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Cheryl Hughes: Eulogy

Last week, my sister’s husband passed away.  He had been under Hospice care during the week before.  My sister’s son said that afterwards, after they removed his body from his parents’ home, Rhonda fell to the kitchen floor and wailed.

Rhonda and Tommy had been together for thirty-seven years.  Thirty-seven years of raising three children.  Thirty-seven years of difficulty and pain.  Thirty-seven years of learning to love and appreciate one another.  Theirs was a relationship that sometimes resembled the mating of two porcupines, sharpened quills at the ready to fend off predators, but also inadvertently cutting into one another.  They never pretended to have it all together, neither of them.  Rhonda is a “take me at face value” person, so was Tommy.

They had a lot of opposition, some of which they brought to the marriage, some came from outside sources.  They never had much money, but they shared what they had.  Their home was always open to their kids’ friends, many of whom didn’t feel welcome in their own homes.  The couple’s influence became obvious at Tommy’s funeral.  Several of those kids, now adults, showed up to pay their respects, to give homage to the stand-in parents who offered them a safe place during a difficult time.

The day Tommy passed, my niece, their oldest child, asked me to come and stay with Rhonda until she could get through the funeral.  I packed my bags immediately.  Rhonda met me on her front deck.  I held her as she wept.  That’s all I knew to do.

Throughout our next few days together, Rhonda cried as she remembered her husband’s suffering, and laughed as she remembered his humor.  Tommy had a small table next to his side of the bed.  He called it his little corner of the world.  He kept things there that would seem insignificant to anybody else, but they were all-important to him.   Rhonda brought a small tin from that table into the living room to show me what was inside.  “This is where Tommy kept pieces of paper that said when he was right and I was wrong,” she said.  She opened the tin and counted four pieces of paper.  She laughed.

During the last week of his life, Tommy made his way to the kitchen table, where he lit a cigarette.  Rhonda reminded him there was an oxygen tank in the room.  Tommy reminded her that the oxygen tank wasn’t turned on.  Not one to be deterred, Rhonda said, “Blow your butt on up to heaven then!”

Rhonda and Tommy struggled financially, but they always worked hard and tried hard.  They made mistakes and sometimes went in the wrong direction, but I think some of that was because neither of them had parents who would offer a guiding hand.  They were the couple of whom many family members would say, “You can’t help them,” meaning you couldn’t fix their situation.  But they weren’t expecting anybody to fix their situation, they just needed help from time to time.

Their son, Adam, served in the 10th Mountain Division, in Afghanistan.  They were the guys responsible for rooting out the insurgents on the Afghan border.  It was Adam who picked out this dad’s burial plot.  It’s up on a hill, “where nobody can ever look down on him again,” he said.  Adam wrote the eulogy for his dad’s funeral service.  Only a soldier could have delivered those words without breaking down, and Adam is first and foremost a soldier.  The following words are part of that eulogy.

“Throughout our lives, it has always been our core family.  There were a few people there for us, and those people know who they are.  But by and large, it was just us.  When I was younger, that was hard for me, but as I got older, I learned to appreciate it.  Our family became so cohesive.  We had a great balance of personality.  At the center of our family are two very different but very necessary personalities.  We have a mother that all of us were sure could fly to heaven at any time, but instead chose to spend her time with us.  And we had a father, he was the keeper of the gate, dedicating his life to absorb any damage that could possibly hurt the family.  You see, not many people knew my dad.  To say he came from humble beginnings would be a well-defined understatement.  He was a climber.  There are plenty of people that have their own businesses or a nice job, but they never traveled half the distance that Dad did to get where he was.  Somehow, he survived the fires of his childhood and came out the other side as this incredible human being.  Dad came into this world as a child of suffering, but he left this world as a child of God.  If you ask me or the girls what we will miss the most it would be his non-judgmental nature.  He was always there.  I’ll keep talking to you Dad, except now I’ll look up when I do it.  God bless you Dad, and thank you for being such an amazing human being.


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