I officiated at my uncle’s funeral this week. He was not a particularly popular guy. In fact, he really seemed to enjoy making it hard for people to get to know and to love him. He had a real need to reject others before they had the opportunity to reject him.
From where I sit, it was all about his fear. And for the rest of us, it is all a part of our struggle in opening our own hearts to understand those around us. To try to understand what they may not even understand themselves. To try to see the goodness at the core, the soul, the heart of those who are protecting themselves from pain, isolation, separation, anxiety.
My Uncle Phil’s death represents a rip in the fiber of the universe. I believe that all life is sacred and his life, like every life, has been put here for a purpose. He has a Torah, his learnings, his story. He is part of the ancestral lineup that does impact generations upon generations to come. Because no matter how isolated we are, our life affects others, especially those closest to us including our children and grandchildren.
It is hard to hear many parts of Phil’s story. He did not share many of his inner feelings. He was a truly a man of his time. He would do it “his way.” And he was stubborn to the end. We didn’t hear from him about his own childhood with a very difficult father. Or how he was raised as the only boy and the stress of being responsible for all the women in the family. We didn’t hear from him about the real emotional impact of his losses – losing his first wife, divorcing his second, and struggling in his last years to maintain his independence and his relationship.
We also didn’t hear from him how he grew up valuing the security that things could buy over people. The tangible over the intangible. But we did see those insecurities – stockpiling items, using coupons, buying ten of something just because it had a good price, even if it was something he couldn’t even use.
Phil was a man who valued, more than anything, bringing that financial security, to his family. Making sure they had enough he tried to give them the financial opportunity he fought so hard for. We see this even in the simple act that he made his own funeral plans so those who loved him didn’t have to.
So what is his Torah, his life story, for us? We certainly learned much about how difficult my uncle made his own life and from that he has taught us many lessons about how to avoid being trapped by our own obstacles. Learning to say “I love you” when we mean it. Learning how to be gracious rather than righteous. Learning how important it is that we can share our love and share our laughter.
But I know that my uncle’s Torah is way more than that. Because I know his children. And I know his grandchildren. And the legacy that Phil has been able to impart is really the legacy of their lives now. How they love. How they take responsibility. And how they realize the importance of people over things. Phil’s legacy, the best part of who he is, will forever be entwined with theirs in the choices they make in how to each live their own lives. And that will say everything we need to know about my Uncle.
A reading by Dana Shuster.
My grandfather was a farmer. The day before he died, he planted a garden. A garden that nourished his family through the sunless season of mourning far into the golden season of harvest.
My grandfather was a farmer. Before he died he planted a lifetime of seeds. Diligently he planted honesty and reverence; inadvertently he planted gentleness and humor. Bounty enough to nourish me all the seasons of my life far into the planting season of my own child.
My heart goes to his family. May they find comfort in their memories as they mourn his loss.