This was my eulogy to my dad at his memorial service, July 11, 2023. You can watch the YouTube video or read the text below.
Hello and Welcome! Thank you for showing up here today to celebrate the life and legacy of my dad – Gerald Charles Damaske – known to friends and family as Gerry.
I have a bit of a challenge today. You see – this guy fit into 69 years what many would take 2 lifetimes OR MORE to accomplish. So, I have a favor to ask. Please forgive me if I go on and on about my dad for a bit. Maybe you can look at this as an exercise in re-extending your attention span – I know mine has shortened a bit recently with all these modern things like social media and whatnot! For my part – I promise to try and make this interesting. I hope this deal is agreeable to you, but if it isn’t – well, too bad I guess! You’re stuck here listening to me! 😊
I’m going to share with you the mind, body and spirit of my dad – Gerry, aka Chicken Man, Big D, Dad and the coolest Grandpa around.
We’re going to start right in the middle with dad’s Body –Why? Because this is the area I know the most about, and you probably do too. Dad lived life from his body. What do I mean by that? He wholly inhabited his body and used it to achieve maximum results, to live his life as fully as possible. Dad was physically large, standing at 6’ 5” tall. Small children had to crane their necks to peer at his face. When I forgot my picture order form and money in kindergarten, I cried and cried (my face is red and puffy in that first school picture) but I needn’t have fretted. My dad came to the rescue. When my knight in shining armor arrived, picture order form in hand, he had a room full of tiny, adorable 5 year olds staring up at him mouths slightly ajar. Later many classmates would tell me they remembered that moment and that my dad seemed like a giant! One of my favorite baby pictures of Marisol, his first grandchild, is of her doing this same thing when she’s about one year old, her tiny head tilted as far back as she could, gazing quizzically up at her grandpa’s face. A memory of our 3rd child saying “It’s a giant, it’s a giant!” over and over again when mom and dad arrived to visit is especially poignant now, because Carter no longer speaks. More on that later.
When your eyes finally reached his face you would find a welcoming smile – I can’t tell you how many friends shared that he always had a smile on his face and so our friends have told us that he always made them feel like one of his own when we were growing up. That smile also could be quite mischievous, it as he loved to tease and give people a hard time. I remember being on a family vacation when I was little. My dad called to me that morning – come here, look! Do you see the buffalo? He said pointing off in the distance… I strained my eyes – no where? Right there! He repeated – you don’t see them?? This went on for a bit till finally dad exclaimed “April Fool’s” Triumphantly and a huge grin and big belly laugh.
That same mouth always made his daughter’s and grandchildren feel loved. Every night he told my sister and I “I love you” and gave us a kiss. From those same lips he called all his girls by special nicknames – his wife is Lynny-dinny, I am Squirt, Laura is Dimples and his granddaughter is Rabbit pronounced with a “w” – Wabbit. I personally think this last one was because he struggled pronouncing her name – Marisol. I often struggle with pronunciation too and am convinced it is a genetic condition he gave to me – one I will be proud of from now on.
I remember when I was about 5 years old walking out my front door dressed for church or some special event. I believe I was wearing a pink dress that I loved. I heard a low whistle from the barn about 20 yards away – it was my dad letting me know how beautiful he thought I was! He was always slightly inappropriate but I didn’t mind! Because boy, did I feel beautiful.
Let’s travel up now to Dad’s eyes. Dad liked to think he was a tough guy (and he was in many ways!) In childhood I only remember seeing him cry 2 times – when our first family dog, Jethro died, and we buried him – complete with a homemade cross with painted yellow moon and stars on it by little hands. The second time was when his mother was in the hospital sick with cancer. But as he grew older those brilliant blue eyes betrayed a much softer side, much to his discomfort! Because every time he had to say goodbye to his grandchildren those beautiful eyes shed tears! If you do the math (sometime mom loves to do) he went from crying a couple of times over decades to crying 3-5 times per year! Maybe he wasn’t so tough after all!
My dad’s hands tell a great part of his story. His hands were big but his fingers not overly long. They were toughened from years of working on the farm, fixing machinery and then building a golf course. For the entirety of our childhood his hands never really got clean – there was always grease and dirt that just wouldn’t come off no matter how hard he scrubbed them. The exception was when we got to go on a family vacation – they would be much cleaner by the end of the week but of course that never lasted long.
Dad’s hands showed the whole world one very important part of his identity: He was a hard worker – not because he especially loved working, but because that is who he was. This is how we learned to be hard workers too – through his and my mom’s example, the two of them a team in every sense of the word. My mom was the teacher – both in name by profession – but also in temperament. Patient, supportive and a good listener, she exemplified what we think of when we say the word “Teacher”. My dad on the other hand, wasn’t the best or most patient “teacher” in my memory – He usually threw me on a tractor or lawn mower, showed me a couple of buttons and levers and then cut me loose! Was I terrified? Yes. Did it usually work out? Yes.
The funny thing though – is that a friend posted on dad’s memorial page was a good and patient teacher my dad was. And I think that is so fascinating and true – people are complex and hold many contradictions with in them… Dad was no exception. He was a study in contrasts: quiet but loud, strong but gentle, tough but kind.
I always loved the contrast of his big hands holding his small grandbabies. I will always cherish the memories of my massaging his left hand lovingly in his last days when it swelled up and on the morning he passed, I saw my sister Laura holding his right hand before we said our final goodbyes. I’m glad I saw her doing that because it reminded me to give his hand once last squeeze and look at his big work-worn hand next to mine.
But hard work was only one part of the story that Dad’s hands told. Because he also loved to have fun! Those same hands that worked so hard, played and played and played. Here are just a few ways he loved to play: sports like basketball, golf and pickleball, driving racecars, golf carts, tractors and Cushman’s, holding his babies in his arms or on his shoulders, snorkeling, scuba diving, skiing, ziplining, riding roller coasters and waterslides… and let’s not forget the tickles!! He logged hundreds of tickle sessions with his namesake, Little Gerry alone – that doesn’t include his daughters, other grandchildren, nieces, nephews and other random children! Dad loved being outside, traveling and doing new things! Sometimes he even combined unlikely activities like holding babies and rollercoasters – like the time he took 2 year old me on a rollercoaster and reassured my mom it would be fine to leave baby Laura in the attendant’s arms! Check with my mom for details – she insists it was a loop-de-loop! He was always pushing my mom’s comfort zone and instilling a love of adventure in his girls from a very young age!
And after all that work and play you could find him napping – often with a kid or 2 tucked under his arms.
Dad took pride in his body – often telling us, “I’m a physical specimen!” after he swam for an hour. This was one of the hardest parts of cancer, was his physical body losing its strength and vitality. But with challenges always come blessings. What could those possibly be? Let me explain. My mom described dad as a quiet man. What the heck did she mean by that?? Because lord knows, I remember him being quite loud as I’m sure many of you do too! He was boisterous and he didn’t really “talk” on the phone – he yelled! Which is a good thing, because now we have recordings like the one of him talking to 3 year old Little Gerry. Dad had been in a bicycle accident and told Gerry he had stitches. His grandson replied – I have itches too Grandpa! Well, I think what Mom meant, is that Dad wasn’t a “talker” - that he didn’t often let us see what was going on inside of him. Like she said – he left the talking about deep topics and life philosophy to me and her. This was one blessing of the past few years – as he got older and his challenges with cancer more severe, we got more and more peeks into his mind and spirit.
I did have some inklings of my dad’s inner workings as a child though. He was so smart - He could fix anything as far as I could tell and was the best creative problem solver I knew growing up! But I also gathered from little comments he would make over the years, that he didn’t always see himself as intelligent. Hold that thought for one moment please because we’re going to circle back to it. As I became an adult, my dad didn’t always know what to make out of my crazy ideas about life and parenting. He always loved me, but I knew he wasn’t exactly sure about choices I made for my family. But he got to see enough of my kids growing up to begin to understand and appreciate a different way of doing things. One of those things was homeschooling. I think he appreciated that we could see our kid’s innate brilliance and intelligence without the filter of school and grades put between us and them. Remember how I said school had made him like maybe he wasn’t as smart as he wished? Well, seeing my kids thrive without it was more than a little bit healing for him.
As for Dad’s spirit…A couple of years ago my dad told me that he was a Christian – he said it with a touch of defensiveness in his voice, like he thought I didn’t believe it. But he didn’t need to explain to me. For years I had sensed some frustration that dad had with me. Dad was a bit cynical about life… it wasn’t all roses and he knew it from experience and what he observed. But he was determined to live it to the fullest in spite of the challenges and imperfections. I’ve always been pretty idealistic and he was sometimes impatient with my striving for perfection – in myself and others and life. He on the other hand embraced imperfection. He knew he was an imperfect man and never claimed to be perfect. He expected others to fall short sometimes too – not that he was the most forgiving person mind you – man could he hold a grudge! But he just knew that people, families and Life weren’t perfect and he didn’t spend a lot of time trying to fix things. He was too busy living life and loving the people that mattered most to him that he didn’t have a whole lot of time to dwell on those things.
Over the years, he and I pushed and pulled at each other and I believe came to understand one another’s perspective. I can see the wisdom in the lesson he repeatedly try to impart to me now. Accepting imperfection in Life allows a lot more Peace and Joy into my life. For his part, as my dad’s body fought cancer and slowed down, Dad continued to grow and learn. One favorite memory of mine is him reading the book “Underestimated” which is about an Autistic teen who learns to communicate through Spelling. My dad is not what you’d consider a “Reader” but he gobbled that book up and paid close attention to everything I’ve been learning and sharing about nonspeaking autism. This past winter dad was always looking things up – if there was something that caught his interest he’d search for it immediately on the computer -he was hungry to learn and do as much as he could. It was touching and inspiring to observe.
It was not an easy road with cancer and the past year was especially difficult physically. But again… the blessings. It seemed that the tough guy exterior grew softer and he was able heal and have significant reconciliations with loved ones.
Dad didn’t want to go yet. He fought with every fiber of his being to stay and see his grandchildren grow older. But he continued to do all of the things I’ve shared here: work hard, play hard, Love hard and continue to learn and grow right up to the end.
We’ve been remembering Dad this past week with mostly smiles and laughter. Yes, we are sad too and tears are healing… but as time goes on, we will honor his legacy of living a full life by speaking of him with love and warmth in our voices, as the poem “All is Well” by Henry Scott-Holland encourages us to do:
Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used
Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,
Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was, there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.
All is well.
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, You have taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
My Dad Lived Well.
All is Well.
It is well with my soul.
Love you Dad.
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.