This eulogy was read by our good friend Victor Wilson at Steve Cook's funeral in Nashville on February 16, 2o1o. I had written over 30 "Dear Papa" letters from Jackson on the Caring Bridge site for Steve. It was a great way to imagine what Jackson might be thinking. Using Jackson's voice allowed a way into thoughts that would have gotten lost as an adult. This was a harder one to write because alot had to be covered, and it was the first one to be spoken aloud, not read as written word on his blog. It was also the first one Steve would not get to read....although it certainly felt like he was all around us...and still is.
( a couple of notes: Uncle John is our 91 year old uncle, GeGe (pronounced gee-gee by Jackson) is Janet, Aunt Kay was Uncle John's wife of 72 years, Elijah is a Jewish prophet who we leave the front door open an a cup of wine out for at the Seder)
Papa, Uncle John keeps telling the same joke to everyone and it goes like this, “If God tells me he is coming at 9:00 to get me, I will tell him I will be ready, but could he make it 9:30.”
Papa, so many times these past months you talked about being so happy waking up on the green side of the grass – and I was wondering what you meant since all the grass in Nashville now is so brown. Is it because you always saw the grass as green, the days as sunny, and a clean kitchen counter the perfect spot to crack an egg?
Papa since this is a special letter that they are going to read in front of everyone we know I want to tell you how I got my name. My Daddy always tells the story about how his father Jack used to give him five dollars everytime he left home. When he went to summer camp, five dollars. When he went to college, five dollars. When he moved to New York City, five dollars. Then when you heard that story, you decided whenever mommy and daddy went away, you would slip Daddy five dollars. Daddy loved that and marked the date on every single one and saved them. So Papa since my first name was about my Grandpa Jack who was gone before I was born, my middle name had to be about you. My parents decided since you always give my Dad a five dollar bill when you say good bye that they wanted to name me about that. “Five dollar bill” is kind of a funny middle name, so they shortened it to “Finn” which is the nickname for a five dollar bill. So I am Jackson Finn Lange.
Papa this is a very diferent kind of a visit to Nashville. I got on the big big plane at home in New Jersey and flew to see you & Gege. I looked out the window and watched all the things on the ground get so little as we got up into the clouds. The clouds looked just like Aunt Kay’s hair used to look but they didn’t have any lipstick on. Then after a really long time the plane starts to land, but Papa, how do they know it is Nashville? There are no signs you can see from the air? There is no big pin stuck in Nashville. How do they know we are not landing in Rome?
Papa, I don’t want to get nosey but where are you?? We went to the hospital where you were supposed to be and I didn’t get to see you there. I got to see them feed the fish in the big fish tank, but I didn’t get to see you.
I went to Philip's Toy Store where you took me the last time I was here. I stared at the trains going round and round, and I thought you were going to come and watch with me. I looked all over the store for your smile. Papa, I really miss your smile. I didn’t see you hiding even in the tower overlooking the trains.
Then we ate at that place that puts the chopped up meat on the white bun that you love, but Papa you were not eating one. I told my Daddy to order a sandwich for you, and he said it was like opening the door for Elijah to drink from the wine glass. I didn’t really understand that.
Then last Friday, when we went to your house, they were moving everything around, even getting you a new bed, but you were not there. Everyone was running around the house, carrying furniture, giving you the biggest toilet seat I have ever seen (Papa, I don’t think they had that in the right house because you would need a ladder to get up to it! ) Even with everyone moving everything around, the house felt really quiet. It was sunny Papa, but it was still cold out, and everyone was whispering about you wanting to come home, which I thought was a good idea, too.
“Papa wants to come home.”
Then Papa, suddenly there you were! When you came in you were on a bed that two men were rolling. You were in your robe, and flashed an okay sign with your fingers. Gege was making everything perfect for you, so when you finally laid down in bed and got the covers pulled up, I thought I could hear you let out a big breath and whisper, “I am home.”
Papa I have to stop here and ask how I can find a Gege when I grow up? I have been watching her really carefully as she takes care of you. First Gege changed your name to, "Angel." "Angel let me give you some water." "Angel are you comfortable?" "Angel are you warm enough?" Papa I feel like she is taking such good care of you and being so loving and so sweet - it feels like she is showing you how soft and how strong she can be at the same time. I think they should make a reality TV show about how amazing Gege is at taking care of you. I asked Gege if she would let them do that, and she said she is okay with a show, but a little less reality would be okay with her.
Which brings me to kissing Papa. My mommy brought me into see you in your new bed. She held me out over you so I could kiss you right on the lips, and when I kissed you whispered, “Jackson!.” And just before Mommy pulled me away, I whispered back, “Papa.” Papa I thought you were just saying goodbye for a nap. I didn’t realize this was a really big goodbye.
Papa, I think I know the difference between when people cry when they are happy and cry when they are sad, but I am not totally sure. Sometimes it seems like they go back and forth. Like last night Papa, there were so many people that came to your house to see Gege. When they first walked in they hugged her and whispered something in her ear and they held each other and cried and it was really sad to watch so I just looked to see where my Thomas the train was. Later on, the house become more and more full of all our family we never get to see that much. There was lots of food – big dishes of things covered in cheese, little soft white buns, a big big ham on a bone. Papa you should have not said such a big goodbye so soon since you would have liked eating everything, and being with everyone and maybe even sneaking one of the beers to drink. Everyone was really happy to see eachother and I was happy too. I got passed around and everyone wanted to hug me. Some of them had even seen the letters I write to you. It was one of those nights you feel so loved Papa.
Gege was in the middle of the sofa and everyone was crowding around her and telling stories and laughing. Papa, they laughed so hard they started to cry, but it was a different crying from when they first came in. They were talking about you a lot Papa. Crazy things you had done like trying to pull up a tree attached to a chain and a truck, and the tree winning the battle. Things like…….well Papa…Gege said there was this moment in the hospital last week when you were there with her and my mommy. You said you wanted to tell them a secret you had never shared before. Now Papa, when a man who has been married 38 years and is pretty sick in the hospital tells his wife there is a secret he has been holding in, it is a little scary. Gege was not sure my mommy should be hearing what you were going to say, so she leaned over really close and you whispered that you had smoked something with Tom England last summer. Gege started laughing so hard, then she told Mommy and she started laughing so hard. And Papa, if that is the deepest darkest secret you needed to get off your chest, your life must have been a very special one.
One other thing Papa. Our family is not big enough for you to go away. There is just too much I need to ask you. There is too much I need to share. Papa even right now I need to tell you about the Valentine my mommy gave Gege. It started last night when all the people were over at the house and my mommy told my daddy she was feeling sad she could not have anytime alone to talk to him. We were upstairs and I think my Daddy thought she wanted to kiss or something. Then she handed my daddy a little piece of paper shaped like a heart that said, “1 +1 = 1 more.” Papa, I don’t know what that means but my daddy started crying so hard, he picked me up and hugged me and mommy for a really long time. Then my mommy gave Gege a Valentine this afternoon at the end of being at the cemetery that said, “As we say goodbye to one life, we say hello to another.” Mommy then told Gege that on Friday night before you went away again, that you put your hand on her tummy but didn’t say anything. You can see why I need you to explain all of this to me.
So Papa – in the end, I can only say this – whenever I get to go somewhere, or be with someone that I really like, I always say, “Again! Again! Again!” And wherever you are Papa, I am calling out to you, “Again AGAIN AGAIN!!!” And Papa, there is a room full of people that are feeling the same way. They are holding hands and singing and thinking about you and they are all trying to smile as big as you did.
More more MORE PAPA! Again, Again, AGAIN!!