My Dad died on September 6th. I had just seen him 2 weeks before. He was not himself, but I also chalked that up to his age of 84.
Here is the Eulogy I wrote for my Dad.
How does one sum up 84 years of life.
My Dad was born in Wauwatosa on July 26th, 1932, at home, the youngest of 3 boys. He and his brothers were very close in age and in heart. He graduated from Wauwatosa High School in 1950.
Dad grew up during the depression, he was from the generation that didn’t discuss money or politics. Dad’s goal was that everyone would get along.
He was drafted into the Army at the end of the Korean conflict. He went over to Japan and was a Radar Operator in Korea. He told me about how he would track the planes flying overhead. Because he was tall, he was flag bearer at the beginning of the parade when someone important was visiting. Other than that, my Dad didn’t talk much about his time in the Army, but one summer when my husband (who was a HAM radio operator) and I were visiting, my husband was communicating in morse code on his radio and my Dad said…well, it’s been a long time since I heard that.
Dad finished his degree in Art Education at the University of Wisconsin. He spent the majority of his career selling Yellow Pages ads. He even had me help him cut and paste the art into the ads when it meant cutting with a scissor and pasting with rubber cement
He spent a summer working overnights at the Schlitz Brewery watching the line for short fills. He just retold the story to me 2 weeks ago. About working the overnight, and how there would be a guy on the other side of the line from him. If either one of them started to drift off to sleep, they would take one of the short fill bottles, shake it up, and spray the other to wake them up. After a night such as this one, my Dad and his coworker found themselves needing to take the bus home (due to both of their cars being in the shop) he said how they both had blood shot eyes and smelled of beer. He said he heard some elderly ladies whispering about how they looked and smelled…he said he thought to himself, come on lady, I’m just trying to earn a living here.
It was at an establishment called “The Cave” when the fates collided and my parents met. My Mom, who was a teacher, was out with a girlfriend and they decided to make a final stop at a place where her girlfriend knew a lot of people. Her girlfriend was talking to some friends and left my Mom alone, which is when my Dad came up and asked her to dance. She gave him her number and he called a few weeks later with an offer to go out for dinner and a show at the Sunset Playhouse. There were married on July 3rd, 1965. In the city of Milwaukee there are fireworks on the 3rd, I would tell my parents they were for them in celebration of their anniversary.
I once inquired why he didn’t wear his class ring. He told me that many of the businesses that he called on were family owned where maybe no one had gone to college, he didn’t want them to think he thought he was any better than them. He even added that in my life I would work with all kinds of people and to not judge them based on what they did or where they were from, but on their character as a person. That made a huge impact on me as a child and has helped me tremendously in my professional life.
called “the local color” This was the case in NYC. He and my Mom were staying in Times Square and Dad decided to go have a nightcap. He told me the next day that he went to a bar, I forget the name of it, ordered a drink…then looked around and noticed the bar was filled with Men…only Men. He said he took his time finishing his drink and left.
The other things Dad loved in life were golf (he had his hip replaced because it was hampering his golf game), ping pong, reading, and standing over my Mom’s shoulder to select Netflix movies.
The thing my Dad loved most in life was family and specifically, his grandchildren. In my case it was furry grandkids…Dad would always ask how the puppies were doing (I have dogs)…he was also gracious enough to treat my step-kids as family. My brother and his most fantastic wife, gave my parents 4 grandchildren that my Dad cherished. Most of our recent phone calls would include a story about what my Dad did with one of the grandkids.
Today is 5 months since you left this earth. I still wake up every day and expect you to be here. You came to me in a dream for the first time a few nights ago. That was comforting. It’s beginning to look like Spring. The trees are getting buds on them, the bulbs I planted last fall are starting to poke up through the ground and I’m excited to see them turn into flowers.
Most days I’m ok. I still miss you, I think I probably always will. And, that’s OK. Love never ends…that is what people keep telling me….the love never ends.
You left this earth 4 month ago. It seems to just be setting in…that I will never get to see your face again. That I will never feel the touch of your hand in my hand.
I know you were very unhappy at the end, unhappy with me, unhappy with the cards that life dealt to you.
And I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that I didn’t love you better, that I didn’t pay close enough attention to your pain.
And I’m angry.
I’m trying to make the best of it. To be strong and to put on a brave face. But I am broken. The waves crash and sometimes I can’t even breathe….and then other days I am OK…
I still cry, gross ugly sobbing, red puffy eyes tears…
grocery shopping is not as hard anymore, but I don’t really eat regular meals either….unless it’s takeout…I miss NYC
Lucy misses you. At least she has stopped looking for you, but I played one of your youtube videos the other day and her ears pricked up. I miss when you made up voices for the dogs.
Thank you for all the youtube videos, photos, and blog posts. At least I can go online and look at and listen to you.
I miss you. I miss my best friend.
People try to remind me that you are at peace and that I can take comfort in that…and deep in my heart I know you were broken…and most likely would never be able to get back to the happy self that I met and feel in love with.
But, all the logic in the world doesn’t fill the hole in my heart.
I’m tired of being strong…so for just a little while…I’m going to let myself fall apart…
I could have made various choices on how to spend my Christmas holiday. I decided to spend it mostly alone. I did go to a co-worker’s house for Christmas eve and that was a nice time. Christmas day was quiet. I had been binge watching a series and I watched the last 2 episodes Christmas morning. Around 2pm I decided to go out. I went to see the movie “Joy” and went out to eat…nothing fancy. Just food.
I felt it was just what I needed to do this year. Norma posted a youtube video on her Facebook page that Charley made a few Christmas ago. I looked at a few more of his videos, and had a good cry. When I think of the Charley I miss, I miss who he was at the beginning of our relationship…before things became so twisty and complicated. I believe his is at rest now. He deserves to peace he only had for moments at a time living on this earth.
Charley spent his life surrounded by Leo’s. His mother was a Leo, the mother of his children is a Leo, his daughter is a Leo, I’m a Leo, and we even have a dog named Leo.
Charley was a beautiful, brilliant, and complicated man. Musician, IT guru, HAM radio operator, star gazer, and photographer.
When Charley shared his music, he was sharing his soul.
Right or wrong he was raised by his mother to believe that his lot in life was to take care of his older brother Joey, who had Down’s syndrome. I am told he had a very special bond with his brother, his first CD was labeled For Joey. I believe I saw a glimpse of that when he met my cousin Todd, who also has Down’s syndrome.
He was so tender, so understanding, so gentle.
When Charley was in High School he met Jackie McLean. He would go to Jackie’s house in Hartford and take private lessons. He looked to Jackie as a father figure. He continued his music studies at the Hartt School of Music. Hoping to take his music to the next level, he bought a tiny studio apartment in New York City. He didn’t stay there…he ended up back in CT. His brother died, and he knew it was time to make his own life.
Part of that life included meeting Hedy, with whom he had two amazing kids…Alex and Norma. Alex inherited Charley’s musical talent and Norma inherited his brilliant mind and we are so proud of her for getting accepted to UConn. Charley wished he could have spent more time with and done more for them. He loved you both deeply…hold onto that.
The other part of that life included going to IT school and then moving back to NYC. That is where we met. We spent over a month and 100 emails back and forth before actually meeting in person. Yes, we were an online dating success story. I will never forget the first time we met, how beautiful and deep his eyes were. I worked in the theater at the time and used to make dates between shows because I would always have an excuse to leave to go back to work. On my first date with Charley, I was late getting back to work. We went on 2 more dates that same week and were inseparable after that. Because I had my days free for the most part. I would spend Friday afternoons with him at his job…this is where he introduced me to the world of IT.
We spent the first 3 ½ years of our marriage in that tiny apartment 365 square feet, 1 square foot for every day of the year.
We would have been married for 12 years next Feb…on what would have been his 50th Birthday.
And now I would like to continue with words of his own. Published in 2009 on his blog.
I’ve posted this before. I keep returning to it – and it never fails to remind me how deep and complex we are. It is so easy to trivialize, to label, to stereotype… and we forget that each of us was once somebody’s child. We’re not cartoons. We’re not liberals and conservatives. Inside each of us lives a child who longs to be understood.
Years ago when I first met my wife, she gave me a copy of a beautiful story.
I was anxious to share everything there was to share about myself – and I wanted her to know everything about me – both the good and the bad.
We spoke about things like regret and we also spoke about forgiveness. We spoke about what it means to lose yourself and lose your way.
I long for a community like the one in this story. I long for love and support of those who remind me when I’ve lost my way and help me find the real me whom I forgot.
How many of us could benefit from hearing our song sung to us when we’ve lost our way? How many of us sometimes need to be reminded who we truly are?
The Song of A Life
When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she
goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of the child.
They recognize that every soul has its own vibration that expresses
its unique flavor and purpose.
When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they
return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else.
When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s
song to him or her. Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and chants the child’s song.
When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the
people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person hears his or her song.
Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family
and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth,
and they sing the person to the next life.
In the African tribe, there is one other occasion upon which the
villagers sing to the child.
If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or
aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the
village and the people in the community form a circle around them.
Then they sing their song to them.
The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.
A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when
you have forgotten it.
Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or
dark images you hold about yourself.
They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness
when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your
purpose when you are confused.
You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song
to you at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding you when you are in tune with yourself and when you are not.
When you feel good, what you are doing matches your song, and
when you feel awful, it doesn’t.
– Author Unknown
Charley had the opportunity to go to The Democratic Republic of Congo when he worked for the International Rescue Committee. He loved the people he met there and the experience he had. While he worked at the IRC he attended Columbia University where he earned his Master’s in IT Management. He used those skills to start his own IT consulting firm when we returned to CT in 2011.
Unfortunately in these last few years in CT Charley lost his way. Instead of having someone to sing his song, he was met by a chain of events that triggered the deepest and darkest voices that he battled with since he was a child.
He also spoke of how alone he felt, how his family was gone. His Brother, Father Peter, who he was just starting to have a relationship with again before he passed away, and Mother Lily were gone. Reminding him that I and his kids were still here failed to console his grief.
So while I am going to miss him, miss listening to him play…at random…a string of songs on the piano. Or the Bach Cellos suites as a method of practicing his saxophone.
Or seeing how excited he would be over a new QSL card from a new country he contacted via his HAM radio. How happy he was when he had a good night playing with Other Orchestra in Hartford. And just sitting out on our deck watching the planes go by and tracking where they were going with an app on our phone and dreaming of the trips we could take when we were old. …or star gazing at night.
I am going to take peace that he is with all of those he loved that went before him and the struggles of this mortal coil are over. Charley liked to say that we are all made of stardust. I swear there is a new bright star in the sky.
The kids and I did some of the planning together. We went to the funeral home together and picked out the various things, the urn, the prayer cards, etc. Hedy and Norma had suggested doing the funeral itself at the Deep River Congregational Church…honestly at first I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have a formal funeral. We were not church going people, even though we both did believe in God…we are more of the spiritual/we are made of stardust kind of folks. but, after such an outcry of attention from friends and family near and far…I decided to go ahead. Norma and I met with the minister to plan the service. Tim Haut, the minister, was amazing. We planned the service a few weeks out so that Hedy (the kids Mom) could be there.
I choose a few entries from Charley’s blog to be read. Invictus was read by our friend Rex Denton, and A Letter from Rudyard Kipling was read by Charley’s step-sister Linda Compton.
And there was music. Tony Sherr played “Peace of Mind” and Alex Nakhimovsky, Frank Lombardo, and Rex Denton played Ave Maria and another selection that seemed to be a mashup of Charley’s music. They were all incredible.
I made it through giving the eulogy. and other friends had some lovely words to say about Charley.
Norma gave a heart wrenching speech of how unfair and unfinished she feels about her Dad’s death. Very honest and very on point. I am proud of her courage for getting up and being honest about how much this just sucks.
We ended the service singing “this little light”. It was something Charley had been playing a lot in the last month he was alive. All the guys got up and played. It reminded me of the New Orleans mummer parade. It was absolutely beautiful.
Between the day Charley died and the day he was cremated I took off work. I am so very lucky to have a job and manager that supports me during this time. I spent most of that week in shock. I can look back at it now and realize that is what it was. Along with having to pass the news to people, plan the funeral/cremation/memorial.
Charley had been attending meetings and was gone most evenings. So around 9-10 PM every evening I would think he was going to walk in the door. Then when I reminded myself he was not, I would go to bed.
The hardest things that week was watching Lucy grieve. I think at this point she knows he’s not coming back. But for awhile she sat by the front door, or in the yard looking down at the HAM radio antennas. Like Charley was going to emerge from the lower part of the yard and hang out with her.
My neighbors are incredible. My KIA decided to not start the moment I was suppose to head to the funeral home. So I jumped into Charley’s Volvo and went to the funeral home. My neighbor, who is good with cars, jumped it, took it to the auto parts store, and put a new battery in it.
My other neighbors brought me food, every night for awhile until I told them to stop. I had forgotten to cancel my Blue Apron delivery so I had a box of food fit to prep 3 meals for 2…with 0 motivation to cook. I also received 2 huge fruit baskets. I finally juiced the oranges and grapefruit for a delicious drink, and cut up the apples and pears and made a “crisp” dessert out of them.
Grieving is such a process…like an ocean…sometimes calm and other times the waves just hit you and knock you to the ground…and it’s OK.