Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Eulogy for John E. Hess

I'm posting the text of the eulogy I did for my dad just as I wrote and said it. As you might imagine, writing it was the easy part.

Eulogy for John E. Hess
by Christopher Hess

Thank you all for coming. I'm Chris, the fourth of Jack Hess' five sons, and I'm gonna try and get through saying just a few words about my dad.

One of my dad's greatest concerns, and likely a concern of many of us sitting here, is that when he died, his memorial would be sparsely attended. Looking around this room, I know that all our assurances to the contrary were justified. My family is grateful for that.

So I guess my purpose here is to explain what sort of a man he was. Where do you start such a task? My dad loved to fish. Sometimes he hated it, too. And he had the same relationship, though a bit more intense, with the game of golf. He liked to fix things around the house, take care of his lawn, play with his dog. He was a great reader, a dedicated fan of the Cubs and the Bears, both the joy and the bane of his daily existence. But these are the trivial details. Mostly, my dad lived for his family. My mom was the single most important thing to him in the world, and getting her to marry him his finest achievement. She changed his life--saved it, even, he told me on more than one occasion, and I believe him. I think all my brothers would agree with me on that. He loved her with an intensity and a gratitude and a wonderment at his good fortune that is seldom seen in this world. His total devotion to her is a model for me in my own life. We should all be so lucky to fall so completely head over heels, to live so well, to love so hard as he did.

He was also a dedicated father. If there is one thing of which me and my 4 brothers could be certain as we grew up, it was that our father loved us. That he would always ALWAYS be there for us. Every baseball or soccer or football game--though his attendance was sometimes cut short by his tendency to get kicked out by the umpire or referee for his overzealous support. When that happened, as it did more times than I could count, we would know that he could be found at the playing field's legal limit, his green and white lawn chair parked just outside the left field fence or the other side of the goal line, cheering us on, mutely from that distance, believe it or not, until the game was over.

When he dropped us off at a practice, or at school, or wherever we needed to go, he would insist on a hug and a kiss goodbye--even when we were teenagers and should have been mortified by such public displays of affection. My friends from college still marvel that I could have such a close relationship with my dad. That I wasn't too embarrassed. But I never thought twice about it. That's the way he was, and I loved him for it.

Work, for my dad, was nothing but a means to an end. He worked his ass off, sometimes long hours and sometimes at the expense of other things, but not because he needed it or loved it, or even liked it. In fact I'm pretty sure he hated it almost every day. He did it to provide for his wife and to offer his kids the chance to have it better than he did. A comfortable home, an education, food on the table, heat and light and the faith that all those things would be there the next day and the next. When he struggled, he insulated us from it. When he hit it big, we all felt the good times. We were never rich, but we always had more than we needed. In that way, though flawed as every person is, he came as close to perfection as a person can.

From him, and from my mom, I learned about character, the importance of it. Character is doing what's right, even when it's not the easy or profitable or most comfortable thing to do. Character is putting the people you love before yourself. It's taking the hard road so that the ones you care about can take the easier road. Character is not just providing--it's being there, always. It's keeping the people you love together, both in the sense of being home for dinner at 5:30 every single day no matter what, and in the sense of being a person that your brother knows that he can count on without even having to think about it .

So here's a fishing story. One time, fishing for salmon out on Lake Michigan in our 19-foot boat, called Placebo, a fairly calm day turned rough. We watched the weather closely, and when it started looking bad, we moved to pull in our lines and head in to shore. But the storm came faster and harder than we thought it could. The swells rose and rose until they were tossing our little boat around like a toy in a bathtub. Eric, whether from a hard night or from laying over the engine housing pulling up the downriggers, was in the back, doubled over and shedding his breakfast. (Dunkin Donuts, every trip.) John I believe was also sick, but I don't remember for sure. I was under the canopy, up front, holding on hard to keep from being tossed and talking nervously to my dad to keep from getting too scared. That was a bad habit of mine. Still is. But no matter how high we were thrown or how hard we were slammed down, wave after wave, miles out from shore, I know that I never doubted that we'd get back to Burnham Harbor safely. (Obviously, we did, and I'm pretty sure that was one of the last trips before that boat got sold.) Maybe my confidence was just a kid's sense of immortality and inability to grasp true danger. But I think it was really just complete and unflinching faith in my dad, in his strength and his wisdom and his all-consuming drive to take care of his sons.

I know my dad was afraid of dying. He fought death way too hard for me to think that he accepted the simple truth that he was headed somewhere better, somewhere with no pain or heart problems or physical limitations. Somewhere outside the restrictive cage that his body became in the end. His spirit was too young for such a decaying shell, and I could tell that over the last few years he had trouble reconciling the two. He was afraid, as I'm sure many of us are, that things he'd done in his life would keep him from the end that he sought right here in this church, with many of you, and out there in the world, living as rightly as he could. Pastor Randy, who my dad considered a great friend, and to whom my family is profoundly grateful for his support and vigil during this really tough time, joined us in ensuring him that he was wrong, that the errors or transgressions of his life were no worse than those of any other human being. That he overstated his wrongs and underestimated the impact of who he was and of the things he did right. Looking out into your faces, I know we were right to insist. I know he was wrong to be afraid. But he was human. A flawed, loving, frustrating, devoted, willful, kind, caring, strong, wonderful human being. And though I'm not sure in my own mind where exactly he's gone, I know in my heart it's not where he was afraid to go, and I know in my soul that he is in a better place, free of pain, watching over us, loving us, taking care of us, and cheering us on, as he always did.

1 comment:

Headcase said...


My deepest sympathies are with you and the rest of the Hess clan. As you know, I've gotten to spend a significant amount of time with your dad during his visits to Austin and Boise. In many ways, your dad helped fulfill a father role for me too, one that my dad has not been able to because of his mental difficulties. I know it had to be hard to write his eulogy and even harder to read it in church, but I think you summed it up well that he always showed tremendous love for your mother and his boys. I'll never forget at John and Tamara's wedding how he spoke on my behalf after Mr. Ross ripped on me. Having just moved into my parents' house, I didn't get your email about your father's death until the day it was occurring. Otherwise, I would have made the trip to Montgomery. John told me that you guys are trying to get your mom to move to Boise. I think she'd love it there.