JCS III: A eulogy to honor and celebrate my father’s life

On December 31, 2012 at 4:11am I received a phone call that would be both the beginning and end of a version of myself. I was nursing my 4 month old baby girl when I felt my phone vibrate under my pillow. Once. “Oh okay, probably just a text.” Twice. Immediately my stomach dropped. It was a 4:11am phone call. “Mom cell” flashed on the screen. My heart started breaking.

“Lizzy… Daddy died”, she said.

Her voice was foggy and raw. It was a question. An answer. A statement. An apology.

5 days later I was given the honor of giving my father’s eulogy at a beautiful Catholic Funeral Mass followed by an Open House at my parents’ home to celebrate my father’s life.

It is a story I want to share. For my mom, my sister, my brother, and for my dad…

I cannot remember a time when I did not wonder in awe at the love shared between my mom and dad. From as far back as I can remember I have idolized the depth and sincerity of their love. I remember sitting at the dinner table every night as a child listening to our parents talk long after our plates were clean… About work, family, life, ideas, dreams. I remember my dad telling me that he woke up every day thankful that my mom was willing to marry him… How lucky he was to have my mother as his wife and best friend. I remember hoping deep in my gut that someday someone would love me in the unbridled adoring way that my dad loved my mom, and that I would love that person as fully as my mom loved my dad.

My mom told me a story a long time ago that shaped the way I saw and understood my dad as a person. It was 1964 and they had just met in the Humanities Honors Program at Seton Hall University in a group of only 20 students. Their professors Dr. Harrington and Father Keller encouraged everyone to get to know each other, become like family, to share their treasures… Music, art, literature, memories. My father embraced this idea and brought in a stack of records to share; Bob Dylan, Ian and Sylvia, Billie Holiday, Louie Armstrong, all his favorite musicians and songs. But he was the only one. No one else brought in anything to share, and no one seemed particularly interested in his records (except my mom of course). My mom said she remembered my dad being disappointed that he’d reached out to his classmates and they did not reciprocate. He was perhaps a little embarassed at his singular openness and vulnerability. His disappointment was quickly shrugged off as my mom asked to listen to his records, and they became his first gift to her.

The first time I heard this story I recall feeling enraged at my father’s classmates for disappointing him. Who wouldn’t want to listen to and share my father’s records?! For years I couldn’t think of that story without tears coming to my eyes. But I also knew that this experience didn’t deter my dad. He was still confident in himself, in all his beautiful difference. He still went on to flourish in business as a glass artist and furniture designer. He was not swayed. I also recall being thankful that that was the beginning of a great love story between my mom and dad.

My mom loved my dad for being himself. Interesting, creative, rebellious, eccentric, and brilliantly divergent. For being willing to share his records, and for being confident and brave enough to be the only one.

And we were lucky enough to be his children. I was lucky enough to be his daughter.

When I was 9 years old my art teacher Mrs. Patterson sent our class home with an assignment to bring in “found objects” for our next project. A many of you can imagine, I loved this, and excitedly shared the news with my dad that night. The next morning he sent me off on my big yellow school bus with a huge canvas LL Bean bag filled to the brim with scrap metal we’d collected from around his glass shop; An old license plate, copper wire, springs and coils, electrical wire, bolts, headlights, and the like. He handed me the bag so confidently that I couldn’t wait to get to school to share my bag of found treasures that my dad helped me to collect. Later that morning in art class my classmates all pulled out small greeting card envelopes full of their found objects; fallen leaves, bits of string, broken game pieces, and cancelled postage stamps. Suddenly my face felt flush – I was embarassed, I felt vulnerable – like I was the only one who pulled out all of my records to share. Mrs. Patterson quickly rushed over to me and gushed at the sight of my huge LL Bean bag brimming with found treasures. “How wonderful!” she exclaimed, quickly easing my mind. So while the other students in class made leaf collages on construction paper, I built a robot sculpture with headlights for eyes and a license plate torso that opened up like a door. It hung on the wall in our playroom for many years.

That experience was formative for me as a young girl. It helped me to feel confident in being myself, even if that meant going against the grain and being different from everyone else. It taught me to be confident in who I was and brave enough to be vulnerable… Brave enough to share my records.

And it demonstrated to me that my dad, whom I already adored, was a very special person.

Yesterday my mom showed me a card she had given my father some years ago, with a quote by Pythagoras circled, and the word “you” underneath it.

“Choose for thy friend, the friend of virtue. Choose one who has some grace, some flowering, some quality around him, who has an energy field of virtue. By “virtue” is meant one in whose company you suddenly start feeling a tremendous sense of well being, in whose company something starts dancing in you, whose presence helps you soar high.”

This is how daddy made mommy feel, and as his daughter, this is how he made me feel.

We grew up in a house of intellectual curiosity, creativity, and most importantly, love. It made my dad deeply happy to know that all three of his children found the kind of love he shared with my mom and are building our own loving homes with our families.

We were blessed to have him with us to share in such beautiful days… Jessica’s marriage to Anthony, my marriage to Nicholas, and most recently Joseph’s marriage to Dana. He also shared in the joy of Anthony Joseph’s birth in 2005, Eleanor’s birth in August, and Juliana’s birth in November.

His legacy of introspection, depth, creativity and love will live on through us, and each of them, and everyone in this room who knew him.

After the birth of my daughter in August, my father gave me a card.

“Dearest Lizzy…

I love you so much that I’m bursting.

Daddy”

Daddy, I love you so much that I’m bursting, I will always be bursting with love for you.

Thank you all so much for being here today to support my mom and my family in our grief, and to celebrate the life of my father.

We welcome everyone back to our home this afternoon to enjoy and share my father’s collections of art and other beautiful objects and treasures… His records, per se…

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2 thoughts on “JCS III: A eulogy to honor and celebrate my father’s life

  1. how beautiful – even reading thru tears- i can only hope i can leave a legacy like Joe Spohr – thank you for sharing it – terry cavanaugh

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