Eulogy for Don Seeley

06
Mar

Friday Don had a heart attack. Saturday he seemed to be doing okay, but Sunday they moved him to intensive care. I came home in the late afternoon after being out all day, and I had a message from his daughter asking me to come up to the hospital. When I arrived at Don’s bedside, I immediately began praying, and before I was finished, Don’s heart had stopped beating. It was deeply moving to be with Don and his daughter as he took his last breath on earth.

Here is the eulogy I gave this morning.

Donald Milton Seeley (June 16, 1921 – March 2, 2008)

Donald Milton Seeley was born June 16, 1921 in North Bergen, New Jersey, the youngest of four sons born to Howard and Lillian Seeley. Don was preceded in birth by his brothers Howard, John and Bob. It was a very happy family, and throughout his life Don would remain close to his three brothers despite the fact that their careers would move them away to Michigan, Saint Louis, and upstate New York. Don’s father was a successful and respected businessman, and throughout his life Don looked up to him with great admiration. When Karan would refer to Don as the best father ever, Don would demur, saying that, No, he was the one who had had the best father ever.

After graduating from Union Hill High School in Union City, Don did a variety of things, including attend secretarial school before enlisting in the army in 1942 to serve his country in World War II, primarily in Italy. Throughout his life, Don was convinced that it was his father’s prayers that had kept him safe during the bloody war in which he witnessed so many lose their lives.

After serving for over three years, Don was discharged in 1945, returning home with gifts of Italian jewelry for all his nieces. Having always enjoyed numbers, Don enrolled in Rutgers to study accounting, It was there at a Rutgers Football game in the company of his brother Bob that Don’s father suddenly collapsed, dying from a stroke. Just a couple of years later Don’s mother would also die.

Following graduation from Rutgers, Don was employed by a railroad company. While working in York, Pennsylvania, Don met Helen on one of his regular trips back to New Jersey, and he fell head over heels in love. He would write at least two letters a week to the girl who stole his heart; letters full of charm, humor and much passionate romance; letters that survive with Karan to this day.

At Christmas of 1950 Don proposed to Helen, hiding the ring he was giving his future bride in a Quaker Oats Box. Five months later, on May 20, 1951 Don and Helen were married in the Episcopal Church of Holy Communion in Paterson.

Helen had endured a rather harsh childhood; her father was an alcoholic who gave little attention to his family, and her mother was severely handicapped in her capacity to express love. For a time as a young child Helen was shipped off without explanation to live with relatives in Scotland.

But everything changed for Helen when she met Don. He showered her with love and affection, and she gladly gave it in return. Don was the kind of husband who would kiss his wife before going to take out the garbage.

Don and Helen lived for a time in Washington, DC before moving to Wilmington, Delaware, where, to their great delight, Karan was born. There are wonderful pictures from Karan’s infancy that clearly show the depth with which both Don and Helen treasured their beloved daughter.

Shortly thereafter the family moved back to live in Haledon, Helen’s home town, before settling in Riverdale when Karan was four. Don worked for Westinghouse in Bloomfield.

When Karan was four, Helen gave birth to a baby boy, Don Jr., but the child was sick from the start and never was able to leave the hospital, dying from various infections after only two months of life. Despite enduring this great sadness, the family of three had a very happy life together, appreciating one another all the more deeply.

Karan remembers her Dad’s patience, and the way he was always there for her. Even when he didn’t know what to say — when there wasn’t much to say — he was always willing to listen to his daughter. She called him by her pet name, “Milty”, short for his middle name. They’d go fishing together.

The whole family would go on trips to the shore, to Cape Cod, and to visit the Uncles. Karan found surrogate siblings; especially her girlfriend Chris whom she met in ninth grade. Don and Helen would welcome Chris to come along on family trips.

After raising Karan and putting in several decades of work, Don and Helen retired at the same time, and then began to enjoy themselves together, traveling to such places as Australia and Alaska, taking cruises together to the Caribbean. Don would go each summer to visit his brother Bob for a couple of weeks at his house on a lake in Michigan, where together they would happily pass the time fishing.

In the early 1990s Don and Helen gave up the house in Riverdale, and moved to the apartment in Parsippany in order to be closer to Karan. They became active with local seniors groups as well as with the Elks.

Three years ago, in the midst of a pleasant evening out with her husband and her daughter, Helen suddenly collapsed, succumbing to a brain hemorrhage that quickly took her life. Don and Karan were stunned and heartbroken.

Don would never take his wedding ring off. Losing the love of his life, Don was devastated, but he was a survivor — a man of strong will and determination, and he soldiered on as best he could. He passed the time by reading and watching old movies, and he continued to make his summer trips to Michigan to fish with his brother Bob. He became a reluctant lover of cats, making sure Helen’s beloved cat Daisy got her daily treats. Sunday afternoons were spent at Karan’s house, where she would cook Milty dinner and do his laundry.

Don began attending my church, the Parsippany United Methodist Church, and when he felt he was ready, he took the vows of membership on September 24, 2006. It took a lot of courage to come to church alone at the advanced age of 83, quietly carrying his sorrow for his wife. In the couple of years we were privileged to know Don, he overcame a growing set of physical ailments that made it harder and harder for him to get to church, but nearly every Sunday he was there.

His last Sunday in church was just three weeks ago. By now Don required a walker to get around, and he had recently become partially blind, but there he was, determined to worship God. The children of our Church presented Don with a special prayer shawl made specifically for him. As they draped the shawl over his shoulders, Don became teary eyed, and all he could get out was a simple, heartfelt, “Thanks.” We all knew we had witnessed a God moment: that we had been blessed: by the God of great love, but also by the tender-hearted and courageous man who we were very fortunate to know in the final trek of his life on earth. We will miss Don.

We know Uncle Bob, the lone surviving brother, will miss his old fishing buddy as well. Don’s nephew Daniel and his wife Linda will miss their Uncle as well, as will the great nephews Evan and Ryan, not to mention various friends of Karan’s who couldn’t help but adopted Don as their own family member.

And most of all, Karan will miss her buddy Milty. You were a wonderful daughter. Your father knew you loved him.

The apostle Paul declares that “Love never ends.” Everything else passes away, but love is eternal. The love you have shared has not died. Your father loves you still.

It is so very beautiful where Don is now, more wonderful than we can imagine. Don doesn’t need a walker in heaven, and he has no problem seeing whatsoever. He is reunited with Helen, and their romance continues. Don Jr. is there as well, whole and healthy and in the fullness of his personality which he never really got to express here on earth. Don’s parents are there, and his brothers Howard and John. And all those buddies Don fought in World War II with who didn’t make it home; they’re there, too.

You will see him again one day, but in the meantime, the challenge is to embrace the gift of this life now: to find the same courage and tender-heartedness inside ourselves as Don expressed in his own wonderful way.

The challenge includes appreciating old friends, and making new friends as well; reaching out to others, and letting others reach out to you as well.

“I will not leave you orphaned,” said Jesus to his disciples the night before he died. Don is with Jesus, and the two of them are not leaving you orphaned. There love will be with you, always.

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