I read this eulogy at my father’s funeral service on January 13th at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tampa, Florida:
A Letter to my Father
Dad, It’s hard to realize you aren’t here with us anymore. Every time I finally process the fact that you are gone, my mind draws up so many happy memories and stories, that I get excited, laugh, and want to call you, only to remember, once again, I can’t call you anymore. It’s a painful resetting process, as I’m sure all who have lost someone special know, to learn to adapt to a new normal, without that central figure in your life that you never imagined not being there.
It’s easy to go into these spirals of sadness, the unfairness of it all…I saw you just the other week, we were emailing the day you died. How could this happen so suddenly? And what could I have done to save you? Maybe I should have called you more that day, if only I had stayed in Tampa an extra week as you had jokingly asked me to — “I’ve got tickets to the football championship,” you said, “stay with us another week and we can go together.” Now that championship game has passed, and you weren’t here to enjoy it.
It’s statements like these that scare me. The “you won’t be here for…” It can easily become a fill-in-the-blank for so many more major life events coming up for the four sisters, the two grandkids, for mom, for me. It breaks my heart that Mary Patton won’t have you there to walk her down the aisle on her upcoming wedding day, that Elizabeth’s next child will never know you, that Cody’s future husband will never get the chance to meet you, that you will never see me move back to the United States, that Mom and you won’t get to retire on Useppa Island and catch fish and collect seashells together for the next thirty plus years.
I want to wallow in these sad thoughts and just sit and cry about the gap there is now in all of our lives. But I know you would hate that. To you, there’s a positive side to everything, so here goes…
We ended on the most amazing note. The whole family together at Useppa, celebrating Christmas and New Years together. You saw your second daughter get engaged, you helped your first grandchild win a fishing tournament, and you danced New Years Eve away in a kilt, talking in a fake Scottish accent, the happiest man in the world surrounded by family and friends. Your last tennis game on the island, you told me you whooped Clare Sipprelle so badly she wanted to quit. Your last bocce game, you played on a team with Cody Junior against Bren and me, and smack-talked us so much, we lost to you horrendously. You won our family game of Hearts, you beat Cody in your never-ending game of gin-rummy, you won your last game of racquetball that Friday night. Leave it to you, to stop playing these games after a win, so that you will always be the final victor.
You were the most obnoxious competitor, always knew how to push our buttons and get under our skin when it came to friendly competition. But when it came to supporting us, you were our #1 cheerleader. You always made us feel like winners, that we are smart, improving, and unstoppable. For years, I thought I was the best fisher person in the world, never realizing that you had already hooked a fish before handing me the rod. This Christmas, I saw you pulling the same trick with Lorraine, and her eyes lit up when she realized she had caught her own fish.
It was the same with tennis. When playing with you, every ball was hit perfectly to me, and all my terrible shots were returned easily. I thought I was great, and a decent challenger for you, until I saw you truly compete. But you were perfect like that, in all aspects of our lives, building up our confidence with the easy shots, and then as our skill and confidence grew, you would hit us a ball a little further out, make us run a little more. You always knew when to support and build us up, and when to encourage us to try for more.
So although you might not be here physically for these upcoming life events, you will always be with us, because you made us who we are today. You taught us to love learning, and supported us in everything we wanted to do. Sure, Mary Patton isn’t a professional horseback rider, my career as a tennis all-star didn’t play out, Elizabeth might not be a concert pianist, and Cody’s pottery class creations didn’t sell in stores…but you let us explore and figure that out for ourselves. And then when we did need more hands-on assistance you swooped in to the rescue.
College applications, interview prep, deadlines and editing, that was your bread and butter. In your next life, I think you should be a college advisor after all the time you spent researching on our behalf.
I love that Cody found an index card in your wallet with all the medical schools she’s applying to, and their deadlines, just in case you needed to reference it quickly. I was lucky enough to apply for colleges at home with you, which meant announcing when I was ready, so you could run over to my laptop, and we would count down to press “send” together, two fingers clicking the button simultaneously.
I am who I am today because of you, and I know my sisters feel the same. You would always answer our phone calls, even if that meant we had to stare at your ear because you didn’t know how to use FaceTime, and you would ask about our day, our work, our life updates, you remembered every single detail of our lives and knew all the right things to ask about. For a man surrounded constantly by five women, you sure got good at active listening.
And no matter what issue I had, you always made me feel better. You had this calmness to you that had me believe that everything was going to work out, everything is going to be fine. We joked that you were a shark, always on the move, never stopping. But even when you were “sharking”, as we called it, you were living life in the moment. There were always tasks to be done. Watering the garden, draining and cleaning the hot tub, golf carting to the store for a newspaper, fixing the fishing poles, checking on the bait trap….always on to the next activity. But that was peace for you. I loved tagging along with you on your endless list of self-designated chores, because you found such happiness in them. Every golf cart we passed received a friendly greeting and maybe even a stop-in-the-road conversation, every struggling fisher person at the kid’s tournament was shown a better spot to fish, and a weight from your bait box added to their line. Going to the store to pick up milk became an excuse to go tidy the tennis courts, and make sure no leaves had blown onto the bocce court since when you cleaned it the day before. With your constant tidying, involvement, and presence, you showed everyone how much you cared.
When we went deep sea fishing over Christmas, you never actually fished. The whole time we were out there, you were busy baiting everyone else’s rods, fixing our broken lines, watching and guiding and telling us when to jerk. That made you happier than catching your own fish…seeing us succeed.
We always joked that you couldn’t last a five minute conversation with anyone without somehow bringing up, not even strategically or on a related note, that you have four daughters, where we went to college, where we now live, and what we do. I used to get so embarrassed when you would do it, to a waiter, a saleswoman at the register, a stranger on the street. I’d smack you and say “Dad, stop! They don’t care about all that.” But now, I realize, it was never about them. It was about you, our father, who cared so deeply for his four daughters that you just couldn’t help but shout it from the mountaintops.
And I want to be just like you, dad. You always preached the importance of having all the pieces of the pie with life. And you did that so well. You were a hard working, successful lawyer, recognized by your peers; a loving, caring husband of 33 years; a silly, supportive father of four young women who are all going off to do great things; a great friend to countless others; and of course, an active All-American athlete till the very end.
Dad, you truly had all the pieces of the pie. I too want to be a good child, worker, aunt, spouse, parent, grandparent, and more, and while you may not be here to see me become these things, I will never stop sharing your stories, and your memory and spirit will live on with all of us as long as we live.
My last day with you, when we were at Useppa, you paused your pottering about to tell me I should go jump in the cove, and I looked up from my warm spot in the hot tub and said no. You responded with, “bird, when is the next time you’re going to be able to do this? Let’s do it together.” And so, the two of us jumped into the ocean on our very last day together, swam out to the marker, and just floated in the water together, enjoying the moment. I love that I was able to share your last ocean swim with you, so in this time of sadness I am going to focus on this final memory with you, because as you always told us growing up,