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Writing Samples - Eulogy for my Dad

In memory of Walter M. Steirman, 1922~2008

Upon hearing of her Opa’s impending death, my 8½ year old niece, Emily, exclaimed. “It’s not fair. Opa won’t be able to come to my ninth birthday party. I want Opa at my party. It’s not fair. I don’t want Opa to die.”

I agree. It’s not fair. I want Dad around so on Friday nights I can continue to receive his weekly call; “Shabbat Shalom to you Howard, from Mom & Dad, wishing you Good Shabbos and a good weekend, love you, we’ll be in touch, Bye Bye.”

I want Dad around to give us scratcher lottery tickets for no reason. Or to ask me how work is. I want to hear his excitement in my interests and pursuits. I don’t want to say goodbye, but I, we all, have to. And thanks to our memories, as well as his legacy, which are his sons and his grandchildren, Dad’s presence will be felt for years, indeed decades to come.

My Dad was the youngest of three children. I believe he was referred to as the ‘lausbub’, the mischievous one…although his sister somehow protected him and kept him out of too much trouble. Unfortunately, Germany of the 1920s and 30s wasn’t a playfully mischievousness place for Jews, rather a terrible place to live. Dad told me, “the way my father was treated, it was inhuman.” Fortunately, the day after his bar mitzvah, Dad got on a boat to venture to the States where his older brother and sister were already living.

Dad was taken in by a Chicago Jewish family; learned English; graduated from high school and eventually enrolled in the Army where he was proud to his dying days that he served the United States as a non-commissioned officer earning a Purple Heart. He was actually happy to have been sent back to Germany as a soldier due to his language skills, where on leave, he could try to locate his Aunt Nellie, who was in Terezinstadt and Auschwitz. He returned to Chicago, living there most of his life, prior to ‘retiring’ here to San Mateo. Of course retirement for Dad meant countless hours volunteering; exploring the splendors of northern California with his wife; as well as sharing in the lives of family and friends.

For whatever reason, it took my mother lots and lots of prodding, even years sometime before Dad would agree to try something new. But typically, once he did, he loved it. It wasn’t until later in life that our folks visited Eretz Yisrael, but after that first trip all he could talk about was the next time they could go. Similarly, once he went on a cruise, he loved it, and wanted to go again and again.

Dad said that his “mother-in-law was the greatest lady on earth beside her daughter. She was second to none. She embraced life.” And like her, HE embraced life. Just over one month ago, on my brother’s birthday, Dad found out that he had weeks, at most two months to live. He was weak, constantly tired, and at that point had lost 13 of his already slight 125 pounds. But nonetheless Dad affirmed that, “life must go on.” David didn’t feel in a celebratory mood. None of us did…none of us except dad, who knew his days were really numbered and wanted to make the most of each and every one. I learned about tenacity and perseverance by watching my dad fight through his numerous medical battles: from a herniated disc decades ago, to his stroke and then life ending lung cancer.

While acknowledging the hardships in his life, my Dad maintained a contagious glass half full attitude. And it was more than his simply wearing rose colored glasses. On the contrary, through his earnest caring of how YOU were doing, and whether there was anything that he could do for YOU, people, even strangers in the grocery store line, or the hospice workers who met him on his death bed, each would come away from their interaction with him feeling that they were the ones wearing rose colored glasses.

Dad appreciated what he did have. He spoke about his “great wife” of 54 years. He adored his sister. And showed the love of his brother through a story I just learned yesterday. When his brother Gordon was serving overseas in the Army during WWII my Dad would invite Gordon’s wife out to dances, dinner and the famous Blackstone theatre; allowing her to feel comforted, cared for and not quite as lonely. My Dad couldn’t say enough nice things about his brother-in-law Harry and Sister-in-law Audrey. He become like a second father to Renee when she lost her own father, and Dad stated that the perfect example of a good family are the David-Arnolds. Dad made me cry when he stated how he “appreciated his two sons; and said that life goes on through his sons, through his amazing daughter-in-law and through his grandchildren.”

In Pirke Avot, the Sayings of our Ancestors, [Chapter VI:5] it’s written:

“Do not seek greatness for yourself nor covet fame. Let your deeds exceed your learning.

Desire not the table of royalty, for your table is greater than theirs, and your crown is greater than theirs

Reality can be trusted to pay the reward for your work~ for all our deeds have consequence.

Dad didn’t do anything for the recognition, and his good deeds touched many. He never craved power and since he worked hard, was honest and looked out for others more than himself, I trust that his work will be rewarded. Indeed, it already has.

There’s so much more I could say, so many more reasons that I agree with Emily that it’s not fair that Dad will no longer be around. Ask us about his coffee drinking; where it was quantity, not quality that mattered! About the Super-elf t-shirts he provided for our annual neighborhood picnic. Ask me about the time he taught me to ride a bike down Crain Street or how he fulfilled my biggest teenage wish: taking me to the DMV to get my driver’s license on my 16th birthday.

When Rabbi Eisner asked my mom to tell him something about Dad, she replied; “he was a very nice guy, a great father and loved his grandchildren.” What better, and more succinct eulogy could one ask for?

Somewhere I read that a eulogy is meant to depict the life of the deceased as a guide to life for the living. I think my Dad would tell us to enjoy life while we’re living. Actually he told me to not only enjoy life, but to love life.

Dad, you’re missed. You will be missed.

Oh Source of All, thank you for blessing me with memories. Dad, you are here with us now. Never again. Always.

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At home, taken in front of Sushi - esque by artist Randy
Titchenal
Howard M. Steiermann, ordained ritual
	facilitator and wedding officiant, 415-695-9155