Eulogy for Son
Length: 2422 words (6.9 double-spaced pages)
Today, the most difficult day in my family’s life, we gather to say farewell to our son, brother, fiancé and friend. To those of you here and elsewhere who know Dylan you already are aware of the type of person he was and these words you will hear are already in your memory. To those who were not as fortunate, these words will give you a sense of the type of man he was and as an ideal for which we should strive. My son has been often described as a gentle soul. He was pure of heart and had great sensitivity for the world around him. He had a way with people that made them feel comfortable around him and infected others to gravitate toward him. Dylan exuded kindness and pulled generosity and altruism out from everyone he touched. He was everyone's best friend.
To say Dylan was polite is an understatement. Since his early years, he showed respect and caring for all around him. Even through the tormentous experiences of his hospital stays and chemotherapy treatment he never once failed to thank a nurse, aide, transport worker or anyone else as they gave him a meal, assisted him or performed another painful procedure. He also was a man of compassion. I can remember when he was six years old in Seattle. He was running in a cross country race with his friend Tommy when the pack of runners disappeared behind bushes. He was at that time running near the lead. As we watched a few minutes later, all the runners reappeared and completed the race. No Dylan nor Tommy in sight. Finally, after a few desperate minutes Dylan and Tommy reappeared. When asked what happened Dylan said that he and Tommy had stopped to help some frogs get out of the way of the runners. His compassion extended to his adulthood. He often spoke that while he wished to develop his career as a rowing coach and teacher of English and History he wanted to live a simple life where he could exert influence on those less fortunate that he. Many times he said a perfect job would be where he could teach and coach crew in an inner city area and develop rowing programs with inner city kids that would rival the Eastern prep schools. When he was told he was dying and had but a few days to live he told me he was not concerned about dying but was worried about his family and Patti.
He wanted to make sure that we would be okay.
As a young boy Dylan developed a strong interest in reading and had a voracious ability to consume books and stories. This obviously led to his degree choices of English and History and his minor in African Literature. When he came home on term vacations he enjoyed nothing more than going to his room and reading books on any subject. I will always be amazed at his tremendous ability to cite statistics, state facts or explain even the most obscure subject. I will also never forget my reading to him, during his final days, an earlier version of Gulliver's Travels and having him correct my pronunciation. The last book I read to him was the Dubliners by James Joyce. Dylan enjoyed traveling and fortunately had the opportunity to see much of this world through family vacations, road trips with his friends and Patti or through his experiences as a rower and coach. While some of the trips he planned will remain only as dreams I am joyed that he was able to experience the diversity of this world and am certain that his experiences were cherished by him and will forever remain with him.
Always unassuming, Dylan was somewhat of a Jekel and Hyde. When he took to the water his gentle being was transformed. I am told by people he rowed either with or against that he became a fierce competitor driven to perfection. His accomplishments on the water were many including being a member of the U.S. National Nations Cup Team. Last year, Dylan gave me a Christmas gift of a ticket to go down to Austin Texas where the University of Wisconsin rowing team had winter training. I was sitting in a boat with Dylan and Mike who is the United States Olympic Coach and we were alongside the U.S. Olympic team boat. About halfway through the training exercise Mike turns to Dylan and says, "Dylan, see that boat - you should be in there because you are better than those rowers. They have gold medals around their necks and the medal should be around yours. You need to decide if you want to stay in Madison or move to Princeton." Dylan was appreciative of the comments but told me afterward that he wanted to "wait and see what happened." Little did I know that the cancer that would eventually take his life was already ravaging his body. I can't help but wonder how good he would have become if not for the disease.
On July 6, we found out he was suffering from advanced colon cancer. Barbara, Dylan, Patti and myself went to a resort in Wisconsin for the weekend prior to his surgery. While there Dylan asked to play a round of golf with me. Dylan only played but a few rounds of golf in his life and we struggled through 10 or 12 holes. He finally stepped up to the tee and hit a drive nearly 300 yards, took a three-iron from 190 yards and put the ball 2 feet from the cup. He tapped in the birdie. He hobbled to the cart and told me that it was time to go in because he did not want to play until he was healthy again. He birdied a 478 yard par - 4. It was the last hole of golf he would ever play. Dylan was my best friend. He enabled me to live vicariously and achieved a level of perfection that so few achieve. In his battle with his horrible disease he taught me the definition of courage. In 7 1/2 months of hell not once did he complain about the pain or discomfort nor did he ask the question of why it was him and not someone else. He firmly believed that he would prevail and that after the suffering was over he would resume his life as if none of this ever occurred. I think his will to overcome the disease may be best illustrated when he decided he was going to buy a motorcycle. This was in August after a massive surgery and at the beginning of a debilitating chemotherapy program. He had signed up 6 months earlier for a motorcycle safety course that included riding mechanics. Even though he could barely walk and was racked with intractable pain, he went to every class and gained his certificate. Shortly thereafter, he purchased a brand - new Triumph. I am so glad he and Patti were able to spend a least some time on the bike.
On December 19, Dylan and I flew from Madison to San Francisco. I had arranged for upgraded tickets and assistance in Chicago due to the length of the walk from where the commuter plane from Madison landed in Chicago to where the departure gate was for the flight from Chicago to San Francisco. As fate would have it the flight was oversold so all upgrades were canceled. Upon arriving in Chicago there was no assistance waiting for us and I asked Dylan who was in obvious pain and could barely walk to wait while I found some transport. He said, "No, I would rather walk because we can't miss the plane home." It took us nearly one hour to walk the distance and we were the last passengers seated. Dylan simply could not fathom the thought that he could not walk the distance or risk the chance of not getting home. I will never forget the tears in my eyes and his determined look as he inhaled through each step. I know I could not have done it and I doubt if there was anyone else alive who could have done so. That was my son.
He was also the baby that was always quiet while his twin sister, Marissa, and younger sister, Jena Rose, bubbled with energy. He was the little guy who loved my stories before he went to sleep. He was a polite young boy who enjoyed everything life offered. He grew into a young man with a beautiful mind and an even more beautiful soul. He had a great off-beat sense of humor who caressed his friends and family and cherished his time alone. He was the son I carried on my shoulders thru Chinatown and nearly everywhere else we went. He was the son who would watch all the dark-humor films with me joking with me throughout. He was the son I loved to go with to great restaurants and bad restaurants because we both loved to try anything. He shared my love of the man eating dog, Bentley, and wrecked his first car at age 10 right here in this parking lot. I can still see him in his blue pajamas running down our stairs and see him on the tractor with his grandpa at the ranch. He was the boy who from the time he came into our lives always had a smile on his face. He was the perfect son. In the beautiful tribute to Dylan that his coaches Chris and Greg wrote they talked of heroism. I often told Dylan that he was my hero for he lived his life in a way that encompassed a zest for improvement. He strove for quiet success. He never during his ordeal asked for pity or concession. He kept giving when anyone else would have long quit. He never complained. Hero is a word overused. In Dylan's case it was an understatement.
Dylan will be laid to rest wearing a beautiful watch. The watch was given to him by his beloved Patti on the day of their engagement. The watch will chronicle the time we shared with him in this world and will await the time until we can again join him. Beside him also lay my track shoes that I wore when I had the joy to compete in college. They are too small for Dylan's large feet. They serve as a reminder to him that he would never walk in my shoes for he had far surpassed me and all I had accomplished. It is I who shall now strive to humbly attempt to fill his shoes. Everyday during the battle with cancer my family and thousands of others prayed to our God for a miracle. At time I was angry because I felt our prayers were not heard and not answered. Only in the past few days have I realized that the miracle had already been received. Dylan in his kind and gentle way had touched and changed the lives of thousands of people throughout his brief lifetime. The outpouring of tribute shown today is testament to that miracle and for that I thank God. The Lord wanted Dylan at this time. Perhaps the heavenly 8 boat was a little weak in 6 seat. The boat now is strong.
My family and Patti wish to express our heartfelt thanks to all those who have given us needed support, compassion and love throughout this most difficult time. To Coach Clark, Greg, Dylan's teammates, the Wisconsin Athletic Department and all those people affiliated with the United States Rowing Community we are deeply indebted to you all for allowing our Dylan to experience his dreams and achieve his level of accomplishment. To Dr. Smith, Dylan's surgeon in Madison, my family can never express enough our gratitude for your unwavering care, compassion and friendship. I know you claim Dylan as your younger brother and I know Dylan was proud to be your friend. You did more than was expected and Dylan was honored when you expressed to him that your entire practice of medicine was changed because of Dylan's character. To Dylan's huge circle of friends and Katie I say thank you for enabling him to experience life at its fullest and providing him support and care in his darkest hours. You will forever be remembered. To the Church, St. Dustan Community and my coworkers, my family extends our most gracious humility for being the recipient of the tremendous outpouring of generosity, understanding, prayer and support. The efforts of Sue Polari and the countless others, including the students at the school will be cherished forever. To Patti, we can never express enough our sincere gratitude and love. You have been wed to Dylan for 5 years and throughout that time you gave him the meaning of the perfect relationship. You two are the epitome of the meaning of soul mates. You were one together. When Dylan was with you he glowed and emitted a sense of contentment for which all should strive. Your unbending strength and devotion has endeared you into our hearts. I so grieve for you. To Barbara, Marissa and Jena Rose I know what you feel. No words can ever fill the vast void. Only through our memories can we hope to mitigate this incomprehensible feeling of loss. Thanks to you three we have those memories and the knowledge that our family could not have been better and as a result of Dylan has become even stronger.
To everyone, I ask that you hold your new baby close to you, squeeze the hand of your loved one and gently kiss your children on their cheek, never let the mundane obligations of life distract you from the cherished gift of family. They say, "hang on to every moment - before you know it will be gone." Unfortunately, they are right. Life and all that goes with it is over before you know it. To my son, I bid farewell. For the brief time that you honored me with your presence you taught me more about life than everything I ever experienced. None of us know how much time we will be on this earth but I do know that when my time comes I can only hope that I become half the man you had already become. So long, pal. Row hard and know now that the wind is finally at your back - rest now in your hammock in the sun.
With all my love, your Dad.