Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Eulogy for my father, David Ernest Lack (1953-2012)

The following is the text of the eulogy I delivered today at my father's funeral service in Evergreen, Colorado. David Ernest Lack passed away on Saturday, October 20th, after a long and arduous battle with cancer. 

In what turned out to be the last lucid conversation my father and I shared, I sat at his bedside while he told me, in the plain and simple terms he always favored, that he had chosen to let go and exit this world as peacefully as possible. I was quickly overwhelmed with emotion, crying into his arms, unprepared for the pain I felt hearing him admit something I had long known was inevitable.

But my Dad, as always, knew exactly what to say to calm me down, to turn this seemingly dark moment into one of peace and spiritual fulfillment. He said to me, in a raspy and weak voice from which his love still shone through undiluted: “Tell me about your life. Tell me about your favorite moments of your life.”

He did not say his life. He did not ask for me to help him recount the innumerable highlights of his fifty-nine years, though it would have made for an endlessly fascinating and profound conversation. No, he asked me what my favorite memories were, of my life, the life we had shared in up to now.

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And that one sentence, that one simple request, so powerfully sums up who my father was. He was not a perfect man, but if David Lack could be described in one word, it would be selfless. When he cared for someone, he did so deeply, passionately and to the fullest extent of his heart. He gave so much thought, every day, to things he could do for the people he loved. His desire to help us with our problems, to fix what we found broken or find what we thought lost, was so intense that it did, at times, grate on my family. It was almost impossible to buy gifts for him, because though he took great pleasure in giving, he never seemed comfortable with receiving. Though this frustrated us, I believe in my heart that Dad did none of this out of malice or insensitivity, but because in us, he had everything he needed. Our family made him content, and though he showed us this in so many wonderful ways, he needed nothing material in return.

This attitude extended throughout his life, through his long and difficult battle with cancer, right up to the end. Every step of the way, he expressed little of his own fears and desires, and instead asked us how we felt, and tried to help us process our own emotions. He listened intently to everything I had to say to him, as trivial and personal as my topics could sometimes be, not just because he wanted to make me feel safe and accepted, but because his love was genuine. When I was interested in something, he was too, such was the extent of his empathy.

In return, I tried to give him as much as possible these last few years, to help him with any task or be there for him in his darkest hours, but he always took assistance with at least a twinge of reluctance, and never failed to pay our help back with love and support.

That, I believe, is the nature of selflessness, a concept I learned by observing my father. Even on his deathbed, he wanted little for himself, besides comfort. He wanted to talk about me, and in doing so, help guide my broken heart towards acceptance. And that meant an awful lot.

Because when I look back at my favorite moments of my life, so many of them involve my Dad. When he read to us, before bed, passing on his obsession of literary masters like J.R.R. Tolkien or Roald Dahl to Thomas and I. When he would play games with us, teaching us old favorites like Cribbage or playing our modern electronic choices like Mario Party, which he beat us at far more than he ever realized. When he took us to Canada to fish on Big Pine Lake, one of the most beautiful and serene places in the world, so that we could inherit the single most important hobby of his life, and continue to partake in it long after he departed.

But mostly, my memories of Dad also involve my mother, and my brother, and all four of us in combination, on one of our long car trips together, or relaxing by the beach on a vacation, or simply hanging out at home, enjoying each other’s company as we read books or watched movies or ate together at the dinner table. When I think about Dad, I think about the family he anchored, a family that could bicker or disagree but was always perfect in its love, a flawless and beautiful love of unparalleled splendor.

And that feeling, that warm feeling of love’s transcendence that I felt and continue to feel in my family, a love my Dad was instrumental in ensuring every day of my life, is an accomplishment and a legacy all those who achieve it should be proud of. My Dad sometimes felt like a failure in his life, when he lost work or made mistakes with money, but I know he was anything but. His family is proof. The love that I and all of you here today feel for him, so painful and longing in this moment, is proof.

But because my Dad was selfless, I know he would not want me to spend all my time talking just about him, when there are so many people in this room towards whom his boundless love should be channeled.

First, to my Mother. I know Dad was an imperfect husband, but I also know that he loved you very much, and that he took that love as fact, a common and daily truth that could, at times, be taken for granted, but never ignored, because you were a constant presence in his heart. In the last months of his life, it became abundantly clear to me just how much he trusted you, not only to take care of big life decisions, but to accept the love and responsibility he felt for Thomas and I, and to bear the burdens of love and responsibility two parents feel in your one immeasurably strong heart. You were his rock, anchoring him with grace until the very end.

To my younger brother, Thomas. You and I have spent a lot of time these past few days wondering what advice Dad might give us were he still around to do so, but I think I know exactly what he would say could he tell you one thing today. He would say he was proud of you, as proud as any father can be for his son, not just for your incredible talents of music and composition and mathematics, but for your remarkable intelligence, and for your loving heart, and for your capacity for friendship, and for all the joy you brought him. Thomas, sometimes you struggle with self-esteem. We all do. But Dad believed in you, and if you trust no one else who regards you as a prodigy, at least trust him. If you can find an ounce of the belief in yourself that Dad bore for you, there is literally nothing that you will be unable to achieve.

To my older brother Christian. Though Dad could not spend as much time with you as you both probably wanted during his life, I know, and I am sure you do as well, that he loved you to the fullest extent of his great big heart. He was so incredibly proud of you, especially in recent months, when he took such great pride in seeing the beautiful family you have started. Our father left this world in peace, and I believe that was in part because he had seen what you had become, how happy and whole you were on your wedding day, out on that dock, holding Jessica’s hands and exchanging vows. You have found transcendent love in your beautiful wife and daughter, and that love emboldened our father, right up until the very end.

To Dad’s comically vast extended family. If you want to know just how much David loved you all, and how much he treasured the time the Lack family spent together, just consider that he drove his wife and children three states, every Christmas and many Thanksgivings, to be with you, and always did it with pleasure. I understand my father’s affinity for his brothers and sisters, and for their husbands and wives, and for their children and grandchildren, for I have experienced what wonderful people you are first hand. Dad clearly felt the same. The visits many of you made to Colorado in his final months meant more to him than he could ever say, and the same goes to all our friends gathered here today, who have acted as family to us, not just in these last few months but over many countless years. You were not just a crucial part of his support system, but arguably the backbone.

But finally, I want to address my Dad’s beloved granddaughter, Sophia Greye, born earlier this year. Sophie, I know you cannot understand me now, but one day you will, and one day, we all will have so many wonderful things to tell you about your Grandfather. You are so incredibly blessed to have had him in your life, even if it was only for a short time, and I know he felt the same. You brought him grace in a time of sickness and pain. You were a light of salvation in a vast expanse of darkness. You brought him joy when he felt none for himself. You brought him peace, for when he held you, he knew that even though his existence waned, life itself moved on, and it could be beautiful and radiant in every possible way.

He felt this. I saw it in his eyes. I heard it in the way he spoke of you, in the melancholy inflections with which he said your name, knowing he could not be there to see you grow up. But he would want you to know how much you meant to him, and your parents and Uncles and countless other loving relations will make sure you know it one day, with a cavalcade of stories and pictures we are eager to share.  

And I will not be alone in this pursuit. For the sake of Sophia, or other grandchildren yet to be born, or anyone else who would benefit from knowing that this wonderful man existed, we, all of us here, will continue to tell my father’s story. The story of a small town kid from Cherokee, Iowa, who grew up to attain some of the highest levels of education possible in this country, and who touched innumerable lives through his work in the ministry or with non-profits, and who passed away on a gorgeous day in one of the most picturesque places on Earth, with his head turned towards the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by three people who could never come close to describing what his love meant to them.

His was a story of true human success, and we will pass it forward. And we will continue to speak his name, and we will continue to feel his love. And when we get together for family gatherings, we will continue to feel his presence, for David Ernest Lack was bigger than any one of us, and his absence is bigger than any one of us. He has left this Earth, but he will never leave this family, for he loved too much, and was too loved by us, for his mark to ever dissipate entirely.

If there is one thing I am sure of right now, it is that David Lack does not leave this family when he dies. He leaves when we die.

And however long that is, I know I will not be alone in carrying my father’s spirit in my heart. It is a weight I bear with pride. 

If you would like to make a donation in my father's memory, please visit Clinica Colorado is a not-for-profit clinic that serves the uninsured in Colorado, and was a cause my Dad greatly believed in, serving on their Board and helping to get the service started. It is a great cause. Thank you. 

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