Eulogy for my father

My dad died very suddenly on October 20. I was asked by my mom and siblings to give the eulogy. This was the hardest piece I’ve ever written. I hope I did you proud, Dad. I miss you and love you.

“Thank you, all, for being here and supporting our family with your love and prayers.

I loved watching Dad shine shoes.

He’d gather the necessary supplies and lay them out in order of how he would use them. First, he laid down a towel or newspaper. Then, place one shoe on his left hand and use his horsehair shoe brush to remove dirt and old layers of polish. I can hear the quick flick of the brush bristles scratching across the leather. And I can smell the polish.

He’d sprinkle a tiny amount of water into the lid of the Kiwi shoe polish tin. Then, he would wrap an old t-shirt tightly around his right index finger. Dip his finger in the water, then the polish, and rub the shoe in small, counter-clockwise circular motions, starting at the toe and working his way down one side to the heel and back up the other to the toe. After drying- sometimes overnight- he rubbed the shoe until he could see his reflection shining in the leather.

It was a methodical process that he loved. It had a beginning, a clear path, and a definitive end. Shining shoes was a metaphor for how he viewed the world and lived his life.

He was hard-working and generous. He cheered for us- sometimes too loudly- at soccer games, swim meets, and crew regattas- all activities that he made possible for us. He and mom provided the foundation on which we’ve built our lives. That foundation is strong and true, and deeply rooted in love and devotion.

He pushed us to high standards that sometimes felt impossible to reach. I know now that they were his way of saying ‘I love you and I want the best for you.’

He was organized and focused. At his house, Kiki found Christmas gifts that he had already purchased for us. And, if it were November, those presents would have been wrapped and labeled.

Dad was always early for events and appropriately dressed- jacket, tie, and those shiny shoes. He was there for all of it: baptisms, birthdays, holidays, graduations. I feel  untethered knowing he will miss so many of them in the future. 70 was too young.

He was a prolific reader who was in his element discussing current events or the state of his beloved sports teams. He did crossword puzzles in ink. He could drive somewhere once and remember every detail of the trip and then give you directions.

He loved and spoiled his nine grandchildren. He adored them. He contentedly held them as infants and rejoiced in showing them how to run the Lionel trains at Christmas. It was especially fun to watch him try to corral them for photos. And just this summer he treated them to a week at the shore, complete with tons of seafood, pizza, and rides on the Ocean City boardwalk- like he did for the four of us when were little.

I’ll remember and cheer him every time I have fresh berries, lemon desserts, chocolate Tastykakes, a soft pretzel or an amber beer, and I hope you will, too.

We miss you already, Dad. We love you. Semper Fi.”

Because of L

This morning, within 30 minutes of each other, I received a text from a friend that a local young man named Luke died of childhood cancer and a call from another friend that my neighbor was having surgery.

I didn’t immediately think about my own Luke, and thank God that it wasn’t him. I wept for Luke’s parents and brothers. For their permanent emptiness and the courage it will take to grieve.

About my friend, I thought, “that’s awful, how can I help?” not, “why didn’t she tell me?” I share this not to brag about how wonderful I am, but rather, to offer two thoughts.

First. Healing is possible and thank you for your help in my own healing journey. Years ago, amid my own grief and its corollary of self-absorption, I would have made my friends’ tragedy- and it is that- about me. Or, I would have diminished her experience altogether. Saying something (to myself at least) cruel like, “well, at least they caught it early.”

Second. A gentle suggestion. If When you are in the same situation- because tragedy finds us all- respond with love and empathy. Offer to help. Some of us believe that among #HurricaneHarvey, #DACA, #HurricaneIrma, the wild fires in the PNW we are in tragedy right now.

Grief was supposed to make me kinder, softer around the edges. It has. Healing is possible. But It’s one hell of a road. And you must do the work. You have to stay on the mat, as my friend G says. Stay on the mat. Don’t hit the easy button. I’ve learned that deflection and comparison are my easy buttons. I’ve also learned that they’re thieves. They steal people of their own grief and they rob me of the chance to be kind, to be a friend, to be a Christian, a fellow human.

Healing doesn’t mean “over it” or forgetting. I will never be over L’s diagnosis or the collapse of my career, or the betrayal of friends…or whatever events mark my life as before/after.

Healing means using my grief as fuel, instead of as a weapon. Healing means letting things impact me without defining me. Healing means action.

They will know we are Christians by our love. And love is a verb. Love and prayers are awesome and they helped us. They continue to help me. But don’t stop there. Too many of us Christians pray and think that’s enough. Pray, of course. All the time, for everyone. Pray to be inspired to act.

I donated to St. Baldrick’s in honor of Luke. Some friends and I are rallying to create a schedule to help our friend with housecleaning and meals. I hope you will feel inspired to act as well.

 

Tomorrow

Tomorrow is December 12th. Diagnosis Day. Dx day. D day. THE day.

Usually this time of year, I am anxious. Tight. Angry. Yet, for the first time in eight years, I feel….”normal.” I have prayed for this day. Waited for this day to finally come. It did and I barely noticed it. It snuck up on me. People always say that don’t they? “Enjoy this time, it goes so fast” or “time heals all wounds” blah blah blah.

The class I teach is on Monday nights. In August I wrote down all 15 weeks, 15 Mondays, and posted them on our kitchen bulletin board. December 12th is a Monday. It’s been staring at me, in my own handwriting, since August.

And I’m fine. We’re all fine. And I finally mean it. I’m not just saying that to get people to stop asking me about it.

I bumped into D day last week. I was standing in the hallway outside my classroom waiting for the class before us to finish up, writing a note to remind my students about their final paper, due December 12th. I wrote out December 12th, looked at it and remembered. Not that I ever really forgot, it’s more like I was reminded. This year the waiting has been less..heavy. I wrote out 12/12 and had to immediately text Sean: “OMG! December 12th is next week. Can you believe it?” I was so excited that I had forgotten!

It happened again today. We were grocery shopping and in the orange juice section the boys started counting out how many more days until school break, until Santa comes, until NJ vacation. They were off because today is December 11th, not the 10th. I said out loud, “Today is December 11th. Huh.” Sean heard me, caught my eye, and said, “I know what you mean.”

I am not sure why this year is different. I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal since October 10th. Every day I write three or four things that made me happy, or that I’m grateful for. I’ve been praying more. I’ve been more open in asking others to pray for me. I went back to yoga. I am learning to breathe more fully.

Who knows if any of these things have contributed to my healing. Maybe none. Maybe all. Regardless, I’m going to keep doing them. I’m also going to stop looking for the perfect combination or magic formula. That’s where I get into trouble- I dissect every little thing, event, conversation. I weigh and measure it. I spin my wheels trying to make things work, instead of just letting them work.

We go to church every Sunday; it’s one of the things that I’ve always done and will keep doing. I confess (ha!) though that sometimes it doesn’t always do it for me. Sometimes church is one of the things that I try to make work. The choir picks random hymns that are too high for me to sing, there’s a screaming kid behind me, or the readings are for someone else.

Not today. Today, church worked. It was as if God was speaking directly to me. It was just me and Her today and it worked. Words and phrases lept out at me.

“Sorrow and mourning will flee….meet the Lord with gladness and joy” (Isaiah).

“Be patient. Make your hearts firm” (James).

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “Rejoice” and today reminds us to take a step back and recall our joy. Gaudete is a light-hearted break in the midst of the pregnant waiting of Advent. Our priest’s homily challenged and encouraged me to be hopeful. “Hope is a desire for something good that is difficult to attain.” Whoa. Slow down there, Father. You’re speaking right to me and it’s making me kinda squirmy.

For years I have been desiring healing, to feel…free, loose. That is something good that sure as hell has been difficult to attain. Sometimes I felt distant from God. That S/He wasn’t hearing my prayers. Maybe I wasn’t praying hard enough, or right enough or even just, enough. Why was God taking so damn long?

Of course today’s readings were about hope and rejoicing. And of course, today was Gaudete Sunday, the day before D-day. Because that is how God works. That is God’s timing. I’m learning to trust that God is always with me. S/He has been working on my heart, helping me to be hopeful. It just took me a little longer to catch on. It took me so damn long!

Today I rejoice. I will continue to train myself to choose hope. Because I get a tomorrow. Luke gets a tomorrow. Even if tomorrow is D-day. Even if tomorrow is a hard day. I still get it. It’s mine to use or waste. It’s mine to embrace or push against. I rejoice! I choose hope!