Today, a small circle of those who loved him best gathered at Sweet Gum Point to say goodbye to Doug Jester. Only a week before, most of the family had been in to celebrate an early Thanksgiving and my granddad's 90th birthday. I was too sick to go, but Uncle Doug, as always, added insight and laughter to the festivities. He died the next day of a heart attack, leaving behind a family bereaved and shaken.
My dad, long regarded as the 'designated religious person' of the family, met with my Aunt Binnie and Doug's sister Diane and led a sweet service that honored the man we all miss terribly. My cousins played a slideshow of wonderful old photos as Elton John's "Your Song" accompanied the memories flashing before us. We read from Wisdom and Matthew and were reminded how Doug's life was full of generosity and compassion. We shared stories - funny and heartbreaking - as we laughed through our tears. Doug's 3-year-old granddaughter Lily chimed in with her little voice now and then, giving everyone permission to smile.
Aunt Binnie, devoid of her soulmate, managed to speak beautifully of Doug's love for his family. Throughout the years, no matter what, he and Binnie would constantly tell one other, "You're my everything." They meant it and lived it.
Binnie reminded her three sons how much Doug adored them. Brooks, Matt, and Sam carry so much of their sweet dad with them. They have the same handsome features and the same sense of humor. Those men love their mother with the same gorgeous blend of tenderness and fierceness. And they honor their significant others, Jaclyn and Jackie, the way their dad modeled so well.
She spoke of Doug's absolute delight in being known as "Pappy" to Lily and her soon-to-be-born sister Molly. He was everything a grandfather should be: fun and funny, adventurous and caring, goofy and brilliant. It's unthinkable to imagine a world where my cousins' children grow up without the big hugs and sincere love of their Pappy.
My grandmother said, "He always loved us like we were his real parents. And we always loved him too." Indeed. Doug was a rock for them, driving them to one doctor's appointment after another. He was a natural caregiver, and his love for his parents-in-law was evident in everything he did.
After my cousins and brother shared stories of silly high jinks, Doug's brother-in-law ended with the lyrics from Grateful Dead's "And We Bid You Goodnight."
Even when a loved one knows they're dying, we often don't say everything we want as we offer our goodbyes. But when we lose someone so dear and vibrant without warning, the grief is mingled with another kind of loss. We all know Doug loved us, and we're all certain he knew we loved him. There really wasn't much left unsaid. Still, if I had been given the chance, I would have said something like this:
Doug, thank you. Thank you for being a real friend to my parents. I've grown up listening to stories of the fun and mischief you found yourselves in. In a world where true friends can be hard to find, you were always there for them. You were a source of encouragement and wisdom. You partied as carefree hippies together, learned how to raise families together, and grew up to be exceptional grandparents together.
Doug, thank you. Thank you for loving my aunt with such openness and grace. You modeled a love I'm still looking for. I know it exists because you were proof. You were always generous with your love, sacrificial in your decisions, and true in your devotion.
Doug, thank you. Thank you for being the kind of father that anyone would have been proud of. Your three sons are living testaments to your success as a dad. You loved them more than life itself. Anyone could see it. You reveled in parenthood. You taught your boys how to play, how to love their mom, how to live life to the fullest. And your fatherly love didn't stop with your own sons. It extended to countless young people over the years.
Doug, thank you. Thank you for being over the moon about being a grandfather. Your delight in Lily was precious. Your glee over the news of a new grandbaby filled our hearts. Your love for them inspired us to love better ourselves. Memories of your goofiness and silly magic tricks and little adventures will live on in the stories we tell your grandchildren.
Doug, thank you. Thank you for honoring your elders. My grandparents' lives are richer because you loved them and cared for them heroically.
Doug, thank you. Thank you for embracing your daughter-in-law and soon-to-be daughter-in-law. You always made the circle wider, always made room for people. You loved Jaclyn and Jackie like your own. Seeing those sincere, sweet bonds gave me hope that the hard work of blending families and lives could actually be beautiful. You saw those young women as gifts, and you treated them that way.
Doug, thank you. Thank you for giving my brother a fine example. As a man, as a skilled artisan, as a father - you supplied him with extra motivation. He will honor your spirit all his days. Thank you for loving his little girl - for getting down on the ground and making her laugh. For being the same sweet uncle to her you always were to us.
Doug, thank you. Thank you for seeing me. You always took the time to relate beautifully with each person in a way that made them feel special. You always cared about what was going on, what I was trying to create, what I hoped to do and be. I can't remember a time when we were together that you didn't ask me to draw you a picture. I should have drawn you something every time you asked. You were always the family chronicler. Most of our photos and all of our videos were created by you. I'm thankful for those images of young Lindsay, shyly sharing a painting, your narrator voice cooing kind, encouraging words. I always imagined that if I ever fell in love, you'd take my beau for a boat ride, share some beer, and agree about most everything but politics. You'd come back laughing, having added him to our circle. You'd wink at me and give me one of your big bear hugs. You know, I'm going to miss all that was and all that could have been. But I'm also going to rejoice in the 34 years I had with you in my life. I will treasure the memories, and I will honor your gentle spirit all my days. We all will. I love you, Uncle Doug.