My dad was a teacher at heart. He had a lot of wisdom and knowledge and he loved to share it with others. To properly honor him today, I’m going to share with you, word for word, one of the four articles he published in the Journal of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, entitled, “Prenatal Diagnosis of Bilateral Tibial Hypoplasia in Twins.” It begins, “An obstetrical sonogram was performed with a Diasonics Gateway using a 4.0-MHz curved linear array transducer.”
It goes on but I think you all get the gist. Right?
In all seriousness, I’m very proud of Dad for sharing his knowledge of cutting-edge ultrasound technology with the world, in all sorts of ways — from his journal articles to his consultancy with Phillips to making his many ultrasound patients feel empowered with understanding about their own scans, including the scan he did for me when Graham was twelve weeks.
But my dad also shared much more than medical knowledge with the world. He was wise and thoughtful about life, and he imparted many life lessons to me. Let me share one with you.
Picture me, a middle schooler. I know many people here can definitely remember me as an awkward eleven year old. I was at a small school in Maine with the same forty kids in my grade since preschool. We all knew each other very well. And there was this one girl, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, who liked to choose someone to be mad at, and to give them the excruciatingly obvious silent treatment for months before moving on to socially torture the next person. With my birthday party coming up soon, I was faced with a conundrum. This girl-who-must-not-be-named was invited, but she was currently ignoring my best friend, who was of course also coming to the party. I didn’t want my best friend to be miserable at the party because of this girl, so I took matters into my own hands and stood up to the bully, telling her she was dis-invited.
As you can imagine in a small town, all hell broke loose. Apparently this girl told her dad, who then immediately called my dad and screamed at him on the phone about his darling child and how horrible I was being. The apple clearly didn’t fall far from the tree, did it? But anyway, my dad comes up to my room to talk with me. He sits down on my bed and calmly lets me know that I needed to apologize to what’s-her-face and re-invite her to the party. I of course am sobbing at this point at the unfairness of the world, and I express these sentiments to my dad. And he just looks at me with a bit of a smile, and he told me something I will never forget. He said, “Life isn’t fair, and the only thing we can control is how we respond to what gets thrown at us.”
He didn’t actually say it in those words. The words he actually used are not repeatable in the Sanctuary of the Temple. I’ll be more than happy to tell you precisely what he said as soon as we retire to the social hall, so please come and check in with me then. But suffice to say, his exact wording made a huge impression on me as a young person, and the message was: Life isn’t fair, and sometimes we just have to roll with it.
You’ll be happy to know I did call up this girl and blubbered out an apology and a re-invitation to my party. And she refused to accept my invitation, did not come to my party, and instead threw a huge party at her house where everyone was invited except me and then proceeded to give me the silent treatment for the next several months. Because life isn’t fair, and the only thing we can control is how we respond.
Everyone here has been through tough times. Everyone here has had something unfair happen to them. Life is capricious. Life can be beautiful and life can be terrible, and sometimes there is no rhyme or reason, no clear cause and effect, nothing that justifies what happened. In some of the most difficult moments in my life, I have recalled my dad’s exact words to middle-school me, that day in my room. His words have provided not only comfort but also the strength to stand tall and face some of my worst nightmares with my back straight and my head held high.
My dad did the same thing with his struggle with Parkinson’s. We all know it’s not fair that he got it at all, that he got it so early, that it slowly but surely trapped him in a deteriorating body and mind. He knew it too. He knew this wasn’t fair. But he just rolled with it. He made the most of his life. He traveled for as long as he could. He did his do-it-yourself projects for as long as he could. He enjoyed the outdoors for as long as he could. And he loved being around his family. He loved being home with mom, who loved him so much to make sure he could stay home with her all this time. He loved seeing his brother, who could always make him laugh, and his mother, who always fussed over him and shared his love of something sweet. He loved seeing his daughters and his sons-in-law. He loved seeing his grandsons growing up. He hung on as long as he could because he loved being with all of us, all of us here in this sanctuary together today. He appreciated his community, his home, and his life, for as long as he could. And I thank my mom in particular for making sure that he could stay comfortably at home with her for all those years. Dad thanks you too, mom.
Dad made the decision that it was his time to go. It takes an enormous amount of bravery and strength to live in the face of Parkinson’s, and the same bravery and strength, or even more, to decide enough is enough. I am grateful that my mom, my sister, and I were by his side as he passed away peacefully. He had just spoken with his brother and his mother on the phone that day. He knew he was surrounded by love and that he was not alone. We all have to die one day, and he passed away the way I think we all would want to — peacefully, in bed, surrounded by people who love you. It wasn’t fair what life threw at him, but he controlled how he responded. I’m proud of my dad, and I love him, and I will always miss him, but his life will continue to inspire me and I’m sure many of you. Let’s remember him as a fighter, not a victim, as someone who chose how to respond from the first to the last day of his fight with Parkinson’s. That’s all we can do in this unfair, beautiful, terrible world. We all love you, Dad. Thank you for everything.
Eulogy given April 30, 2023, at Temple Shalom, Auburn, Maine.
For more information on Parkinson’s disease:
- “The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research” (February 17, 2022)
- “Parkinson’s Disease PPMI Study” (July 18, 2022)
- “September 22: National Day of Action to End Parkinson’s” (September 22, 2022)
- “The Fight to End Parkinson’s Disease” (October 2, 2022)
- “Legislation addresses Parkinson’s disease” (October 9, 2022)
For more thoughts on being mindful:
- “I Know This Is a Wonderful Moment” (February 24, 2022)
- “I Want to Carry Pain Like a Tree Does” (March 7, 2022)
- “Every Hand’s a Winner, and Every Hand’s a Loser: The Zen of Poker” (April 8, 2022)
- “Henry David Thoreau and the Pathways of the Mind” (June 21, 2022)
- “What I Learned From 300 Days of Doing the Crossword” (August 23, 2022)
- “Whatever Befalls Us: Remembering September 11” (September 11, 2022)
- “What I Learned from a Year of Doing the Crossword” (September 16, 2022)
- “Enough: How to Be Satisfied With What You Have (With Music!)” (January 14, 2023)