I am deviating from my normal topics of food freedom and liberty to honor someone immeasurably important in my life, my grandfather. I was both honored and humbled to present the eulogy at his memorial service. The following is my love, and my gratitude for my grandfather, coupled with the grief of loss. Liz
Eulogy of Dr. Bill Stockton July 30, 1929 – November 9, 2014
Presented at his memorial on November 22, 2014
It is amazing and deeply humbling to see all the people who have shown their love and support for my grandparents. If my grandfather were here to witness this, we would see his face crinkle up with that smile of his, like it does. He would look around at us all gathered here today, and, as his heart overflowed with the joy, we would see the quiet tears he never even tried to hold back. Those tears would express the happiness, the joy, the humility of knowing that he has touched this many lives. We have buried my grandfather but not the memories or the lessons he has taught us. Those memories, those lessons are alive in each of us.
In considering how to properly honor my grandfather, I wondered how I could summarize Dr. Bill Stockton’s amazing life in 10 minutes! I thought about listing the doctor’s professional accomplishments. They are quite extensive. Like his years of dedicated service to others through his psychoanalytic practice. Or the time he was president of the DC Psychiatric society. Or his amazing book, “Now it all Makes Sense,” that gives us access to the complexity of our minds. Or his extensive time teaching at George Washington University Medical School.
Or, I could talk about his passions and hobbies. Like his love of opera in all the tragedy and beauty of it. His enthusiasm for music exemplified by his lifetime of singing. Or his eagerness to travel with his beloved wife, Irma.
Indeed, his love for my grandmother, and the life they shared was the rock foundation upon which he built his life.
In reflecting on these accomplishments and passions, I realized that they all sprang from the roots of compassion, empathy and generosity that epitomized his character and were his gifts to the world.
All these accomplishments and passions were a large part of my grandfather’s life, there is no doubt. But it was his quieter accomplishments, which also sprang from those same roots–that made his soul shine. And, that made him who he was to each of us. The quieter accomplishments of what it meant to be a husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother, friend, sponsor and all his many roles.
It is through these roles that his gifts lit up our souls like the sunbeams that dance through a cold autumn chill bringing the glow to the red and gold leaves.
I was fortunate enough to grow up as my grandfather’s granddaughter. His knowledge, his teachings over the years, but most especially in my formative years, showed me the importance of self-knowledge and perspective through the lens of compassion. I’ve learned in my time, that misfortune and unpleasant circumstances befall everyone sometimes. But, it is because of my grandfather that I learned at a very early age that every challenge becomes an opportunity given the proper perspective. It is because of him that I learned that every apparent setback, every loss, is really a gain.
The first time I really learned this, I was about 10 years old and I was in a horse show with my younger sister. My wonderful grandparents, who were always very supportive, came to watch the horse show. I do not remember all the details of that competition but I remember what stands out. I lost.
After we finished riding, we lined up to get our awards. When all the girls and ponies were standing still and waiting, I watched and listened as the girls began to get their awards. First place, second place, third place, all the way through 8th place the girls names were called. But no one called my name. Aware of my loss to the other competitors, my grandfather came over to me, smiled broadly, and in his excited yet gentle, analytical voice, he carefully explained to me how I had really won.
“You won today,” he said “because you learned that loss is okay. You got something better than any of the girls. You got to experience loss and learn that everything is going to be alright.” In losing, as my grandfather so aptly and excitedly pointed out, I had really won. A hard sell for a young girl who just lost, but I listened to his words spoken in kindness and tried really hard to believe him.
I didn’t fully know it at the time, but my grandfather was no stranger to loss, regret, grief and challenge.
He spoke openly over the years about his struggles with alcoholism and his victory with sobriety. As I grew, I learned more about his journey and witnessed how he shared his challenges to give all of us the capacity to deal with our own, all the while, accepting and loving each of us, even with our own piercing regrets and fatal flaws.
As he lived and listened, we brought him our greatest shames and he transformed them to some of our greatest moments.
We brought him our losses and he transformed them to victories.
We brought him our sorrows and he transformed them to joys. Understanding in his exquisite, gentle way what it meant to suffer inside and how to make our souls shine again like the master conductor guiding the choir that he loved so much, knowing exactly when to highlight each voice.
Over the years, my grandfather’s lessons have guided me. He has taught me not to seek a false sense of accomplishment through apparent success, but to seek the strength and character that comes from dealing with loss or defeat. Because of him, I’ve learned to embrace the challenges that are inherent in life.
From my grandfather, I learned what Helen Keller puts so aptly:
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
He taught me the lifelong lesson that loss is really a gain—an opportunity to gain character and to understand that even through sad circumstances, everything is going to be okay.
Even with all these amazing moments and lessons, for me, my grandfather’s greatest moments were with my children–his great grandchildren. As each baby entered the world, my grandfather’s awe and wonder increased my own. Within hours after each child was born, GG was there, holding the baby and singing them lullabies in his soft Pavarotti voice.
He would sing until baby wanted momma back and then he would place a tiny infant in my arms with such a tender smile and tears in his eyes while telling me what a great momma I was and marveling at the miracle of this new life.
As he gazed at each tiny child, his eyes lit up, the way they do. And his whole face expressed the pure joy and uncontainable affection as he marveled that the atoms and molecules that formed this child were halfway around the world just a few short months ago. And that, through this mysterious, complex, miracle of life, a tiny baby was here for us to love.
On birthdays, he and my grandmother called the birthday child, singing them happy birthday in their precious, sweet voices. As they grew, GG delighted at every stage giving each child the freedom to be wildly expressed, enthusiastically reassuring me, in those moments I wanted to lock myself in a closet and never come out, that tantrums are wonderful and a 4 year-olds obstinacy, delightful because that behavior was perfect for their stage of development.
He doted on those children, spending hours reading, and being read to, answering “why” for the millionth time, being led around the house and bossed by toddlers, watching little bodies climb and big hearts soar, loving each of them through their childhood challenges, imparting the wisdom we all treasure from him.
And, only occasionally complaining softly to my grandmother when 5 children–and sometimes their accompanying friends–became truly overwhelming. But always, reassuring me what a wonderful mother I was and, coming from a professional, how could I not believe it?
My grandfather’s death takes an inspiring man from this world. I feel it exponentially as I consider my children’s future without their GG’s wonderful, slow voice, imparting the wisdom he is known for. I will feel the absence of his voice singing happy birthday to them. But it will be in appreciation too. Appreciation for his gift here on earth and his gifts of wisdom over the years.
Through all my setbacks, disappointments and loss in life, most poignantly this one, I am constantly reminded of the priceless lesson that my grandfather promised me all those years ago: in every loss is the possibility of victory. As we reflect today on the loss we feel at the death of a precious husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, friend, mentor, and all his other roles, let us also reflect on the victory of compassion and generosity that lives on and through each of us.
He has given us one final opportunity: the opportunity for each of us to deal with a loss gracefully, lovingly, and knowing, even in our intense grief, deep in our beings, that everything is going to be okay.
Wherever you are in your personal journey toward clean living and local food, thank you for joining me in mine. I look forward to sharing it with you.