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Carrying the Fire

My eulogy for my dad...

The movie Big Fish is a story about a legendary man, Edward Bloom who tells tall tales. He has a story for everything. These stories have a small nugget of truth about them, and everyone kind of knows this is who he is except for his son, Will. He wants to know his father better, to know the truth about things, but what Will doesn’t understand until the end is that his father has become these stories, and that he’s shaped the lives of the people in them, and that these stories will live on. This movie always reminds me of the relationship with my father, because sometimes I got the feeling that I didn’t really know him, that maybe he didn’t know me. But I did know him, and in the course of losing him I know him even better now. I know that those parts of him that I didn’t see or didn’t understand were really unimportant and that all that matters are the things that he taught me and that he loved me and our family more than anything.

Edward Bloom has cancer and claims that his cancer will not kill him, that he knows how he’s going to die. In one of the final scenes of the movie, spoiler alert, his father is dying in the hospital and says, to his son, Tell me how I go. Will then tells a fantastical story that ends with him carrying his father to a river with all of the people that he had encountered and told stories about are there cheering him on. In this process, Edward has passed his legacy on to his son, and they share these words.

As we get to the river, you see that everybody is already there. And I mean everyone. It’s unbelievable.

The story of my life, says Edward.

William replies, And the strange thing is, there’s not a sad person around. They’re just so happy to see you and send you off right.

This was true for my dad as well. We sent him off right. He was surrounded by family and friends for the last month who all had the opportunity to tell him exactly what he meant to them. As he died we six children sat with him holding him and joking with each other about him, and we shared stories about him. Legendary stories about his strength, his frugality, that never ending question of who farted, and his unconditional love and undying cheerfulness. We carried him to the river in his last moments.

With that unconditional love came understanding, understanding of all the people and loved ones in his life and who they are and why. My dad planned for his end, but he lived his life like he wasn’t going to die. Occasionally he’d worry about the country or the character of people, and I told him that I wasn’t worried. Because I work with teenagers every day who are inspiring and good and kind and caring, and I’ve watched his wife, my brothers and sisters, nephews, nieces and especially our children bring goodness and light to the darkest time of our lives.

I’ve heard several times over the last month, They don’t make them like that any more. It’s a wonderful sentiment because it honors the great man that he is, but it’s not true. See, dad left a legacy, and it’s his six children and 25 grandchildren and great grandchildren. It’s our job to carry the fire now. It’s our job to carry the fire of love, goodness and understanding, to keep the family together, to work hard, to give of ourselves to our communities and our families. Because we fail the legacies of him and our granny and all of those who came before who carried that fire as well and spread goodness wherever they have been. We need to follow his three rules of parenting, example, example example. They do make them like him, and that proof is right here on these first few rows and now it’s up to us to fill his shoes 31 times and then some. It’s the only way to make the world better and make our corner of the world beautiful.

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