I’ve sat on this for weeks, because I know this is part of my grieving process and I still want to believe it was some horrible nightmare, not reality, but here we are. I lost the guy that was always “my guy.” I still think he’s going to randomly call me one day, and I can feel my brain shutting down when I try and tell myself that he is gone for good.
Throughout the entire thing I don’t know what was worse. My dad dying, or having to watch the person I’ve loved the most, reduced to a fraction of the man he was. Cancer will completely shift your perspective on a lot of things, and I really don’t know if I will ever see or experience anything as brutal as having to witness that.
I wrote this as the eulogy, so it reads more like a speech, but I hope in it you catch some glimpse of who my dad was, and maybe, you see something in his life that you relate to or that inspires you.
Dad and I shared a lot of things. He was a firefighter, I’m a police officer. He was a Marine, I’m a marine. We even shared birthdays. And in preparation for today I couldn’t decide what I should wear, dress blues? My police class A’s? But ultimately, today, I’m here as Jesse. Just a guy trying to process how to live my life without my biggest fan.
I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you for coming. Dad, I know you hate this attention, but I also know that you deserve every bit of it. For my SMU family that is here, Chief, Lynda, Scott, and so many others from our police department and the SMU community as a whole, who have supported me during this.
As much as I hate to say it, I always knew this day would come. In fact, after last November, I knew that it would come a lot sooner than I ever wanted it to.
Dad’s cancer journey began in the summer of 2019, but in the spring of 2017 I was presented with something to help me through this pain, before I even knew I would experience it.
That spring I was dealing with a lot of personal pain and still struggling to process the death of a dear friend and coworker, Mark. During that time, I discovered a book called A Monster Calls. I learned a lot from that story, and I found a lot of peace in dealing with grief. Although it wasn’t applicable at the time, ironically enough, that story is about a young boy, whose mother is dying of cancer.
Today, as we celebrate the life of my incredible father. I’d like to share some excerpts from that book.
In this book, the young boy, Connor, is visited by a monster. This monster speaks truth to Connor, and helps him process the pain of losing his mother, while helping him find peace in letting her go.
“You do not write your life with words,” the monster said. “You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.”
This quote specifically speaks to me about how my dad lived his life. He was a sensitive man, but he was stoic. There were endless movies we would watch where dad was in tears. He was rarely outwardly emotional with words, but he never shied away from showing his emotion. And while dad didn’t live his life with words, he lived his life with actions. Dad wasn’t one to say I love you very much, but as I grew older, I quickly realized that in the ways that my dad didn’t say, I love you, his actions always did. Now I would trade in 1000 I love yous, for the actions that say so. And that was who my dad was.
There was a long silence as Conor re-caught his breath. “So, what do I do?” he finally asked.
“You do what you did just now,” the monster said. “You speak the truth.”
“You think it is easy?” The monster raised two enormous eyebrows. “You were willing to die rather than speak it.”
“If you speak the truth,” the monster whispered in his ear, “you will be able to face whatever comes.”
Today, I don’t want to speak that truth. I don’t want to say that dad is no longer here. That those phone calls will never happen anymore, that he’ll never beat me in ping pong, or yell at the TV because of the Cowboys and blame Jerry Jones.
And so, Conor looked back down at his mum, at her outstretched hand. He could feel his throat choking again and his eyes watering.
It wasn’t the drowning of the nightmare, though, it was simpler, clearer. He took his mother’s hand. She opened her eyes, briefly, catching him there. Then she closed them again.
But she’d seen him.
And he knew it was here. He knew there really was no going back. That it was going to happen, whatever he wanted, whatever he felt. And he also knew he was going to get through it. It would be terrible. It would be beyond terrible.
But he’d survive.
Two weeks before my dad passed, we had two conversations that I’ll never forget. They were both very emotional, and, although dad was still in treatment, and fighting to live, deep down, I think he knew that it was time to go.
In those conversations, my dad told me four things. He told me how proud he was of my mom, and how thankful he was to have her as his caretaker. He told me and implored me to find Jesus, because he said, in Jesus, there is peace. My dad challenged me to be a good man, but the thing that I will never forget was that he said to not make life harder than it needs to be. He told me that life is hard enough.
Now, when he said that, it made me think of the times that my siblings and I had to use the push mower on acres and acres of land, because dad was too stubborn to buy a riding lawnmower. It made me chuckle at how we learned how to put-up a Barbwire fence, because he didn’t want anyone else to do it. It made me think of all the times that life felt hard because Dad made us do something.
What I wouldn’t give for one of those moments now.
I know what dad really meant when he said, don’t make life harder than it needs to be. He meant for me to not over complicate things, to focus on serving those around me, but most importantly, in the same way that he would sign every birthday card or note, he said it to mean… love always.
“You’ll stay?” Conor whispered to the monster, barely able to speak. “You’ll stay until…”
“I will stay,” The monster said, its hands still on Conor’s shoulders. “Now all you have to do is speak the truth.”
And so Conor did.
He took in a deep breath.
And, at last, he spoke the final and total truth.
“I don’t want you to go,” he said, the tears dropping from his eyes, slowly at first, then spilling like a river. “I know, my love,” his mother said in her heavy voice. “I know.”
Conor held tightly onto his mother.
And by doing so, he could finally let her go.
Dad was a patriot and he loved this country. I’ll never forget when I was nine-years-old, on September 11, 2001, mom rushed us home from piano lessons because of the terrorist attacks. When I walked into the living room, there was my dad, sitting on the floor in front of the TV sobbing. At that age I couldn’t comprehend what that meant, but now I know why he was, and that’s the kind of man my dad was.
Dad had a unique way with people. A sly grin, a light chuckle, and a very obvious eye roll and he would immediately win you over. The best part about growing up with him was that he was perfectly imperfect.
I grew up watching my dad serve his community, this city, for 40 years. I spent nights at the fire station, watching TV, eating dinner at the table with the other firemen, and laying in bed as the alarm bells would sound and they’d respond to a call.
Dad was not one for fanfare or recognition and I can promise you that right now, he is rolling his eyes in heaven. But we’re here to tell his story, and to highlight and acknowledge his service as a firefighter and Marine because I know that he deserves it.
For my football boys, dad would ask about you constantly. He’d ask me how practices were going and talk to me about the games all the time. When he died, he died with his SMU football credential hanging on the lamp next to his bed.
In his final moments all he wanted was time with his family and some watermelon, because there was nothing that dad loved more than his family and a solid slice of watermelon.
As we planned my dad’s memorial my first thought was to have it here at SMU because I knew it would be more simple. I immediately thought of this auditorium. We had Mark’s memorial here, it’s beautiful and I’m familiar with it. And while going through old pictures and memories we found dad’s high school graduation invitation. Born and raised in Oak Cliff, dad graduated from Adamson high school, right here in this very building. I knew immediately that it was meant to be. What better place to celebrate his graduation from this life, to his heavenly life, then the same building that he celebrated graduating to adulthood.
My siblings and I were blessed to grow up with a father like my dad, not because he was the perfect example of a father, but because he was the perfect example of selfless service. My dad served his country and this city with a deep love that required no acknowledgement or attention. He chose a path that few travel, and he did it with a gentle heart that asked for nothing in return.
In the days leading up to dad‘s passing, I revisited this book again, and changed this excerpt for my father, instead of Connor’s mother because of conversations I had with dad before he passed.
“I don’t want you to go,” I said, the tears dropping from my eyes, slowly at first, then spilling like a river.
“I know” dad said in his heavy voice. “I know.”
I could feel the monster, holding me up and letting me stand there.
“I don’t want you to go,” I said again.
And that was all I needed to say.
I leaned forward onto his bed and put my arm around him.
Holding him. Like we all did in his final moments.
I knew it would come, and soon. The moment he would slip from my grasp, no matter how tightly I held on.
But not this moment, the monster whispered, still close. Not just yet.
I held tightly onto my father.
And by doing so, I could finally let him go.