Evolution of a eulogy

When it became clear that what my dad was doing could more accurately be called dying than living, I realized that I would have to write something for his funeral. I pushed it out of my mind and tried to just be with him when I was with him and to support my mom from afar when I wasn't.

When he died, I realized I would not only have to write something, I would have to say something.

The usual platitudes about dads being heroic figures in our lives and providing a sense of safety came readily to mind. What I wrote at first felt generic but true. It was a start.
While helping prepare the service for him, I went through old family photo albums, remembering him in different states of being, all these different people he was before his illness. Him with a full head of hair, him with no beard, him with a super scruffy beard, him laughing, him running, him diving. The many, many photos of him finally began to erase the image in my brain of him in a hospital bed.

Looking at pictures of me with him, I remembered myself at those ages and my relationship with him, in all it's complexities. Stories came back to me: how he was so patient when washing the hair on my extra sensitive head, how he was the one who took me prom dress shopping because he alone was willing to go to every last store until I found the perfect dress.

Other stories come back too, but I pushed them away.

I would write something wholly uplifting and positive about him.

But the other stories kept coming back, the ones that included his temper and how scary it could be. I started to write about that. I deleted. I wrote it again, a little softer this time. It was clear I did not want to write about a perfect man who didn't exist. But I also did not want to focus too much on the dark parts of the imperfect man who did exist. I wanted to capture what I knew about the unique person my dad was, in a few succinct words.

No pressure!

I wanted people there to hear that being beloved doesn't require your perfection, that part of what I loved about my dad was how much he overcame, how beautifully flawed he was.

I wrote some more, including a section on the therapy sessions he and I did together in my early twenties. I edited some more. It started to take shape. A week before the memorial, I put it away for awhile.

When I came back to it, two days before the ceremony, I was resigned. It was good as it was going to get. I flipped words around, cut a clause here and there. I looked up words in a thesaurus, fumbling toward deeper meaning:  is "humble" really the right word?

Then the service was here. I was sweaty, of course. When it was my turn to get up on stage, it was all a fog of sweat and terror. My brother read first and I watched his knee bounce nervously under the podium, listened to his normally resonant voice crack with emotion.

Then it was my turn and the words I wrote were tumbling out of my mouth. And I was doing okay, not going too fast, ad libbing when necessary. My tears were right there, dribbling out of my eyes and reducing my voice to a squeak more than once, but mostly contained.

Then it was over. I sat down.

In the receiving line after, people were hugging and consoling and praising me and I was smiling big, so very grateful and full of love for my dad: Thank you, thank you so much for coming.

But then that night and the night after that and the night after that, I lay awake in a typical post-event let down. It's over. It's really over.

He was so alive for me in that service, the poems, music and people he loved all surrounding me. His pictures were everywhere, his doodles were glued on poster board, his carvings were pulled out of dank basements and corner shelves and placed all around my parents' house, now my mother's house.

(I assume I'll get used to saying "my mother's house" someday.)

I feel sick when I realize how much I didn't say. No one talked about his insane Trivial Pursuit prowess. There was no mention of how he overcome a debilitating stutter. Did anyone really get at the heart of the 47 year marriage that he and my mother crafted?

I want to go back, make it better, include it all and I can't. 

The eulogy is over now. The grieving has just begun.


Five Stages of Grief


When my mom called after eleven pm. that Wednesday night, I knew why she was calling. It was officially Emergency Call Hour in our house and my dad was in hospice care, taking in very little sustenance, breathing irregularly. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what she would say when I picked up the phone.

But I was literally shocked. As I listened to her cracking voice tell me what I knew she would, I felt a shock wave go through my body as if there had been an actual physical blow to my nervous system.

As if.

When I finally drifted off to sleep that night, after many hours staring at the ceiling thinking basically nothing, feeling mostly everything, I dreamt about him. In my dreams that night, my dad was young, walking and talking, strong and vibrant. I woke up completely unrested and stupidly confused.

As I adjusted my eyes to the light of day, I spent a ridiculous amount of time wondering: which was the dream?


Z is in a "not fair" phase. She is very interested in equality, especially when it comes to relative cookie sizes, number of cheese crackers and amount of Christmas presents. She keeps track and expects that everyone should get the same amount. She wants everything to be fair.

I am feeling a new kind of empathy for her these days.

One day this week, a friend told me that her dad is coming to help out with her kids while her husband is away on a work trip. Another announced her intention to throw her dad a surprise birthday party this year. Then I read a lovely blog post, where the author posted photos of her dad loving up her children. All I could think in these circumstance was "it's not fair." My girls have lost their grandfathers. Both of them. And they are young enough that they may not remember their grandfathers as anything but photographs in an album.

On that day, the one where it seemed everyone was talking about my dad this and my dad that, I was shamefully pissed at them. But my anger is not limited just to happy people who still have their fathers. Today I am angry at cigarette companies and their deep, cancer-lined pockets. I'm angry at my dad for ever smoking.

Mostly, I'm angry at the universe for being so indifferent.


I go to the gym a little more often these days and stay for a little longer. When I feel tired or less than inspired by a workout, I flash to an image from last summer, when my dad was trying to get stronger after a long bout of pneumonia. I helped him do some basic strengthening moves and it was so hard for him to do a squat down into his chair.

At the gym, I push myself deeper into squats, I suffer through an extra push up or five.

I try to put myself in another class of person entirely. As if fit people never get cancer. As if strong people never die.

Or maybe I'm just interested in feeling a different kind of suffering for a change.


After the gym, I eat a snack, a healthy one to start, nuts or an apple or something. Then suddenly, unthinkingly, I am on a veritable tour of all things chocolate and buttery in my pantry. I taste little. I feel nothing. My stomach turns when I am done.

What does it matter? Why not eat all the crap I want? In the end, we're all just ashes and I won't care if the roll above my pants ever disappeared.

A slightly larger pile of ashes doesn't sound so terrible.


Every day, I read my dad's obituary at least once. Every day, I refine and practice what I'm planning to say at his memorial service next Saturday. Every day, the preparations, the carefully crafted words, make it seem a little more real.

My dad is gone.

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