Somehow I stumbled across this eulogy for my grandfather in my email drafts tonight, and I find myself regretting that I didn’t find a larger audience for it a while back, so I feel like I should share it.
The week my grandfather died, I was heading to Europe for the first time in ten years. I chose to continue with my plans, instead of going home for his funeral. Because he was already gone. Because I think it’s what he would have wanted. And because it’s what my family told me they wanted, for me. I delivered this eulogy on my iPhone, from a park in Luebeck, Germany. Apparently, over an iPhone to church speaker system, no one heard me read it. That didn’t so much matter to me then, and it barely does now. Here it is.
“Well Papa, I don’t think I’m alone in saying there’s some surprise that you ended up dying of natural causes. No one would agree with me more than grandma.
I think we all figured you stood a likelier chance of falling off the roof, or electrocuting yourself, or succumbing to a random bee swarming.
Some of my most vivid memories of grandma feature her standing on the porch yelling “Byron!” and worrying about some peculiar thing you’d set your mind to in the back yard – building a pig roaster or setting a coon trap or some other such important task.
My favourite Grandma and Papa story is about the time that you met a traveling circus that had lost their local gig and had no where to go. You of course invited them to stay in the yard, complete with various wild animals in rolling cages. The idea that one of the kids might be eaten by a tiger was too much for grandma, and she told you it was her or the circus. We’re glad you chose her. In any other family, I’d doubt the truth of this story, but in yours, I believe it’s entirely possible.
You did what you could to drive Grandma crazy, and of course sometimes you did, but she loved you fiercely, in spite and because of. As evidenced in one of her last trips to the hospital, when a young intern asked her if her husband would be alone at home for her stay. to which she replied “I surely hope so.”
185 Springbank is a second home to me, and it’s hard to believe that you won’t be there. As I write this, your body is shutting down. You are starting a transition I consider to be the closest we get to winning at the game of life.
Your heart was so strong. I think it’s because you used it a whole lot. I know you’re not afraid, because you’re on your way to a dinner seat beside Uncle August, and a chance to fib to Aunt Lizzie about besting her 102 years.
I’m thinking of two sayings that remind me of you.
An old man dying is a library on fire. Such an extraordinary century to have been around for – cars and planes and phones, suffrage and civil rights. Television coverage. I asked you a couple of years ago if you’d like me to put on the hockey game and you said “it was a lot more interesting when there were only eight teams”. That’s a lifetime. The thing of yours I chose to keep is a Stationary Engineer certificate with your name on it. That’s what you truly were – an engineer. A surprisingly modern man of science and design.
The other saying is “a society becomes great when old men plant trees they will never sit in the shade of”. You truly did plant so many trees, some of which are just starting to bloom! You were such a community minded man.
The thing I realize I will miss most when you are gone is your voice. The deep baritone, the high tenor. Singing with you or watching you listen to any kind of music. You have given me a lifetime love of music of all kinds. Your voice, speaking and singing, was so rich. I will always miss it.
I wish I could be there to share the love that is saying goodbye to someone that meant so much to so many. Where do you put your love, when someone leaves this world and moves on to the next? I hope we take this time to put that love into everyone around us. I hope we spend a moment remembering that you are what connects us.
I think if you could have written us a note on your last day, it would have been on the back of an envelope, written with a stubby pencil, and it would say “Gone to see Eleanor. Love, Byron.”