The Eulogy for Scott David Hess
(December 29, 1974 – December 24, 2003)
December 29, 2003
Scott was born 29 years ago today.
From the very start of his life, Scott’s kidneys began to give out on him. One of them quit working pretty much at birth; the doctors said it would be a matter of time before the second would give out as well. Scott’s first hospitalization occurred when he was only seven weeks of age. Kidney infections, spiking fevers of a 105 — would put Scott back in the hospital repeatedly — more times than the family could keep track of.
Nevertheless, there was this indomitable spirit in Scott that the frailty of his body could not thwart. He kept bouncing back. He loved life too much. His one kidney kept on going.
The doctors told his parents that Scott would never be permitted to play contact sports because a blow to his kidney could take his life. Early on, however, Dave and Jean recognized that their son was not one to live in a bubble. He wanted to be where the action was. When they went fishing at the seashore they would strap young Scotty to a seat tied to the bumper of the car so he wouldn’t fall off the peer. Sitting there with an umbrella to keep him from being sunburned, Scotty would supervise the crabbing expeditions of his father.
There was a fun-loving spirit of adventure to Scotty, and that spirit had to be honored. By age 3 he had learned to ride a bike despite the risks involved. At age four, during one of his many hospital stays, Scotty and a roommate discovered that latex gloves made fine water balloons, and that these could be dropped out of their 9th floor window to splat on the construction site below. Little Scotty found this all extraordinarily amusing and laughed his head off. The surgeons in the operating room were not accustomed to meeting kids who were laughing hysterically as they were wheeled into surgery, as was the case with Scott shortly after the last water bomb landed.
It was a close knit family that Scott grew up in. He shared a special bond with his sister Wendy who was four years his elder. Wendy remembers her brother’s fierce loyalty to her, as well as his tenacity. At the age of five, when some neighborhood boy biked off with his sister’s bicycle, Scott, a skinny, little boy — a twig really — stood up for his sister as though he were the big brother, running after the culprit demanding, “Give me back my sister’s bike!” and sure enough, the culprit relinquished the bike. “Here you go, Wend,” he said triumphantly, as he brought her bike back to her.
Together Scott and Wendy would sneak open their Christmas presents well before Christmas morning, learning how to reseal them with scotch tape so that his parents were none the wiser. Later Scott would critique the boy friends Wendy went out on dates with; and pass judgment on the propriety of her attire: “You’re not letting her go out in that?” he would demand of his parents.
Before Sean became Wendy’s husband, he had the misfortune one night of sleeping on the living room couch. Apparently a remarkably deep sleeper, when Sean woke up early the next morning to go to his job in construction, it was to his great surprise that he discovered that at some point in the night his toenails and thumbnails had been painted a deep shade of purple by his girlfriend and her little brother working in conspiracy with one another. Apparently, Sean didn’t discover his purple thumbnails until he was almost at work.
Family life revolved around the local fire department where Scott’s father served terms as Chief, of which Scott took special pride. As a child Scott’s favorite game to play with his friends was “firemen”; a game in which he claimed special authority when a dispute arose: “I should know,” he would say, “My Dad’s the chief!”
Never one to go in for the conventions of traditional schooling, Scott’s parents were able to get him to go willingly to his preschool only by convincing him that it wasn’t really regular school at all, but actually “Fireman’s school”, pointing for proof to the picture of the flames on the cross outside the Boonton United Methodist Church where the preschool was held. At this same nursery school Scott make life long friendships that some say the world has never recovered from. The big iron bell outside the preschool, an object of fascination to Scott, was one thing that as far as we know never did not recover.
Scott and his friends shared the same spirit of adventure. Once at age seven they went out into the woods by the golf course and got so caught up in their explorations that before they knew it, a couple of hours had passed. Their curiosity was peeked, however, when they saw from a distance the familiar sight of the fire trucks driving slowly through the streets — what they didn’t realize was that the fire trucks had been sent out by their distressed parents as a search party for the seemingly lost boys.
The family spent warm weekends camping with friends on the Delaware River. Scott enjoyed fishing but was absolutely opposed to any form of killing, so he wouldn’t use live worms, and throughout his life any fish that he caught were always thrown back in to live to another day. He would cut the barbs off the fishing gear so as not to harm the fish. Once he caught a 35 pound flounder, which a man offered to buy from him. He passed on the money, choosing instead to throw the fish back in the water. Life for Scott was something to be preserved at all costs. As a fireman in a burning house he once came upon a bunch of fish floundering on the floor, their glass aquarium having been smashed. Scott took the time to stop and scoop up the fish, taking them to safety.
Perhaps because of what he himself had suffered through his kidney disease, from early on in life Scott showed remarkable compassion for people in pain. At the age of five he would run to get the first aid kit when someone got hurt. By age fourteen he was going out with the ambulance squad on calls. By 16 he had passed the EMT examination. At the end of high school (which he’d never been particularly interested in) Scott was spending half a day in school and the rest of the day working as an EMT. He preferred, however, riding in the front — sitting in the back gave him motion sickness, although there were certain persons he would make a point to ride in back with: the man with kidney disease, a frightened elderly person who needed a calming presence. Scott always had a special way with older people.
Scott’s grandmother lived with the family from the time he was five. She had a special bond with her grandson, having lost a ten year old son herself years before. There was the time she went out in a blizzard to get Scotty the Terminator toy that was his heart’s desire. Years later there would be times when only Scott could get his grandmother to take her pills: “Now Grams, I have to take pills, and so do you.” When Grams took a fall, it was Scott who recognized that she had to be taken to the hospital, and he was right: she had broken bones.
Scott also had a special rapore with kids, perhaps because he was something of a big kid himself. Having spent so much time in the hospital as a child, it meant a great deal to Scott to be able to visit children on the pediatric wing. As a fireman he loved working the fire prevention weeks at schools, taking along his Dalmatian “Ember” as a special treat for the kids. He was a top notch uncle; the kind who would teach the kids cool stuff that their parents would never teach them but was nonetheless important to know, like how to do a “snot lock” and what a “wedgie” was and a “wet willy.” Scott loved to go to Toys R Us to buy presents for his nieces and nephews, and once he had bought a new toy, he was also impatient to go over and have the new toy opened by the child for whom it was intended so he could get down on the floor and play together with the new toy.
It was through the Ambulance Squad that a young sixteen year old girl named Michelle caught the eye of the twenty year old Scott. She was a member of the neighboring ambulance squad, the members of which would hang together after hours at the local diner. At a joint training exercise several years later, Scott faked a fall so he could spend time alone with Michelle in the ambulance. It was soon thereafter that the chants began from Scott’s friends: “Scotty has a girlfriend!”
Before long it was evident that they had found each other’s soul mates. They became inseparable, and in Michelle’s company Scott found a depth of happiness he had never before known. Scott’s family knew he had found a “keeper.” Scott and Michelle had so much in common; similar close, loving families, the same child-like spirits, the same longing to be of service to people in pain. They had this uncanny ability to know how the other was thinking and feeling — it was like they were the same person. Together they bought matching jeeps and quads and went camping and played paint ball and explored spooky places from “Weird in New Jersey”. They were out to enjoy life, like a couple of little kids, packing as much fun into their time together as was humanly possible. Under the spell of Scott’s new found happiness, his remaining kidney stabilized, and for a time he experienced a break from the routine of regular trips to the hospital. He had intended to propose to her at the Firemen’s Convention on top of the lighthouse at Cape May, but once again he was too impatient to wait to have his present opened, so he gave the ring to Michelle hidden in a Macaroni and Cheese Box in his parents’ house.
October 13, 2001 was the happiest day of their lives — the day of their wedding. Sitting at the wedding table with their family and friends together having such a good time together; life didn’t get any better than this. As Scott danced the traditional first dance with his mother, she began crying happy tears, and Scott responded for once not be saying, “Mom, are you crying?!” but instead with a tear of happiness that rolled down his own cheek.
Scott and Michelle had bought a house in Lake Hiawatha just a few blocks from both his parents and his sister and brother-in-law and their kids, and ambitious remodeling plans were underway. Scott was putting in long hours at his job as a computer technician at Intel.
Within a year, however, Scott’s remaining kidney began to fail, and he was forced to go on dialysis. Surgery was scheduled, and Scott’s mother gave him the gift of one of her kidneys. Following surgery Scott and Michelle retreated from the world to live in their new camper by the Delaware River. Scott had an eye for the beauty of nature; he would take the time to see what the rest of us often miss. In the early morning he would sit beside the river with their dog Ember. There is a preciousness to life that Scott recognized; a preciousness we too often miss.
At the one year anniversary of his transplant Scott’s parents gave Scott and Michelle a gas motor for their little 9 foot boat. It seemed like things were looking up. He was looking forward to being made captain in the fire department, and his brother-in-law Sean becoming chief.
Unfortunately, however, on December 4th Scott entered the hospital with nausea and dehydration. Having coming through hospital stays countless times before, it was assumed that within a matter of days Scott would be back home again with Michelle. Throughout the course of his illness, Scott had always kept a good attitude, making jokes even when he was feeling miserable. This time was no different in that regard. He’d never wanted people to feel sorry for him; in general he didn’t even want people to know he was sick.
Unfortunately, the news from the doctors kept getting worse. He wanted Michelle to be always by his side, and she never left him. Donations from long time friends in the fire department and police department poured in to make it possible for Michelle, Scott’s parents, and his sister Wendy to take a room in the top floor of the hospital so they could be near him, for which they were deeply grateful. His dad was ready to give him one of his kidneys if that’s what it would take to make him better. But a rare cancer had developed as a side effect of his treatments. And despite the best efforts of the medical team at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, Scott’s condition continued to deteriorate.
One of Scott’s two favorite times had always been Christmas Eve, when his parents would hold an open house and all the family and friends would drop by to share the good cheer. It seemed the right time for Scott to leave this world; his family gathered in tender love and care. His other favorite time was of course, his birthday. This day. The day of his rebirth. He is, I’m sure, pleased by how people have come out to be with one another — yesterday at the funeral home — today, here at the funeral, later at the fire house. As Scott once said, the Fire House was his church.
Scott loved life passionately. No matter how much discomfort he had to put up with because of his illness; no matter how much his energy was sapped, Scott wanted life. He knew it was precious — a good gift to be cherished at all costs.
He died knowing he was loved. By his wife, his family, his community.
There are some hard questions we could ask:
Why did Scott have to suffer with a body that couldn’t keep up with his spirit?
Why didn’t he get to live to be an old man?
I don’t have any good answers to these questions — especially any answers that would have satisfied Scott who had a particular distaste for easy, pious platitudes that didn’t take into account the fact that there are lot of really unfair and painful things that happen in this world.
All I can say is that God was the one who made Scott in the first place and gave him this remarkable spirit we celebrate today. Twenty-nine years ago this day Scott’s parents Dave and Jean stood over his bassinet and rejoiced at the miracle of his creation. One thing we can say for sure is that twenty-nine years with Scott was far better than never having him at all, and for this let us praise God.
And it was God who put the love in Scott’s heart that made him such an inspiration and a solace to others in their times of darkness, and for this, let us praise God.
And love, as the scripture I read at Scott’s wedding says, is the one thing that “never ends.”
I can say with confidence that Scott lives now in another dimension of life; one which we have not the eyes to perceive, but it is every bit as real as this one — in some ways more real, because whereas this life comes to end, the life to come is eternal.
In the life to come Scott never has to say to his mother, “Mom, are you crying again?!” because God Himself wipes all the tears away, and there is no pain, no sickness, no death, and kidneys never need replacing.
As his niece Nicole said, “Scott’s not sick anymore.” He has a new body
It’s so beautiful there. More beautiful than sitting by the Delaware River on a sunny day with a gentle breeze and your wife and dog at your side and friends and family soon coming to join you.
And you will see Scott again. In the meantime, live with courage and with love You are not alone in the darkness.