esther and she was dressed to the nines. She had flowing hair, she was in a low-cut, mini-skirt dress. She was bejeweled and looked like a movie star. She was seated in a booth at a showroom at one of the casinos and the eyes of all the men sitting around her were focused on her. I found out later the story behind this picture. You see, Uncle Teno was working that showroom. When Uncle Teno got one look at her, he was stunned. Stunned because of how beautiful and ravishing she looked and stunned b/c all the other men in the showroom saw how beautiful and ravishing she was. And Uncle Teno knew that if he let Aunt Esther go, it would be the biggest mistake of his life. So, he soon proposed and never let her go. So, you see, Aunt Esther showed her love by being smart.

This continued into their marriage. One night, as in all marriages, Aunt Esther and Uncle Teno had had an argument. So, Uncle Teno decided to sleep on the sofa without a blanket. Aunt Esther, being smart, knew there was only one thing she could do to cool heated tempers. She surreptitiously turned down the A/C to 60 degrees and as the night grew longer and Uncle Teno grew colder, he made his way back to Aunt Esther's side in their bed.

She showed her love by comforting others in distress. When my mother, Bertha, was pregnant with me, her husband worked at night. My mom didn't like to be home alone so Aunt Esther and Uncle Teno let my pregnant mother stay at their house, keeping them up late into the night I'm sure with requests of pickles and ice cream and Chinese food and donuts. When my mom went into labor, it was not her husband but Aunt Esther she called. Aunt Esther drove her to the hospital and was there when I was born. One thing Aunt Esther loved to tell my mom was that I should have been Aunt Esther's son. Well, it seems that I might not have been her son but she was my first aunt that I saw when I came to this earth.

Later, when my parents divorced, again, it was Aunt Esther who took in my mother and a three-year-old me when we felt like we had no place to go and our whole world was crumbling down. She comforted us and helped us rebuild our lives again.

Aunt Esther showed her love for God and Jesus Christ by her service to those on earth. For as King Benjamin taught: "And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." (Mosiah 2:17).

Jesus Christ
She was a believer and disciple of Jesus Christ. She understood that Jesus Christ is central to God's plan for us. She knew that Jesus Christ took our sins and sorrows, our pains and depressions, our sicknesses and losses upon him when he performed the atonement 20 centuries ago. She knew He prayed for her and us in the Garden of Gethsemane and died for her and us on the cross at Calvary and that He was resurrected for her and us in the Garden Tomb. The Savior died so men and women could be free from sin and death. Without Christ, we would have no hope. With Christ, we have all hope: of being linked together forever as family, of living again in perfect bodies, of returning to the presence of God, of being reunited with Aunt Esther.

Aunt Esther's death is our death in a way, for we are all linked. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, "None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living." (Romans 14:7-9).

But how horrific and devastating it would be if Heavenly Father and Christ had not prepared a way for us to live again and be reunited with Aunt Esther. But how glorious and marvelous it is that Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life" and that death is not the end and we shall meet Aunt Esther again.

Post-Mortal Plan
Death is a part of life. Samuel Johnson, an English author, once noted: "It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives." An Apostle, Spencer W. Kimball also taught about the inevitability of death when he said: "There is no tragedy in death, only in sin." Alma the prophet agreed, "And we see that adeath comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto bman in which he might repent; therefore this life became a cprobationary state; a time to dprepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead." (Alma 12:24).

So, when we die, where do we go? Peter reveals in the New Testament that a spirit world does exist, a post-mortal place, a hell, a paradise. What it is called depends on how you lived. This is where Jesus went after his crucifixtion: "For Christ also hath once asuffered for sins, the just for the bunjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to cdeath in the flesh, but quickened by the dSpirit: By which also he went and apreached unto the bspirits in cprison;" (1 Peter 3:18).

Aunt Esther is in the Sprit World. She knew this is where her mother, Mama Lola, went after she died. When Mama Lola was buried and the balloons were released into the heavens, Aunt Esther told how she had seen Mama Lola in the clouds waving good-bye to her.

Before she died, Aunt Esther knew that she would be going to the Spirit World as well. Before she passed on to the other side, she shared that she had been having dreams of Mama Lola. Mama Lola was dressed all in white. Aunt Esther knew that Mama Lola was waiting for her.

While in the hospital, she twice had visions of walking down a tunnel with a light at the end. There were women standing along the side of the tunnel but Aunt Esther could only make out their silouettes. I know that these were the matriarchs--Mama Lola, Abuelita, Tia Lupe, and others-who had passed on before her and were waiting to welcome her on the other side.

She knew she would be all right. She had spiritual assurances. Aunt Esther told a friend that one night Jesus Christ had come to her while she was in the hospital. He stood by her bedside and comforted her. She knew she would be all right.

Spiritual experiences are real experiences. I know Aunt Esther spoke the truth. I recently heard an account of an experience a little girl named Sherrie had: "Thirteen-year-old Sherrie underwent a 14-hour operation for a tumor on her spinal cord. As she regained consciousness in the intensive care unit, she said: “Daddy, Aunt Cheryl is here, … and … Grandpa Norman … and Grandma Brown … are here. And Daddy, who is that standing beside you? … He looks like you, only taller. … He says he’s your brother, Jimmy.” Her uncle Jimmy had died at age 13 of cystic fibrosis.

“For nearly an hour, Sherrie … described her visitors, all deceased family members. Exhausted, she then fell asleep.”

Later she told her father, “Daddy, all of the children here in the intensive care unit have angels helping them.” (Kent F. Richards, "The Atonement Covers All Pain," Ensign, May 2011).

Another account of death was given by Francis M. Lyman: "Many are being born, and many are passing away. We mourn; we sorrow for our loved ones that go--our wives, our husbands, our children, our parents; we sorrow for them; and it is well and proper that we should mourn for them and shed tears for the loss, for it is our loss; but it is their gain, for it is in the march of progress, advancement and development. It will be all right when our time comes, when we have finished our work and accomplished what the Lord required of us. if we are prepared, we need not be afraid to go, for it will be one of the most pleasant sensations that ever comes to the soul of man, whenever he departs, if he can go with a clear conscience into the presence of the Lord. . . . We will be full of joy and happiness, and we will enter into a place of rest, of peace, of joy, rest from every sorrow." (Francis M. Lyman, COnference Report October 1909, 18-19).

What does the Spirit World look like? An Apostle Heber C. Kimball shared the account given of a man who had died and come back. He noted that in the Spirit World everyone was organized in family capacities. He noted that Solomon's temple in all of its glory and gold was much inferior to the most ordinary buildings he saw in the Spirit World. In regard to gardens, he said, "I have seen good gardens on this earth, but I never saw any to compare with those that were there. I saw flowers of numerous kinds, and some with from fifty to a hundred different colored flowers growing upon one stalk." He noted, however, that to his astonishment when he looked at families there was a deficiency in some, there was a lack, for, he says, "I saw families that would not be permitted to come and dwell together because they had not honored their calling here." His wife, Caroline, came to him and she looked beautiful as she held a little child. It was their baby Margaret who had died on the plains. His wife said to him, "Here is little Margaret; you know that the wolves ate her up, but it did not hurt her; here she is all right." (Heber C. Kimball, Funeral of J.M. Grant, Dec. 4, 1856).

The "wolves" and ravages of cancer may have taken Aunt Esther away, but she is not harmed. She is all right.

It is important to remember that the same attitudes, interests, appetites and desires or "spirit" that we have here will be the attitude or "spirit" we take with us there. "For behold, this alife is the time for men to bprepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of cthis life is the day for men to perform their dlabors. And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many awitnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not bprocrastinate the day of your crepentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the dnight of edarkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful acrisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth bpossess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world." (Alma 34:32-34).

Aunt Esther used her time on earth wisely. She had a great spirit--a spirit of progression, of love, of service, of direction, direction towards God and Jesus Christ.

I know death is scary but it is only a door. The singer/songwriter M. Ward speaks truth in the song "[William] Blake's View":

Death is just a door, Blake said it first
It's just another room we enter
It's a threshold that hurts

Birth is just a chorus, death is just a verse
In the great song of spring that the mockingbirds sing
We come and we go, a-weeping and a-wailing
Our heads in the hands of the nurse

Well, put your head on my shoulder, baby, tell me where it hurts
You say you lost your one and only, could it get any worse?
I said, "Death is just a door, you'll be reunited on the other side"

Birth is just a chorus, death is just a verse
In the great song of spring that the mockingbirds sing
We come and we go, a-weeping and a-wailing
Our heads in the hands of the nurse

Well, put your head on my shoulder, baby, tell me where it hurts
You say you lost your one and only, could it possibly get any worse?
And death is just a door, you'll be reunited on the other side

Yeah, death is just a door, you'll be reunited on the other side, alright
Yeah, death is just a door, you'll be reunited by and by

The door Aunt Esther walked through with courage and faith is the same door each of us will have to open. But, if we are prepared as Aunt Esther was, we shall not fear.

We shall see Aunt Esther again. I know it. I know it like the sun rises, like the wind blows, and like water is wet. I know that all of us will be with her again.

I close with the poem by Henry Van Dyke titled "Parable of Immortality"

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch until at last she hangs
like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says,
" There she goes! "

Gone where?
Gone from my sight . . . that is all.

She is just as large in mast and hull and spar
as she was when she left my side
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the place of destination.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment
when someone at my side says,
" There she goes! "
there are other eyes watching her coming . . .
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout . . .
" Here she comes! "

We, on this side, are saying, "There She Goes." But, they, on the other side, are saying, "Here she comes."

In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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