Eulogize While Alive

I know I talk too much about my thoughts about funerals, particularly mine. Today, I am floating an idea of eulogizing while alive. The idea developed when Margaret got very sick, so I decided to write her a letter highlighting our twenty-year friendship. I would have preferred to write that letter the old-fashioned way—handwritten, not typed, and snail-mailed to New Jersey. However, when I decided to do this she was already in hospice, so I worried it would not arrive in time. I emailed it to our friend Patty, had her print it out, and hand deliver it. Thankfully, the letter arrived with just over a week to spare.

Rereading it today, I see that while it covered all the major events of our friendship—beginning with our meeting at the preschool down the street through my sadness at what was happening to her—I tried to keep it light-hearted. I wanted to put a smile on her face, if only for a moment.

That letter got me started on many other letters—the thought being that you just don’t always know when the end will come to a friend or a loved-one, so I wanted to pass on my feelings while I could. Why should the best compliments and stories be given at a funeral when the recipient is never around to hear those lovely thoughts and funny anecdotes?

The following year, I began my “living eulogy letters,” and I believe I wrote around thirty. Since then, I wrote a few each year, mostly coinciding with someone’s birthday. I have not written one in a while, but was reminded that it was time to get back to work by Mark. He called me the other day to thank me for inspiring him to write a letter like the one I wrote to Margaret. This was to the priest from New Orleans who married him and Kelly, and sadly, “Father Fitz” passed away a few days ago.

Maybe I can inspire all of you to write a few living eulogy letters. Call them memory letters if you prefer. I guarantee the recipient will cherish your words.  (But they probably won’t tell you.) As I have mentioned on more than one occasion, I would happily love a memory letter over a gift for my birthday or Christmas any time. I have received two so far. You know who you are! So get to work.

Just One Sentence

As you have noticed, over the years I have saved a lot of my memories. That is why I loved the idea of creating those memory boxes for the three of you. I have the photos, letters you wrote to each other and Dad and me when you were younger, my high school/college scrapbook, and the photo album Grandma made for me. Additionally, I saved the letters she wrote to me several years ago in response to the memory-jogging postcards I sent to her. What I don’t have, however, are any letters from Grandpa.

I learned from my trip to the National Archives that he was quite the letter writer in his youth—writing letters to his commanding officer, ambassadors at the State Department, and even, it seems, the Secretary of State. Did President Roosevelt hear of the plight of Grandpa’s family? I tried looking for evidence of that at the Library of Congress but came back empty-handed.  Could those letters, if they exist, be stored at FDR’s presidential library in Hyde Park, New York?

I guess he exhausted that part of his life when he became a father. Did he and Grandma write letters to each other when he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas before they got married? I wonder. I will have to ask her about that when I talk to her.

I have only one very small note that Grandpa wrote to me—just one single run-on sentence that he wrote on my graduation card from high school. I wish I had more, but at least I have something.

Note From Dad



After writing the letter to the priest, I avoided any “controversial” correspondences for a year. Then in January 1991, all of you got the chicken pox. Apparently, you were infected by Laura, but if it hadn’t been from her, it would have been someone else. It is a nasty and very contagious disease, and it began to spread like wild fire throughout your school and our household.

Kelly was in kindergarten that year, so as soon as I spotted the first pox, I called the school nurse to let her know. I assumed she would want to know so she could inform the other parents, but that was not her policy. I was furious, so my letter moratorium ended.

I explained that it was her duty to notify the other parents because no one knows what was going on behind the closed doors of all the households in the school. Our family was aware how dangerous a disease like chicken pox could be to someone with a compromised immune system from chemotherapy treatments or certain diseases. It was not her place to withhold such information.

A child under the age of six months would usually be protected by the antibodies from their mother, but after that, they would be susceptible. Apparently Aunt El learned this when Matthew exposed baby Chris soon after he was born. Casey was only fourteen months old when she got “poxxed,”and she got it bad.  At that age, she did not understand what was happening, nor could she follow directions not to scratch it too much. All she knew was that I was continually throwing all of you in the tub for Aveeno baths—several each day. It was a truly miserable illness and I am glad none of your children will ever experience it.

So I was quite adamant that the nurse send out a letter and told her I would if she did not. I guess she realized I meant business, because after that, we always got a letter when a contagious illness was circulating around the school, whether it be the chicken pox or strep throat.

From that time on, I became a letter writer. Sometimes it was to offer praise, like the time I wrote to thank Kelly’s math teacher for the wonderful job she was doing, while other times it was to “enlighten” a teacher. You all remember when I started writing letters regarding a certain Earth Science teacher’s unreasonable summer assignment. Were you mad and embarrassed that I did this or glad? In any case, the superintendent got wind of my crusade and agreed it was excessive. So a win for me.

You know the letter writing was genetic as exemplified by all of Grandpa’s letters I brought back from Maryland. I can’t help it, and sometimes it leads to an amazing trip and fifteen minutes of fame!

Pox Photo


Never Mess With a Priest

I was trying to figure out when I started writing letters. My earliest recollection was the time our class went on a field trip to New York City Hall. When we returned, we were given an assignment to write a thank you note to the mayor. I am fairly certain our teacher, the evil Mrs. Darbin who tried to turn Aunt Ellen into a lefty (Third Grade Stunk), wrote the letter on the blackboard, and the class was instructed to copy it. The letter with the best handwriting was sent to the mayor’s office. So Mayor Robert Wagner was possibly the first recipient of one of my letters who was neither a friend nor a relative. But that hardly counts because they were not my thoughts.

My first major letter was to the priest at St. Pius who baptized Casey. Did I ever tell you the story? He knew Dad was not Catholic, so his behavior to him was downright rude. He addressed all his comments about raising Casey to me, as if I were a single mom. He did not look at Dad at all, and his obnoxious behavior was not at all subtle. I was furious, thus my letter to the pastor of the church outlining my outrage and disappointment with the priest.

I not only received an apology from Father Murray, but with that letter was a promise to pray for us every day for one year. Rather than being a year of prosperity and good fortune, Dad lost his job, oil prices increased, and a short eight-month recession ensued. I suppose the lesson is to be careful who you criticize. Father Murray is still around and has been elevated to a pastor of two churches today. I suppose he was young and inexperienced at the time, but I cannot help always remembering that day as one that brought us distress rather than joy.

Baptism- Casey

It’s Your Birthday Today!

Today is Casey’s birthday, so I am taking the opportunity to look back on some of my memories of her. Many are from the birthday letter I wrote on her twentieth birthday.

Casey, you were supposed to be my second December baby, but you were in such a hurry to be born, that you are forever stuck with the yellow Topaz rather than the blue or purple birthstone like Kelly.  But this is actually better, because that makes you more unique.  Scorpios are “determined and forceful”, and that definitely fits you.

As a baby and little girl, you were determined to do things your own way.  You never saw sleep’s real purpose, so you loved waking up in the middle of the night and early in the morning.  You have heard over and over how you tortured me by your dawn awakenings and love of early morning viewings of “Mousercise”.  Perhaps that is why we called you Dawn for a while. You didn’t like naps either.  I guess you were afraid of missing life.  So when you have those nights where you just can’t sleep, think of it as a remnant of your childhood.

It is sweet knowing that your first smile was to Aunt Marian—your great aunt and a favorite to all her nieces and nephews.

You had a great vocabulary and imagination, telling us when you were just three that you learned your big words from your invisible friend Ariel Katie. After Jamie told you a particularly long-winded story about swimming, you turned to her and said, “You’re too complicated with all these details!” You were excited about going to the dentist, but then said the day before, “I’m apprehensive, Mommy.”

You loved playing dress up, pretending to be Ariel, Dorothy Gale, and princesses. Bryce has never done this yet. Perhaps it’s a girl thing and “Jane Doe” will drive Mark crazy by doing this also.

It was both funny and frustrating to hear four-year-old you complain that your preschool was spending too much time playing rather than working. You needed to lighten up. I spent a lot of time trying, and then failing, to find a school that valued work over play to your satisfaction.  I think that was when I learned about the existence of loopholes.

We fought unsuccessfully to try to enroll you in public school before you were five, and then the principal, Mr. Goldberg, told us about the kindergarten loophole.  After many phone calls and searches, we enrolled you in a private kindergarten for a few months. After Christmas, you were finally able to join Kelly and Jamie at the bus stop for the ride to Valley View.  It really is true that you woke up singing on your first day there.  During a time when so many parents were electing to hold their children back a year in school, Daddy and I chose the rebel approach which was to accelerate you.

I hope the decision to listen to a young Casey and enroll you in school early was correct.  Think how different your life would have been if you had been among the oldest in your class instead of one of the youngest. Would you still have joined the Forensics Team when we moved to Chapel Hill?  If you had not, would you have still have the same major and minor—public relations and speech?

All of your friends would have been completely different. You met Chris in your dorm freshman year. Would you still have met him, and if not, would you still be living in the DC area now?  It is interesting to consider how the insistent requests of a four year old affected the rest of your life

I always loved your passion and enthusiasm for life but worry that adult responsibilities will make that disappear. I hope not. Scorpios are also supposed to be “powerful and passionate” so try not to lose that passion. I look forward to see where your road in life takes you.  I will be watching you.  Happy Birthday, Casey!

Casey Birthday Cake