In October I lost my father to brain cancer. I felt this loss at the depth of my soul. I debated with myself about whether to post the eulogy I wrote. Did I want to share something so personal beyond the confines of those who attended his funeral? In the end, I decided that I didn’t want to just tuck the words away in a drawer only to be revisited from time to time. I wanted those who never had the honor of meeting my father to know what an extraordinary person he was and how much he was loved.
It is in this spirit that I share this final tribute I wrote to my father, Neal Harold White. I miss you every day.
Life is made up of bits and pieces. Some of them are large and more significant. Others are smaller and less memorable. Some are smooth with rounded edges. Others are sharp and fragmented. When you put these bits and pieces together in just the right way they form a mosaic. I like to think of my father’s life in this way. A beautiful mosaic of memories and meaning. A beautiful mosaic rich with love and laughter. A beautiful mosaic filled with compassion and goodness. This was his life. And what a beautiful life it was.
Since I was a young girl I wrote out long cards for my father for every special occasion letting him know how much I loved and appreciated him. The measure of success, for me, was whether my words could bring him to tears. Sometimes just a few tears would roll down his face. Other times it was more like a waterfall, complete with sobbing and choking. Rest assured, this meant it was a particularly good card.
Today, I have the opportunity to share with all of you all of the things I told and wrote to my father throughout the years. I am sure if he were here he would be blubbering along side of me. And grief stricken though I am I take comfort in my tears, knowing that this was one of the many ways we showed that we loved each other.
As I reflect on my Dad’s life and celebrate the person that he was, I am reminded of how many roles he played to so many of us here today.
In the late 1960s my father met my mother on a blind date. He wore a mismatched outfit, took her to an amusement park and fell in love. Several years ago, I told my Dad that I noticed how happy he and my Mom were. He told me that they had fallen in love with each other all over again. I remember feeling a sense of pride and awe at this comment. After 46+ years of marriage, my parents not only loved each other—they were still in love.
As a husband, my Dad was extraordinarily domestic. He banned my mother from doing the grocery shopping and did all the cooking. He vacuumed the house incessantly. He was so meticulous that he would take a razor to clean any leftover residue from the countertops. People always joke that daughters tend to marry men like their fathers. With that, I need to tell Gary that it’s time to get cooking and cleaning!
I learned so much about what it means to have a strong marriage by watching my parents. My father was so supportive, complimentary and respectful of my mother. In his final days, he told me that she was his superhero; he didn’t know what he would do without her. He loved her so wholly and unconditionally. And she felt exactly the same way.
When I was young, my father spent countless hours with me in the backyard teaching me how to play softball. He would throw the ball and I would miss it. Over and over again. I was so bad that I was always in right field, twirling my ribbon barrettes and picking dandelions while the game went on around me. But my Dad never lost his patience with me. He stayed calm and kept encouraging me until I finally got the hang of it. I went on to become captain of my varsity high school softball team. And even though we never won a single game in four years, my Dad was always there, patting me on the back, complementing a good hit or saying “nice try” when I struck out.
He was my ultimate cheerleader, not only in sports, but in life itself. As I danced on his shoes at our father-daughter dances he told me what a good dancer I was. When I was awkward with braces and bad haircuts, he told me how beautiful I was. When I called to complain about a challenging college course he told me how smart I was. And over time I started believing these things he told me. Little by little my confidence grew. He gave me reasons to love myself.
My Dad was present. He was home for dinner every night growing up and always made time for me and Scott. We never doubted his love for us. He never gave us a reason to.
And when Scott and I were all grown up and made our husband selections, my Dad welcomed Gary and Bruce warmly into our family. Perhaps he wasn’t always the most eloquent, like before Gary proposed when he told Gary, “If there was something you meant to ask me this weekend but didn’t know how, the answer is yes. Take her.” But he meant well. And he really respected and loved Gary and Bruce.
My Dad embraced his most recent title, “Papa Neal” with pride. His love for Rebecca and Jenna was evident just by looking into his eyes. I remember him holding them for the first time and how they fit so naturally in the crook of his arm. He used to break out photos of them when they were babies and show anyone who would look. The guy at the deli counter, the pharmacist, it didn’t matter. He was proud to let the whole world know how much he loved his girls. He captivated their attention with his stories and loved to snuggle with them as they fell asleep. He formed a true bond with them, one that I hope they take with them in the years ahead.
He was a loving brother to Stevie and Lynn and brother-in-law to Harriet and Ellie. He was so easy to love in return. He was an amazing friend. He was lucky enough to have the same friends for more than 40 years. His friends and family showed him just how much they loved him by being there when he needed them most. For the past 8 months they have given so much of themselves, so unselfishly. For that, we cannot be more grateful.
Yes, my Dad was an incredible husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend. But what really stands out is what an incredible person he was. I truly learned what it means to be good and kind by watching my father.
I learned from watching him volunteer for Make-A-Wish and doing magic tricks at the children’s hospital. I learned from watching him deal poker at Tamarisk to bring joy to lonely older people. My whole life I watched as he put others in front of himself, consistently and without ego. He worked hard at a job he disliked, sacrificing his own comforts to give Scott and me the best education, the best clothes, the best summer camps, the best life experiences. He did this so automatically and so inherently I didn’t realize how difficult this even was.
Throughout the pinnacles and valleys of life, my Dad kept his sense of humor. He was known to tell a lot of jokes and botch the majority of the punch lines. He never concerned himself with being politically correct. I’m sure he would like me to share some of these jokes with you today to lighten the mood a bit. But as my Grammy Helen always used to say, “Next case judge.”
Overall, he wasn’t a big talker. Maybe it was because we tried our best to beat out any semblance of his RI accent. At family gatherings we would all talk at once and we would joke with him that he was mute. But there were some major exceptions to this rule. My Dad talked all the time while he was in the car. It was just that the other drivers couldn’t hear him yelling at them. Today they call this road rage, which he so lovingly passed down to me. The other exception is when we went on vacation. He would talk with everyone, befriending so many random people, chatting with these strangers as if they were long lost friends. Perhaps that is why we didn’t go on an overabundance of family vacations…
My father rarely complained. He didn’t waste time worrying about things out of his control. And it didn’t take a lot to make him happy. He loved the Patriots and Red Sox-- so long as they were winning. He loved watching action movies and cried uncontrollably during E.T. He loved to eat. He didn’t really care what it was so long as it tasted good. He loved to play golf and bridge. He loved spending time with our family, especially his granddaughters. He liked most everyone and always looked for the best in people. And as a result, everyone liked him. Good people are hard to find. And he was most definitely good.
These bits and pieces of my father’s life, these millions of moments, form his own mosaic. There was a fair share of ragged edges- losing his mother too soon, getting sick too soon. But whether sharp or smooth, all of these pieces completed a picture. A beautiful mosaic of memories and meaning. A beautiful mosaic rich with love and laughter. A beautiful mosaic filled with compassion and goodness. This was his life. And what a beautiful life it was.