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.

Remembering Ruth Plummer

I wrote this eulogy for the funeral of Ruth Plummer. Ruth was my first manager. She worked hard, gave me a lot of support and launched my career as an organist nation-wide. She was a great and sweet friend.

Eulogy for the funeral service of Ruth Plummer
Burbank, California

Remembering Ruth Plummer

Ruth Plummer suffered from an inoperable brain tumor which appeared in all its horrific, sudden ways this past month. It was very aggressive, growing with immense speed. I spoke to her often during the three weeks that she was in the hospital and in the hospice. She underwent 5 days of radiation which left her very tired. She stopped eating and slipped out of consciousness about 5 days before her death.

All in all, it was only 3 weeks from diagnosis until death. She knew that she had a short time to live and she seemed outwardly to accept it. But who knows for sure what she was really feeling inside? Perhaps she was in that shocked and precarious numb state that often characterizes the beginning of this kind of journey, and just simply hadn't yet arrived to the stage where she would become immensely upset. Maybe she mercifully passed away before reaching the point. Or maybe she kept many of her deepest feelings to herself. Whatever she decided to do in her final few weeks, she did it with dignity, just like everything she did in life.

Even though I may have learned something from her passing, I certainly learned a lot from her life. She was my first agent, gave me my start and believed in me. My gratitude for that, and for the blessing of her friendship, knows no bounds. I told her this before she died, and I also told her how much I loved her. And during those sad last weeks, I also thought about the many ways Ruth had touched my life.

She taught me how to take time to slow down and appreciate the quieter moments in life. In all the many times I stayed with her at her home, there were so many evenings during which we would enjoy a nice dinner and relax with a glass of wine and watch the sun go down. She lived high on a hill near Silver Lake with a commanding view of Hollywood down below, looking miles away toward Century City. Her large living room windows looked due west, and we would see the most spectacular sunsets at dusk. Later on, we would watch her favorite television shows, myself curled up in a large reclining easy chair that belonged to her beloved late husband, Stuart. As evening fell, the lights of the city below would shine and twinkle in that spectacular way that only the lights of Los Angeles can do. These were sweet, relaxed evenings in which there was no pressure to do anything except enjoy the moment, and I can picture them in my mind as if they happened yesterday. And I think of how many times I rejoiced at being able to open her front door and pull a lime right off the tree within grabbing distance, and eat it right away.

We also laughed a lot: I remember when she showed me the music to "Yiddische Mama." She had just played a temple service, was driving the car as I was looking at the music, and was almost doubled over in laughter right there in the middle of Virgil Street as I sang the song to her in my most outrageously over-the-top Brooklyn-Tel Aviv Yiddische Mama accent!

She gave me the great gift of her friendship, and this was also manifested in the friendships I made through her too. I think of all the people who have graced and so deeply touched my life because Ruth brought us all together: Phil Smith, Bill Baumann, Philip and Jean Dodson, Virginia Lingren, Betty Kettleson, Les and Dorothy Remsen, Doug Wilkie, Ladd Thomas and Cherry Rhodes, Robert Tall, Frederick Swann, Robert Turner, Barbara Kalman, and Ruth and Stu's kids: Pamela and Byron,and Phil and Dianne Ramon.

And speaking of her husband, no one can ever forget the fabulous Stuart, who together with Ruth filled the house with laughter, music, enthusiasm and great food. There are many more people who are on this list, of course, but this is an example how a woman who was small in physical stature and possessed a big, kind heart, touched and graced our lives. And we are so much the better for it.

Ruth loved the organ, organ repertoire and sacred music. She gave all of her church and temple jobs her most dedicated service. She worked hard, practiced diligently (I remember her always practicing scales on the piano before she began to practice hymns and organ repertoire in preparation for a service). She felt that the text of a hymn was the absolute guide for the right tempo, registration and harmony--and when she played a hymn, she knew every word by heart. She was blessed to work for clergy and congregations who appreciated and rejoiced in her talents, though in one circumstance, Ruth had to endure the ongoing brutality of one particular member of the clergy, a situation experienced by many church musicians. In this instance, she unwaveringly continued to give her very best every week, providing beautiful, inspiring music for her congregation. She would not allow herself to be broken by a thug. Ruth could be very tough when necessary.

She was a one-woman operation in terms of her management business, worked hard and in a thoroughly disciplined way, and approached herprofession with the highest standards of honesty and integrity.

She was in her office promptly at 9 AM and worked almost nonstop until about 4:30 in the afternoon. There were those of us who had been on her roster for years and with whom Ruth had developed deep friendships full of love, trust and openness. I was sitting next to her one day when the telephone rang: news of her younger brother's death. She hung up the phone and started to cry. I remember how she hard she wept as she said "My poor baby brother." My heart went out to her and I tried to comfort her. I was staying at her house then and she had to go up to Alameda for the funeral. I told her that I would watch everything and take care of her home while she was gone. It was the least I could do for someone who had been so kind to me.

In closing, I will always remember what Ruth would say to guests as she would pour them a glass of wine in her kitchen: "Let's go into the living room and LIVE!" I think this sums up Ruth in a marvelous way. It was her philosophy.

She had known both incredible happiness and incredible tragedy in her life. Yet, she always lived, and in all the right ways too.

So the next time any of us pours a glass of wine, orange juice, martini, water, or whatever one enjoys drinking, let's raise our glasses to Ruth and say, "Let's go into the living room and LIVE!" Of course, Ruth was teaching us to go anywhere and live, really live, each moment to the fullest. That's an absolutely great attitude about life!

Thank you, dear wonderful Ruth. We thank God that you lived among us, and may He bless you in His heavenly kingdom, now and forever.