Anybody who still reads this blog...should there be such a soul...has surely heard that my angel mother passed away a few short weeks ago. Below is her "Life Sketch" that my sisters and I gave at her funeral. It's pretty darn good. But that's because she gave us some pretty darn good material. Thanks, Mom!
Catherine S. Burnham Life Sketch
Mom had a phobia of throwing parties—especially for herself. She thought that no one would come. So, she is relieved to see that people attended this one! This week has indeed been sad, but it has also been full of tender mercies, comfort from angels seen and unseen, and sacred experiences that allow us to feel gratitude in our circumstances.
Mom’s story is one of triumph. It is an absolute testament to the reality and power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to heal, to find place for forgiveness, to change our hearts, and to become all that she was divinely destined to become. In and through our Savior, Jesus Christ, she broke a cycle of abuse, created an eternal family, and began a new tradition—one of faith and covenant keeping.
Isaiah 58:8-12 “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning,…and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am….And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: And the Lord shall guide thee continually,…and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.”
Catherine was born January 30, 1959 on Long Island, New York to Faye and William Souhrada. She has two older siblings Debbie, Billie, and two younger Libby and Joanie. She had a special relationship with her grandmother Dede, and frequently talked about how it was Dede who gave her a rosary and taught her how to pray. She always said that that kept her close to the spirit and was the reason she was able to recognize truth when she found it later at a Mormon church.
Her family moved to North Carolina when she was 13. She had dreams of attending college even though nobody in her family ever had. She saw a picture of the rocky mountains on a Brigham Young University brochure and said, “that’s where I want to go.” She sought out an LDS church and showed up smelling like smoke from the steakhouse where she worked. She found two boys, both named “Elder” who told her she’d get cheaper tuition if she was baptized. She readily agreed and was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on November 27, 1976. She left shortly after for BYU where she became immersed in the gospel and her testimony grew and was solidified. She’d been a member 2 ½ years when she got called to be a relief society president.
She graduated from BYU in April of 1981 and married Dime Jeffrey Burnham on June 26 of that same year. After putting my Dad through law school she fulfilled her dream to go to law school. She graduated from Seton Hall in 1992.
She had a number of colorful jobs in her life that all added to her experience and wisdom--working in tobacco fields in North Carolina, waitressing at her Dad’s steakhouse, going undercover with BYU police, she was a janitor, did phone sales, defended juvenile delinquents and clerked for a judge in Newark, NJ, and worked part time with a few law firms over the years. When she worked, she did so while her kids were at school or late at night after we went to bed. Alivia said it wasn’t until she was 21 that she realized she had a working mother.
Her favorite job, though, was as a mother to her four children. Kirstin, Lindsey, Zack, and Alivia and to her favorite son-in-law, who shall remain nameless. An even better job and the one she frequently reminded us was the most rewarding, was as a grandmother to her 11 grandchildren. Emmeline, Joshua, Benjamin, Coleson, Samantha, Amelia, Reillee, Annabelle, Kaylyn, Matthew, and Elouise Catherine, her namesake.
It’s amazing that all that came after spending her adolescence not wanting to get married. One day in college, while on the grounds of the Los Angeles temple, she received a witness that the everlasting covenant of marriage was a necessary and wonderful step toward further spiritual progression. She met my Dad the following semester. That experience was the “start” of her eternal family. They “loved with a love that was more than a love” and set an amazing example of what marriage could be. They never fought (around us anyway) or ever spoke negatively about each other. She strived to make our home a safe haven for us and is second only to the temple as a place where I always felt comfortable and found peace.
Mom’s mortal body was riddled with ailments, like the kind we all must endure in this life, but that didn’t stop her from constantly being a force for good. I can only image what her perfect spirit will now be able to accomplish and what her perfected, resurrected body will one day be capable of.
Mom was incredibly strong, independent, opinionated. If something needed to get done, she did it. If something needed to be taught, she taught it. If a battle needed to be fought, she fought it. On the day I was born, my mother went into labor at home, drove my brother to the Hammer’s home, and then drove herself to the hospital! She dedicated her professional life to helping those who couldn’t help themselves—representing children. There was one occasion that perhaps won’t mean much to many in the congregation, but to those who know the law and the 6th amendment, it might be significant. She once convinced a judge that a certain father was so vile he shouldn’t even be grated a hearing. The judge approved her motion! So, in her determination for good, that man was denied his constitutional right to due process. When my mother and father were newly married, they lived in upstate New York. During the winters it becomes very cold and snowy. One day their old car wouldn’t start so she bundled Kirstin up and walked the few miles it was to the grocery store in the snow. She had made it home when she discovered that the cashier thad given her something like 5 cents more than was due. My father, who had by then returned home, suggested that next time she went to the store she return the amount. She insisted that she needed to be honest THEN and not later and walked back to the store to return the miscounted change.
Though she was incredibly independent and strong willed she was even more gentle, kind and loving. She had a gift for teaching and especially story telling. Her stories were vivid and detailed. With her grandkids she was constantly playing make-believe-turning simple walks into dragon slaying adventures. She would also often claim that a new movie coming out was indeed her idea first! She had many aches and pains through the year, some keeping her in bed through the day. Yet, during those times, I remember that she would call me into her room and I would lay next to her in bed. She would hold me close and read books or tell stories while I sucked my thumb and twister her hair around my finger. Mom, like so many of the rest of us, was never able to see her good works. We would often thank her for being such a great mother or ask how she did it…to which she would begin to cry, which wasn’t an uncommon occurance, and say “you just came that way…I just hope I didn’t mess you up too badly”. She couldn’t see then, but perhaps she can see now, that it was her teaching, her encouragement and most importantly her deep, never ending love, that has molded each of us children, refined my equally angelic father, and impacted so many lives for the better.
Mom was home alone on the day that she died, but over the last few days we’ve been putting together a picture of how she spent her day. We think it is the perfect summary of her life of service, day in and day out…
On Thursday, December 3 she:
*read her scriptures and was on Moroni 7
*took dad to the airport
*did a substitute shift at the temple
*taught a class via skype to two of her grandchildren
*delivered Christmas presents to some children in ward
*talked on the phone to Alivia because Alivia was scared to walk to her car in the dark
*without being asked, offered advice to a friend who’s daughter was experiencing a health challenge
*wrapped and packaged gifts for the missionaries serving from the Willows ward
Truly, she “went about doing good.”
We’d like to conclude with mom’s testimony, sent in an email to us just a few short weeks ago.
To My Wonderful Grandkids:
Yesterday, while driving to the temple in the wee hours of the morning, I was listening to 98.1—the classical station. My radio stays tuned to that station because it brings me peace (unless someone starts singing opera—then I turn it—hahaha).
Yesterday morning, however, the tune “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” popped into my head. I started singing it—over and over again when one phrase struck me hard, and Grandma started to cry—I know, such a surprise.
While the song is replete with wonderful attributes and blessings of the Lord: kind, wise, He lives, He loves, He comforts, He prepares mansions—to name a few—the phrase: “ . . . He lives to bring me safely there” really touched my heart.
“He lives to bring us safely there.”
You have the choice blessing of being raised within the gospel of Jesus Christ—with a living Prophet, even Thomas S. Monson, to guide us today. The Lord knows our day; He knows you; He knows me; He knows the challenges of the world; He knows the priestcrafts; He knows the adversary; but most importantly, He knows how to protect us and how to “bring us safely there.”
Please know this: I know that my Redeemer lives. As I get older and my time in this mortal probation shortens, I find comfort in knowing that we will all be joined together again in the eternities. I testify that the Prophet will never lead us astray. I testify that along with the scriptures we have to teach us pure truth, the Prophet is the Lord’s mouthpiece that will “lead us safely there.”
I love you all—always and forever,