My Dad died last week. I did the eulogy on Wednesday. I’m posting it here for posterity. This is the first eulogy I’ve done, but I guess I’m entering that phase of my life where you stop going to weddings and attend more funerals (and then have to delete people off your phonebook).
Nothing lasts but nothing is lost
– Terence McKenna
What gives dignity to death is the dignity of the life that preceded it
– Sherwin B Nuland.
If you were to give my old man a superhero name… no-patience man might have been a good fit.
Even in death it had to happen, now, now, now. Its one those things the rest of us might like to draw out for a while. Maybe ease ourselves into the whole death experience. I know I certainly would want to take my time. Maybe dip a toe into the afterlife, you know, read the literature… maybe do some stretching.
Not Knud though, he didn’t mess around, he jumped in both feet first.
Trust me when I say he tackled everything in life like this. Me and my wife would be idlily meandering through the garden and casually mention that it might be nice to have a bench… or a pond… or a jungle gym… over here and half an hour later Knud would be in the workshop smashing it together from bits of reclaimed wood.
I don’t think in the 40 years I’ve been around… we actually ever bought any wood. Ever. Seriously, I have no idea where all came from. Whatever the project… it would be done. The next day.
He always… um… how do I put this politely… favored um… function… over design aesthetics. So it was with great skepticism and bemusement when he recently took up building model ships. You know the intricate, complicated ones that say 16+ on the box. The ones that you have to brave the hobby shop in Northcliff corner and mortgage your house to purchase.
My old man loved the sea. He grew up in Hamburg. Which is one of the biggest port cities in Europe. He was also half Danish. And I suspect that Viking… lets go with Esprit de corps ran thick in his veins.
Teenage Knud used to crew for North Sea Freighters during his summer holidays. Parenting in the 60s right? Toughen up your kids by sending them on indentured service on vessels with questionable seaworthiness.
Although… this could maybe explain why subsequent generations (and I included myself in this) have turned out… you know… a little bit… meh.
I think my nephews, Christian and Joshua (they’re about the right age now) would likely benefit greatly from a sojourn from Durban to Mumbai on a rusty scow held together with wire and barnacles crewed by a salty bunch of Philippino ‘rogues’. Can you imagine all those… eh… interesting life experience things they would have along the way .
I’m just kidding. Don’t actually do that!
Being the cabin boy on these North Sea freighters, primarily shipping lumber from the Nordic countries to France and the Mediterranean, his one job was to bring the captain his coffee. The coffee being in the galley and the captain on the bridge.. and with the pitch of the boat, this was actually quite a challenging exercise.
The last part of the journey was the most arduous. The stairs up to the bridge. An almost impossible task. My old man would take a big mouth full of coffee at the bottom of the stairs… manoeuvre up the stairs and then… deposit the coffee back into the mug. The Captain would be none the wiser.
I must be honest, I briefly considered a traditional Viking send off for my dad You know the one where they load the body into the long boat… and then someone… who isn’t a rubbish shot shoots the flaming arrow into boat… and the whole thing goes up in flames.
Logistically that’s quite a tough one to pull off though. And I have my doubts as to whether City Parks would have been keen on the whole idea. Which also meant we would have get Father Keith out to Emmernetia at night and… anyways… it would have been… challenging.
The Viking measure of ones life was dying well. Although it was dying well in battle with an ax in your face while you were trying to drag all the shiny stuff out of an English monastery. That was a one way ticket into Valhalla, and skipping the queue.
Our optics have changes somewhat over the years.
But was is the measure of ones life? What do we now consider a life well lived?
Travel, children, wealth, loyalty, hard work, devotion and discipline, ? My old man ticked all those boxes.
Knud came to South Africa in the early seventies on a ticked sponsored by the South African government and two months rent in cash. Which… in those days was something like R28. Although that was probably the equivalent of like 2000 dollars back then. Ha!
His intention was never to stay, But he met my mother and soon after decided to start a business. He had two children. This fine specimen you see before you. And… well I suppose my sister also turned out okay. We doubled it up with two grandchildren each.
My old man also got to travel pretty much everywhere. He was going to Mainland China in the late eightess already. WAAAAAAAY before it was ‘cool’. In those days you got a government minder that followed you around and made sure you weren’t up to anything… subversive.
I had the pleasure of accompanying him many times to that part of the world. We ate A LOT of… um… interesting stuff. People imagine China as the cosmopolitan metropolises of Shanghai or Ganzhou. Trust me… when you travel inland things start to get… a little weird.
I can still picture this one place we went to for lunch. ‘Hey, check it out, theres a petshop next to this restaurant’, I said to my old man as we walked in. After sitting down and some pleasantries we were marched into the ‘pet shop’ to choose what we wanted to eat. It ticked all the clichés you can imagine. The big chopping block in the center with the cleaver buried in the wood. On the floor were all these plastic bins filled with water beetles… and eels… and other… groovy looking stuff. Big tanks full of snakes.
So what do you want to eat?
You pick the fish.
As for hard work, commitment and discipline. I don’t know anyone that worked harder than my old man. I would love to have had even an iota of what he had. Unfortunately the apple fell quite far from that tree… eh… and then rolled down the hill… and across the road and then into the river.
A lot of you might not know that I am a hardcore adherent of stoicism and stoic philosophy.
The stoics believe that the entire point of life is to prepare for your eventual death. And for that death to be a good one. Death is that one certainty that we all face. Yet, most of us, hardly give our demise any thought. We like to kick that can down the road imagining it as some far off event way over the horizon.
In terms of death my dad really got first prize. To die in your sleep. No suffering. No foreboding. No sense that anything was wrong. Not all of us get to be that lucky. In fact, statically, it’s probably quite unlikely.
I think our mortality takes us all by surprise. The ones that are left behind I mean. The dead don’t mind it at all.
These should be deeply philosophical moments for us.
Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse working in palliative care, recorded what she perceived to be the top five regrets of the dying. They were:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
My dad didn’t have the time to contemplate any regrets he might have had… but we are still here. We can appreciate from his sudden passing how fragile our lives are.
We should all be thinking about how we are going bow out. Is it going to be a death filled with regrets and heartache or will it be an end where we are going to kick back and say, ‘yeah, that was pretty good, I think I did okay’.
Are we going to fill the time allocated to us with stupid petty frustrations and gripes, were we grind up antagonistically against our fellow homo sapiens… or are we going to strive to rise up above our more basic iterations? Are we going to spend our time raging against the things we cannot change or influence? Or concentrate on the things we can do to lead a good life.
A stoic saying and often a morning ritual that translates from the latin into ‘remember death’.
We can kick off and go towards the light at any time. Case in point.
I’m going to miss my dad. He was a really good guy. And he was also a great dad. I was really lucky.
Do not feel great sadness that he is gone. If anything you should be feeling a little jealous. My dad lived through what historians’ might one day term the golden age of humanity. My dad is likely the first of his decedent’s back to the stone age that wasn’t coopted into any conflict. He was never coerced by his government or monarch to march off to war with the intention of taking another humans life. He lived in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. He saw amazing things. Listened to the beeping of sputnik as it circled the globe. Witnessed the first human leave our planet and step onto the moon. He saw communism fail and the Berlin wall coming down. He lived in a time where we eradicated some of the most pervasive diseases on the planet and made giant leaps in the quality of life of everyone.
What a great time to have been alive.
I’d like to thank all of you for coming out here this morning. Unfortuntately the times being what they are we can’t offer you weak tea and little triangles of white bread stuffed with tuna-mayo.
But we definitely appreciate that you guys came out to show us your support.
Thank you all very much.