I have taken the liberty of presenting my eulogy for TB the Elder today. It is a little long - perhaps too long for an ordinary blog post - but I feel compelled to share it, if for no other reason the closure that it will bring. In a very real way, you, the readers of this blog, have been my support group over the last two and a bit years as I we have walked this journey to its inevitable conclusion. I appreciate that, both for the support as well as ability to write what I cannot always say.
In this, perhaps, blogging and the anonymity it can grant makes such things a bit easier. The names and locations are changed below, in some cases to places that readers will know in a way the hearers will not, but the content and feelings remain the same.
On behalf of my and my sister’s families and of course my mother, we would like to thank you for taking the time to be with us today in memory of our father and grandfather. It means a great deal that you would take time out of your lives to honor him.
It puzzling place to be in, the giving of a memorial speech for one’s parent. What does one say, precisely? As children, we see a specific part of our parents’ lives: there is a whole history that goes on before we arrive, there is a background history that goes on that we are unaware of as we grow up, and then there is the final history where as we go on to have our own lives, and our parents once again have their own.
That said, I can only give you my story of him: of how I saw him, my relationship to him, and what he taught me.
My father was a complex man, something I at least did not come to realize until years after I had left home. I certainly did not realize it when I was growing up. I do not know that he always appreciated his complexity or if he did, he kept it quietly walled off in a place that most people never saw.
His formative years were far different than the experience he gave myself and my sister growing up. We lived in the same house our whole lives provided for by parents that essentially had the same job our entire time at home; he had a life of moving first from the state of his birth and then to what became his home in different locations, following agricultural jobs. We had no major trauma; he lost his brother before he was ten years old and in some ways my mother alluded to but never really fleshed out, was on his own to deal with internally it as his father took care of his mother and his older brother took care of his siblings.
He would not ever really speak of growing up much until years and years later, when we would be driving around to towns in the local area. He would direct me down certain roads and point out houses to me: his grandparents lived there, his one aunt and uncle lived there and the others there. When they moved closer to my hometown they lived there, where the equipment yard was on the old state highway now stands; a field with a remaining tree or two used to be a fruit orchard and there a bunkhouse that he and his older brother shared.
On the meeting of my mother, my father was fairly elusive. If there was a story, he never revealed it. This was a tendency he tended to have as well, this keeping of background which, when it came out, always made for a much fuller view of my father. One prime example that comes to mind is the one birthday of my sister where we had both lost a cat and I have rear ended someone the same day. We sat there quietly at our birthday dinner out in a restaurant, and conversation dragged a bit. At one point my father made the comment he would have had more words had it not been my sister’s birthday. Then, out of the blue, my mother trots out “Did your father ever tell you about the time he took his older brother’s car without telling him and totaled it?”
“No Mom, no he did not”. Suddenly the mood of the table changed: this was not an isolated event, this was family history.
My mother always seemed to know this about my father, this ability to regulate his mood and reset the tone. I have no idea if this was something she did instinctively or had come to it by practice: again, the years of their marriage until my and my sister’s birth were also shrouded in mystery, with vague tales of living others exotic locations like neighboring states and pets we never met and a blank between my father’ s entry into the Navy and their settling at the house we grew up at. I suppose – like most things – they felt it had no significant bearing on their lives as we knew them, although like most children, I confess to a certain sort of curiosity of what my parents were like when they were young. After all, the younger stories are often the more exciting ones.
He always wanted better – for my mother, for his children, for his grandchildren. He never went to college beyond a single day (at which point he joined the Navy instead), but the fact that we were going to college was never discussed; it was simply assumed. He never verbalized why, although I would guess grow up at the mercy of crops and years digging trenches and running lines made him desire differently for his children. For over 30 years he got up early, worked late and never really mentioned it.
And he was supportive of his children – financially of course but also in their interests and activities. I do not believe my father missed a single game, event, or activity that myself or my sister participated in and, when the grandchildren came along, he did the same. Even if I suspect he did not always understand or possibly enjoy everything we did, he came anyway.
I would tell you he was not an outwardly affectionate man, but that is only the view of his son. Perhaps like most grandparents, the experience with his grandchildren was not the experience that we had growing up with him – sometimes to the point that both my sister and I would look at each other and mouth “This is not the man we grew up with”.
I learned things from my father – we all hopefully do from our parents of course. Some things are instinctive and personality driven – an expression or a turn of phrase that makes me suddenly react and go “Good Lord! I’ve become my father!”. But other things are much more conscious conclusions, things that we knowingly adapt as they are modeled for us.
My father seemed to know a great deal about a great deal, although he would always insist that he really knew nothing. He built fences and chicken coops and decks but was no carpenter, performed car maintenance though he was no mechanic, helped herd cattle and feed them and bury one or two, though he was no farmer, and became quite a margarita maker though he was no bartender. He always seemed willing to try anything and usually was a lot more successful than he let on. From this, I learned that I can do almost anything, at least once.
My father eventually did come to grips with the trauma of his childhood. I still remember the day that we had that conversation about his depression and what he was doing about it. From this, I learned that it is never too late to deal with your past.
My father, who was never a reader, suddenly developed a taste for books after he retired. His tastes ran different than mine – sports stories, World War II biographies – but for a man who had never read much more than newspapers or magazines when I was growing up, it was as complete an interest change as one can have. From this, I learned it is never to late to start – or keep – learning.
My father was devoted to my mother his whole life and, after her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in 2015, became her primary caregiver, becoming responsible for the mass of ordinary tasks that she had done for years and making sure that doctor’s appointments, medicines and the like were all attended to. As my mother’s memory became less and less, he coped with continuing to care with a person that was less and less the person he had married. My mother enjoyed drives, so every day they would take a short drive somewhere. It did not matter where: she did not remember they had been there the day after, and he liked to drive. They would go out to lunch somewhere – McDonald’s, Chick-Fil-A, local diners that they had found over the years – and then drive home. He cared for her up to the point of moving her in to a care facility; only a few days later, he himself had a stroke as if his body and mind, knowing that they had done what needed doing, finally just gave out. From this, I learned and relearned commitment.
After my family’s move from Old Home to New Home, I would call to speak with my parents. I called during the drive home from my martial arts class. Over the years that day changed – sometimes Monday, sometimes Thursday, but mostly Tuesday. Every week for years, I would call at 7:15 or so their local time. The conversation would always start out the same “Hold on, let me go get the other phone –say hello” he would tell my mother as he would get the phone, and we would start talking.
Our talks would be of the most ordinary sorts of things, week after week: The weather. What the grandchildren were doing. The price of gas. What was happening at The Ranch. The quiet things of routine.
And that, perhaps, was the greatest lesson I learned from my father: that even in an ordinary life, there is a simple and quiet greatness to be found.
A very nice eulogy and I find it fitting that it is now immortalized on your blog.ReplyDelete
Thank you Ed. He himself was not a great one for the InterWeb, but perhaps he will appreciate both the thought and the gentle irony of the situation.Delete
That was a great eulogy. Thank you for sharing it with us. I wish I was as eloquent as you are in expressing yourself.ReplyDelete
Thank you very much and you are quite welcome. In terms of the eloquence, I fear it is less any native talent and more long years of just writing every day.Delete
Thank you for sharing TB.
The cancer took my father just after the calendar turned 1970. He was 46 and I was 13. Cancer took mother at age 52 just nine years after that. I should get a eulogy in writing for my children and grands about both of those wonderful people before I’m gone. I feel fortunate these last 20+ years of mine have been bonus years compared to both of my folks abrupt life endings.
I’ll close by repeating “thank you for sharing “
FnB - How traumatic that must have been; I am sorry. My friend The Director lost both of his parents before he 22 as well; it has given him a very different experience than mine on such things. He has the same "bonus" view as you do.Delete
One of the things I indirectly benefitted from was a family (on my mother's side especially) that really kept their family history so in a way, I "knew" the previous generations. A eulogy for your parents sounds like a grand idea.
Good of you to share this TB and as to being too long, not at all, it was the right length to convey a sense of the man your father was. It seems that all we have at the end are memories.ReplyDelete
Thank you Nylon12. It was a pleasure to do so and if in reading it you feel you get a sense of my father, then I more than accomplished what I had hoped to do.Delete
Lovely eulogy. The last sentence was quite thought provoking as is much of your writing.ReplyDelete
Thank you Sbrgirl. The thought is not entirely original to me; it is somewhat reflected in the movie version of The Lord of The Rings/Fellowship of The Ring where Bilbo Baggins, reflecting on the day of his 111th birthday, reflects that a simple life well lived is no bad thing. Our culture does not value a simple or plain life anymore; all is about appearance and visibility and every person should be a "star".Delete
How interesting... My view of my folks was very similar. We had a handful of stories of their past, but not much detail. Large gaps still exist. And it felt like it was "off limits" to even ask about them. I just found out a couple weeks ago, they were high school sweet hearts. I still can't wrap my mind around that. They grew apart over time.ReplyDelete
Our view on the difference of their early years and ours was similar, too. I grew up far differently than my dad.
Your parents surely put their mark on you. The thoughtfulness you bring to life (and the blog) is testimony to that. And, their impact on you has rippled into my life as well. Thank you for being an emissary of their goodness into the wider world. I do appreciate it.
STxAR - Oddly enough, I do not know there were "off limit" questions for my parents; I never asked and apparently it was never the need - until late in the game - to relate them.Delete
Yes, seeing relationships as we knew them versus how they were "in the day" can very much be a black and white exercise in differences. Looking back, one wonders the point at which things started to veer apart, and did anyone realize it at the time.
Thank you for the kind words as well. I am grateful that you can see something of them through me - makes all those years invested in raising my sister and I not completely fruitless.
As I've told you before, I don't read blogs every day, so I've just read the last three about your dad. What a stirring tribute and I know you felt privileged to deliver it. Well done. My parents have been gone 26 years (Mom) and 16 years (Dad) respectively and I think of them each day, as I do my brother, my only sibling, who died in 2017. We are never the same after losses such as these, and we carry on with them in our hearts and God's grace. I realized reading your eulogy that I never knew the story of how my parents met, other than they were introduced by a mutual friend. Too many stories died with them. Praying for continued peace and comfort for you.ReplyDelete
Thank you Bob. Hopefully I did him credit.Delete
I have found - post interment - that I am missing him now more than ever. Part of that is the finality, I assume . Part of it is the realization that I have not spoken to my father in probably two years - really spoken to him, not the decreasing circle of conversation we had later.
Sadly with my father passing and my mother unable to remember, a generation of their stories passes with them. Perhaps in a way, this is why my father wanted to make sure I knew where he had lived once upon a time, some premonition of the fact that it had to be passed on before too much time more time passed.
A wonderful eulogy, TB. God's blessing and peace to you all.ReplyDelete
Thank you Linda. I like to believe I got it right.Delete