Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Summing Up

Eulogies are hard for me. Though I’d never done one before, I’ve been asked three times in the last year to speak at a funeral. To sum up a life is a daunting thing.

The first was for the man who became the other grandfather to one of my grandsons. I met him at my daughter’s wedding. We talked often at holiday gatherings and at our mutual grandson’s birthday parties. Doug Kimble was easy to like. He died suddenly of a heart attack and his two sons took it hard, as one might expect. I told his son - my son-in-law, Nate, that if there was anything I could do, please ask.
Grandson Alex, Nate, Doug Kimble at Crescent Lake, Maine

He and his brother knew they’d be too emotional to speak at the memorial service, so he asked me to say a few words. I said I hadn’t known him very well and he said that was okay. Doug Kimble was a private guy, a surveyor, who kept to himself most of the time. He was in very good shape for his age, except for his cholesterol. We had discussed this in one of our last conversations because it’s one of the things sixty-something guys talk about. He indicated that his was high and that he wasn’t intending to do anything about it. Mine had been high too, but I told him I was taking Lipitor which brought it way down. We discussed ways of dying - advantages and disadvantages. He said the advantage of heart attacks was that they were usually quick - and that’s how it was for him a year hence. His son, Mike, found him in bed at his lakeside cottage this time last year where he’d been reading. A bit early at 67, but not a bad way to go.
Doug Kimble Memorial Service, Bridgton, Maine

My sister, a nurse/practitioner who works with geriatric and chronically-ill people, told me only 10% of deaths are sudden like that, but 90% of us linger. I’d watched a lot of people die, having worked more than two years as an orderly in a geriatric/chronic-care hospital on the second shift when I was in college. People didn’t get better and go home from there. They went out horizontally, and one of my jobs was to attach toe tags and bring the bodies down to the morgue where undertakers picked them up. I’d gotten away from death for thirty-six years teaching young people, but now I’m involved with it again.

Didn’t think I’d be emotional speaking at Doug’s funeral, but I was. It came on all of a sudden. It was the solemnity, the finality, the love in the room. I told people how I remembered him and invited others to do the same.

Then my cousin called a few months ago and asked me to eulogize my Uncle Joe. Now Joe I’d known my whole life and I loved him. He was a great man and I was honored to be asked, but I didn’t feel I could do the job adequately. I hesitated, and my cousin told me I could say no, but I really couldn’t. I said yes and then decided make Joe’s eulogy my column for the week.
Uncle Joe, Mary McLaughlin (my mother) and me in the Aran Islands

Writing it wasn’t as difficult as I thought, but delivering it was harder. Again, I was in a room full of people who loved him, only this time I was one of them and his casket was beside me. He was ninety-three and had been mostly bed-ridden for the last several months, so death wasn’t unexpected. I thought I was okay with it, but I wasn’t. Fear won’t make me cry, but sadness can put me off center. When genuine love is expressed in my presence, however, I can get emotional and in this case sadness and love combined. I choked up as I delivered Joe’s eulogy and that’s very hard for me in public.
Uncle Joe's funeral in Marlborough, Massachusetts

My younger brother died shortly after that and my sister-in-law, Vicki, asked me to deliver his eulogy too. Again I hesitated because by then I knew how I was likely to get. She sensed it and said I didn’t have to, that she could get someone else, but again I agreed. Dan was my brother and I loved him. We were two of eight and all of us have several children. Four of us have grandchildren as well, including Dan, and he was the first to go on to the next life. Vicki sent me pictures of him at all stages of his life. His was the hardest eulogy to write, and to deliver.

After it was written, I recited it to my wife and I choked up. She suggested I recite it again and I was able to get through it okay the second time. I thought I’d be fine when the funeral mass came around, but I wasn’t. Dan’s eulogy was the hardest of all.My mother with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren at Dan's funeral in Fryeburg, Maine

Life goes on.


Anonymous said...

I did this for my son who died at 40. I will not elaborate but it was the hardest thing I have ever done and will remain with me forever.

Peace and love.

Rhonda said...

Brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for a good column. We all need to think upon these things once in awhile, and hopefully, it will help us to be better people in the short time that we all have left on earth.

Anonymous said...

My condolences Tom.


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