Tim's Eulogy for Debbie

October 18th, 2010
by Tim Goessling with help from Dan, Sam, and Joe Goessling

As a little child I used to lie in my the top bunk of my super sweet bunk bed and wait for my Mom to come say goodnight to me. She would come in with a glass of water, kiss me goodnight and ask if I wanted a song. I always accepted the offer, and usually the song would be the traditional “Day is Done” but she always took requests. She knew every song and in time I started to test her to figure out just which songs she knew. I requested everything from “The Red Sox Song” to the ultra-hard “Song About Stuff.” I soon realized that some of these songs she knew and some of them were made up on the spot. No matter what she always had a song to sing to others.

This theme of my Mom always a song to sing is one she lived every day. She sang the song of being a loving daughter to her parents Norah and Peter. She sang the hymn of being a sister to Mary, Anne, Bob, Michael, and Jim. And she belted out the thundering verses of the family song to her husband Dan, and to my brothers Sam and Joe and to myself. But these are just a couple of songs, the great song book of my Mother. She was a professor. She was a godmother. She was a member of the community both here in Massachusetts and in Maine. She was an advocate and activist for people with disabilities. She was brave and she was bold both at home and in the world.

Harmonies, when different parts of music work together is a way to look how my Mom viewed family. Like all children, she learned about raising a family from her parents Norah and Pete. Together with her siblings Anne, Mary, Jim, Mike, and Bob they played in the brook behind their house and laughed together when some strapping young Lad named Dan pulled up to their house in a car covered in tin foil. The strong and caring love that My Mom had for her family members extends from coast to coast and across the ocean to her cousins in England.

She took this sense of family, and used it as the base to build up our family here in Wayland. She insisted even as we were older to have family game nights of scrabble, taboo and scategories. I’m sure many friends can here can remember coming over for dinner and then being unexpectatly roped into a scrabble game. She supported my brothers, her nieces and nephews, and godchildren in all of endeavors whether it was simply growing up, playing in sports leagues, and traveling to far away countries and states to pursue our dreams and goals. With my Dad she instilled in us a sense of kindness, love, social justice, and bravery that has rubbed off on everyone they met. And in the midst of raising three sons, she always found time to be a loving wife, surprising my Dad with thoughtful gifts and memories. 

One of the strongest songs my Mom sung was that of education. Starting out as a teacher for the disabled, she received her PhD from Boston University and became a professor. Her first job was in one of her favorite places in the world: Maine. Her second job was at Providence college, a place that from the Friars (both the actual friars and the athletic teams) to the students she loved. She viewed her job not as an occupation but as a opportunity to work with people who were passionate about disabilities, faculty and students then send them forth into the world to sing a song of inclusion for the disabled. And so when she herself was diagnosed with Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS she viewed the diagnosis with a sense of bravery and courage.

Bravery, sometimes we think of this word as in only in some militaristic sense. My mom, a life long pacifist wouldn’t have liked this one bit, rather bravery for her was facing her own disability and using it as an opportunity to teach the world about her disease and disability. An active participant in the ALS community, she was on the website “patients like me”, published a blog (“ThisALSlife"), and spoke on the news at the Jerry Lewis telethon, and attended support groups where helped people understand disability in their life. 

This isn’t to say the disease was an easy thing. I know that it was hard for my mom. She shared with my family and the world her sadness at not being to swim or go for her favorite walks. But she didn’t let small things like this deter her dedication to her fight for the disabled people in the world. She went to the Department of Justice and got a copy of the building regulations required for the Americans With Disabilities Act and made sure they were enforced. Today I can tell you there is medical equipment in Mass General Hospital that wouldn’t have been there if my mother didn’t speak and let the administration know what they were lacking in. 

When she made the decision to continue teaching, something she continued to do up to last week, she called the administration at Providence to let them she would be returning. The official at the other end of the line “Oh, Dr. Goessling, I’m happy to hear you are coming back, aren’t you the Special Education Professor who teaches about inclusion and disability rights.” Yeah, you know that after that phone call he made sure every single disability requirement on that campus was met for her and for all future disabled Friars who would come after her. 

Beyond the disability though, my Mom was an someone who lived her life to the fullest. She loved music. I still remember her blasting Bruce Springsteens “Dancing In the Dark” at max volume throughout the yard as my brother’s pet turtles escape (It’s Ok, I forgive you). But don’t get confused, she wasn’t rooted in old music, she loved hearing new artists even going to a recent concert festival and also at a previous Coldplay show managing to “grab Chris Martins” during a recent coldplay concert, something was very happy about. She was an avid sports fan and spoke about her favorite players on a first name basis, Big Papi was “my David,” Tom Brady (pre-leaving Bridget Moniyan) was Tom, and Big Baby Glen Davis, well, he was just Big Baby. 

From the majestic isles of Greece to the serene shores of Maine, for a girl from New Jersey she loved to travel. She visited me in Spain, climbing the towers of the Alahamba in Granada, walked through rain forest in Panama to visit my brothers hut, and crossed six lane highways in the Dominican republic with a terrified youngster (me) be her side to get a glimpse of the Caribbean. Her spirit is on my countries and with people around the globe. 

Last year my Parents sent me a CD for my birthday. It was packed full of songs from my childhood and there is one song that I remember, it’s called the Finer Things, and that’s the song that my Mom would want me to keep. Throughout all of it, her life, her career, her illness, her family the finer things always triumphing over the bad. Sure obstacles get in the way, and sometimes those obstacles are larger than life, but either way My mom finds a way to make the music of love and happiness shine through.


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