My Father's Eulogy
My father died two years ago. Luckily it was sudden and he did not suffer. Reflecting on the past two years since he passed, I have revisited the eulogy I wrote for him.
So how do you write a eulogy for someone who was your father, your mentor, your partner, your colleague, and your best friend? I’ve never told anyone about this until now, but I have sadly pondered my father’s death for many years….. I have feared the day when I would lose him. Would I be able to tell people how much I loved him? Would I be able to say Mourner’s Kaddish coherently? Would I be able to face the world without my dad? Well, here we are.
There are lots of things I could tell you about my father…how he was a wonderful husband to our mom for 52 years; how he was a great father to me and my two siblings; What a loving grandfather he was to his 11 grandchildren and how he cherished each and every one of them. I could tell you how he was such a good friend to so many people; how amazingly honest he was; how unbelievably humble he was; how much he loved bike riding, snowboarding, and hiking; how he loved to learn, listening to lectures and books on tape from Hippocrates to the Civil War to Berlitz Spanish. I could tell you what a fantastic and caring doctor he was; how he had hands of gold in the operating room. I could tell you about how he loved to travel and give care to those who lived without in the developing world: Armenia, Columbia, Cambodia. But I don’t have to tell you these things, because all of you know them. That’s why you are here; because, like me, you were somehow touched by my father. My family and I thank each and every one of you for loving him, respecting him, being a friend to him, and coming here today.
So what can I tell you? I’m going to share a brief story and six lessons I learned from my father. For me to get through this, I had to write it as a lecture so please bear with me.
When I was in college in San Diego, I was depressed….I can’t even remember exactly why. Perhaps I was worried about my grades or some passing girl who was ignoring me….I called him up and bitterly complained to him about how unhappy I was and how difficult things were in my life. There was silence. And then he asked: “Matt, what have you done for somebody else today?”
I sat and tried to understand what he meant. I started thinking “what could I do for others?” I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I began to feel happier. My grades went up, the sun rose in the sky…(I didn’t get the girl, though). But I never looked back.
Lesson one: Each day, ask yourself “What have I done for someone else today?” Maybe this is why my father always seemed to be happy and told me he never had any regrets.
He taught me that it is important to listen, especially to mothers. If a mother says there is something wrong with her child and you don’t find anything, look again. And if you still don’t find anything, bring them back for another appointment. Something will eventually show up. Mothers know their children.
Lesson two: The mother is always right. You can see evidence of this in my life, since my mother introduced me to my wife.
My father would often give away his services for free. He was a true “non-profit” organization. Someone would come to the office and say that they knew someone who knew someone who was related somehow and of course, he wouldn’t charge for the visit. You would think that this would make for a rather austere livelihood, but he still managed to raise 3 children, send them to school, provide for his wife, buy a bicycle or two, and bring the children and grandchildren together every summer.
Lesson three: Don’t be greedy. Life gives you a lot if you simply open up your eyes and look.
Dad never bragged. Not about being a champion swimmer, not about being a great doctor and surgeon. He chose not to publish very much because he enjoyed taking care of patients more. He just did his best for each and every patient, caring for them, listening to them, trying his best to make their lives better. But people did recognize this. He had the respect of every surgeon at the major meetings. When I started to go to these meetings as a resident, my father would march me up to introduce me to famous surgeons, icons of orthopaedic greatness that wrote all the books, published everything, and lectured all over the world. And before dad could even open his mouth to talk, they would say “Hi, Saul, it’s great to see you. How are you doing? Is this your son?” They all knew him. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve received from physicians and surgeons around the world expressing their heartfelt condolences. And the comments and tears and hugs I have received from people who worked with him: nurses, assistants, secretaries, even people in facilities management. They all recognized my father’s kindness.
Lesson four: Always be humble.
He truly cherished his grandchildren; all eleven of them. He saw unique beauty and greatness in each and every one of you kids, and loved each of you so dearly. As I mentioned before, he arranged a family get-away each summer where we would all get together and rent cabins or condos. Last year we stayed in a 100 year old house in Maine. We would hike and fish, talk and tease. The result? The kids email each other daily, they call each other, they love each other…He nurtured the family.
Lesson five: Love and cherish your family. They are all you really have.
Finally, my father adored my mother. She was certainly taller, faster (in the pool), and smarter then he was. And he decided that she was always right (that was easy as he married someone who is arguably the smartest person in the world). He told me to be quick to apologize, and treat my wife with respect. Mom was his best friend, and he was hers. 52 years of marriage together and they never fought (oh, just kidding). But never a day went by that he didn’t tell her he loved her.
Lesson Six: Tell your spouse you love them. Every day…and definitely after you apologize.
These are some of the legacies that my father left me; How to look at life as a responsibility to others, how to listen to my patient’s mothers; to love your family and your spouse, and to avoid greed and always be humble. They are lessons that I strive to live by, and perhaps just as often fail to achieve, each and every day. I hope you will consider them because they allowed him to live and die with respect, humility, and love. He will be missed.