A Living Eulogy for my Father
Give one to someone special in your life
When I attend a funeral I am always struck by an odd thought. Isn’t it a shame that the person who really should be hearing the eulogy is no longer with us. At 55, I have attended my fair share of funerals. I have lost beloved Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents. I have been to funerals of friends who lost parents or loved ones. I have listened to many eulogies paying homage to the deceased. I am always moved to tears, whether I knew the departed or not. These eulogies are so heartfelt and touching and clearly express how much the deceased was loved and how many lives they touched. Even when I knew the person, I always learn something new or gain a new perspective or appreciation.
Why is it that most people never “really” express to the people they love or admire how much they mean to them while they are alive. Sure we often tell each other “I love you” or ”You’re a good person , or “Thank you for being my friend”, but how often do we take the time to write a note, or make a speech expressing “MORE” of how we feel. Very few of us will achieve a “Lifetime Achievement Award” in Hollywood where a room full of people pays tribute to you.
I may be an exception. When I turned 40, I became very sentimental and wrote each of my parents a letter truly expressing how I felt about them. Each separately told me it was the greatest gift I could give “Them”. My birthday hugs that year were a little tighter and had a little more meaning. Their reactions to my letter was actually the greatest gift I received for my birthday that year. I got another chance about 5 years later when I made a speech to family and friends gathered at my father’s surprise 75th birthday party. My mother, my siblings and 7 grandchildren, in order, each spoke about the special bond they had with my father Herbie. I’m so glad he got to hear each spoken word because 5 short months later he had a stroke.
When my older brother spoke, the first thing he said was that he and my father were so alike. My initial reaction was this is strange, because I am just like my father and my brother and I are very different. Then my brother explained -he looked very much like my father (check) and had similar traits (check). Growing up my father was the great problem solver. No matter what the issue, he could solve it. Many times I would hear my mother say “Herbie go take care of it” and of course he did. For me, even as I grew into adulthood and middle age, my father played this role. Whether he actually solved the problem, or just made me feel better, he was my Dad. As we grew older, my brother picked up the mantle of “day to day ” problem solver, not only for his side of the family but for his wife’s side and friends as well. Being a doctor didn’t hurt, but the ability to make things better came from my father.
My brother’s speech consisted primarily of 3 stories involving my Dad. I’ll tell one here. When my brother was 16 he was attacked by some neighborhood kids, one of whom put a knife to his throat. He was able to escape and make it back to our 14th floor apartment. My father’s immediate reaction was that my brother had to stand up for himself and fight each of the 2 main antagonist’s one on one. And it couldn’t wait. It had to be that night. My brother and I never had a fight in our lives. We were a different generation and taught not to fight and to avoid fighting. A lot of that came from my mother. My brother could easily have been told to avoid those boys and my father could have gone to school to make sure that there was no further interactions. Instead my brother was told to go back downstairs and fight each boy. And my brother did just that. He first found the red headed kid who put the knife to his throat. They started to fight and my brother was clearly getting the best of him. About a minute in, the neighborhood black belt, an older kid around 19 or 20, jumped in to help the redhead. Trying to be intimidating, the black belt formed the traditional karate stance. Suddenly, from out of the shadows, my 43 year old father appeared. Dad formed a boxing stance, and said to the black belt, “LET THEM FIGHT”. Suffice to say, my brother ended up getting the better of both boys who initially attacked him. My father always had my brother’s back, and my brother’s whole life my father was always ready to jump out of the shadows to lend his assistance. My brother also pointed out that my father was an undefeated boxer in the army going 26 and 0.
I spoke next. I said that I too, am just like my father. I mentioned that I inherited his brilliant sales and marketing ability, his confidence and sense of humor. I focused on my love for him and shared some of the things I wrote in my earlier letter.
It was then my younger sister’s turn. Although she didn’t say it, she too is like my father. They both share a love of family and an innate ability to make their family a priority. She talked about how all her friends loved my father. My father was the Dad who always took my friends to the ball game. I recently ran into a man I hadn’t seen in thirty-five years. After recognizing me, the first sentence out of his mouth was “How is your father? He was my Little League coach and I loved him”. My sister said, “My Dad has the ability to make everyone feel special, can you imagine being Herbie’s baby girl”.
My sister often told the story that after she graduated from college, she and a friend moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. One night while they were sleeping, someone managed to enter the window of their second floor apartment and steal my sister’s pocketbook. Frightened, she called my father. Based upon my brother’s experience you might have expected my father to say something along the lines of, “You can’t run scared. We will get the landlord to put bars on the windows and install a state of the art security system”. He did the opposite. Before the window was even fixed, my father had moved my sister out of the apartment. This was his little girl and he would make sure she would be safe. Was my father worried about breaking her lease? Although he never told us, I suspect that when he was through with the landlord, the landlord would be paying him.
Since the stroke and for the past 10 years, my father has suffered from dementia and has steadily declined. I was so thrilled that he had the chance to hear his living eulogies from his family and good friends. At the party, my father thanked us all and spoke a few minutes after about his love for his family, but his facial expressions while each person was speaking truly told the story.
Most of us view people, places and events through our own lens. How does it affect me? This doesn’t make us egotistical but human. Before the party, I often said to myself no one else could have the special bond that I had with my father — how could that be possible? But I was wrong, I always knew my father and my siblings loved each other, but I never truly appreciated the unique relationship they had with each other. I know that others in his family and my father’s friends present learned many things about my father that they may not have known. Besides hearing some funny stories, they may not have known what a tough guy he could be, how fiercely protective he was of family and friends, or how funny and truly charming he was. Many present gained a new perspective of my Dad because their relationships with him were limited to work colleagues, neighbors, distant relatives, or friends. And many, including myself, may have gained a new perspective about those who spoke. At 45, I still thought of my 39 year old sister as my “little” sister. I never realized how articulate, poised and beautifully spoken she was. And my older brother, who was more serious and independent, I never truly realized how funny he could be.
I started this article as a tribute to my father, but as I keep writing (and I know this might sound corny) I thought, wouldn’t society be a slightly better place, if:
1) Each of us could hear or read the positive things others thought of us -I think we all would be touched if we knew how much we positively impacted those around us. It’s always nice to feel appreciated, but how great would it be to read or hear a living tribute/eulogy. And this shouldn’t be limited to family and close friends, but should include work colleagues, neighbors, etc. I suspect that most of us, in addition to being moved and feeling loved, might take it a step further. Being aware of how others felt about us, we might be a little more loving, might be a little kinder, and might be a little more considerate towards others. I think this could happen subconsciously, or many may “pay it forward” consciously aware how we can positively influence others.
2) These affirmations were shared with people we knew or might know -“Bad news travels fast” — there is a reason this quote exists. People are very quick to spread bad news about one another. I’m not sure if it is a gossip thing or people get some sort of pleasure spreading the misfortune of others, but this quote is very true. And it also applies when someone doesn’t like or feels wronged by someone else, or if that person actually has done a bad act. The world is filled with too much negative gossip, bad reviews and “haters” (A term I never heard growing up, but is prevalent in this social generation). I applaud Facebook for not adding a “Dislike” button, but how much does a “Like” really say. Too often, we already know the “Bad” or “Negative” about an individual. Wouldn’t the “Good” and “Positive” give us new perspective on this same individual and maybe change how we perceive or interact with them.
Would the students and parents of no non-sense teacher Jim O’Connor treat him differently if they knew on his free time he took care of sick babies? Would the parents of a benched little leaguer react quite so harshly if they knew the tough coach spent time teaching baseball to the disabled? Would the adults and kids in the neighborhood have a different outlook about the cranky old woman who lived down the street by herself if they knew how loving a parent and grandmother she was? Would our view of certain politicians change if we heard good stories about them?
3) We gained new insight about the authors of these testimonials -
I just attended a funeral where a friend I know my entire life eulogized his uncle who I barely knew. I gained a new perspective about my friend. While he was always funny, I never realized that he was “stand-up” comedian funny (and this from a heart-felt eulogy). I knew he had a successful business, but since his uncle was his partner I learned a little bit more of his dedication to the business and how and why he succeeded. And while I knew he was a caring guy, the love and respect he showed his uncle during his lifetime made me respect my friend even more. How someone interacts with others and what they say about them is often a good barometer of the type of individual they are.
4) We left a positive legacy for future generations-
In addition to writing each of my parents a letter on my 40th birthday, I gave them each a book. The book contained a list of questions (with space to answer) starting with their childhood to their present life. In essence, it provided a vehicle for them to write their autobiography in a fun and easy manner. I heard many stories from their past, but wanted to know more. Plus I wanted my children and grandchildren to know my parents. Older generations get lost as time moves on. Both my Mom and Dad promised they would do it, but as you might have guessed it, they did not. Maybe the next best thing to an autobiography is a biography. The tributes, recollections, memories and thoughts of their friends, family, colleagues and neighbors, may even paint a brighter picture.
What do I hope this article accomplishes. If it accomplishes nothing more than sharing a little piece of my father with the people who know him and express again how much we love, respect and honor him, that is enough. However, if it motivates the reader to email a note (or even better write a letter), make an audio recording, or shoot a video, about a friend, family member or loved one and then share it with them, that would be great. And it shouldn’t be limited to persons my age or older. Why not share your feelings, memories, or stories, with anyone you feel has touched you in some way. Whether you have known them a long time or on a single occasion and they influenced you, share your feelings. You don’t need to be “closer” to the end of your life to hear about how much you are appreciated and/or loved.
It often seems that technological advances coincide with shorter attention spans. We have status updates, 140 character tweets, pictures frozen in time, 6 second and 15 second videos and other video and text that disappear after being viewed. While they may give a glimpse into the creator or subject, they cannot provide a meaningful insight, in depth profile or a true picture. I can envision a web-site, app, blog, social network or other platform where these tributes, recollections, and affirmations are written and read, recorded and heard, shot and viewed and more importantly, shared.
Whatever happens, the one caveat is that only the good and positive is shared. Unfortunately in our society, while someone is living, the bad and negative is spread organically. Often the decent, worthy, noble qualities or deeds are unreported. So that leaves me back where I started. Why do we need someone to die to share our most heartfelt memories, stories and love? Why is it often “only in death” do we choose to remember the good and only good about someone. I hope this article is shared because the more it is shared, the more people will share their love and admiration for the people who have touched their lives.