is the message I gave at my dad's funeral service quite a few years
ago. I post it here on the possibility that others who are facing
the loss of a loved one might find some of it useful.]
ONE LAST LICK
When my wife and I named our last son, it was
really hard to decide on a name. We kind of thought he would be
our last boy, and there were so many boy's names we liked. We
finally narrowed our list down to three names, but then we were
stuck. So finally we decided to give him all three names.
Michael Thomas Josiah Marmorstein.
My dad's parents don't seem to have had this
problem. With eight children and more to come, they didn't have
names to waste, so they only gave him one name: Robert.
It always seemed kind of unfair that Dad didn't have
a middle name, so sometimes his kids and grandkids would suggest
another name for him. And today, in his honor, I'd like to
suggest some possible middle names for Dad, some names that are
The first name that comes to mind is "Mr.
Music." Robert "Mr. Music" Marmorstein. You see, Dad loved
music, and he loved to sing. Life with Dad was like living in a
musical. He could burst into song anytime, anywhere. He
often sang lovely, lyrical things like "C'est L'Amore" and "Oh, Marie,"
but Dad really came into his own when leading songs around the
campfire. It was amazing to watch him as he turned even the most
timid group of kids into a laughing, smiling choir, with everyone
singing at the top of their lungs. Dad didn't play a
musical instrument himself, but, in some ways, he was the best musician
of us all. Better than Marc who writes such wonderful
songs? Better than Paul with his gold records? Yep.
Because, you see, it's not so hard to get other people to enjoy a good
song. But anyone who can turn "Three Wooden Pigeons" into a
much-requested hit--well, there's a musician for you. Robert "Mr.
Music" Marmorstein. It has a nice ring, but it's easy enough to
find something even better.
How about "Legs." Robert Legs
Marmorstein. What a great name for Dad. Why? Because
Dad loved dancing, and because he danced so well. His version of
Cotton-Eyed Joe was as good as anything Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly
could come up with. But what really stood out about Dad's dancing
was what he could do for his partner. Like Astaire and Kelly, Dad
could make any partner look good. My wife says that, when you
danced with him, you felt like the most graceful woman in the
room. All the women wanted to dance with Dad. But it could
be a bit, well, embarrassing. Dad would go up to a woman, say "Do
you want to dance?". They'd say, "Sure"--and Dad would look
around and say, "Well, we'll see if we can find someone around here who
will dance with you." Didn't work with my mom, though. They
first met, I think, at a dancing class. Dad came up with his
usual line, "Do you want to dance?" Mom returned the question,
"Are you asking?" He hesitated. "Yeah, I'm asking."
"Then I'm dancing," she said.
I'm pretty sure Mom didn't know at the time how true
those words were, exactly how much she would be dancing after
that. But dance they did--everywhere. And everywhere
they went they brought smiles to peoples faces. They stopped by a
student dance at Northern a few years ago. They danced for a bit,
having their usual good time. As they were leaving a student
rushed up to them with a gift certificate. They'd won a prize in
a contest they hadn't even entered. Robert Legs
Marmorstein. A very good name. But maybe there's something
How about Aquaman? Robert Aquaman
Marmorstein? Dad loved the water, another one of the many things
he and my mom had in common--though she didn't know that at
first. Mom grew up on Puget Sound, and loved swimming no matter
how cold the water. When she and Dad were first dating, they went
out swimming one day. Mom, of course, jumped right into the
water. Dad pretended to be afraid of the cold water. He
hesitated, and hesitated. He put one toe in the water, and
stepped out shivering. Finally, Mom coaxed him into the water,
and I'm sure she was thinking "What a wimp." Somehow they decided
they'd have a race. Now Mom is a good swimmer, and apparently she
had a lead for a while. But then zoom. Presto/chango:
Aquaman! See Dad was a great competitive swimmer. When I
was in high school, he could still swim faster than half the swimmers
on the high school team. But what was neat about Dad is how much
fun he had in the water. On the diving board especially, Dad was
really something to see. He had this clown-diving routine in
which he called himself "Slowpoke," a routine which brought smiles to
people's faces for years. One of us would be recruited as
straight man. "Hey, Slowpoke, is diving dangerous?" "No,"
he'd say. "Landing is dangerous." He was still clowning around on
the board at 70--still doing that wonderfully funny full gainer.
And you could always depend on the question, "Hey, how high do you
think I can jump?" right before his patented (or at least, seldom
imitated) one-foot-off-the-board pratfall. Robert Aquaman
Marmorstein. A great name, but still not quite good enough.
How about Mentor? Robert Mentor
Marmorstein. Dad loved teaching, and he was incredibly good at
teaching all sorts of different things. He taught elementary
school, junior high school, and classes for adults. He taught
citizenship classes, dancing, swimming, reading, writing, social
studies--and on occasion, even mathematics. Whatever it was, his
enthusiasm filled his students with a love for the subject. I
don't think there ever has been or ever will be a better swimming
teacher: not just because his swimmers picked up the basic skills so
quickly, but because they got, as an added bonus, his love of the
water. And as a dancing instructor--well, it was unbelievable how
quickly he could take a group of people who had never danced before and
get them dancing everything from The Bear Went Over the Mountain and
Seven Jumps to The Virginia Reel and Texas Star. And they had
such a good time learning. Dad called squares at elementary
schools, at universities, at recreation centers, and at churches (even
Baptist churches), and people always wanted him back. Robert
Mentor Marmorstein. Not bad. But I've got a still better
How about just plain Dad, or for you grandkids the
name he gave himself, "Grandpops?" Robert Dad Marmorstein or
Robert Grandpops Marmorstein. There are lots of public service
announcements about dads these days. "It takes a man to be a
dad." Well, Dad didn't need the public service
announcements. I don't think anyone ever tried harder to be the
best dad he could possibly be. Dad was always involved in his
children's lives. He was a part of our youth organizations, an
Indian Guide leader, a Cub Scout leader, and a Boy Scout leader.
And dad was always there for all our school activities. He went
to just about every play, concert, speech, or sporting event we were
involved in. I've coached athletes whose parents seldom or never
came to a game. That wasn't a problem with Dad. In fact,
Dad kept coming to our high school wrestling team's matches long after
all of us had finished wrestling!
And Dad was always there to help us with our
schoolwork. Of course, getting Dad's help carried some
risk. Marta once went to Dad for help writing a book report on
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and, before she knew it, she
found she was writing on The Ugly American--a book she hadn't even read.
But Dad was always looking out for us. I don't
know how many times he literally gave one of us the shirt off his
back. And then there was the time Donna and I were stuck on
Latrobe road. We had all the kids in the car. It was
raining. There was no phone anywhere close. And
all-of-a-sudden: there was Dad. He just had a feeling we needed
I'm sure Marc and Jody and Paul and Marta could each
tell dozens of stories on how Dad came through for us just when we
needed him. Robert Dad Marmorstein. The best yet, but still
There was so much more to Dad than what I've
mentioned so far. There's his love of books and of learning in
general. There's his love of travel. And then there's his
general love of people. One of my daughter's English teacher's
was introducing the word "extrovert" as one of that week's vocabulary
words. She turned to Miranda and said, "Now your Dad: he's a
great example of an extrovert." It made me laugh, because if I'm
an extrovert, what was Dad? The kind of man who walks up to a
complete stranger and talks to him as if he were a friend--and far more
often than not turned him into a friend. Dad had friends
everywhere--partly because everywhere he looked he saw someone he
wanted as a friend.
Dad had a rich, full life. He had a wonderful
wife that he loved, probably the greatest thing any man could
have. He had six kids and sixteen grandkids, and he was loved
dearly by every one of them. He had Seventy-eight years filled
with wonderful experiences, and wonderful memories. Could a man
possibly want anything more?
The answer to that is absolutely yes. Dad used
to sing a song. I don't know the title of it, but some of the
words were, "When you come to the end of a lollipop, you always long
for one last lick." When I was a kid, that seemed to me the
saddest song in the world. And it seems to me even sadder
today. Because we've come to the end of the lollipop--and what I
wouldn't give for one last lick. I want so much one more round of
The Bear Went Over the Mountain. One more look at Cotton-Eyed
Joe. One more family trip to Burton. One more "hug for
grandpops." Hey, I'd even settle for a rousing chorus of Three
No. Seventy-eight years is not enough. A
hundred and seventy eight years would not be enough. A thousand
and seventy eight years would not be enough. No. Even after
a long, full, life death is horrible, and I would do anything to undo
it if I
And I'll bet everyone in this room feels the same
way. And you know what? There is someone in this room who,
unlike the rest of us, can do something about death, and
already has done something about it.
Now when a loved one dies, people often get angry
with God. It's certainly a natural reaction--but, in a way, it's
really ironic. Because, you see, God hates death more than we
do--far more than we do.
It's interesting to see Jesus' reaction to
death. John 11. Jesus friend Lazarus has died. Jesus
comes to Bethany where Lazarus is buried. And then the Bible
tells us "Jesus wept." Now this is, in a way, very strange.
Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. So why was he
weeping? It seems to me that Jesus isn't weeping about Lazarus'
death, but about death itself, the death that awaits every one of us
who walk this earth. Now remember that Jesus was a man of immense
self-control, a man who could endure the most excruciating physical
pain in silence, a man whose patient endurance of scourging and
crucifixion convinced even his tormentors that he had to be the Son of
But here Jesus weeps. And its clear that, if
Jesus weeps, God the Father too weeps at the thought of death.
Because, as the scripture tells us, God is love.
Now as the Greek philosophers attempted to define
love, they concluded, quite rightly, that love is, in part at least,
the force of attraction, the force that binds husbands and wives
together, the force that binds parents and children together and that
binds friends together. Love, even on the human level, hates
separation. It's hard for me to be away from my wife and kids
even overnight. Leaving our friends and relatives in California
to move to South Dakota was one of the hardest things we ever did.
Sending my son of to college: well, I got so choked up I couldn't even
talk. And death? Well, death is the greatest of all
separations: and that is why God hates it so
God is love, and death is the
very antithesis of what God is, the separation that is the very
opposite of love. And God hates death so much that He did the
hardest thing he could do in order to defeat death--in fact he did what
I think is the only thing God would find hard to do.
God the Father sent his Son to die.
I think it is impossible for any of us to know how
horrible a thing this death was for both God the Father and for Jesus
himself. We may be tempted to think: well, the death only lasts
for three days, and then Jesus is alive again, so it's no big deal.
But it was a big deal, greater than we can
imagine. We see this from Jesus side of things in the
Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was in agony, sweating great drops of
blood: not for fear of physical pain, but because of the pain of
separation from the Father.
But at the price of pain greater than any of us will
ever feel or imagine, Jesus through His death broke the power of
Death. As many a preacher has said, death just ain't what it used
to be. It is no longer the inevitable end of the story of every
man--and it isn't
the end of Dad's story.
Dad used to sing a song that laughed in the face of
death. "You can dig my grave with a silver spade." It
talked about all the wonderful things there were in store in heaven: a
starry crown, a golden harp, a long white robe. He wasn't always
as confident as that song made him sound, and I think most of us don't
have quite the assurance we should about the good things that await
Now my academic specialty is eschatology, the study
of ideas about life-after-death, heaven, hell, and judgement. I
suppose after all those years of study, I should be able to tell you
exactly what awaits Dad now. I can't--and the Bible indicates
that no-one can explain fully what waits in heaven. The Apostle
Paul had visions of heaven--and said there was no way to put what he
had seen into words. The scripture says "Eye hath not seen, nor
ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man the good things
that God hath prepared for them that love Him." Until we're
actually there, we can only guess at the good things in store for us in
heaven. It's my guess that one of the greatest joys will be the
reunions we have with lost loved ones. Dad may even now be
celebrating with my saintly little brother Eric whose short life
touched so many people in such important ways. He may be getting
that starry crown and golden harp he sang about. And there's even
an outside chance he may be teaching an angelic choir to sing "Three
Wooden Pigeons." But whatever's happening, it's good, because we
have a good God, a merciful God, and a loving God.
And that brings me to my final middle name for
Dad. Love. Robert Love Marmorstein. Love because of
all the things he loved: music, books, dancing, swimming, and life
itself. Love because of all the people he loved and who loved
him. And love because he now finds himself enveloped in a greater
love than anyone can possibly imagine. Because we have a God who
is love, whose love triumphs over even death, and in whose love we can
find comfort and hope even in our deepest sorrow.