My father passed away on July 21, 2008, and last weekend on October 18 we had the memorial service at his final church in Hancock, New Hampshire. I wanted to share the eulogy, as well as some pictures I took from the town and church, etc. I thought I had it all together, I thought I would be fine, but then others started giving their eulogies. To hear how important my Dad was to them, to hear how much they loved him, to hear how funny he was to them, to hear how positive he was at every moment, to hear how selfless he was, it was just an amazing feeling. And then it was my turn, and it was so much harder than I expected. My mouth was dry & tasted like bile from being so nervous. I was shaking all over and my voice was shaking. I got through it, but not without pausing for even a minute at a time to compose myself, to take deep breaths, to focus. My voice cracked, I cried, I walked off with tears running down my face. I thought I was ready for it, but nothing prepares you for something like that. The whole thing was so sad and happy at the same time. It was really emotional and I’m glad I went through it, but I’m glad it’s over. At the same time, I don’t like this feeling of closure. Despite my worries of how I came across, it was amazing that during my eulogy and for the first time in the service I heard a lot of sniffling and crying. And when I walked off and everyone erupted for the first time in applause, I felt good knowing despite how I thought I came across, I had brought a side of Dad to them that they had not known, yet wanted to know, and I guess I did it clearly. Everyone came up to me telling me how wonderful it was, and all I could think of was my Dad. This meant a lot to me as it wasn’t about me, it was about him. One gentleman came up and said ‘Do you realize you just made an older man cry?’. But it wasn’t me, it was my Dad. Another guy said ‘I hope my son speaks of me when I pass the way you just did’. But again it wasn’t me, I felt like I was speaking for my Dad. It was amazing. Just as cool was my Mom’s cousin and his wife showed up from Dallas, PA (betw Scranton and Wilkes-Barre), Ned and Betsy, who are really awesome. AND these two women from Martinsburg, where I grew up from 1980 to 1987! Ginny and this other woman I didn’t remember at first, but I started to remember just a bit near the end. It was amazing to see someone from that time in my life as I’ve seen NO ONE from then, and as some know, I loved my childhood in West Virginia and the place means a lot to me. It was really surreal and touching and just amazing. It felt good to look right at them when Martinsburg came up in the eulogy. She smiled and seemed to be happy that Martinsburg meant so much to me. I cant tell you what a great place that was to grow up in!
Anyway, here’s my eulogy for Captain Fun, a nickname his last church gave to him that I had no idea about until this service. It sure put a smile on my face.
Click on the picture after the eulogy for some New England-y Autumn pictures from my trip up …
It’s a few days after my father has passed away, and I’m sitting in his office at home where he was surrounded with some of the simple things in life that gave him great happiness. I’m on his computer, which in itself is so hard to look at, cause as I turn it on there is a screen saver of a picture of Ottawa, Canada which he visited as many times as possible. It’s just one of many Canadian items I see as I look around his office. From Canadian military jackets, to Canadian English dictionaries, to books on Canadian parliamentary politics, to a model of an Air Canada plane I gave him a few Christmases ago. When I open the browser on his computer it automatically goes to his personal Google home page, with his email account that will never be opened again. I begin to wonder what emails are in there; from friends that have emailed him wishing him the best and to stay strong, to shipping confirmations for yet another book he ordered to own and even eventually read in just a few days time. I’m surrounded by rows and rows of countless books, as he was constantly reading and feeding his brain with endless information. From religious books, to political books to books on American slang, and “Baseball for Dummies”. You’d think he’d never heard of a library! I’m surrounded by notes from his final sermon from July 13, the one in which he gave every last bit of energy he had left to give, and gave to his congregation for which he cared so much and devoted all his self and time to. There are flags all around, like the one of the State of New York, which in his final weeks he used to replace the Canadian flag that was outside the house, to ‘show his New York City roots’ as he said . There are mountains and mountains of pens, which he could never refrain from buying when he went to Staples. A strange yet harmless addiction. There are political buttons from decades ago such as ‘Win with Hoover’ and ‘We want FDR again!’. I remember going to Hyde Park in New York a few times to see the home of FDR, whom I’m pretty sure was one of my Dad’s heros. There are classical and military music cd’s all around, his headphones sitting next to his chair, just having used it the other day. He was so proud to tell me he just few weeks prior that he had figured out how to use an MP3 player, which of course made me proud! There are crosses on the wall, along with medals he received for running the ‘Run for Canada’ marathon in 2005 and 2006. The floor below me is a spaghetti mess of wires and cables, as he had no patience for making his office look ‘presentable’. This was his office, so it was presentable for him. There are figurines of former presidents and New Hampshire Fisher Cats baseball players. I remember going to Boston Red Sox games with him on his clergy pass back in the early 90s when even Fenway was only half full with fans. On his pass we could sometimes sit just rows behind the dugout for free, and see that awful Matt Young blow another game. There are notes on his sermon stand from just the other day, with his incomprehensible handwriting, which was all the same beautiful and unique, and i always admired for some strange reason. Theres a digital clock ticking in front of me, it not even realizing it no longer needs to work for my Dad anymore. I see a book that for some reason brings to mind when we lived in Martinsburg, West Virginia. When we lived there my Dad was part of a church program that led him to the local apple orchards in the area where many African-Americans worked and lived in very poor conditions. He wanted to reach out, to say he and his church were there for them. My Dad would take me, and we would make these huge dinners for 100 people and play bingo and listen to music out in these fields with the stars so bright and the fireflies everywhere. It was one of the clearest memories of my childhood that made me so happy, and now that I look back on it, it just makes me so proud. It was fun and incredibly uplifting. My Dad wanted them to feel safe, loved and important, and to just give them a little hope.
I went to see my father in the hospital soon after he was admitted on the night of July 13. My Mom had hoped he would be awake as he had been for the prior few days, so he could see me one last time and hopefully feel closure and know it was ok to let go. I felt nothing but anger as I saw my Dad for the first time with the real final stages of cancer having taken hold. This was not my Dad. This was not my Dad who would come home singing the national anthem or some beautiful church song. This was not my Dad who came home after a long day and wanting to watch “Law and Order” with a big bowl of ice cream. This was not my Dad who dedicated his life to fellow humans, day in and day out, year in and year out, with never a second thought. He never woke up while I was there, but I think he knew I was there, but lacked the energy to open his eyes. It was hard to even look at him. It was hard because it made me so angry that this could happen not just to my Dad, but at such an early age, and to someone who cared and loved people so much. All I could think of was how unfair this was. He said to me a few weeks prior that he felt blessed, which was amazing to hear someone in such a situation say such a thing, but it was his positive outlook, an outlook that I think helped him survive this 10 year battle, physical, and emotional, time enough for him to feel at peace with saying its time to go. In a way it was ok knowing this was in many ways NOT my Dad. His soul and spirit were almost gone and in another place. So it felt ok at one moment to say goodbye, but then when I put my hand on his head and said ‘I Love You’ and ‘Bye Dad’, it hurt worse than anything I ever felt. No more high fives, no more hugs. This WAS my dad, and I knew as I looked at him, he knew I was there, and telling me he loved me and that he would see me again.
To now sit in this office, which now feels like a still frame from the last moment he was here, with his jacket drawn over the chair in the corner and a five dollar bill next to the chair that he forgot to put in his wallet, to sit here is nothing but overwhelming sadness knowing he will never be in here again just being my Dad. This isn’t fair, its not his time to go, and why in such a manner that leaves a person so weakened and so vulnerable. But as Mark Twain once said, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” Knowing how accepting my Dad was of his time, made me see, despite all the years of work and contributions he still had left in him, he had also been happy with his life. When, after his passing, a divorcee let my Mom know how important my Dad was in her getting through her ordeal and piecing her life back together; when a young boy wrote a letter to my Dad to let my Mom know how he cried himself to sleep over the passing of his friend, my Dad; when we received so many letters from people past and present just letting my Mom know how important and thankful they were to have my Dad’s companionship and friendship; when I see this effect my Dad had, I know he had led a deeply accomplished life. One I can only dream of emulating.
As my Dad said to my Mom a day after he was back in the hospital, ‘this is a heck of a thing’. It sure is Dad, and you are a heck of a human being. You were a man who loved everyone and judged no one, wishing for nothing but peace and love for everyone, and I couldn’t be more grateful for you instilling those qualities in me. You fought your battle with such hope and you were so brave during every moment. You stuck around for Mom, you stuck around for me, you stuck around for your congregation. You saved all your energy and love for your final service, which made me for one final time feel such intense pride in not just knowing you’re my Dad, but just for knowing you. The sadness is pretty unbearable, but my pride in you is even stronger. You endured this condition with great humility, never letting it stop you from doing your work of helping others, and never letting this roadblock get you down. You always held your head high, even through to the very end. I will think about and miss you every day, but also celebrate what a great person and inspiration you were to so many. I feel so lucky to now and forever be able to call such an amazing person ‘MY Dad’. With all my heart, I love you.