Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Eulogy I Wish I’d Given

Grandma Donna & Grandpa Dick
After he passed, I realized that I was not sure what my Grandfather’s spiritual notions were. He was raised Roman Catholic and we all attended Sunday mass with my Great-Grandmother when she came to visit for the summer. But I spent enough Sundays with him to know he didn’t attend any church regularly. So, when my Grandpa died, we requested the minister attached to the funeral home to reside over a simple service.
It was humorous. The poor retired minister was so excited to be behind a podium again that he threw every bible story he could into discussing death, including Jonah and the Whale. Yet he couldn’t keep my Grandpa’s name straight. The minister meant well, but he lost me when he started talking about how death was like the small white dead skin cells that fall out of your socks at night. I’m sure everyone behind me thought my silent laughter resembled tears. I hope my Grandpa would have been amused at the absurdity, too.
I was so overwhelmed with the loss, I didn’t even think about talking. It never crossed my mind that I might look back later and wish the moment had been more personal, more about my Grandpa. He was the reason we were all there. One of my cousins spoke for him but I wish it had been more than just another funeral. We were just trying to get through it though; a strange service held behind stranger walls.

A teen Dick in front of his parents store.
Richard James Riddle
December 23, 1931 – March 25, 2004
My Grandpa was everything to me. He was every Saturday lunch, every holiday meal. He used to come over at noon on the dot. He would tease me with, “What’s for lunch this week?” and then feign surprise when I answered with the same statement every week; bologna, cheese, mustard and potato chip (salt and vinegar was the best flavor to add to the combination).
He and my mom would sit in the kitchen together, the only time the smell of coffee permeated our house. He had his own stash in our cupboard, waiting for his weekly visit. I loved listening to them discuss the world, the way it worked. I loved the way they talked their way into hope. My Grandpa tried the best he could to see the bright end of things.
Me & Grandpa.
When I was a little girl, I remember lots of summer afternoons at their house, playing in the cool basement and watching Grandma and Grandpa work their garden in the back yard, Grandma in her terrycloth one-piece and Grandpa in his shorts and sunglasses. In my memory they are summer, fresh vegetables and warm afternoons filled with the fragrant smell of roses. They were the spirit of growing things.
We would often have family dinners together and I believed my Grandpa to be an accomplished baker. Grandma cooked dinner and Grandpa cooked dessert. After each meal he would pull out his latest creation and go on about how he had even put it in a special box that he found, to make it nice for us. I was a bit innocent as a child and didn’t notice what a handy coincidence it was that he happened to have a Sara Lee Coffee Cake box the same day he made us one.
I’m not sure the grown-ups had any idea I was buying it. But my Grandpa could do anything. One night, He pulled out a cantaloupe and started telling us that he had grown it all up in one day, just for us. It was the first memory I have of recognizing the impish twinkle in his eye when he was teasing or pulling my leg.
Only then did my rational mind inform him that you couldn’t grow a cantaloupe in one day. In the moment that the grown-ups realized I had just accepted his stories all along, there was some well-earned laughter at my expense. One of my favorite desserts is still a quarter of cantaloupe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream using it as a bowl. After dinner we’d play the card game Scat together. He would lend my siblings and me pennies from his jar and at the end of the night, we’d pay him back what we started with if we won and the rest was ours.
Early generational- I'm the baby.
My Great-Grandmother Elsie spent her summers with my family and we would take generational photos while she was with us; her, my Grandpa, my mom and us. He adored his mom, as did everyone who ever knew her. We spent days at the Riddle cottage in Olcott on Lake Ontario. I remember the laughter, so much laughter, love and togetherness. It’s what I thought the world would be like when I was a grown-up. I know it’s possible, to be surrounded by that joy and love. It’s the greatest gift my family gave me, that he gave me. I won’t settle for less than that. I look for the spirit of my Grandfather in the hearts of the people I meet. I like to think that he would approve of my friends, just as easily as he took to my mother’s friends.
Grandpa Dick also had a beautiful Cadillac. I loved riding in it with him. Sometimes when he was watching us, he’d take us to his favorite diner for breakfast. All of the waitresses knew him and chatted him up. He’d happily introduce us and we’d hear how often he’d talk about us. I knew my entire life that my Grandpa loved me, even when he wasn’t with me. It’s such a thing we take for granted sometimes, but now that he’s gone, it means everything.
When his cancer came back, I went home to spend some time with him. I asked him questions about his parents, pushing through the awkward moment of both of us knowing I was asking him because he was dying. Because he might not recover and then there would be no answers. I picked up his prescriptions and took him some groceries one night, after copying old family photos. That was the night I learned that we shared a favorite flavor of ice cream… Black Raspberry.
He was every Christmas morning, all of my life. The very last Christmas we had together, I was 27. My nieces were opening presents and the youngest said “Thank you, Great-Grandpa!” To which the middle child said, “Don’t call him that. It’s rude!” My Grandpa smiled and said, “Why? That’s what I am.” And that’s who he was.
Dick & Donna's wedding.
Richard James Riddle was born in 1931. He had a brother and a sister. His parents owned a small store. He was a young boy when World War II began. He spent some time in the military. He was married twice, had one daughter, and three step-children. His second wife, my Grandma Donna, was the love of his life. He outlived her by three years.
He was the father of my mother and father to my aunt and uncles. He was a father to my own and to all of their friends. I heard stories all my life of him dropping in on my mother’s friends and helping them out. He was a good friend to one of my favorite high school teachers, who lived a stone’s throw away from him after he moved.
I see the ripple of his time on this earth stretching out in the wake of his loss, still. And when I sit quietly in the woods, I can hear the sound of his voice in the wind that blows through the trees. What is remembered, lives. What is remembered never truly dies.


  1. Thank you. He was an amazing man, and we miss him still.


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