Eulogies from Stephen's Sons
First, I would like to thank everyone for being here today.
It means a great deal to my family, and my father would be truly humbled to know his life touched so many people.
I also want to recognize a few people who have helped me through this most difficult time:
First and foremost, I have to thank my wife Danielle. I don’t know how you were able to take care of our son, our dogs, our home, and your career, all the while remaining a source of strength and comfort for me each and every day from more than a thousand miles away. But you did, and I couldn’t have been with my dad in his final days without you. Thank you for being the wife and mother that you are.
Thank you to my brother Chris for being the anchor and the captain of our family these past weeks. You shouldered a great deal of stress and responsibility, and I know Dad was smiling down on a couple of our brotherly quarrels. Despite a few bumps in the road, we navigated this difficult ride as one heck of a team thanks to your leadership.
Thank you to my extended family and circle of friends for offering endless amounts of support, compassion and sympathy. Your love has kept me afloat.
And finally, I must recognize my mother for showing unthinkable strength, courage and devotion. 36 years ago you were asked to make a commitment. A commitment to love my dad in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health…and Mom, you lived up to that promise through and through. Early mornings and late nights, doctor’s offices and ambulances to the hospital, and everywhere in between you sacrificed your life to save Dad’s, and he was eternally grateful for everything you did. And so am I.
I wish I could skip over the part about my dad’s life being cut short, but the reality is that he should have lived longer. I think about each of my grandparents living into their 80s and beyond and the time we had together, and I always envisioned the same for my Dad in his new chapter as a grandfather.
There were countless memories yet to be written, conversations yet to be spoken, jokes yet to be told, lessons yet to be learned and milestones yet to be reached. Cancer took that from him, from me, from Jackson, and from our entire family.
But to be fair, my Dad lived one heck of a life, packed full of unique experiences. My dad was an interesting person who squeezed the most out of an otherwise ordinary life. From painting houses to umpiring softball games, from surveying property lines to covering high school sports for the town newspaper, my Dad took on countless second jobs to afford our family the simple pleasures of summer vacations and a backyard swimming pool.
When his years as a teacher and his summers at second jobs ended with retirement, my Dad was able to focus his energies on a variety of interests.
There were tennis, softball and golf leagues in The Villages. There was the pickup truck he always wanted that put him on an endless mission to help my brother and I. It didn’t matter how big or small the job, my dad was there with his truck ready to help. There were trips to Mexico and Europe with my mom. There was never-ending yard work and handyman projects around the house. There were special trips to see his grandsons, and there were weekends to be with me and Chris.
And when we couldn’t be together, my father would mail letters and postcards covering a wide spectrum of topics. If I saw a newspaper clipping folded inside the envelope, I knew I was in for a real treat. I recall one newspaper clipping on a study showing a correlation between untraditional first names and a more likely occurrence of criminal behavior. Lucky for me, Michael was the top boy’s name throughout the 80s. So thank you Mom and Dad for keeping me out of prison with your safe name choice.
I wasn’t the only one to benefit from my Dad’s mailings; our bulldogs received everything from Halloween and Valentine’s Day cards to magazine clippings of ads featuring other bulldogs, none of them as cute as Lincoln and Zoe according to my Dad.
There was something about the time my Dad took to send these spontaneous notes that showed me in his way, that he loved me. He didn’t need to, because I already knew, but he did so for good measure, and I’m glad he did.
My greatest regret is responding to my Dad’s efforts with phone calls and emails, and not taking the time to write him letters and send cards to let him know how very much I loved him.
So I’d like to share with you the letter I should have written years ago:
I’m sorry it’s taken until now for me to tell you how much I love you, but I need you to know that I love you more than anything.
Thank you for teaching me all that you have.
You taught me throw, you taught me to catch, you taught me to dribble and pass, to work hard and keep my head up. You taught me the value of a dollar, what it takes to earn it, and how to spend it wisely. Unfortunately, you also taught me how to hold on to tee-shirts, jeans and sneakers well beyond their natural lifespan, but thankfully I have Danielle to tell me when enough is enough.
I’ll always remember you checking the thermostat every 30 minutes in an effort to save on heating costs. I’ll always remember you timing our morning showers before school to save on hot water. I’ll remember you pouring water into ketchup and shampoo bottles to prolong their lives.
But I’ll also remember you and Mom giving me everything I ever needed and never wanting more.
I’ll remember our family vacations across the country, skiing in Maine, trips in our camper and summer cookouts in our backyard.
I’ll remember you as a coach who wanted our team to give it our best but to enjoy ourselves.
I’ll remember you as a teacher who gave my friends too much homework, but as one who wanted only the best for each of your students.
I’ll remember your smile, your humor, and your stubbornness.
I’ll remember to tell Jackson how much you loved him. I’ll remember to give Lincoln and Zoe extra treats, because that’s what you would want.
I’ll never forget how hard you fought, and how hard it was.
Thank you for everything you gave me, and thank you for loving me the way that you did. You couldn’t have made me more proud to be your son.
Your friends and your colleagues, your brothers and sister, your nieces and nephews, your daughters-in-law and grandsons, your sons and your wife, are all here with you. We love you and miss you.
Please watch over us until we see you again.
Eulogy from Chris
Thank you family and friends for being a part of this service, it means a lot to our family, and I know it means a lot to my dad.
When I reflect back on my father’s life, I look at it divided into three relatively distinct phases – child-raising, the empty nest years, and his retirement. When I look back at this first phase, I greatly admire my father taking his role as head of household so responsibly. He was so committed with providing for our family and keeping up the house and yard. Examples of this include him always assisting my mother with cooking and other household chores, coaching us or otherwise shuttling us from activity to activity, assisting us with our tougher homework assignments such as helping – well, I guess years later I can admit – doing most of our science fair projects. And then there were always his torturous reviews of our book reports, in which he basically hijacked our papers with so much of his red ink marked across the pages, leaving us sprawled along the floor in tears (there’s a reason I majored in engineering). And if there was any time left over, he’d be playing with us, which would often be down at the ball field pitching us batting practice well into darkness. In fact, I can’t ever recall during this time my father ever going out to hit a round of 18 with a group of buddies, watching a big game at a friend’s house, or any other form of leisure social activity that didn’t involve us. We always came first. Always. And, if he wasn’t in the house, he was probably out working one of his infinite number of part-time jobs, all done to ensure we were provided for – painter, newspaper reporter, summer school teacher, telemarketer, umpire, Party Cape Cod tent installer, bartender – and those are only the ones that I’m aware of. My dad did a remarkable job raising us, demonstrating traits such as responsibility, sacrifice, and love, and I can only hope to be a fraction of the father he was.
So moving on to Dad’s empty nest phase. While I had longed moved out of the house following high school, my father still played an important role in my life – as I became an adult, I learned many life lessons and people skills from him. For instance, my father was a do-er, who just went out and got things done instead of talking endlessly about it. Countless times he would drive up to my wife’s and my house, and knock out a job we had been putting off for months and even years. Whether it was painting the entire interior of our house or taking care of a pile of mulch that had been sitting untouched on our driveway for 2 months, he would help out unconditionally and ask for nothing in return, simply getting back in his car and making the 4-hour trip back home.
Over these past few days, I have come across countless people’s references to my father’s rather infectious personality – specifically his smile, friendliness, and genuine interest in other people. So I think I am about to preach to the choir here. My father was a natural ice breaker, able to carry on a conversation with anyone, from all walks of life. He had a way in making people feel comfortable, never having to worry about moments of awkward silence with him around. And while we all have our own individual memories of this special attribute of my dad, here’s one I will offer. As some of you know, my wife is German, and we often take for granted, sometimes myself, her impeccable English skills and sometimes forget that she has been far removed from her culture and language these past few years. Well, now over ten years since first meeting her, my father nearly always made a point to make introductions in German, and occasionally showed off proudly a new word or two he had picked up since we last met. He also extended this same courtesy and respect to my wife’s younger siblings, who visited The Villages just a couple years ago. That was my everyday dad for you.
So anyways, these life lessons continued – whether it was helping me with haggling for my first new car, or countless other practical handyman skills I learned from him. But – also during this time, my father hit a couple of rough patches along the way. And I only mention this as part of my dad’s narrative for two reasons. First, for so many of us, our dads are our idols. In a world full of problems all around us, this was reassuring during my formative years. Well, as we all know, life can be tough at times, and I learned a very important lesson that really no one is immune, including my father. Secondly, it was how my father responded to these personal challenges, which leads me to my father’s final, cancer phase of life.
On one ordinary January day in 2010 while playing softball down in The Villages, my father randomly broke his leg while running to first base. It was such a severe, unexplainable break that there were even discussions of amputation at the time. My father would shockingly be diagnosed with a form of blood cancer, and at the time, our family was concerned in how he would respond to this new situation, as he was at a critical turning point in his life. Well, to much of our surprise, my father embraced his condition, never feeling sorry for himself. My dad continued on with his unconditional work ethic, one time again visiting our home with his gloves and tools, ready to work. This time it was painting over one thousand vertical posts around our backyard fence in 90 degree New York summer heat. My Dad also continued to live an active life of golf, softball, and other sports, despite his cancer.
And most importantly, he also grew immensely in his relationships. I saw him opening up more to his siblings. He also became a grandfather during this time, which was very important to me. Although he had trouble working off 30 years of rust from last changing diapers and feeding babies, his love for Dillon and Jackson was genuine, and he definitely made an impact on his grandchildren. Evidence of this impact is when I would repeatedly ask Dillon over these past few weeks if he loved Grandpa, and he would respond with his very cute, stiff nod of the head, ‘yes.’ And then I’d show him photos on my phone and computer, asking ‘where is Grandpa?’, and he’d point without hesitation. I can only hope that years down the road Dillon will still be nodding yes when asked if he loved Grandpa, and will still be pointing out Grandpa in photos, perhaps still having some memory of sitting on Grandpa’s lap.
And while on the subject of relationships, I have to mention him and my mother, married for 36 years, whose marriage seemed to grow significantly during this difficult time. While my mother started to assume more and more of the responsibilities due to my dad’s declining health, my father would likewise show more and more appreciation of her contributions. I still vividly remember just this past June my father giving her a new iPhone for her birthday. To add perspective, my parents both previously still had pre-flip phone era cell phones, and here was my dad, in between emergency room hospital stays, going out and getting her an iPhone. A small but very touching example of their strengthening bond.
All this now leads to my father’s final courageous months. Over the summer, his doctors decided to give him more aggressive chemo treatments, in the hopes that he could possibly get an important stem cell transplant next winter – and my dad was ‘all in.’ He displayed incredible resiliency, never staying knocked down. One week he was in ICU for pneumonia, looking weak, and a few weeks later he was back looking as healthy and energetic as ever when spending a September weekend at West Point, his first time back there since I graduated over a decade ago.
And then came these past three weeks in the hospital, which would be my dad’s culminating fight against cancer. It was an intense emotional journey for all of us, with so many miracles witnessed, as a result of my father’s will, everyone’s prayers, and ultimately God’s calling. And in my mind the defining moment of my dad’s resilient fight was just two days before he passed, in which the nurses sat him up in a chair, no small feat after being laid up in bed the past three weeks, half of which he was sedated and on a ventilator. A physical therapist then walked him through a series of basic exercises. My father, who had lost a lot of physical strength, struggled to even slightly raise up his arms and legs, but he showed absolutely no quit in him. At the same time, he radiated his trademark charm and humor, drawing deep laughs from the nurses, therapist, his brother Jack, and others in the room. Now, I don’t know how much my father thought about death while in the hospital as he rarely brought it up and we sure didn’t mention it. But I would bet that during those exercises he was thinking far more about getting back out on the softball field than any fear of death. By the end of the therapy session, my father would be able to touch his nose and raise his feet slightly off the ground, and I don’t think I have ever been prouder of my dad than during that therapy session.
So in closing, my father, who became an avid reader of biography books over the years, from athletes to historical figures to contemporary public officials — well dad, just so you know, yours would be a darn good read. Well done. I love you and miss you already.