Robert R. Shuck, my father, was killed in a car accident on November 7, 2009. His death was a shocking, heartbreaking tragedy. I delivered a eulogy at his funeral on November 12.
I would like to start by thanking all of you who have come here today. Many of you traveled some distance and at considerable inconvenience to be here, and we are profoundly grateful.
I have struggled this week to make sense of what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. As much as I want to reflect on what kind of person my Dad was, I have found it hard to do so. It is difficult to fully describe the soul of a person when you are immersed only those possessions they left behind.
I have spent the last four days absently trying to sort out those possessions –- shifting through piles of paper, sorting through to-do lists, culling through files on his computer; moving from room to room, picking up books in one, picking up pictures in the next.
I found a rake with leaves still in it, well worn, set in its place in the garage. His legacy, the tools of a patient gardener.
I found a gold star that he made, by hand, for the front door — as well as a prototype, perfectly measured, folded carefully from graph paper. His legacy, the proof of a disciplined craftsman.
I found dozens of post-it notes, with lists of tasks and bullets of thoughts and reminders. “Plan for window & door improvements in 2010.” “Children’s Books – Research.” “Ask Cathy about cheese soup recipe.” His legacy, on orange and pink squares of paper, the evidence of an ordered mind.
I found pictures of grandchildren, framed and displayed, pictures given to him and a few he took himself. I have thought about what we will do with the pictures. We will gather them up I suppose, all but the picture they represent, the legacy of a proud grandfather.
I found a journal of days, an entry book logged with comings and goings. “June 4th: 2 mile walk in park.” “October 16th: Raked leaves and trimmed bushes.” And in between the daily order, I found thoughts heartbreaking to read. “July 7th, 2007: I am not a meaningful part of my family’s lives, nor they of mine. I am too isolated.” Another entry from several months ago, after I had called him to ask that he postpone an upcoming visit, said simply: “September 5th: I was invited to stay home.” A legacy of repetition and routine. A legacy of a father too distant.
I found the confused eyes of children too young to understand, searching for an explanation that I already know age will not provide. I found comments like those from my son: “I think Daddy wants another Dad.” No, just the one I already had. A legacy of questions.
In a search to understand I found tire tracks in the grass and an impact in the mud. I found glass shards and pieces of plastic. I found a car crumpled, nearly snapped in two, a physics problem made real, the solution to which was blood and broken bones. A legacy of senseless violence, a horrible legacy for a peaceful man.
None of these –- the post-it notes, the logs, the tasks, the pictures, the debris — are any part of the legacy I wish to keep, nor any part of the legacy I wish you to have. We must do our best together to remember a better legacy, a legacy more representative of the life.
To my sister Cathy: A legacy of love from a man who cared deeply about you. Although he never could quite find a way to express it as you might have wanted to hear it, he expressed it in the way he needed to say it. You were his biggest joy.
To my brother Tim: A legacy of pride from a father who loved you as his own and admired you more than you know. Your intellect and dedication to craft reminded him of the best pieces of himself.
To my wife Jeanie: A legacy of tenderness from a person who reveled in your unconditional acceptance, your lack of pretense, and your caring.
To my uncle Dave: A legacy of admiration from a brother who considered you his biggest hero.
To my aunts Cathy and Jane: A legacy of thanks for the joy that was your family, and Mom’s.
To our children, Dad’s grandchildren –- Matthew, Sierra, Johnny, Ellie, Celia June, Aidan, and Danny: A legacy of strength, a legacy that my grandmother called “the red blood of the pioneers” –- a legacy born of centuries working the soil, the fortitude to keep walking forward in the face of the inertia of the world.
To the Marsicks, the Schurdells, the Krafts, and all of his neighbors and friends: A legacy of gratitude, an unarticulated thank you for the shared experiences and laughter. You brought out Dad’s best, and you understood that though he expressed himself through the dimension of science, he was far from one-dimensional.
And to me:
I have not been sure what my legacy is. I cannot so easily move past the debris and the broken bones. I cannot so quickly forget the journal entries and the notes, the expressions of a solitude borne somewhat unwillingly.
And yet my legacy sits in this room. In my family –- those connected to me by blood, but more than that, in the many of you who have become my family by choice, a choice more yours than mine. Dad’s legacy to me is a quiet admonition that the human experience is not a solitary one. My friends, you have been unwilling to let me be isolated and alone, and in doing so you have helped me extend my reach further than Dad was able. My dad’s legacy is your friendship, and I am incredibly grateful for it.
We must remember that God almost never gives us what we want, but almost always gives us what we need. These gifts –- these gifts of love, pride, tenderness, admiration, gratitude, fortitude, laughter, and friendship –- these gifts are Dad’s bequest. They are to be respected, to be cherished, and above all, to be shared.
This is our obligation to the patient gardener: To extend his life into the next; to multiply his blessings; and above all, to go out into the world and to sow the seeds he has given us.