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.
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.
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. Share your love and admiration for someone while they are living.