Two weeks ago I attended my father’s funeral.
The events leading up to the funeral had wrung me dry. The idea of writing a eulogy befitting my father was overwhelming. I worried that expectations would be too high as in, “She’s the daughter who writes, so this must be good.” There was no way I could deliver under such emotional duress. Plus, I’m an introvert. Speaking in front of a crowd at my most vulnerable made my stomach roil.
My brother was organizing the line-up of speakers. He’d asked us to keep it short, three to five minutes in length. As any writer knows brevity requires more thought, not less. I was tired of thinking.
I told my brother I’d prefer to listen not talk.
That was my plan. Until breakfast, just hours before the service, when my brother asked me to reconsider. He said it would mean a lot to him.
Walking up to the casket I had no paper in hand. Nothing carefully crafted. Only raw emotion and a compendium of thoughts, which had been buzzing through my brain morning and night over the past days as our family had joined together, circled my father with love and kisses and said our goodbyes.
Then again, isn’t that the crux of writing? Thinking. Thinking. Obsessively thinking. Really that’s all I’d been doing for days. Thinking about my father. So in some respects, I guess I had been writing. Just not on paper.
Before proceeding to the cemetery, the funeral director slipped my mother a DVD recording of the service. Due to the magic of 20th century technology I’ve now watched myself on playback. It’s weird I know. But I wanted to hear what I’d said, because it was all such a blur. As I witnessed my on-screen self bare my grief I wondered – how did I do that? Even my husband later said, “Really? You really didn’t write anything down?”
Nothing. Well, except for the quote, which I’d jotted down years before and have committed to memory.
I guess this just proves my point: sometimes the best writing is unwritten, floating within our cerebral cortex.
In retrospect my words weren’t perfect, but they were honest and as the Rabbi assured me prior to the service, unscripted words are often the most heartfelt.
As the final speaker at my father’s funeral, I took a risk and wrote on the fly. I wouldn’t recommend making a habit of it, but the results can be pretty special.
For the curious among you, below is a transcription of what I said. Let me briefly preface it by explaining the unique composition of my family. My family of the past 34 years began as two separate families: a widow and her child, me, and a widower and his children, Raffi and Tamar. Now the transcription should make sense.
As some of you know I’m in the process of reinventing myself as a writer.
I wrote nothing for today. I figured I’d wing it, which is sometimes a dangerous situation to be in.
What some of you may or may not know about me is that my early childhood was probably the polar opposite of what Shir and Ron and Chloe and Isabelle and Lili and Stella [the grandchildren] are experiencing.
My mother – who I adore – found a guy who in my wildest dreams I would think is not a good person to marry.
Because he’d had his own family who had all perished in a car accident.
Together [they had me.]
I was kind of that replacement child and [my biological father, Louis] was aloof and distant, as you can imagine. At that time, he’d not had one ounce of counseling or anything after the accident, and he was very disturbed.
So in my early childhood they separated and soon after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
So prior to my fourth birthday I’d already experienced, maybe not a divorce but a separation, a death of a parent and then for a variety of reasons his family, who unlike what Tamar and Raffi experienced [as they] could learn about their mother and hear the memories about their mother from people who loved her for so long; His family chose to have nothing to do with me.
So I was ready to find a father. And a family.
I have a quote that my mother said to me two years ago. She said – “If I didn’t find the guy who was going to lift you and me up to the top of the world – Then I Wasn’t Going.”
And he [my father, Daniel Offer] was all those things. He was stubborn and opinionated and my God he was not one to just embrace an eight-year-old.
But I was gonna get him to fall in love with me and sure enough… He did.
And in many ways (and I don’t say this to be hurtful to my siblings who I adore) but I think given the timing of when we entered his life that in some ways in terms of his parenting, I got the best of him. And maybe because, you know, I was six and eight years younger than Tamar and Raffi.
And he mellowed in some ways as he got older and he got softer and he tried harder.
Dialysis for him was a curse but it was also a blessing because he lived life so well and he really didn’t let it stop him.
He had such a great attitude and to watch my parents together during those years and like Tamar said, this past week, was such a beautiful, amazing model.
And I made sure – Raffi heard this the other day but Tamar didn’t – I made sure that when I was with him this week as I was saying all the things that I needed to say, I said, “Don’t worry I’m going to have a really good relationship with Raffi and Tamar even after you’re gone. “
He was such an interesting person with a lot of quirks and fallibilities but he was a really loving man and he changed my life in profound ways and for that I will forever, forever be grateful.