Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Words

When I started this blog, I originally envisioned it as a way to get news and photos out to family members and friends far and wide.
A secondary purpose though, was to create a chronicle of Riley's life to be able to look back on someday.

Some of the most profound events in Riley's life have taken place over the last 2-3 weeks, and he doesn't even know it, but I want them here as part of his history.

On Monday, at my Dad's services, I gave a eulogy in front of the 2-300 people gathered. It was the hardest yet most natural speaking gig I've ever had. I think doing it made the whole process easier on me and I'm glad I did it, even if 90% of my friends, family and co-workers have now seen me cry.

I bring this all up because a few people have asked me to somehow share with them what I said. Contrary to all good public speaking practices, I wrote down everything I wanted to say. But, I did so just in case I needed someone to get up and read it for me.

I want to acknowledge our family's loss here and, starting next week, have the blog reflect our moving forward. So here is what I prepared and, pretty accurately, delivered as a eulogy.

My main point to get across was the legacy of family that my Dad created. Because this blog is about family, I think it belongs here. If you come for happy stories and cute pics, come back next week. If you read my words below, thank you.

Chris Wallace eulogy, delivered 1-11-10

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Brandon, Chris’ oldest, yet smallest son. I only say that because it has been pointed out to me a few times over the last couple of days, and I just want to get it all out there.

For those who do know me, I know you think of me as the toughest guy you’ve ever met, but I’m not making any guarantees I’ll get through this intact. Just in case though, I’ve written out everything I want to say and I have a professional voice artist and radio personality here to back me up if I give him the signal.

I can think of two main reasons that anyone would be here.

The first is that you knew my dad and knew what a great guy he was. The second is that you know me, Jake or Eli and like us enough to come. But that actually means that you also know how great of a man my dad was, because we are what we are because of him.

I’d like to give a little story from my personal life that I think illustrates the true impact that my dad had. Before Joan and I got married, we had to go to a weekend retreat called Engaged Encounter, where you sleep on hard bunk beds and use communal bathrooms. Between those conveniences you participate in various question and answer exercises designed to get you thinking about your relationship. You then share your answers with your future spouse and sometimes the whole group.

One of the questions we were presented with was “what first attracted you to your future spouse?”

I naturally thought Joan would answer that it was because I am the studliest guy she’s ever met. Shockingly though, she didn’t. Instead, she said that it was the way I treated and cared for my family. I know that would come as a shock to Jake and Eli at certain times too.

But when I really thought about it, her statement didn’t say nearly as much about me, as it did about my parents. Neither Mom or Dad ever sat us down and gave us lessons on how to act like a family. They didn’t have to, because they lived it. They led by example.

One of the examples they set is that they were best friends. Their marriage wasn’t just a certificate in a filling cabinet in the closet or a tax break at the IRS. They truly lived as a couple.

If she needed something at WalMart, unless he had something pressing to do, he went with her. If he needed something at Home Depot, she went along for the trip. And why not? What might be on Tv that is more worthwhile for your soul than spending a half hour with your best friend?

And when they didn’t have anything to do, they would get in the Jeep and drive. Top down, doors off and feet hanging out if the weather permitted. They often didn’t necessarily know where they were going or when they would be back, but it didn’t matter. They were with each other.

Aside from being a good husband, he set the bar high as a good father. He was always there for whatever we needed, whether that was helping out with Jake’s baseball teams, helping out with school projects, or the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours my parents both dedicated to the Lafayette High Band over the course of 10 or 11 years. They were always there.

If you stop by my parents’ house, you will see half finished projects everywhere, but that’s not because my Dad was lazy. It’s because he was always willing to drop whatever he was doing to help us with what we had going on. He didn’t have to spend a month of cold nights in the shop, helping me build a cart for my bbq pit or toy tables for Riley and Caroline, who has no blood relation to my Dad, but he did it anyway. He was never too busy or too tired.

Two years ago, my Dad’s life changed. Joan and I had Riley, and my Dad became a grandparent, a role I think he was just made to fill. Then, just 6 weeks ago Jake and Sara had Gavin and brought another light into my Dad’s life and took him to the next level, if that was even possible.

We gave Dad the choice of what he wanted his grandparent name to be and he chose the name Poppy, after my Mom’s grandfather who he loved and respected immensely. From day one, he was part of Riley’s life in every way he could be. They saw each other 3 or 4 days a week and spoke on the phone almost every day for the last few months.

People tell us that Riley is one of the happiest kids they’ve ever met, and say that it must be a sign we are good parents. I appreciate that compliment, but give just as much credit to our parents for the roles they play in Riley’s life. A major part of that equation is gone now, and I grieve for Riley’s loss more than for my own. Dad told me once that even though he loved his three sons, being a grandparent was just different and magical all over again. He became, and thoroughly lived as, Poppy.

Even if you weren’t a family member, you could connect with my Dad. He was one of the least pretentious people I’ve ever known. Its hard to be pretentious when you’re wearing overalls or a tie dye shirt, or sometimes, overalls with a tie dye shirt and you’re miles from the nearest farm. Sometimes, you would see him at Downtown Alive, walking up in the overalls or tiedye and you’d kinda get a little embarrassed. I consciously told myself though, “At least you have a dad who cares enough to be here and to talk to you and your friends.” We don’t anymore.

If he didn’t like you, which was a rare case, you probably knew that, but I know he gave you an honest chance first. And if he did like you, he would have a smile and a wise crack and all the time in the world to talk. Downtown Alive, Festival and Rhythms are going to be very different for us and our friends now.

My Dad was squarely middle aged, which may not be very comforting for those of you around the same age. But, he had something I aspire to have. He had the spirit of a young man, with the wisdom of an old man. That thought came to me yesterday, and I sat for a while and thought about what an awesome combination that is. I don’t know that there is much more that you could ask for.

Before he went in for the surgery, Dad told multiple people that he was the happiest he had ever been. He had his family nearby, and he was happy at work. He had two grandsons that meant the world to him and any stresses that had bothered him in the past had been resolved. We can all take comfort in knowing that his last memories were those of true satisfaction and joy.

Our family thanks everyone here for their friendship and the thoughts, prayers and vibes you’ve sent out over the last two grueling weeks. You all mean so much to us and did to my dad to, even if it was just because you were a positive point in one of our lives. Thank you for being there, and your support will only become more important over the coming months as we all adjust to a radically different way of life.


Kim said...

Great job Brandon. Your eulogy has caused me to think long and hard of the relationship I have with my husband. Ours is much the same as your parents, we do almost together and sometimes people say it's too much but I don't think it is. He IS my best friend and there isn't anyone else in the world I'd rather be with. I hope that one day my children speak of us the way you do of your parents. I also hope that God brings peace to your heart as you adjust to life without him and I have no doubt that Riley will know how special he was.

frannie77 said...

Brandon, that was a wonderful tribute to your dad! How wonderful he must have felt to be looking down and hearing such beautiful things being spoken about him! Thank you for sharing that with us.

Timberly said...

That was beautiful Brandon, and just like Kim has got me thinking and realizing I need to be a better example to my children. Thanks for sharing with me this wonderful tribute to your father.

Unknown said...

Ed and I are stuck here in Ohio, but Leah reported that your eulogy was the best she'd ever heard, and how packed the church was with people who loved your dad. I just found your blog this morning, but Leah actually had repeated everything you said already; it was stuck in her mind.

I emailed your mom a pic of her and your dad laughing and cutting up that I snapped at Leah's wedding in June -- if you want, I can email it to you too. I loved seeing the pics of your parents at the wedding -- don't know if we told you, but your wedding was our (Ed and I) second date. Our first date was so fun that at the end, Ed said, "Well, I'd love to ask you out for Friday, but I have to go to a wedding." I said, "I have a wedding on Friday too... wait a minute! For the Wallaces?!" I don't have any pics of it, but we remember it fondly, esp. the ice cream bar and the Elephant Man band showing up late :-)

We have thought about you guys every day since the surgery and remember Mr. Chris in our prayers. He was a great, great guy.

Warmly, Amy and Ed Noel