THE GUEST OF
HONOR WASN'T THERE
31 December 2002
made the mistake of opening the program. I'd really been OK. This wasn't my father.
Despite the fact that he'd been a figure in my life since birth, I never felt I knew him
that well. This was just a family funeral.
Until I opened the program and saw him, looking so young, so vital, so...so...Bill. I
found myself fighting tears. While he was "only" an in-law, he had become the
patriarch of the family and it was difficult to think of the family without Bill at the
It was a simple service. A minister acted as the emcee, Bill's granddaughter Karen read
a poem, his son Dave played a couple of songs on the guitar and sang (including a song
called "Mobile Home," which he'd performed at Bill's 70th birthday party). All
of his kids spoke, many in the family shared memories of Bill.
We should all have such reflections at our funerals. The theme running through the
memories of Bill's life were those of unselfish service to others, from his unwavering
devotion to my aunt, his wife of 57 years, to the helping hand he lent to everyone in the
form of physical help, encouragement, advice, to his work with AA and the people he
supported through his many years of participation in that group.
The service ended with Jeri playing "Amazing Grace" on the clarinet, such an
emotional performance that not only did it move everyone in the place to tears, but it
moved Jeri to tears as well! (Try playing the clarinet when you're crying!)
We retired to the nearby Rotary Club building where some 75 or so people gathered to
partake in a groaning board of food, to look at photos of Bill that were on display, to
share further memories of his life, and just to enjoy being together.
This family started having reunions several years ago, events which brought
people from all over the U.S., from as far as Alaska. Before the first one, we had this
kind of tenuous tie that bound us all together. We were "family," but most of us
didn't really know most of the rest of us. I remember Paul saying at that first reunion
that he looked around at the 50 or so people there and was just amazed to realize that he
was somehow related to all these strangers.
But as the years passed and we continued to meet, year after year, we began to know
each other and we really did begin to feel like a "family."
At one of the early meetings, we inducted Bill into the family--no longer
simply an "in-law," he was now a full fledged member of the family, crowned
"King William," and taking his place as the patriarch of this family he'd
married into more than 50 years before.
Today as we gathered to say good bye to King William, we gathered not as a group of
strangers who had this tenuous tie that bound us all together, but we came as friends who
are also related. We enjoyed the new babies, we inquired about how jobs were going, how
health was, how relationships were going...we got caught up on all the news we had missed
since the last time we were all together.
We were all "family" and we had all grown to care about each other.
Aunt Barb didn't make it to the memorial service. She is quickly sliding down that
slippery slope from which there is no return. Though she and Bill had been slavishly
devoted to each other for years, she no longer asks about him, and they decided not to
tell her that he died.
As my mother said in her remarks at the memorial, Barb was the wind beneath his wings.
It was so difficult for him to realize that he could not prevent the progression of her
Alzheimers and he could not save her. She feels that he really died of a broken heart. But
she also felt that he had spent his whole life taking care of her, and that he decided he
had to go before her to get everything ready for that day when she will join him--wherever
it is that we all go at the end of our time here.
I'm glad that I was able to share a part of Bill's life and I am proud that we were all
part of the same family.