Grief--A Eulogy for My Father
Loss is a part of being alive. We all know this. And on some level, we experience both birth and loss every day. These griefs may be large or small. We may be aware of them or not. Life provides us many opportunities or practice sessions for loss. Illnesses show up as a temporary loss of health. We may lose the religion of our youth. A business we built. Money we worked hard to save. A friend that we have grown to count on. Our energy. Our trust in someone we love. We may lose a marriage. Or ourselves for a while. Our children may suffer. And of course, inevitably, we will lose people we love in this life because... people die. And when this particular visitor drops in, intense grief becomes a guest that storms about erratically for a time. We cry. Feel exhausted. Angry. My mind felt overwhelmed to detail for almost a year after my dad passed. The smallest hint of discord threw me into a state of desperation. I couldn't handle any more pain. These were unexpected sides of grief. But in time, grief does work through us. It reminds us how fragile AND how resilient we are. And how deeply we love. One thing I have learned over the past while is that we grieve best when we are open to what we feel--when we give this guest called loss/grief-- a permanent room in our life--and when we can talk about and honor our loss in ways that feel meaningful to us. When we fail to fully grieve, we stunt our capacity to fully feel all the other emotions we are exposed to in our lives. Including the positive ones like joy, love, and connection. There is no selective avoidance or numbing in our psyche. All the more reason to feel it all. To commit to the work. And so to begin a conversation with regard to loss, I offer up the eulogy that I gave at my father's memorial service in Logan, Utah. I provide it as a snapshot of what was in my head and heart just one week after his passing. I hope to continue with a series on grief--adding pieces from time to time as it feels right. I offer you my heart today--in an attempt to meet you in your places of loss.
Mary Oliver writes in the poem, At Blackwater Pond
To live in this world
You must be able to do three things:
To love what is mortal;
To hold it against your bones knowing
Your life depends on it;
And, when the time comes to let it go,
To let it go.
But MUST we let the life of William Farnsworth Weber go? It is impossible to describe the gratitude I feel to have witnessed the heart and mind of my father—but it is my privilege to try. If life is measured by moments lived, then I humbly wish to offer a few snapshots that comprise what I cherished most in my dad. They are the little things. The small glimpses of his essence that brought life and warmth into our childhoods and our world. As his physical presence leaves us now, so is our world filled with HIM. The world around us-- attests to and brims with his life.
May I always remember dad’s soft, warm eyes. How he always seemed to really see you when his eyes found you. His whistle—that seemed to find us wherever we were and bring us back home. Dad’s private library lined with scientific texts but also the works of Faulkner, Steinbeck, and Tolstoy. Lands End oxford shirts. The feeling of his PRESENCE like the security of an emotional bullet-proof vest. He was so steady and sure. Oranges with cloves stuck into them—tucked neatly into his brown armoire. How Dad always stopped for BEAUTY in whatever form. Flowers. Sunsets. Trees. Clouds. Mountains. He saw life with fresh eyes, it seemed. Really appreciating what was offered in each moment. His brown slide-on slippers that slapped against the wood floor. Lubriderm lotion. Beach sprints with timed races. Explosive burps given at the end of dinner to signal a meal well consumed. His saying things like “not particularly” or “Rutabaga!” instead of “Darn!” or using “shnazzy” as a descriptive word for handsome or nice looking. Awakening in the middle of the night to hear dad’s hands moving effortlessly across the piano keys to the tune of Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer or Maple Leaf Rag. Peppermint Extra chewing gum. Bucket hats. Bedtime with dad. Our last waking moments at the close of day took the form of lullabies borrowed from the lips of James Taylor or John Denver or the more obscure Tom Hall. Dad’s voice was perfectly on pitch and smooth as ever. Warm like the softest blanket. Dad’s brown winter coat with the fur inside its hood that zipped up the middle. How he would always reach inside the pocket to find the Chapstick to apply to my lips before an evening walk. Dad’s playfulness in the form of water games or tickle monster and the myriad of ways he could lighten a tense situation effortlessly. He was a jokester. The way dad was always drawn to the water, no matter how cold. I can still see his head out among the waves. Classical music and boys choirs. Math number games at the dinner table "2+9-4x6+12 divided by 6, anyone?" Dad’s stocking goodies we enjoyed every Christmas. Those little fruit candy tins were a staple. His hands. How they were soft and meaty--with square nails and those ridges. I remember how dad’s hands would reach for mine, never grabbing, always resting right on top of my own—close enough for me to reach and feel and take hold. Cardigan sweaters. Walks in the Logan Cemetery, walking hand and hand. Hearing him speak about his childhood days. Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream. His crossed legs as he read and rocked back and forth in his rocking chair. The tapping of his finger against the saltshaker to distribute the perfect amount of sodium to food. Dad’s amazing meals—he was so creative about it and loved to serve us. If dad made you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the peanut butter hit all corners of the bread. It was evenly spread. Same for the jam. There was an artistry in the way he prepared food. And the way he ate it too. We were clearly always eating the same food at dinnertime, but the way dad chewed and cut and experienced his meal—just made us believe that somehow HIS dinner tasted better! A person is made up of these seemingly small things. They just stick and stay.
So many memories rest inside me. They seem to live and breathe with a life of their own. How I will treasure them! Two final ones for today.
After nearly every cross country or track race I can remember, dad would exclaim as I walked toward him, “Oh honey, you did it. You were beautiful. Just beautiful.” His eyes would be filled with tears, his voice shaking. I couldn’t help but feel exalted. Nothing about myself felt remotely attractive to me. Florida (where we lived when I was in high school) is hot and muggy for most of the year. I would be wet and sweaty. There may or may not have been bugs stuck to my face. My hair was always a wild concoction of hair spray and the latest perm. Make no mistake—I was not a pretty picture in the traditional sense. But whatever dad saw—stopped me in my tracks and made me question how I saw and valued myself. What did he see in me that I was missing? These glimpses into dad’s heart filled me with hope amidst challenging times. I borrowed his vision of me for a while. It was enough for the both of us. I took it and held it for years until I was able to see and value myself on my own.
In my later years of high school, I enjoyed a blessed life. There was so much GOOD. In spite of this, on the inside, I was struggling. I don’t think anyone would have guessed it from the outside until the later stages. I was getting wonderful grades, babysitting and helping my mom, earning awards for running and writing, enjoying a small group of friends at school—but eventually, my eating disorder was in full view of everyone. Dad knew better than to try to treat me. But sometimes, I could see him wrestle with wanting to try. What he ended up doing was something so unexpected that I did not see the full meaning in it until years later. I had learned how to bypass breakfast altogether most mornings. Dad would usually be up to drive me at 5:30 to an early morning religion class. It started one morning when I heard noise from the kitchen before I had given dad “the tap” to get up. I heard the blender going full throttle. The man was making me a morning smoothie. Morning after morning, dad would wake up and make me a smoothie. He would hand it over. With great care. No expectation. And he would leave the room. I poured it out again and again. It didn’t matter. Day after day, he would be up. Making that smoothie. What was the deal with this? I wondered. He knows I am not drinking it. Why would this brilliant man and father waste his precious morning time making me a shake that I was determined to NEVER drink? This is just so dad. Of course, it wasn’t about the shake. Really, I think dad was determined to do SOMETHING to help. By making this shake each morning, he was showing up for me in a profound way. He seemed to emit this knowingness. Dad’s eyes, gentle and steady as ever-- seemed to say, “I see you. I see your suffering. And I am here. I will remind you of WHO you are. Whole and worthy. Until you can believe it on your own.“ This is a lesson that has stayed with me well into my mothering years. The irony is that if dad had simply expressed these words, I probably wouldn’t have heard them.
Anyone who has children knows that there are moments when our children may live beyond our words and our love. They feel far from us. Much like I must have felt far away to my dad. I have tried hard never to leave my children alone in their times. To show up in whatever form I can muster. Surrendering my urge to control. To offer love. Reassurance. And my presence. That is the best we have, really. Our connection and our trust in them. I have hardly been perfect because man, as it turns out…it is really a difficult thing to do! I feel much more comfortable trying to fix or lecture or avoid. I will always remember dad’s love in those small dark mornings—during a time when I had abandoned myself. Dad refused to leave me. He was trying to feed me much more than milkshakes—he was reaffirming my worth. How I will miss the way he loved me! How he saw me! It is no small thing to feel seen and valued in our lives.
His life is too large to capture here. William Farnsworth Weber. The spirited and tender boy. The energetic and athletic teen. The sensitive and disciplined student and doctor. The loving and present father. The revolutionary and passionate mental health professional. The devoted husband. The playful and gentle grandfather. May we gather up whatever we have of him-- these fragments that make up the essence of this stunning human being and integrate them into us forever. And in that way, William Farnsworth Weber will not have to be let go. He can live with us in some form--as he always has.
So let’s take a moment now. Just one. And pause. Breathe deeply. Let’s see his life in all its fullness. All that we know and remember him to have been. We can gather it all in. For good. And offer up all the love and strength and gratitude we feel—because he lived and loved so well!
You did it, dad. And it was beautiful. Just beautiful
Feel free to offer any insights or experiences that you have had with regard to loss. What has helped you to heal? What have you gained from loss? Thank you for reading.