A Eulogy for Eric

I read this Eulogy for Eric at his Memorial Service at the Chapel Ridge Golf Club on October 5th, 2016. I hope that wherever he is, he saw that it was standing room only. His final resting place is in niche 1A-32C in the outdoor columbarium at the West Point Cemetery in West Point, New York. He was inurned with military honors bestowed by his USMA Class of 1991 classmates on November 4th, 2016 during their 25th Class Reunion. He rests among some of the best and the brightest who have ever lived and served this great country…because he was one of them.

Go Army Beat Navy.

Eric and I met a long time ago when we were young and adorable on a blind date at a Denny’s during our lunch break. We were both stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia in different units, and when we met, we were both wearing Battle Dress Uniform, also known as BDUs. At the time, Eric was about 140 lbs., and anyone who knows what BDUs look like on a thin man know that they look pretty good. However, BDUs on a short woman of my stature is not the most flattering outfit, so I hoped that he did not find me unattractive despite what I was wearing. He later told me that his first impression of me was that he knew I wasn’t overweight because of the size of my wrists. And anyone who knew Eric can understand when I say that it was likely to be the best and most romantic compliment I would ever get.

If there is one word that could sum up his entire life, it is the word “integrity.” Eric had impeccable integrity in everything he did. I don’t believe I’ve ever known another man with more of it and I doubt I will ever again. Whether he was responding to an argument within a discussion in accordance with his own values or choosing not to move the ball from a bad lie when no one was watching, Eric was that rare breed of human being who found the balance in both playing by the rules or doing the right thing…and also doing what he wanted and getting what he wanted out of life. While there were times during the course of our marriage that I battled with jealousy over the mistress golf, I am glad that Eric lived his life on his own terms and did what he wanted to do regardless of my occasional pouting. I do appreciate the fact that there is really no greater freedom in life than owning your own life and Eric did that.

Cancer, however, took all of that away from him. He no longer had any choices or power over his own life…not really. His life became one of choosing between dying in four months or go through torture to add a few more to it. His life became consumed with chairs and waiting rooms and labs and toxic chemicals and pills and toilets and physical exhaustion and the mental and emotional torment of coming to terms with your impending, ugly, death at 47 years old from some invisible, uncontrollable monster.

No matter how difficult this year has been for our family, I decided to see if I could find any gifts that cancer gave to us rather than focusing on everything it was taking away. I didn’t always do such a good job with this mental exercise, and in fact, most of the time I’ve been very angry and distraught about what was happening to him, our children, our future. But I did manage to come up with a few gifts which I will share:

  1. An entire Saturday spent in bed together during a bad chemo treatment watching a marathon of old Love Boat reruns, comparing cruising in the 1970s to cruising in 2016. That never would have happened – in a million years – if Eric wasn’t terminally ill.

  2. Combining our clothes in the laundry or cooking up some chicken and rice…because the way I did it, was…at long last…good enough. My laundry skills were good enough. My cooking was good enough. My cleaning was good enough. These were no longer mundane chores meant to clog up my free time or remind him that I was sorely lacking in domestic skills. They became daily intentional acts of love, which he freely received.

  3. An outstretched hand reaching to touch mine in the midst of his agony and suffering – the most genuine affection that could ever be displayed by another person. There is no equalizer in the human experience than being at your lowest and reaching for the person you trust to comfort you. The fact that I was that person for him in that moment was a gift from him to me, one I may not have ever deserved until he believed I earned it. He let me know in that instant that I had indeed earned it.

  4. A man, who never cried in front of me, who was otherwise proudly insensitive within his own personality, who then cried almost every night simply because he was sad – a sadness he never knew existed – who held me when I was crying, while he was crying himself. To experience another human being’s expression of empathy as he is in the depths of this own despair is not paralleled anywhere else in life.

  5. A man who looked at his daughters with the love of a father, with both compassion and grief rather than an authority or disciplinarian, through the tinted lens of someone who knew the magnitude of what he was losing and what we all would be losing. He could see their futures without him. He could see all the times they’d need a father and would have none. He could feel their longing for a man who would no longer be there for them exactly as they needed him.

  6. Patience and understanding. But most importantly, grace and forgiveness. There were times our relationship challenges out-shined our love, but our marriage managed to survive the toughest years. We were actually looking forward to our empty nest together and were making plans for what our next move would be. If anything, cancer put us on a fast track toward these timeless virtues unlike anything else could.

  7. Vulnerability and openness. The kind only real brokenness brings out of a person, no matter how strong he had been mentally, emotionally and physically for his entire life. Eric prided himself on his mental strength and on his unwillingness to bend to anything other than his own will. As much of a strength that is within a man – his vulnerability and openness during his battle were also a true strength that he otherwise would have never known without cancer.

  8. A kiss under a waterfall when there was no one taking a picture of it, no one there to witness it, no one there who would even care. It was the one moment in my life where I appreciated that my girls wore their God-awful flip flops instead of “sensible shoes” on a rocky, slippery hike along the Road to Hana in Maui and missed out on a brief moment between their parents…it was meant just for us.

  9. Intentional family time. Intentional memory making. Instead of being too busy for each other, there was never enough time for us to do all we wanted to either as a couple or as a family. I will never be more grateful for our time as a small family of four in Hawaii or our other wonderful trips with his parents and sisters. Our trip to Alaska just a couple of weeks ago was the most difficult and challenging one for him. Many hours were spent in bed and in constant pain. But the two-and-a-half minute live segment on our balcony as we watched eight whales and their mesmerizing tails glide along the North Pacific was one of the most magical memories we ever shared in our twenty-one years together. I will never forget or be more grateful for the ridiculous amount of money we blew through – money it took years to accumulate just in case of a crisis – because the crisis became trying to suck all the marrow out of life before there was none left. These intentional acts, gifts from this horrible illness, will be within our family’s memories and how we will continue to have Eric to live through us every day.

  10. And lastly, the confirmation of a soulmate. This gift from cancer was the firm realization of a small, but profound, life truth: we are afforded soulmates in life, whether we embrace them or not. Sometimes they are our best friends and within the context of a life long relationship, like a sister or cousin. Eric was not my soulmate in some Nicholas Sparks novel, who read my thoughts and melted inside of my eyes and wrote songs on his heart because of how he loved the dance of my long, flowing dark hair. Eric was my soulmate because he never let me lower my standards for myself. He held our girls to this same challenge. He never gave into me. He never let me accept that I was less than what he knew I was – even if I’m a Steelers fan. He challenged me to a fault. He called me out. Sometimes it wasn’t the right time or place, but he never let me settle…to be anything less. He wanted me to believe in my own worth and abilities and to do so without his approval. He never let me see him broken, until life decided that it would hand him the worst thing it could ever hand him. He never let me win. He made me earn everything we had as a couple. I earned my soulmate. This was how Eric loved…like he did everything else…on his own terms. And he’s the only man who has ever loved me. I hope my girls will see through their dad that a man who loves you will make you see that you are worthy because he challenges you to choose that for yourself.

Eric lived with purpose each and every day that he had on this earth. He lived the life he wanted to while he could, and he was robbed of his future by the indifference of biology and the unfortunate poker cards of life. He should be very proud of the life he lived, the work he did, the children he invested in, and the legacy he has left behind within every person he touched. He was deeply loved by his family and will be missed forever.

I would like to thank my family, friends, and the wonderful communities in which Eric belonged for their unwavering support throughout this nightmare and ultimate tragedy: in particular, SAS Institute – the best employer in the world, who goes above and beyond in treating its employees and by extension their families as valued and dignified human beings; the Chapel Ridge Golf Club members and staff and our Chapel Ridge community neighbors and friends, and the members of Eric’s Company at West Point and his fellow classmates and graduates – no doubt the best cult in the world. Eric will be inurned with military honors at the West Point Cemetery in New York. As the Academy folks say, “Be Thou at Peace, Eric.”

 

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