From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

The Eulogy

We met when he was eighteen. Michael had driven our daughter Nancy home from the Boston area where they were both college freshmen. “How well do you know this boy?” I had asked Nancy when she announced that she’d snagged a ride home. Like any self-respecting mother, I wanted some credentials on the lad who would be in a car for five or six hours with our baby daughter.

“Oh, Michael’s great—you’ll like him,” Nancy had said all those years ago.

And she was right. I felt an instant affection for this tall, curly-haired young man who not only stayed for dinner that night—he also insisted upon doing the cooking. When Michael went out and purchased a whole fish and prepared it like a French chef, I was smitten. “I really like this Michael,” I told my husband that day. And secretly, I hoped Nancy did, too. We would observe years of Nancy-Mike friendship followed by the best kind of romance, one that grows out of friendship’s roots. And by the time they were twenty-five, Nancy and Mike were engaged. A year later, they were married in our garden.

I watched Michael establish himself in a career on Wall Street, still a mysterious place to me. But I was thrilled that he’d “apprenticed” with his wonderful grandfather, one of the oldest practitioners on that famous street until Grandpa’s death several years ago. Likeable, loving Michael grew up before our eyes, became a fine father of three sons of his own, yet never lost his boyishness.

And I naïvely thought I knew him extremely well, since he’d been part of our lives now for more than twenty years. But recently, I saw Michael in a totally new light. On a day drenched with sunshine, the kind of day that seems meant for beginnings, not endings, I watched our Michael stand up in a funeral home and eulogize his own father, Steve. The man had been ill for months, and because he was himself a physician, he knew too much about his own condition. At first, the leukemia was kept at bay, but in recent times it had advanced at a gallop. And Michael himself surely knew that the end was close at hand during those last hospital visits when a son tried to find ways to say good-bye.

Father-son relationships are as tricky and complex as any, and Michael and his dad’s was no exception. Two divorces had punctuated Steve’s life, and had surely complicated our son-in-law’s world. But during Steve’s final days, I sensed that acceptance had flowed from all sides. Even though he’d talked about it, I secretly hoped that Michael wouldn’t try to deliver a eulogy at his father’s funeral. I worried that this good and generous son-in-law of ours would find it too difficult, too emotionally draining. But in a phone conversation the night before the funeral, it became clear that Michael, his sister, and his stepsister would all be participating. I didn’t sleep well that night. I kept thinking of our son-in-law struggling with all those feelings. He’s always been the sort with a heart as big and wide as the great outdoors, and I worried that Michael would never be able to get through such a daunting task. Funerals are never predictable. This one surely wasn’t.

Michael’s eulogy came between those of his two sisters. Unlike Rachel, who was emotional and moving in her remarks, and Laura, who was literary and philosophical, Michael was funny. Wonderfully honest. Even irreverent. And it was perfect. As our son-in-law spoke of his brilliant, difficult, generous, impractical father, murmurs of recognition and affirmation rippled throughout the room. Yes, that was Steve. And so was this. And, oh my, didn’t we all remember Steve as a grandfather who would plant huge trampolines in the backyards of his grandchildren’s homes—and then run away? Didn’t we know that no matter what the subject, he would argue to win? And that he somehow always did? Rachel, Laura, and Michael all got it right. And Steve would be forever etched in memory as the man he was, remembered by the children who loved him and knew him so wisely and well. I know that Michael’s dad would have been so proud of all of his children.

And for one mother-in-law who never had any sons of her own, seeing and hearing Michael deliver a eulogy for his father was one of those rare moments when endings and beginnings get smudged and shaken. The boy I had met in our kitchen so many years ago was clearly and strikingly a man. A good man. A wise and strong man. A father and a son—and a son-in-law. On that day, in my head and heart, I dropped the “in-law” label. This was a man I was so proud to claim . . . as a son.

Sally Friedman

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