Saturday, November 27, 2010

Eulogy for my father

I wrote this eulogy for the funeral of my wonderful father, Raymond Michael Frey. Dad died of complications due to cancer. He suffered a lot, and for a long time too. And one summer afternoon, he died in my arms.


Eulogy for the funeral service of
Raymond Michael Frey
(February 2, 1938-August 1, 2002)
First Methodist Church of Paris, Illinois
August 8, 2002


Anyone who was ever fortunate enough to receive a letter from my father, or read any of his essays, knew that he was a wonderful writer with a great literary mind. He was also a voracious reader and an extremely well cultured man who was in love with the sheer poetry, meaning, rhythm and structure of words, language and music. In honoring him today with this eulogy, I am rather conscious of these facts, so I have spent a good amount of time crafting my own words about Dad.

Eulogies can be many things: I could summon up a litany of recollections, but could never attempt to encapsulate all my collective memories in just a few minutes, and I would fear that I left something out. Eulogies can also be somewhat morbid; I could recount some of the heartbreaking stories about how my father suffered the last couple of years (and they are truly heartbreaking), but why do that?

No, this eulogy will not be about death and dying; it will be about life and living.

And so, what I want to do is tell you about the greatest gift that my father ever gave me. I think this will truly illustrate the essence of this remarkable, very special person, the most important man in my life: Raymond Michael Frey, my Dad.

The greatest gift my father ever gave me was to teach me how to love unconditionally.

When you are born, your parents are the first people you ever love. And under normal, good circumstances, they love you unconditionally. As children, we sort of know how to love our parents the same way insofar as we can forgive them almost anything. But loving unconditionally is so much more than that. And usually it isn’t until we have children of our own that we begin to understand all that loving unconditionally means and entails. But if we don’t have children, then how do we know how to love someone this way?

My father taught me many things throughout my life, but it was through his illness that he taught me how to love unconditionally. When he became ill, Dad needed my help in every way, physically and emotionally, and his allowing me to help take care of him through the past two years, and even more intensely during the past few months when he became even more sick, taught me more about love than I ever knew. Caring for someone you love who is critically ill means putting them and their needs completely first before yourself. Narcissism has no place in a hospital ward.

Putting someone else first completely before yourself: that is what loving someone unconditionally is all about. I think everyone should have the experience of taking care of a loved one if that person becomes ill. It forever changes your whole way of loving and living. One loves and lives with much greater, more profound intensity.

I put my Dad first, my father whom I love and adore with all my heart, and through that experience, he taught me how and gave me the ability to love someone else in the deepest possible way. This ability is extremely liberating because I now know how to take that into all my relationships-in marriage if I am blessed to have a wife in the future, in my friendships or with someone who reaches out for my help.

Teaching someone how to love unconditionally: It is absolutely the greatest gift that a parent can give a child. And it is the greatest gift my father gave me.

I can’t just pay tribute to Dad without also paying tribute to another person whose daily life personifies the gift of loving unconditionally. That person is Marilyn. I could never begin to tell you all that she did to help Dad, keep him alive and hopeful, be his advocate in the hospital and to fill his every day full of love and hope, even when some of those days were bleak indeed. You will never know how much she gave. And when the rest of us were on the verge of falling apart, Marilyn kept us together with her unbelievable strength, wisdom and unconditional love. There aren’t enough words to describe the depth of her giving and love to Dad.

My father and I have had an incredible journey together. We loved each other intensely, and he was not only my father but also my best friend. I told him shortly before his death that I wish that all sons could have fathers who loved their sons as much as he loved me. We saw much of the world together, traveled throughout Europe and the United States, shared so many common interests and experiences, talked with complete openness and frankness, laughed and cried together, lived and died together. And our journey is not over. He is one of my guardian angels and will always be with me. And I know he will make his presence known when he wants to.

In closing, I would like to quote from a eulogy given for another wonderful man who passed away 67 years ago:

He was the poor man’s friend and, like our good Lord, he went about doing good. There are many in this community who can testify to that. His friends, and they are legion, will miss him. His enemies (and any straightforward, outspoken individual will make enemies) must have a certain amount of respect for him.

The untold good he did and the whole-hearted self-sacrifice which he gave to his work among us will be a monument to him as long as this generation exists, and the memory of his good works will be handed down to the next generation by those who have had the great honor of knowing him and the great good he has done.


Those words were written about Dr. Roy McKnight, Dad’s grandfather and my great-grandfather. They could equally be applied to Roy McKnight’s grandson, my beloved father of whom I am so very proud.