Sunday, December 10, 2006

Brother Dan’s Eulogy
December 9th, 2006


Hello everyone, I‘m Rob Howard, one of Dan’s brothers. It was just 5 ½ years ago that I stood before many of you giving Dan’s best man speech. It's a very different and difficult experience to now give his Eulogy.

A Tribute to Dan Through Stories

How do you possibly sum-up a person like Dan? How do you boil down a life so full? You can’t. And I won’t even try. Dan was a modest person in many ways so he wouldn’t like to hear accolades about himself. Dan was a story teller. So I am going to start off by sharing a few stories that say a lot about Dan.

A Story of Dan’s Courage
Early on in Dan’s treatment, he had major surgery to remove some lymph nodes in an effort to stop the spread of the disease. He ended up with over 50 stitches and a Zoro type incision in his back and another on his neck. Shortly after the surgery a doctor came to ask him about his level of pain. He said, Dan what is your level of pain on a 1 to 10 scale with 1 being very little pain and 10 being intense pain? Dan said it was about a 3. Brother Dave who was there, knows Dan well and asked Dan, what is the worst pain you have ever felt in your life on the same scale? Dan replied, about a 3.

Dave loves retelling this story because it shows Dan’s courage. Dan was courageous in his fight with cancer. He asked the Why me question early on then never asked that question again when he realized the futility of it. He never used his sickness as a crutch and courageously continued his normal life, enjoying as much of it as he could for as long as he could.

A Story on Dan’s Sense of Humor
A friend of Dave and Stacy’s wrote the following note about Dan’s sense of humor. As many of you know, Dan had a sharp and sometimes biting sense of humor. Here is the e-mail:
The friendship I had with Dan was based on the mutual exchange of insults. Between Dan’s lighting quick wit and the target that I presented, I rarely came out on top. I remember one email exchange where the group was discussing whether Dan would ever wear “the pants” in his relationship with Pam. I took the opportunity to zing him on his recently acquired weight, asking if “the pants” would fit him if he ever got a chance to wear them. In two short paragraphs Dan’s reply completely eviscerated my attempted quip along with all aspects of my career, my social life and my sex life to date. As devastating as his reply was, I think of it fondly when I think of Dan. To know Dan was to understand why.
I’ll always be thankful he was a part of my life.
Love always,
Tom Johnson
A Story of Dan’s Strength
Every year, Dan and his brothers went on an annual trip somewhere in the US to catch up and have fun. In 1999, we went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We all stayed in one hotel room there together and one day after a few drinks, Dave, Jim and I thought it would be a good idea to stick Dan’s foot into the toilet. I’m not sure why but it seemed like a good idea. Well Dan didn’t take well to this idea and when the three of grabbed hold of him, he turned the tables on us and like a Rhino, he reared up and tossed us all off his back. All three of us landed on the toilet which broke in half. Dan stood there in triumph, laughing as water started spraying all over his brothers.

Later in life Dan would apply this terrific size and strength to his battle with cancer. He survived longer than most, withstood stronger treatments and more of them, than most and he continued a normal life longer than most. [On Tuesday morning, I saw that same strength as he battled right to the end, fighting for every breath.]

What We Lost

We can’t capture all aspects of Dan through stories. With Dan’s death, we’ve lost so much.

We lost a colleague. The one with the intelligence, integrity and down to Earth persona that made him popular with clients and co-workers. He also was the one with the really bad hand writing.

We lost an Uncle. The one who was so involved and so in love with his 6 nieces and his nephew. The one who worked hard to convert them all into being dedicated Flyers fans.

We lost a son. The one who was always ready to help out in the move or drive down to the Shore for a drink with Dad and Joan. The one who gladly made the rounds to the in laws for the Christmas traditions.

We lost a brother. The tallest one and the youngest one. The one that was once know as Danny Baby Cry Baby All Day and Night Baby.

We lost a father. The one that gave everything in his fight to stay around long enough to watch his daughter grow up. The one who called her Mar Mar. The one who gave her his amazing blue eyes.

We lost a husband. The husband whose laugh was the first one Pam heard when she told a joke in a crowd. The one that understood Pam like no other. Who was similar enough to make the marriage comfortable yet different enough to make it interesting, surprising and fun.

We lost him bit by bit in a way that was unbearable. He suffered incredible pain and indignity along the way. Yet he never once complained. He was incredibly kind and gentle and re-assuring. He gave everything he had to the fight and he did it for Pam and for Mara.

Handling the Loss

I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about how Dan would want us to handle his death.

Many of us in this room and probably most of us, have some regrets about what happened to Dan and our roles in how that played out. In the past several days, many of you have mentioned regrets to me. The Magnum PI videotape that was ready but not yet sent, the care package idea that never came together, the plane ride that arrived just after his passing instead of just before, the phone call never made or just simply the lack of contact in his final months. Could you each take a minute and think about your regrets? Just think about them for a minute. While you do that, I’ll mention one or two of my own to prime your pump.

I wish I had never moved to California 7 years ago so that I could have been by his side as much as our Dad, sister Anne, brother Jamie and brother Dave were. I wish I was a little quicker, and was standing a little closer so that I could have caught him the day he took a tumble coming through his front door after his hospital stay last month.

Regrets are a terrible thing. They get in the way. They are the first things you think of when you think of Dan, instead of the good times. They make you feel bad and get in the way of honoring him in the best light. They make you hesitate to get back involved in his life by engaging with Pam and Mara. But worst of all, Dan would be pissed about all these regrets. It was imperative to Dan that he not burden anyone. When he fell in the doorway, the first thing he said was, I’m sorry. He constantly told me not to come out just to see him and that I should not feel guilty for not being there as much as I wanted.

If Dan were here, and he is in many ways, he would tell us to stuff it and he would do what I am doing now. He would absolve all of us from our regrets. He would cleanse our guilt and free us to move forward in a more positive way. So, I am going to cleanse us of all of our regrets. Now, I don’t really know if I am qualified for this or not, do I need a collar or something Jim (looking at the Minister)? I am officially giving us a free pass on guilt and regrets. Good riddance. We’re moving on!

See don’t you feel better? I do have to say that this absolution only applies for regrets related to Dan, for other regrets you might need to hire some sort of professional help.

What Have We Gained?

We lost so much and at first blush, we gained nothing. How could we gain something from a tragedy like this? It’s ridiculous. We gained some sad things like new titles, I have become the youngest brother and Pam has become a single mother.

But we also really have gained a few things of value from this process. First, what was already a close family, became even closer. We rallied in support of Dan and Pam. We’ve seen more of each other and we said ‘I love you’ (Dan included) more in the past 6 months then we had in the previous 10 years. No doubt about it, Dan felt very loved. Pam has mentioned several times, how proud she is of our family; so we gained that.

We learned how to diagnose this terrible disease, Melanoma. If you have a mole that is not symmetrical, a mole that is growing or a mole that is multi-colored, you should get it checked out ASAP. I go to the dermatologist every year now and going forward, I am going to do that every year on Dan’s birthday.

One of us has also gained the ultimate gift from Dan. Through his disease Dan has already saved a life. Last year a close friend of ours found a mole on her back. She thought instantly of Dan and took that mole with a seriousness that she never would have before. She had it immediately checked, it was found to be cancerous. It was safely removed. She told me that she credited Dan with saving her life and that she has thanked him in her mind over and over. This summer she saw Dan. She wanted to say something so badly but she felt awkward and didn’t get the chance during the day. She got into the car to leave, then she turned back and grabbed Dan by the arm. She told Dan that he had saved her life and given her a chance to enjoy her 3 daughters growing up. Dan treasured that.

So Dan has already saved one life, and I’m betting that he’ll save more. The probability is that it will be someone in this room. Learn how to diagnose yourself and your loved ones with Melanoma. It’s a gift that Dan has given us, it’s one of his greatest legacies. So please make sure not to waste that gift.

Redefining Family

Lastly, I want to talk to you about family. Can Dan and Pam’s family just quickly raise your hands?

In Dan’s world family includes many things: loyalty, tradition and storytelling. With the loss of Dan, there is a huge gap in the family that needs to be filled. The gap that Dan has left behind in the family is too large for the folks that raised their hand to fill. We will need help.

When it came to family, Dan’s loyalty is legendary. The only phone calls that always got through were from his siblings. He had your back in a bar or he was always there with advice at the right time. He prepared for the best man speech he gave at my wedding with dedication and passion. His loyalty was unconditional and it was intense. Dan also chose loyal people as his friends. You are putting your side of that loyalty on display today with your presence. With this display of your loyalty to Dan, Pam and Mara, you are acting as part of the family, helping to fill the gap that he left behind.

Family was also about tradition. Dan loved the fact that while growing up the Howards had sugared cereal only on our birthdays. He loved the tradition of buying a Christmas tree ornament on every trip he took with Pam. In fact, that Christmas tree here is decorated with the ornaments that Dan and Pam gathered together on their travels. The music you heard on the way in was Dan’s favorite Christmas music. His love for traditions also extended to his friends. Whether it was a John Cougar Mellencamp cassette tape that has been exchanged with a friend, unopened back and forth for the last 21 years or the gobbler crank call at Thanksgiving, many of you are the owners of the traditions that Dan loved. His friends can help to fill that gap.

Storytelling. Dan loved to tell stories about his family and about his friends. When Dan passed early on Tuesday morning, he was surrounded by storytelling and laughter. At gatherings, Dan was often recounting tales and telling stories. Without Dan’s voice, who is going to tell those stories? You are. You folks are the only hope in filling this gap. You have those stories in your head and in your heart. If the people in this room don’t tell Dan’s stories, no one ever will. You hold the key to filling that gap left by his passing.

Lastly, for Dan, family included friends. He had a lot of friends. From college, from high school, from grade school, the parents of his friends and friends from work. If you were a friend of Dan’s you are a part of the family. Colleagues who crossed the line into friendship were treated like family. Now that he is gone, we can’t lose those friends. To support Pam and Mara, our family will need to be made up of friends more than ever going forward. We need to close ranks, to keep those traditions, show our loyalty and to tell those stories. We need those friends to officially consider themselves as family once and for all. And to accept the responsibility that goes with that.

So, I invite you into our family and I am going to ask that question again. Can Dan and Pam’s family please raise your hands?

[Note: The entire audience raised their hands.]

Pam, we will miss Dan terribly and the gap that he left behind will never fully be filled, but take heart in the knowledge that you are not alone, what once was a large family is even larger. We are all here to help you carry on and to preserve Dan’s legacy at every turn.

Thank you.