RIP George

I’m reflecting on 2013, an incredible year overall. One of the most difficult parts of the year was saying goodbye to my stepfather, George. I had the opportunity to eulogize George at his funeral. My eulogy is below, along with the song I played in his dedication.

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For my eulogy, I’m going to share of my favorite memories and thoughts about George.

Though we won’t see George or interact with him anymore, he’ll remain part of our family through how he changed us and the special role he played in each of our lives. Though I’m sure George affected almost everyone in this room in some small way, I’m going to talk about how he changed my mother, my two brothers, and me, from my perspective as his stepson. Then, I’m going to talk about the way I think we changed him.

Before my mom met George, I believe she was looking for him. Prior to meeting him, she experienced a great deal of stress and anxiety that came with working full-time and two jobs more than 60 hours a week for many years, being a loving mother at home and dealing with the issues that raising three boys present, particularly in their teenage years, and, in the meantime, trying to find a partner in life who provides her with the love, respect, and support she deserves. It took her a while, but my mother found all those things in George Shepherd. George was a kind, caring, compassionate, joyful, self-reliant, understanding, responsible, trustworthy, and hilarious man. He loved and was so devoted to my mother that he spent months in a two-bedroom apartment and many nights sleeping on air mattresses — too many to count — when he had a lovely home in the countryside. It wasn’t long, perhaps 6 months, before George began, about every time I saw him, declaring his intention to marry my mother, not just to her, but my brothers and myself. Though he didn’t necessarily express it this way, I viewed this as George wanting to ask permission: saying to us, I love your mother; I want her to be my wife; to spend the rest of my life with her; and I want you all to be my family. That act meant so much to me, as I’m sure it did with my brothers. And George got his wish.

George and my mom were the funniest, cutest couple and so clearly loved each other with all their hearts. Their favorite thing to do was sit across from each other at George’s bar, listen to music; drink Tequila, and just talk. They’d talk for hours on end, just the two of them. In eight years, they probably had as many conversations as most married couples do in 30 years. Sometimes, they’d play Yahtzee, Kizmit, or other games and they loved having friends over to George’s bar. They were so welcoming to anyone who wanted to join them — they built a small community in their home.

As a child, the farthest from home I’d gone with my mother was the UP. But within two years, George had her on a flight to Jamaica. George was so happy to share his paradise with my mom. On your next trip to Jamaica, be on the lookout for George — he’ll either be there in spirit or they’ll have a statue erected in his honor. I know that my mother will never be the same thanks to you George.

But my mother came with some baggage — the three of us — that would deter a lot of men. But not George. George took the three of us under his wing. George never treated any of us any differently than he would his own sons, and in many ways, he treated us better!  George welcomed Joe into his home and supported him financially. He taught him lessons about what it means to be a man and support your family. He led by example. He never looked down on Joe for whatever troubles came his way. Today, Joe is a loving father and devoted husband thanks, in my view, in no small part to his relationship with George.

Dennis has already had a chance to tell you what George meant to him, but I knew Dennis before he met George. Words can’t describe how much George helped Dennis by giving him an opportunity to work alongside him, earn money, and learn a skilled trade, which allowed Dennis to be able to afford to move to Australia and marry his wife of six years where he has a lovely life with an amazing family.

What I remember about George is how, shortly after I met him, before he even married my mother, he told me how proud he was of me and the corporations and organizations were looking for people exactly like me who worked their way through college and came from disadvantaged circumstances. His constant encouragement meant so much to my brothers and me, who had less growing up than we needed. On the day George married my mother, I told him “I’m glad it was you” and shook his hand. George wasn’t a crier, but I swear I saw a twinkle in his eye right then. I’m so grateful to have had the experience of being his son, even though it was for so short a time.

Last, I’m going to share how I think we changed George. I met George in the twilight of his life — he was 61 years old when he walked into Speedway and shook my hand; I was 19, and hadn’t experienced much of life at all. Although George only knew us for one-seventh of his life, I’ve known him for one-third of mine. Most of what I know about George’s earlier life were from stories he told. I know his childhood was filled with traumatic experiences: poverty, neglect, abandonment, alcoholism, violence, and crime. Yet through everything he experienced, he was able to take control of his life and become an entrepreneurial, productive member of society, as well as a loving husband, father, and grandfather. How George overcame his experiences in his youth, I’ll never know for sure. But I know one thing that was a crucial element of his character was forgiveness. Without forgiving his family, society, and all those who hurt him over the years, he never would have become the man whistling the Flintstones in the morning while washing the dishes and saying “Yabba dabba doo”; the stepfather who took a loan out against his home to help me pay tuition; or the grandfather running up and down his driveway, or watching Bubble Guppies, yes, cartoons, just to bring a smile to his grandson’s face.

I’m now going play a song, Someone You’d Admire, which always reminds me of George. George, I admired you and I’m so grateful to have know you and to have you as a member of my family. I love you; I respect you; rest in peace. We have been remembering with love and gratitude a life that has ended. Let us return to our own homes and to our work, enriched and inspired by these memories.

After all is said and done I feel the same
All that I hoped would change within me stayed
Like a huddled moon-lit exile on the shore
Warming his hands, a thousand years ago

I walk with others in the yearning to get out
Claw at my skin and gnash their teeth and shout
One of them wants only to be someone you’d admire
One would as soon just throw you on the fire

After all is said and after all is done
God only knows which of them I’ll become

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