Saying Goodbye

For those not in the know, my dad passed away recently (August 25, 2018).  It was not sudden but it was short.  He went into the hospital on August 6 with issues that revealed themselves to be secondary issues related to cancer.  When the MRIs and CT scans were done, the doctors found his insides lit up with tumors on his lungs, stomach, liver, and possibly his spine.  My dad spoked for nearly 65 years of his 78 years and had rarely gone to the doctors for most of his life, so the cancer surprised no one.  

In his final 18 or so days, we had time to spend with him, talk with him, and help him as his body slowly stopped working.  Though at times uncomfortably, he had little pain throughout that time.  He largely lost consciousness on Friday, August 24 and passed away peacefully, surrounded by family on the afternoon of August 25.   While it is always sad when a loved one leaves, it comforts me greatly to know that the circumstances were such that we had the opportunity to say goodbye, gain our various means of closure, and be together in his passing.  

I have a lot more to say about the 18 days between when my dad went into the hospital and when he died.  It was an emotionally exhausting time, and we know here that I do a lot of my processing by writing about it.  It's currently an essay around 6,500 words and I'm figuring out what to do with it.  

Since writing is my means of processing, as he was passing, I began both his obituary and his eulogy.  For some, that might be morbid, but for me, and especially because of my relationship with my dad, writing these things on his behalf was rewarding, emotionally fulfilling, and a way for me to begin processing all that was going on.  

For those interested in reading the obituary, you can read it here through the Salem News.  (Side Note:  Obituaries cost nearly $300; way to go newspapers for increasingly proving your irrevelance by milking families at the end of life of a loved one).  

In lieu of the traditional funeral, we had decided to have a Celebration of Life for my father to which you can still see the event page here.  We wanted to do something that was more in alignment with how my father viewed death.  No mourning, more laughs; people enjoying and celebrating, not speaking in hushed tones.

But what I wanted to share here is the eulogy that I wrote for my father.  I share it because I know there are people who could not make it to the celebration.  I also share it because I generally haven't shared a lot about my family here and I feel like this eulogy in many ways represents the importance and love that I am privileged to have.  

So enjoy learning a bit more about me, my dad, and my family.

A picture of Tod and Paula Eaton from 2011

Tod Eaton's Eulogy

Written by Lance Eaton

I should warn you: As a eulogy, I’m not going to set the bar high.  Mostly, for two reasons.  The first is that we all know dad would be annoyed as all hell that we’re here to see him off. He always wanted us to be singing Steam's "Na na na na, hey, hey, goodbye", passing some joints, and enjoying some McDonald’s Frappes while watching episodes of The Office, Cheers, and whatever Boston team was playing--all at the same time on 3 different screens; that’s how he rolled.

The other reason is that I wish only to speak to the father I knew.  You each had different relationships with him--relationships that brought you here today, relationships that might have been cordial, relationships that might have been profound.  I can’t sum up all of that in a nice neat speech--shit, I can barely sum up 39 years with the man.  

Which is to say, I only knew the man half his life.  I know that I was the last kid he had--well, at least that we know of.  And after me, he decided either he perfected the formula of producing amazing kids--or--he realized once bitten, twice shy, and three times--well, what the hell were you thinking!?!?! 

That by the way, was a question I asked mom pretty regularly with regards to Dad.  She’s never given me an answer, but I can hazard some guesses.  But again, what I speak of today is not ignoring who he was as a life-long friend, a life-long partner, or even fully representing who he was as a father to my other siblings; just who he was to me.

I began writing this a few days into our stay in the hospital.  But I began thinking about this in high school.  You see, my dad instilled in me a fondness for chess. It was a way for us to connect and for me to connect with his father, Vick, who died a week before I was born.  We played regularly in the evenings when I was growing up, usually while watching Jeopardy and trying to beat each other to the answer.  Obviously, the nerd genes run strong in this family.  

But in playing chess, he--like so many other things in my life--tried to use it as a means for teaching me something more.  Be aware of what’s going on but also be aware of what’s coming at you--what’s on the horizon.  It was a good foundation of thinking about what’s to come but also being mindful of the present. That’s something I still try to balance today.

It’s because of chess, that I’ve been thinking about this eulogy for so long.  Because when you watch your father smoke a pack a day for nearly all your life, well, you know how what checkmate will look like.  

Dad had flaws and he’d be annoyed if I sat here claiming he was a saint even in his death.  He’d probably flip the channel to something more realistic--like wrestling or porn.   I know, nobody thought I’d bring that up in this eulogy, but let’s face it, we all knew about his addiction.  I mean, the man couldn’t go a day without indulging. It didn’t matter if he’d already seen it a hundred times; he just couldn’t resist watching it.  All that passion, all that plot, all that sweat and grease.  The man lived for the WWE.

Ok, so we got that out of our system right--some laughs, some easing of tensions.  But we’re going to turn to the more serious, so get your tissues ready.  If dad was here, he’d have a handkerchief handy--probably one that smelled of coffee and cigarettes.  I’m most familiar with that one because he offered it to me a lot growing up.  

As many know, he pushed us to play sports.  As some of you know, I hated playing sports--ok, clearly, most of you know that one.  But so few of you know, is that after practices, when I was physically wiped and emotionally spent, he created a space for me to just cry.  Sometimes, a handful of tears; other times, a total mess of tears, whines, and snot.  It was ugly.  

Now, I carried the anger of being made to play sports longer than I should, but that’s what growing up is; figuring out how to let go.  But more importantly, the lesson of sitting with your emotions and fully feeling them without judgment or calls to “be a man”; that’s been one of the most enduring and powerful lessons he ever taught me. It’s why I’ve been able to sit with the passing of my father and be able to let my emotions go where they need to. 

He taught me that.  And let’s face it, the man was a teacher even though he never stepped foot in the classroom as one.  I find it a reflection of him that between his interests in gadgets and his desire to help and teach people, he raised two of his children to become people who work at the intersection of technology and education.  That’s not a fluke; that’s a feature.

So much of the adult that I am today, is because of him.  He introduced me to so much of the world and taught me lessons that I still carry today.  I can’t think of any part of my day that can’t--in some way--be traced back to him.  He instilled in us a desire and enthusiasm to keep learning; something some people might say I’ve taken to the extreme as I work on my PhD after having achieved 3 masters.  

He pushed us to read; something that some people say I’ve taken to the extreme as I often read some two hundred books a year.  

He taught me to turn my passions into my careers; something that some people say I’ve taken to the extreme as I now get paid to talk about learning as well as to read books.  

I could go on endlessly about other things to which he guided us in--from making sure to being active every day to treating people with kindness, to enjoying breakfast, and even the importance of work (he had me with a paper route by the time I was 7 and Trevor and I often joked that between us at any given time, we could very well have up to 10 or more jobs).

He fathered Trevor and me as best he knew how and while that doesn’t make him the perfect father (who is, really), it does mean that he remained invested in our lives, tolerant of our shortcomings (I may have had one or two--thousand), and helped us to develop the skills and tools that we needed to become successful adults in meaningful relationships with our significant others, our friends, and our colleagues. It meant that when it was clear that his time was coming, we came together to figure out how to support, guide, and ease his way to his end.  We just did--without second thoughts, without conflict, without anything but love to make his final days as comfortable as possible.

I realized a few days ago that if you were to take dad and essentialize him into his passions and ways of existing in the world, it could be no better represented than the three sons that he has.  There’s Brent--the philosopher-physicist who can converse about molecules and mindfulness at the speed of light (I’m really hoping somebody appreciated that pun).  Like dad, he’s also been a parent, ever trying to push the horizons of his children.  

There’s Trevor--the athlete, the coach, the teacher; rarely is he ever just one of those things on a given day, but rather, each of them feeds upon another, making him better in each of those realms.  

Then there’s me...the learner, the thinker, the advocate.  Never far from a book or working on a degree, always trying to push my understanding of the world, and a deep and earnest desire to make the world a better place--that’s my father’s influence on me.

I would be remiss to if I did not also mention my mother--dad’s wife of over 40 years.  She too represented dad as well.  Like him, she has a compassion and endless well of love for our family.  She embodied so much of the patience he taught us--largely by putting up with Dad, Trevor and me--something that sure as hell ain’t easy.  

I will miss him for many reasons--his wisdom, his inquisitiveness, his kindness and his humor.  But I will also be constantly reminded of him and how his life informed mine as I pick up a new book, pursue a new skill, and make really bad jokes--especially ones in poor taste at inappropriate times like talking about his the WWE in his eulogy.  Finally, each day, I try to embody the kindness that he showed me and encouraged in me throughout much of my upbringing.  

There’s one more reason I’ve been prepared for this day and well, yet again, I have dad to thank for this.  At a young age--maybe 6 or 7--he introduced me to The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia.  This children’s book is a story about living and a story about dying.  It became the foundational text upon the discussion of life and death throughout our lives.  Ever the chess player, dad was planning his endgame well before I realized it.  

So I’m going to end this with an abridged excerpt from Freddie because it feels more than fitting to end this contemplation on death with how it was first introduced.

“Will we all die?”  Freddie asked.

“Yes,” Daniel answered.  “Everything dies.  No matter how big or small, how weak or strong.  We first do our job.  We experience the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain.  We learn to dance and to laugh.  Then we die.”

“I won’t die!” said Freddie with determination.  “Will you, Daniel?”

“Yes,” answered Daniel, “when it’s my time.”
“I’m afraid to die,” Freddie told Daniel.  “I don’t know what’s down there.”

“We all fear what we don’t know, Freddie.  It’s natural,” Daniel reassured him.  “Yet you were not afraid when Spring became Summer.  You were not afraid when Summer became Fall.  They were natural changes.  Why should you be afraid of the season of death?”
“Where will we go when we die?”

“No one knows for sure.  That’s the great mystery!”

“Will we return in the Spring?”

“We may not, but Life will.”

“Then what has been the reason for all of this?” Freddie continued to question.  “Why were we here at all if we only have to fall and die?”

Daniel answered in his matter-of-fact way, “It’s been about the sun and the moon.  It’s been about happy times together.  It’s been about the shade and the old people and the children.  It’s been about colors in Fall.  It’s been about seasons.  Isn’t that enough?”

Thank you, Dad, for showing me the sun and the moon, for the happy times together and for providing me shade and showing me colors.  


During and after his passing, I composed an essay about his passing and published it a year later on this blog.  You can find the entries below:

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