I’ve been mulling something over these last few weeks. There’s been an internal debate as to whether or not to write a new post on the anniversary of my father’s death. It would certainly be understandable if I did: my father was an amazing person with a huge heart, and the world lost an angel when he passed away.
I’ve sat down, multiple times, with the intention of writing something to celebrate the man who raised me as his own. I’d start with the words, “My father,” then stall out. Or a work project would come in. Or I’d get asked to sub in teaching yoga. Or one of my kids would be busy annoying another one of my kids by breathing within 100 miles of the second kid, with me shouting, “I don’t care how annoying it is, I’m not going to ask your sister to stop breathing. I know you’re annoyed, but sheesh, she’s got to breathe to live.” Or the dog would decide to sprawl out over my keyboard, because he’s well aware he has the security of being the cutest puff of fur ever. Or I’d be attempting to work outside of the house at a local bar with free WiFi, but I’d get in a philosophical conversation with one of the bartenders.
Often, we put off things we should do. Or we think we should do them.
Four years ago, two days before my father’s funeral, I sent an email to my editor and dear friend with the words, “I don’t know how to write my father’s eulogy.” His response was this: “Amber, you write it, you write it from the heart, something you’re gifted at. You tell the world what you loved about your father, and that will be enough.”
I somehow found it within myself to write the eulogy. I certainly could have handed it off to someone else, you know, someone who hadn’t just lost their father. Yet, I couldn’t give up writing it, couldn’t hand it over, because I was his daughter. He had raised me to do what needed to be done, even if it was something that was hard to do. So I sat down and wrote, and when it was finished, I sent it to my editor. For the first time in all the years we had worked together, he responded with these words, “There are no edits needed. Keep it as is.”
I could write something flowy and beautiful about my father, the man who raised me, taught me how to work my ass off, that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. I could talk about his years of hard work, retiring at age 55. I could tell you when he was born, and when he died, how long he was married for, what age he became a father at, what age he lost the ability to walk without assistance. But nothing I could write today would in any way do the job of telling you about the man who was my father as well as the eulogy I wrote for his funeral four years ago will. And sometimes, the best words are already written. So you quote them. Because you can’t say it any better than you said it four years before.
It’s been four years since my father passed away. Some days, I’m fine. There’s this sweet nostalgia when I remember the man who raised me, who became one of my closest friends in my adult years. Other days, especially this week in between his birthday and the anniversary of his death, are days where the tears are always close at hand. Where I’m needy with my friends, and they are so very thankfully more than willing to hold my hand and hug me harder and longer than usual, and they listen to me talk about my dad, sometimes patiently hearing the same stories I’ve told them before. And for that I’m grateful.
“On July 21, 2014, just one week after his seventy-second birthday, my father, Donald E. Jerome, “Paw-Paw”, “Uncle Gene” passed away peacefully in his sleep.
My brother and I spent the last few days of our father’s life with him, hoping he’d bounce back as he so easily did in the past. But after many years of physical pain, many years of his body struggling, he went home to heaven.
I met with a friend this week to talk about my father’s death. And while dad and I have had our share of arguments and disagreements over the years, still, at the end, everything was at peace between us. Any words needing to be said were said. And Dad, despite being so weak he could hardly speak, true to his nature of making sure his loved ones were taken care of, ordered me to make sure I ate something. And I, his daughter in every way and true to my nature told him I’d eat when he’d finally rest and get much needed sleep. Naturally, Dad countered that he’d sleep when I’d go get myself something to eat.
And so, like we’d done so many times in my adult life, my final conversation with my father was a spirited debate with a twinkle in his eyes and his lips curved into that gentle smile I’ll miss terribly.
He passed away peacefully in his sleep eight hours later.
In the coming months, I’m sure I’ll recount stories of my father. For now, I’m writing this the day before his funeral, in a rare quiet moment after having put the final touches on his Eulogy. This post is being scheduled to release an hour after his funeral tomorrow. I don’t know how you write an Eulogy, all I know is how I felt about my father and what he taught me about life, and I wanted to honor him as best as I could. It’s near impossible to truly sum up such a generous and compassionate individual with mere words.
I love you Dad. Thank you for all you taught me about life, either with your words or your actions. Thank you for all the times you put what was best for me above your feelings. Thank you for teaching me how to be a parent, for teaching me how to work for what I want, for teaching me that there is no greater gift than that of unconditional love, and that what truly matters in this world has no monetary value. I was blessed on the day God saw fit to place me in your family as your daughter when I was given up for adoption.
I found myself struggling to write this. And that’s comical considering what I do for a living. At one point this week, it made sense to my grief stricken mind that maybe there’s someone more qualified than I to write my father’s eulogy; maybe there’s someone who can find the right words to define a man who has meant so much to so many people. So I thought of not writing the eulogy. I thought of asking someone else to do it for me. And certainly, no one would blame me, because I’ve just lost my father. I wanted to just not do it, to just give up.
And then my mind drifted to when I was a child, particularly to Saturday mornings. I’d get up, get a bowl of cereal, and if Dad was going to his office, he’d ask me if I wanted to go with him. And of course I did. They had a break room with cookies in it, and I could always sneak down and get a few. And Dad’s office had this photo cube that was a radio as well. And even better, devoid of people as it was on Saturday mornings, it echoed. To a child, making noise, especially echoey noise, was almost as awesome as being told breakfast was going to be cake and lunch was going to be ice cream.
And in my father’s office there was a plaque. And on that plaque there was a very famous quote: “Never, never, never give up” by Sir Winston Churchill, a distant relative.
Dad lived his life by those words. Dad taught his daughter the very meaning of those words by his every action in his life. And so, I sent an email to my editor whining about not being able to do it, took a deep breath, and began to just write.
I could stand here today and tell you when Dad was born and when he died. I can tell you where he went to college, and what he did as a career. But those few little facts? They in no way encompass who he was as a person. They in no way tell the story of a man who defined himself not by the amount of his bank account but by the wealth of his soul.
Dad always helped those in need: he was a big supporter of several charities, he gave his time as a Eucharistic minister visiting those unable to receive the Eucharist as well as helping those less fortunate through his work through Love Truck and the Samaritan Inn, or the gift of his kind and thoughtful words for those who needed them.
Dad was also stubborn, and while that word sometimes comes with a negative association, for Donald Eugene Jerome, his headstrong and determined personality is what led him to achieve more than most people. He always believed you could achieve whatever it was you wanted to achieve, and what mattered was not where you came from or what you have done before, but where you would go and what you would do. And he never gave up. Rather than let obstacles in his way stop him from what he wanted, he simply found a way to work through them. He grew up in poverty, yet put himself through college to receive his degree. Rather than let infertility rob him of fatherhood, he adopted two children. He refused to allow health issues and physical disabilities prevent him from living a full life. By my age, he had lived in South America, all throughout the United States, and traveled to Mexico and Canada. In his retirement years, he fulfilled a long lived dream of seeing Rome and the Vatican.
Dad was happiest when he was with his family, and his greatest joys in his life were his seven grandchildren: Amethyst, Luke, Tyler, Autumn, Cody, Benjamin and Sawyer.
But if I had to choose one word to define my father, it would be faith. Not once, despite losing siblings and both his parents, despite having physical handicaps and declining health, did my father ever ask God “why?” He simply would take a deep breath and ask God for the strength to make it through whatever he was faced with. When I would face my own struggles, Dad would remind me of the Serenity Prayer and tell me that if God brings us to it, He’ll bring us through it.
People often say how they wish they’ll pass on. Dad got his wish: his two children with him during his final days. He was right with God. He had said the words he’d wished to say to those he loved. And as he’d wished for, he went home to heaven peacefully in his sleep.
My father achieved much in his time on earth: A successful career, a family, service to those less unfortunate. But above everything else, he died a man wealthy in what was the most important gift and blessing he’d ever wanted: The love of his family.”