Happy Father’s Day

On this day six years ago, I laid my father’s ashes to rest in a pristine lake not far from his home in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Here is the eulogy I delivered on the shore of that lake:

Eulogy and Burial of Eugene K. Hoyas

Lake Luzerne, New York – 17 June 2006

Given by his son, Eugene L. Hoyas

We are gathered here today to pay our final respects to Eugene Kenneth Hoyas – father, grandfather and a beloved friend to many.

I guess he’d be surprised to see so many people gathered here to mourn him. It wouldn’t occur to him that he was so popular, that he will be missed so much. Yet the very fact that so many have gathered to celebrate his life says much more about him than any words I can offer now.

My father was, at heart, a solitary man. He died in much the same manner he lived: on his own terms, in his own time, as he and he alone would have it. To those who did not know him well, he was the quintessential curmudgeon who always said what he believed and what others only dared to think. Those whose patience and forbearance outweighed their personal pride or prejudice were rewarded with access to the inner sanctum where, beneath a hardened layer of craggy rocks and thorny underbrush, lay the treasure trove of his mind, his heart and his soul. I spent a lifetime digging through rock until I finally discovered the treasure that everyone else seemed to have found so easily – and then, to my everlasting regret, only after he was gone.

More often than I care to remember, I berated him for his irascibility and chastised him for what appeared to be an irrational anger directed at the whole universe. Only much later in my life and only after the end of his did I realize that it was not really anger he expressed but, rather, righteous indignation at all he found wrong with the world in general and people in particular. I suppose he was furious with anything that violated the principles of propriety, decency, civility and justice he cherished.

In truth he was a rank sentimentalist of flawed spirit and wounded heart who secretly fought for those less fortunate than himself yet,  somehow,  was unable or unwilling to expose the vulnerability of his own heart and soul, perceiving as weakness what was perhaps his greatest strength.

In the course of mankind’s sojourn on earth there have been many men who strode the world as giants, casting shadows across history through the ages. For every one of those singular titans, there have been legions of ordinary men living ordinary lives that, nevertheless, left an extraordinary impression on all whom they touched.

So it was with my father, a man who spoke to us not from mountain tops or pulpits, but one who, in the course of his ordinary life, expressed the simple and enduring feelings of ordinary people like himself.

Rather than accept with humble submission what we loosely call “the unfairness of life” he rose to challenge it and, as twilight advanced ahead of the darkness that engulfed the last day of his life, how dearly I wished I had whispered in his ear those unforgettable words of Dylan Thomas:

And you, my father, there on the sad height;
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And rage he did. Unceasingly, unrelentingly, unapologetically. Yet, he was more than the sum of his anger and impatience. Were it not so, he would never have given of himself so unsparingly and often as he did to those whom he loved and sometimes even more so to those whom he barely knew or did not know at all.

He was a man of astonishingly good deeds and charitable works who did so by stealth with as much secrecy as possible. He never advertised the fact that he helped so many people in so many different ways. He never discussed the countless acts of kindness or charity he bestowed on others and I have no doubt that everyone here today has, in one form of another, benefited from his generosity.

He may have loaned you a book that was especially relevant to your life. Dad was a great reader and liked to share any treasure he found.  If you were an RC airplane enthusiast he would have treated you as a kindred spirit. He might have said a quiet word of appreciation that meant a lot to you. Perhaps it was a patient ear he offered as you shared your troubles or perhaps he shared with you a word or two of advice. Perhaps it was money if you were short of cash. Perhaps it was anything – or everything. To him all that mattered was the simple human kindness a caring soul could offer to another in need.

I shall miss him as a fount of knowledge. If I ever needed to know anything there was always a good chance that my father would know the answer.  If he didn’t he’d make sure he found the answer for me.

I shall miss him for the sense of humor he shared and ultimately passed on to me – a legacy I have since passed on to my own children.

Long ago he explained to me the absolute importance of humor to the survival of humanity. “We are the only species,” he once told me, “that possesses a sense of humor. And, perhaps, this was by design, because it appears that we are the only species on the planet that needs it. Were we not able to find humor – even in the most abysmal situations – we would have wiped ourselves out of existence by now.”

His sense of humor enabled him ultimately to laugh at himself, thereby rendering him immune to the ravages of his own inner torments and protecting from his personal demons.  It was a razor-sharp tool, driven by the hammer blows of his own strong character, with which he carved and chiseled in our minds and later, in our hearts, a niche that he will occupy for the duration of our lives.

I shall miss him – among so many other things – for his sensitivity and appreciation of all things aesthetic and beautiful. He was no less delighted by the masterpiece creations of nature than by those of mankind’s greatest artisans, be they painters, poets, musicians or architects and builders – for in nature he always saw the equivalent, be it the exquisite palette of a Wyoming sunset, the poetic symmetry in the grain of exotic hardwoods, the symphonic composition of songbirds and hummingbirds or the awesome majesty of towering forests echoing the melodic chant of wildlife with greater harmony and duration than any cathedral choir. Given the serene, heavenly, breathtaking beauty that surrounds us here, it is no surprise that he chose this as the place of his final rest.

With one heart we all feel and with one mind we all acknowledge, that this body of water will never have borne a more precious burden, or been enriched by more splendid memories that those we are about to bequeath to its depths. It is therefore incumbent upon us, in the absence of a permanent grave or memorial marker, to preserve his memory in our minds and our hearts, for if we do not, then all those moments when his life intersected with ours will have been lost in time…like tears in the rain.

In accordance with his wishes we surrender his mortal remains to the embrace of these pure and placid waters to be turned into corruption, looking for the Day of Resurrection when the oceans, the seas, and the lakes shall give up their dead; and those who sleep in the Lord shall be changed and made like unto Him, while those who remain and grieve will be comforted. And God shall wipe away all the tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall there be any more.

Eternal and blessèd repose grant unto him, Heavenly Father. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, unto ages of ages.  Amen.

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