Please Tell Me When to Jump.
As some of you know, my dad passed away a few weeks ago.
He was my hero and I am bereft.
It doesn't matter that he "lived a long life" or that he was "96"; he was my dad and my world has been shattered.
Tomorrow is also the one-year anniversary of my brother's death so my family and I are deep in the throes of grief.
Instead of writing a piece for today's newsletter, I have been asked to share the eulogy I gave at my dad's funeral. I hope that it opens your heart and allows you to feel the deep sensations of loss that, as humans, we have all experienced. Like an open wound, allowing it to be aired is helpful to the healing process.
EULOGY FOR MY DAD
He is standing at the bottom of the staircase in our home in Washington DC.
His jet black hair, perfectly in place and that handsome face, looking up at me. He is wearing a dark blue suit with an elegant tie, loosened just a little bit.
I am standing on the third or fourth step in a long flannel nightgown, waiting to hear his powerful voice.
"Jump", I hear.
And without hesitation, I do.
He holds out his arms and into them I land.
“Again, again” I beg and for the next fifteen minutes or so, we perform this ritual. After each jump, he urges me to go up a step and I do.
The higher the stair, the prouder he was.
But he knew when to stop.
This nightly routine taught me about risk, the thrill of pushing myself, and the sweetness of feeling his pride in me.
But the true lesson was in trust. There was not a moment I feared that my dad wouldn’t catch me. I was always safe.
He could always be counted on. That kind of trust is rare.
It’s the trust his soldiers had in him when he told them to wait for him he scoped out the Nazis, got shot, and crawled back to save them all.
It’s the trust my mom had in him when at 19 she married him, knowing he would be a loyal and loving husband for the rest of her life.
It’s the trust that John F. Kennedy and Edward R. Murrow had in him when he was appointed as General Counsel of the United States Information Agency at the tender age of 35.
It’s the trust his thousands of clients had in him over the years to go above and beyond for them and to achieve extraordinary results while always being a gentleman.
And it’s the trust his children and grandchildren had in him to be their greatest cheerleader and a rock for us all.
But HOW to be trustworthy cannot be learned or imitated.
Nor can being optimistic or loyal, generous, wise, or loving.
I’ve spent my whole life trying to figure out how to follow in his footsteps- how to be so deeply contented with the exact life I have.
My dad was not one to instruct others on how to be.
He didn’t tell us what to do or what not to do. He never disciplined us or doled out consequences. He simply lived life according to his most deeply held values and taught by example. And we hoped against hope that we would make him proud.
We all know that my dad was a moral leader and an intellectual giant.
But when I began meditating and studying ancient wisdom about a decade ago, I realized that he has been my spiritual guide as well.
He actually practiced a very special type of meditation called "cigar meditation".
He would sit quietly and smoke those cigars, contemplating the world, breathing in love and appreciation and breathing out all doubt, fear and anger.
Another great spiritual leader, Gandhi, wrote “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” I have come to understand this is what made my father so extraordinary and so at peace.
What he thought, what he said and what he did truly were in harmony. I’m not sure I know another person about whom that could be said.
My dad was grounded, focused and ever-present.
He was, on top of everything else, my guru.
For many years I thought that these exceptional qualities were genetic, that he was born with a predisposition for optimism and contentment. And maybe that’s somewhat true. But given the unfathomable losses my dad experienced in his lifetime, including seeing the travesties of war up close at the age of 17, losing both his parents at a young age, being robbed of his life savings and watching not one but two children predecease him, there had to be something else that allowed him to live his entire life believing in goodness and beauty.
I recently read the book The Choice by Edith Eger who was a concentration camp survivor almost exactly my dad’s age. I heard so much of my dad in her words, her philosophy, her attitude.
My dad, like Edith Eger, woke up every day of his life, committed to loving what he had, not bemoaning what was missing, experiencing joy and pleasure in the little things and actively choosing to responding to whatever life threw at him with love and acceptance. As the saying goes, if you want what you have in life, you will always have what you want.
And he did.
He loved his NY Times, his black coffee, his red wine, his coffee ice cream, the NY Yankees, Alvin Ailey, all democrats, his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his work, his community and his country.
It’s the choice he made.
Each and every day of his life. To love and to cherish what he had.
As the poet Derek Walcott in his poem Love After Love wrote:
Feast on Your Life.
That’s what my dad did and would want us all to do.
I am trying but I am struggling.
I don’t quite believe that I will never hear my dad’s voice, telling me that I am beautiful, that I am a gift to him, that I am an incredible mother, that I “do it all” and that he loves me more than words can express.
The hole will never be filled.
But as I started with, I trust my dad completely and I need to dig deep and trust that he would want me to remember how proud of me he was.
He believed in me and I need to as well.
In death, as in life, he will guide me.
Dad, I will be listening.
Please tell me when to jump.
With love and light, Nora