My dad has terminal cancer. In January they found a baseball-sized mass in his left lung that was making him short of breath. At first he was going to do some treatment, but then when they were doing surgery to put in a drain for the fluid building on his lung, he had a reaction to the anesthesia and it was shortly after that that he decided not to take any extraordinary measures like radiation or chemo. He’s 80 years old.
The cancer has spread to his brain and after his last scan they either said the tumors had grown or there was more of them; my mom couldn’t recall exactly. There’s no prognosis or time limit for him, but he is on hospice now and slowing down a little more every day.
Ever since I stopped going home while I was in college, I’ve imagined the day when my father would die. The phone call letting me know, the fervent race home, the service, and I always imagined I’d be delivering the eulogy.
And now that that day is fast approaching, my imagining has come true. So now, rather than mentally preparing for the inevitable, I’m reviewing my options, considering different approaches, creating rough drafts in my mind.
I considered talking about Superman. They’re the same age and I can certainly create comparisons between the two. I’ve thought about doing the entire thing like a letter to Joseph. When my mom’s best friend died, she delivered a wonderful eulogy that covered a broad area of her life, mentioning all the people she’d touched. It was good.
Lately I’ve been thinking that it should be simple, short. My dad wasn’t a big, grandstanding guy. He thought of others first, his family most, and he wouldn’t want a big deal being made about him in the end. He wasn’t perfect (isn’t).
I could do a long and storied tale of his life from birth to teen years to young adulthood to mariage, family, retirement … I could start with a quote from Doctor Who about how we’re all just stories in the end:
“We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”
I could just wing it. Thinking about this has brought up all these little details of my life with him. Reminded me that when I was a kid I was kind of scared of him. How he was really the first bully in my life. That’s not really the kind of thing you mention in a eulogy, though, is it?
It’s not like he’ll be there to hear it. The people that will be there will be family and friends. And it’s not a time for truth. It’s a time for comfort, sensitivity, and kindness.
“My dad was born June 13, 1938 to Katie and Harvey Lane. He has a younger sister, Peggy. He was a good man, loved his wife and kids, worked hard and always did his best.” And then he died.
It’s not exactly poetic.
“My earliest memories of my dad were being swung between his legs, climbing over his lap through the hole that forms when you cross your legs, and getting the leftovers from his lunchbox. My latest memories are, well … you’re in them, so you know.
“What’s kind of funny about this, is that on this occasion, my dad is the center of attention. We are all here for and because of him, and he’s not the type of guy that would have sought that out. I remember going to parties as a kid, my parents’ parties I mean, and finding that out of the way place to hang out and my dad eventually being there.
“At the time it was just a cool dad thing. I understand now, though, that he was most likely not comfortable among all the other people, something I can relate to. There are days, as I’m sure there are for some or most or a few of you, when I don’t want to see anyone I know. Conversations can feel forced no matter how close you are to someone.
“Maybe this isn’t such a bad party to be at for him, then, because no one’s going to try and talk to him.
“I don’t – I’m not really religious. Sorry, mom. But it’s just how I am now. I believe in truth and when I relax, when I have to just fall because there’s too much, I end up in a place where there aren’t big looming figures or rules or traditions. There’s the stuff that matters. Whose going to be okay, what can I do, how do I deal?
“So there’s no bitter denial here, no desperate grasping at chances and possibilities. I knew that my dad would die and it was never a question of if, just when and how. Things that we ultimately have no control over. One can easily say that ‘God’ determines that and I’d say basically the same thing, except I’d shrug my shoulders if you asked me to name the party responsible.
“What I haven’t been able to convince my mother of is how little it matters that I name names. There’s a great quote from The Big Bang Theory, I love it. My dad loved it, too, the show. After Seinfeld it was probably his next favorite sitcom. Well, in the first episode where the nerdy, awkward Sheldon meets the equally nerdy, awkard Amy Farrah-Fowler in a coffee shop, she says, ‘I don’t object to the concept of a deity, but I’m baffled by the notion of one that takes attendance.’
“My dad never said anything about my faith or beliefs, and I never brought up the subject. I’d like to think it didn’t matter to him, but I’m sure it did. Just not enough to debate or argue. If everything’s okay in the end, it’s okay.
“And it is. My dad was always going to die. No one wanted him to go the way he did, but the idea of an acceptable manner of death is kind of ridiculous.”
I don’t know what else to say. I like how that takes me through my beliefs and gives me the chance to denounce ‘God’ in his own house. (Take that!) But it gets a little rambly in the end.
Why not go completely selfish with it. Talk about whatever I want while I’ve got the audience to really enjoy it. Open the door on every topic. Turn it into a debate. A melee. Wreck some lives.
I could do it for Joseph. What would I want to say to him.
“I understand that this is supposed to be a eulogy and there’s traditional ways of doing that, but I’d like to do something else, if you all don’t mind. I’d like to talk to my son, Joseph. I won’t take long.
“Hi, Joe. (At this point hopefully he would respond somehow.) Everyone, this is Joe. (And he says something adorable.)
“When you were born, your Grandpa Bob was there. He wasn’t in the room, he was outside, waiting, worrying. Shortly after that, he left. My mom, your Grandma Dee Dee, said that he really wanted to be there for me if I needed him, and they came back the next day to meet you officially.
“I thought it was odd for him to do it that way; I really wanted him to meet you after you were born. I understand it, though. He wanted to be there for his son, and I’d probably do the same thing for you.
“And now Grandpa is gone. He got sick and didn’t get better. You might wonder where he is now or what has happened to him after he died. And I have to tell you: I don’t know.
“Nobody does. We have beliefs that give us answers, but none of it’s verifiable. It’s just comforting.
“You have to follow your truth and since you are just five years old and are still building that truth, I’ll give you a piece of mine: He’s okay.”
No, I don’t think that’s a winner either. Maybe a limerick:
“There once was a man named Bob.
Who did a Union Electric job.
He loved his wife and kids,
Made sure they never hit the skids.
And no one would call him a yob.”
There we go! Winner, winner; chicken dinner. I’m glad that’s settled.