Before We Begin….
No, I’m not dead. At least I don’t think I am. Or I might be depending on when you’re reading this. And I’m not planning on dying anytime soon. I don’t really want to anyway. I’m finally starting to enjoy this life. But should I die before enough changes that I must submit a second edition of my eulogy, this one will work. No sense in anybody going to the trouble of writing anything about me should I actually die sometime soon. Besides, nobody knew me like me. Until recently, I haven’t been the easiest person to know anyway.
So here’s my living eulogy. It can be read (preferably by someone capable of lightheartedness) at the funeral party that takes place at the natural cemetery where you place my unembalmed body under a nice oak sapling or in my backyard where my body or ashes are buried close enough to be remembered but far enough away that my family pretty quickly forgets. No headstone necessary. Somebody would just have to weed-eat around it.
And yes, I said funeral party. A pig-pickin’ would be nice. And an open bar. No judgment if you just come for the food and beer and then jet. The only thing I want in death is that you save my words for my kids. Somebody pay for my blog hosting just so they will always have one of the most important pieces of their daddy.
So if this ever gets read aloud, it better be at a party. If you’re confused on the type of party, read the last paragraph again. I didn’t stutter. And yes, I’m serious. Party. Smile, laugh, congregate, socialize, just live and be merry. If you must eulogize me other than my own words contained in this eulogy, just celebrate even the one smile I might have given you. I’m not nearly important enough to mourn.
This is the Actual Eulogy:
A full 93% of the human remains in that box (or if you choose cremation, 93% of the stuff that entered the crematorium) is nothing more than oxygen, calcium, and hydrogen. Three simple elements that all somehow worked together with a few other pieces to form a living biological creature. All of you have the same makeup. No matter your size, no matter your race, no matter your gender, 65% of you is oxygen, 18% is carbon, and 10% is hydrogen.
That introductory paragraph was written solely because Denton Lee wanted his wife to roll her eyes at least once at his funeral. Behind those rolling eyes will also be words spoken silently in much the same way she rolled her eyes.
She’ll most likely subconsciously say some combination of this: “OMG, seriously? What the heck? Who cares? Nobody starts off a eulogy talking about elements. Your stories are always SOOO long!! This is borderline embarrassing. Seriously, who cares?”
There is also a chance she simply rolls her eyes and has absolutely no thoughts about why she did so. But that opening is meaningful because it was a necessary part of who Denton was. Talking about the physical makeup of our bodies normalized humanity. It made everybody equal. Believe it or not, that’s an important place to start.
He always knew why he needed to do that. He never felt like everybody else. Never felt normal. Never felt like he belonged. There were quite literally decades during his adult life where he felt so abnormal that disappearing was preferable, and so he disappeared in a rather pedestrian way, with alcohol and tobacco and then food and sugar.
Even when he got sober on May 28, 2017, and even though he kicked ass at sobriety from alcohol and tobacco, he never felt like he belonged in pretty much any setting.
In what became a microcosm of Denton Lee’s life, he looked back at his time in AA and realized he didn’t even fit in there either. Here is a place with people who are battered and bruised from hitting rock bottom, it’s a place where people crawl in on the wings of defeat, and it’s a place where a new acquaintance sitting across from you might shoot themselves in the head that same night because addiction is just that powerful. Denton experienced that very thing twice in the first year of sobriety. It’s some serious shit.
And yet AA is a place of victory, of healing, of helping, it’s even a place where old crusty veterans are sometimes as harsh as Siberian winters because that’s exactly who they need to be to let you know you are powerless over your addiction. And even though all of that described Denton’s experience the same as it did every other member of AA, he never felt like he fit in. It was a rather humorous realization – and a humbling one – but also a sobering one. Pun intended for some reason.
He thought about this often while he sat in those rooms, listening to stories that sounded exactly like his, looking at the embarrassment that felt just like his, feeling the emptiness of life without alcohol and having no clue how to fill that void. He was exactly like those people, and yet he did not fit in.
Denton went back through his life during some of those meetings, trying to harken back to a place where he felt completely comfortable. He never found one.
Elementary school? No, what memory remained was that of being timid and scared. Middle school? Try getting cut from two sports your seventh grade year. When sports are your LIFE. Especially when ALL your friends made both the basketball and baseball teams. It didn’t matter that he made both teams his eighth grade year and was an important starter for both sports. He knew he wasn’t as good as his friends. High school? Cut from two sports again. Took a shot at golf. Didn’t tell anybody at first. And honestly, what the hell kind of fourteen year old plays golf and admits it? In 1991. Who are a golfer’s friends in the piranha tank known as high school? He found some, and he loved his group of friends, but they would have been fine without him.
Throughout those high school years, however, he still maintained a decent amount of popularity. He was even senior class president and voted the “Best Dressed” guy. Oo la la.
By his second semester of college, he lived alone. It was his first foray into reclusiveness. He liked it. It fit him. It was the one place he felt comfortable. And perhaps that was why golf appealed to him, why he got so good in high school that he was awarded a scholarship to play golf on the Division 2 level in college. Golf is a very reclusive sport. It’s just you, the course, the weather, your equipment, and most importantly, your mind. Perhaps that was also why the sport angered him so passionately. There was nobody to blame when things went wrong. So he had to shoulder all the blame. He carried that burden heavily.
But that was actually preferable to the time when he stopped carrying it at all. He didn’t blame himself because he simply did not care enough to carry blame. This apathy – spawned through addiction – lasted through his first marriage, the birth of his oldest daughter, the death of his first wife, the failure of a business, and the foray into what actually felt natural for the first time in his life: teaching.
But it was in those AA meetings when he thought back on his life that he finally found purpose. It was barely there, but it was that glimmer of hope that always pulls people out from behind the barrel of their own gun. He found that there was comfort with his new wife, comfort in his job teaching ninth grade math, comfort in fatherhood. But other than the unbelievable relationship he soon developed with his wife, that comfort NEVER turned to contentment or confidence or even thankfulness. He simply always felt out of place, unworthy, secluded, even in a fulfilling marriage, a job he enjoyed, and three children for whom he would eat a thousand bullets.
And yet throughout it all, he kept his humor and his hope. He knew he would find that contentment one day. He knew he was close. He knew one day he would achieve a greatness that presented itself in his conscience in so many forms he simply had no idea where to focus his attention in order to achieve it. It was quite simply impossible to be great at any one thing when you’re adequate at everything. That’s how he viewed himself. He expected great things from himself, he even had beautifully orchestrated plans for achieving them, but he took no determined action to achieve greatness, and when he did, it was enough action to only achieve adequacy.
Denton always thought of himself as a a brilliant thinker, however. He could look at fourteen sides of an argument and illustrate how each and every one of them could be both right AND wrong, good AND bad, happy AND sad. He was actually most at peace when he could be alone and in deep thought. But thinking and doing are vastly different conquests.
Denton achieved three great things in his life. He achieved sobriety, he achieved a love for his wife that will hopefully last forever in a small corner of her heart because he did his damnedest to finally be irreplaceable, and he finally achieved the blessing of looking back on the life of his children and have zero regrets about how he raised them. Addiction marred some memories of the first two, but his final child, baby Tatum, never saw her father drink a drop. He finally learned how to live with no regrets.
The sad but wonderful thing about life is that we are so terrifically insignificant that the world actually becomes a slightly better place when we leave it. We no longer breathe its air or use its natural resources or emit exhaust from our car into the air or get in front of a young mother in the grocery store who desperately needs to get home to a sick kid. We’re but a blip on the timeline of history, and that is why we are done talking about Denton Lee III. He would rather leave a few words for his family, because now that he’s dead, maybe they’ll listen to him.
To his mother, who others called Mrs. Jane, Aunt Jane, or Mama Jane, or as Denton called her, just Mama, he needs you to cry because that’s who you are, and he needs you to see little things in your every day and cry because you miss him, again because that’s simply who you are. But once that cry is done, you need to leave it behind and smile.
Picture him finally being comfortable enough to sing and do so with such joy that the quality of the emitting sound doesn’t even matter. Picture him smiling big to a camera. Or heck, picture him sitting at his heaven computer and writing an uplifting story that plays out on Earth and winds up in your Facebook feed. You’ll never actually know if God put him in charge of writing Earth’s stories, now will you? Why not imagine that he’s writing the ones that make you smile?
To his father, Dent, Uncle Dent, Daddy Dent, or as Denton called him, just Daddy, he simply needs to say thanks. You were the man he always wanted to please. You were the man from whom Denton always needed confirmation that he was doing something right. And those times when the confirmation told him that he was wrong, well, it’s simply amazing how the fear of such things created the traits Denton liked most about himself as a father. He was tough on his children, he had unwaveringly high expectations, but in sobriety he slowly learned how to model those behaviors in his own life. He took a while to grow up, but he never stopped wanting to grow up to be just like you.
To his sister, Annice, it cannot be understated that you probably helped save Denton’s life, and not in ways you may imagine. You were there for him during his struggles, and there is little doubt that it would have taken a mountain of mistakes for you to give up on him, but where you saved his life was in helping to formulate his conscience. Sisters don’t need to do much to become heroes. They need to be limited at twelve years old by a debilitating heart condition, they need to have their chest ripped open in order to fix that heart at the ripe young age of 28, they need to look at doctors and say, “Screw you, I’m having another baby,” they need to almost die in childbirth, they need to adopt a son and love him like he was the one for whom labor nearly killed.
Sisters don’t need to do much. They just have to come to the rescue of their alcoholic brother and NEVER stop loving him when multiple times he crapped all over that help. But it was because of your strength that Denton couldn’t find the ultimate weakness.
Caroline – Care Bear – you saw the worst of your father, you survived being raised by him alone for six years, and the truth did not destroy your love for him. After all the lies, all the tears when you watched your new family falling apart in front of your eyes, all the uncertainty of possibly losing a second parent but gaining a new mother, through all of that, your father would not take back any of it. If he could, he would be teaching you that it is okay to have regrets, and he wishes for you above all else that you live a life void of regrets.
Don’t even entertain the notion of regret. Just live. Take chances. Love big. Laugh at stupid jokes. Be the weirdest one in the room if it means you’re being true to who YOU are, not who you think everyone wants you to be. Just live, kiddo. If you question whether you should do something amazing today or tomorrow or next year, do it today. And do it big. Happiness is your choice. Live happy.
Sullivan – dude, buddy, Sullivanman, Sull, whatever else he called you because Sullivan is not a name conducive to anything other than Sully and you know, yuck – your daddy said from the moment you were born that he was okay with you being a player, but that your sisters could get their first kiss in their mid-20’s. And he was only slightly kidding. You see, your father was quite possibly the most scared man that ever lived when it came to pursuing the ladies. He and his friends would go out to clubs and he would make beautiful eye contact – maybe even exchange a smile – with multiple women every single night.
But he was a raging pansy with the cojones of a neutered gnat. So ask out the most beautiful woman in the room. Show them an unwavering confidence that you gain through realizing that some damn good things are going to happen to you in life. Some crappy things are, too. Neither one is all that important. And remember this. Be different than every other guy in the club (or library, church, rodeo, whatever.) She’ll care less that you’re weird and more that you’re different than all the other sheep.
And if you strike out, you lost. You’re not a loser. If a few losses discourage you, you’ll always wonder “what if.” Don’t ever wonder “what if,” with women or sports or school or a job or just life. Take a million chances. You’ll lose at least half the time. But that also means you’ll have some really braggable victories. And when you have grandkids one day, you’ll have the best stories of any granddad you know.
Lastly, Sullivan, be better than everybody around you, especially toward women. If it means you miss out on a few ladies who are looking for a bad boy, that’s okay. Even though people say otherwise, life is actually pretty long and women who don’t want a good guy are actually pretty rare. There are a LOT out there that will cherish your goodness. But you will NEVER regret treating them exactly the way you hope other guys treat your sisters. Be better than every other guy you know. And learn to cook and clean. If somebody is reading this to you, your daddy probably didn’t have time to teach you. But that dude could cook. You have a legacy to uphold.
Baby Tatum, your dad didn’t really know you that well yet, and you’ll never fully understand how badly he hated the baby stage of his childrens’ lives, but he already knew a few things about you. He knew it was closing in on the day he would beam from ear to ear at his latest “Daddy’s little girl.” He knew your eyes were absolutely captivating. Your daddy beamed inside when you smiled at him with those eyes. And speaking of that smile, he also knew your smile was so sweet that if you pooped while smiling, it would be a diaper full of sugar, and he knew you needed to stay away from the boys he secretly wanted your brother to become. Those boys are players. Stay away. Teenage boys are horrible creatures. Especially your brother’s friends.
And if Sullivan is horrible to women, even though your father gave him mixed signals on who he is to become, you have your father’s permission to kick him in the nuts. He deserves it.
But Tatum, you were your mommy’s rainbow baby, and you seemed to always shine down on life’s storms. Even when you created them with your cries or your full body poops or your projectile spit-up, you were always a rainbow baby smiling on our storms. With your daddy leaving you so early in your life, you’re facing a storm you don’t even understand yet. But your mommy does. Smile on her storm. And never stop doing that. Life is full of storms. But you’ll always be your mother’s rainbow baby. And you’ll always make her smile.
And to Megan, it is rather pedestrian to say that you saved Denton’s life. It’s also not really correct. What you did was to support and encourage him while he saved his own life. Somehow you understood that necessity. You built something with that support and encouragement, too. You built a foundation for your marriage that had never existed because of addiction. Upon that foundation were your vows, and because of you, those vows were soon embedded in that foundation, and they were immovable, even in the harshest of storms. In sickness and in health? Yeah, you lived your vows on that one. For richer or poorer? That vow never had anything to do with money, you know? And you nailed it. For better or worse? You saw the personification of “worse.” Death is the only thing that surpasses it. And if this is being read aloud, it did.
But you’re here, front and center at Denton’s funeral party, placing a bookend on the most stable and beautiful wedding vows about which Denton could have ever dreamed. You showed your children what it looked like to love their father unconditionally. And that, Mrs. Lee, is a gift you could never buy for them.
Finally, since Denton is not here to be laughed at for being corny and cheesy, and because he no longer has to care if he embarrasses you, he needed to say that you, Megan Lee, made his heart sing. You made it dance and spin and send naughty thoughts to his brain, too, but mostly you made his heart sing. And it was a song he had never sung, and it was a song that he suddenly never wanted to stop singing because he always knew that even if the world around him collapsed, the song in his heart never would.
He loved you, Megan Lee. He loved you more than he was ever really able to show you because he simply never knew how. But in all things, Denton always refused to say he put forth his best effort if he actually hadn’t. With you, he gave it all he was capable of and more. Even when his best was not great, it always came from a place of great desire and unfaltering love.
Lastly, Megan, you also gave Denton one other gift, and it’s not one that is very obvious. At a time when your husband was battling addiction and apathy and a roller coaster of doom and self-loathing and severe feelings of failure, and as that fight turned to sobriety and hope and gratitude and love, you showed him it was okay to dream again. He talked about so many things he wanted to do once addiction was behind him and sobriety looked so promising, and for each and every one, you simply stated, “I’ll support you in whatever you want to do.” It was such a simple, colorless response, but for him it held the possibility of childlike wonder. You gave him permission to dream again, and it was such a foundational component to his recovery that it became the most important building block to his entire future.
And until the end, he dreamed and he loved and he did goofy things to make his kids laugh and he talked to strangers and he flirted with his wife and he slowly learned to love life again.
But now he’s dead. The end.