View Full Version : Why should a eulogies have to wait?

12-25-05, 09:02 AM
STALLARD: Why should a eulogies have to wait?
The Lufkin Daily News
Sunday, December 25, 2005

One of my many duties in the Marine Corps included attending the funerals of current or former Marines who had passed on. I've participated in funerals for elderly men who had served decades before; I've attended the funerals of Marines killed while still serving on active duty.

At these somber occasions, we in uniform helped fold the flag the traditional 13 times for presentation to the next-of-kin — usually the widow of the fallen Marine. More than once, I've watched her face while giving the little speech that includes the words, "This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation ... " I've listened to the fading strains of "Taps" and marched away as friends and family eulogized their loved one.

I've often wondered since then: Why do we wait to say these things? Why didn't someone present that Marine a flag while he was still alive to appreciate it? Why can't we say those good things to the people who deserve them before it's too late for them to hear? Is there a reason — other than tradition — that we couldn't have driven to a VA clinic somewhere to extend our appreciation to those veterans instead of offering it to their survivors?

I've even looked up the word "eulogy," and there's nothing there that says we have to wait until someone dies to praise them. It's just the way we do it. If it's someone famous, the eulogies last for days and come from all over the world — whether or not the speaker actually knew the victim.

For once, I want to say good things about a man who deserves to hear them — and I want to say these things before he leaves us.

My brother-in-law, Johnny Hickman, is waging a one-man battle with lymphoma. Johnny has already accepted the eventual outcome of this fight; he's told me that if he can make it to Christmas, he'll be happy. He wants to be there Sunday morning to see his family together in celebration one last time. That's not much to ask, is it?

You have probably never heard of Johnny. He's certainly no celebrity. I don't know if he's ever even made the newspapers before this. What Johnny is, is one of those hard-working, devoted family guys of which there are far too few in this world. He's the type who prompts others who know him to say simply, "He's good people."

Good people — the ultimate compliment for a guy like Johnny. The kind who gets up and goes to work every day. The kind who inspires loyalty from his own employer. When Johnny first began his bouts with chemotherapy — treatments that left him too sick and weak to work — his bosses at Texas Timberjack worked his schedule so that he could work when he felt like it. Big companies don't do that to slackers; they reserve such special treatment for their "good people."

Leaving behind a reputation as a solid, working man is impressive; but if you're measuring what kind of guy Johnny really is, just ask his kids and grandkids. Johnny's step-children, Chris and Katie, call him "Dad;" he took on that role in their lives when they were small, and he's performed every duty asked of any natural father.

And his grandchildren, Tristan, Shea, Jesse and Kalani — good Lord, those kids adore the guy. From the time Jesse, now 2, was old enough to walk, he knew the sound of Johnny's truck pulling into the driveway. The little boy would climb furniture to get to a window just so he could see his "Papaw." It's funny; I've baby-sat Jesse before, and he loves playing with phones. Hand one to him, and the first thing he'll do is pretend to dial a number, put the phone to his ear and say, "Papaw?"

Kalani, his granddaughter, just turned a year old. She's beginning to crawl and walk all over the house, and her destinations are as random as any baby's. But let Johnny walk into the room, and it's like she's gotten radar lock: She heads for him like a little, bald guided missile. Babies are smarter than we think; they don't do that to bad guys.

Pretty good way to measure a man, isn't it? By the way his children and grandchildren think of him? I can think of worse ways I'd want people to judge me.

From the beginning of this nightmare, I've never heard Johnny complain. The closest I ever heard to a gripe was when he laughed and said, "You'd think something that can kill you would hurt more than this, but I feel great." Or when he cussed the fact that his hair and beard had finally grown back just in time for him to learn that he'd have to begin another round of chemo. "Man," he said mournfully, "I was just getting things looking good again."

This was back during the first summer after learning the news; the idea of dying didn't seem to scare him at all. He seemed more worried about how his wife, Judy, and the rest of the family would do without him. More than once, he's expressed a worry that the money he put back wouldn't be enough; that a lifetime of work would somehow still come up short.

Dying, and he's worried about the rest of us.

Yeah, Johnny's good people.

So hey, Johnny, I'm going to take this time to tell you what I think of you. I'm not going to wait until it's too late; I want you to have the flag right now.

I want you to know how much fun I had just being around you; how much I loved coming over for some of your brisket and ribs (even if you made me mow your yard to get them). How great it was just to sit on your front porch and watch you love your family. How much respect I have for you, and the way you lived your life. Fifty years of you wasn't nearly enough, man. I'd like at least another 20.

But I'll make a deal with you: I'll let this little eulogy be my personal guideline for the rest of my life. I will tell all the "good people" I know how much they mean to me — and I'll do it so they can hear it themselves.

I love you, Johnny.

You're good people.

Gary Stallard's e-mail address is garylstallard@yahoo.