I am also available to preside at funerals. If you are in the area or you don’t have a minister or for some other reason are in need of a pastor to preside at a funeral of a loved one, you can contact me. We can discuss the possibility of me serving in this way. My desire is to honor a person’s life, provide comfort to the family and share the hope that is in Jesus. Since loosing a loved one is such a personal experience, I’ve attached a sample of my own response to the death of my parents. Perhaps it can help you as you process the loss of someone you love.
Tribute to my Dad
It is impossible to calculate the impact that my father’s life has had on my own. Through my father and my mother, God granted my sister and me the gift of life. Not only that, but my father’s story is prelude to our stories. I define myself in part as the son of Constantine William Shereos.
Being the son of my father, I’ve learned that life involves complexity, paradox and even some contradiction. My father was one of six children, born to Greek immigrants from a very small village in the majestic mountains of Southern Greece. For my father being the child of immigrant parents, growing up during the depression and loosing his father to a psychiatric illness are all early events that shaped his life. Somehow within that life context my dad cultivated two primary passions:
- First, a focus on physical strength: From his Greek immigrant parents my dad inherited both a small stature and an underprivileged street environment. He always regarded his diminutive size as a distinct disadvantage. However, in the army he adopted a bodybuilding regiment and adorned his small frame with six pack abs and an Adonis-like physique. A traditional muscle man pose of my dad during that time is evidence what intense physical effort can do to sculpt the human body. Bodybuilding continued to be a fascination through the rest of his life, even long after he could engage in its rigors. He continually read muscle magazines and coached others, even those who had no interest in being coached. Since I was such a reluctant protégé he, to my embarrassment, often lectured my more athletic friends. Some of you may have even been his students. Many children receive instructions how to behave before they start school. Before my first day of school my father’s priority was to teach me how to make a fist. To his disappointment his hopes for a Herculean posterity never materialized. But the dream never died. I saw the dream live on for subsequent generations when the gift he gave his newly born grandson was a set of plastic weights.
- His other passion was a love for languages: My dad worked hard in diverse environments before “diversity” became fashionable. His work and friendships on factory assembly lines earned him a modest pay check and the ability to speak numerous foreign languages. He became fluent in English, Greek, Italian and Spanish without formal study. As a result of his military service in the Philippines he picked up a few phrases and even some love songs in Tagalag, the language of the Philippines. Those love songs endeared him to many Pilipino nurses during his multiple stays at the VA hospital. But perhaps the greatest benefit of knowing so many languages was the keen awareness that almost every word in almost every language is derived from the Greek!
As I grew up I wasn’t very close to my father. Perhaps it was because of his work schedule, working the night shift. Generally, he was going off to work as I was coming home from school. Maybe we were not close because he was never fathered. Adding to the complexity of my father’s life was the loss of his own father at an early age. I grew up with what Robert Bly and others in the “men’s movement” call “father hunger.” Initially I resented my dad for this. Then as an adult it finally occurred to me that my hunger was simply an extension of my dad’s unmet needs. My grandfather was sent to a psychiatric institution when my dad was only eight years old. My father’s father (my Papou) worked for a bank and generated new accounts from his immigrant peers. When the depression hit the rest of the country my grandfather was hit with his own psychiatric malady. As a result, when my dad was only a child he saw his father taken to a State Psychiatric hospital, where my grandfather would spend the rest of his life. It is now clear to me that my dad simply did the best he could with what he had. Yet, my dad somehow leveraged his pain to teach me a powerful lesson. When I was a small boy my dad once told me that he was not my real father. Rather, he said, “God is your real father.” As I reflect on my spiritual journey I find my search for God resulted at least in part from my desire to experience a father’s love and my dad’s words about God’s Fatherhood. None of us receive from our human fathers all that we need. Only our Father in heaven, the archetype of true Fatherhood, reveals the fullness of the Father’s heart.
Having said that, to his credit, I recall some tender father- son moments with my dad:
As I was growing up we lived in an apartment building in Chicago. As tenants my parents were dutiful to ensure Vicki and I wouldn’t make too much noise, disturbing the landlords who lived in the apartment above us. In the city one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. One Christmas when I was about six years old, we arrived home in the early hours of the morning after the traditional Christmas Eve service at our Greek Orthodox Church. My sister Vicki and I were eager to open our Christmas gifts even though it was quite late. Though our parents were reluctant they finally relented because of our excessive protests. When I opened the package with my name I found a toy machine gun. It had a bolt to pull back so that when you pressed the trigger, it spit off successive rounds of loud gun shots. My parents didn’t want me to play with the gun because they were certain the noise would awaken our landlord. But after I mischievously fired my weapon, my dad had to try it as well. Together we experienced a few moments of forbidden pre-dawn combat.
Helping my dad with projects around the house did not contribute to any of these tender memories. Rather doing home repair projects with my dad often felt more like a prison sentence than father – son bonding time. While my dad got to swing the hammer my task never grew beyond steadying the ladder, holding a board or sweeping up the saw dust and cigarette butts after the job was finished. But there was one day when assisting my father yielded a genuine father-son connection. I sheepishly told my dad I’d like to learn to play the guitar. For some reason, still unknown to me we abandoned the job site and together went to the local department store where he purchased my very first guitar.
Another important boyhood memory is sitting on the bed in my parents’ bedroom while my dad told me about the birds and the bees. Apparently, we had just witnessed an “adult only” scene on television. My dad must have thought it necessitated further explanation. As a result, I received a very rudimentary and very graphic lesson in sex education. But perhaps what is most amazing to me is that now as I interact with other men my age I’ve discovered I am one of the fortunate few who actually had the sex talk with their father. Way to go dad!
When I became an adult and it came time to apply this ancient wisdom I sat down in my parents’ front room with my then fiancé, Wenda and excitedly shared the news of our engagement. His primary objection was that she was “Xenos.” Let me parenthetically add, if you don’t know what Xenos means you probably are one. It means not of Greek ancestry! With Wenda sitting at my side he responded by saying, “Well, Bill if you want to marry the girl, go ahead.” Wenda was known as “the girl” from then on. However, she finally earned the privilege of being called by her given name again, when she delivered our daughter, Jenine, his first grandchild.
This strange and mystical father–son dynamic continued as my son, Jason turned thirteen. By the time I was middle aged it dawned on me that I deeply hurt my dad by departing from the Greek tradition of naming the first born son after the paternal grandfather. Had I continued with tradition, my son’s name would be “Constantine William Shereos.” However that seemed an undue hardship to place on a child in the early 80’s and I knew I had not adequately prepared myself to teach my son how to make a fist before his first day of school. So instead Wenda and I named our son, “Jason.” Though my dad never directly addressed it I had a slight suspicion that I may have disappointed him when he asked me, “Jason, where the hell did you get that name?” So years later, with an increased respect for my father and for family tradition, I asked Jason if he would be willing to change his name by adding another middle name so that he could finally be named after my dad. To my surprise and delight my son readily agreed. Jason is much wiser than his father! We had his birth certificate legally changed to, “Jason Constantine William Shereos.” Before surprising my dad with the news of what I had done, I naively anticipated a melodramatic scene which would conclude with a father-son embrace. However, when I told my dad about the name change, he simply looked at me and said, “Bill, that’s what it should have been in the first place!”
My dad may not have been perceived as the most graceful or gracious person on the planet. Yet I know that under the layers of his tough exterior lived a person of genuine compassion. As he aged, on numerous occasions I saw what I call “glimpses of grace.” I’ll cite just a couple examples. A few years ago, after he had moved into an efficiency apartment in a building for seniors, I went to visit him. I rang the bell to his apartment but there was no answer. The building manager opened the door for me and when I took the elevator to the floor where dad lived I actually saw him doing laundry for an elderly blind woman. I was in my mid fifties and this was the first time I saw my father engage in a household chore! I had another glimpse after my parents’ late in life divorce, very late in life! After their divorce my dad helped support my mom when she needed assisted living and also later as she needed around the clock home health care. Other glimpses came when I heard my dad verbally express his love for me and others. I’ll always be grateful for these and many more gifts from my dad.
When we talked about faith in Christ my dad often said, “I was born Greek Orthodox and I’ll die Greek Orthodox.” My response was and remains, “It doesn’t matter what pew you sit in as long as you know Jesus.” This week I opened his Bible and found the words of 1st John 1:9 underlined numerous times. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins.” Though life was difficult for my dad and guilt often seemed to weigh heavily upon him, underneath the layers of pain I witnessed genuine expressions of faith, evidenced by acts of Christ-like compassion. He is now finally at peace.
At one time I thought it was difficult to live with my dad; now I realize it’s going to be much harder to live without him. So dad to you I want to say, “Thank you and good-bye for now.”
Tribute to my Mom: August 17, 2012
Dear Mom, I want to thank you for the profound impact you’ve had on my life and on the lives of so many others around you. But first let me say that I’m curious to know when and how you grew so old. It seems such a short time ago that you stood as a tall oak, appearing to a small boy, confident and invincible. As a child, I felt safe under your loving and protective shade. You provided the safety I sought from the threats and dangers of childhood. You protected me from my own weakness and vulnerability. It seems that suddenly you became feeble and frail, vulnerable even to the slightest breeze. With the passing of the years the tree that stood erect became weak and bent over. As the cold and severe winds of old age and dementia raged you swayed and leaned and finally gracefully fell. A couple of years ago you told me that I seemed taller but now I wonder if it is simply that you diminished in height. It’s been difficult to see you succumb to the inevitable decay of living into your nineties. Yet, at the same time in these last years I have also witnessed a new kind of strength, beauty and grace. It’s not unlike the beauty I’ve seen as I’ve hiked through the woods and noted how the fallen oaks provide nutrients and strength to new saplings and the trees that have yet to take root.
It’s hard to believe that the woman who was so outgoing and knew no stranger became hidden. It seems like it was only yesterday that you would take the Foster Avenue bus to work and by the time you arrived at your office you’d be able to recite the life stories of those who happened to sit next to you on the bus. Toward the end of your journey you seemed to travel much more quietly, lost in memories made long ago. And yet during the most recent season of travel I’ve also been reminded of the beauty of unspoken communication and how much you could say through a look, a smile, a nod or a wink. I am deeply grateful that God gave you the grace to maintain your joyful disposition even during your illness.
As a mom you loved your children with unending and unconditional love. I can recall your strong hands gripping mine, protecting me from numerous childhood perils. Toward the end those hands remained beautiful even though they became wrinkled and brittle. I remember the time you held the little hand of a small boy as he sat in a dentist’s chair, fearfully awaiting the pain of unknown dental instruments striking their terror. You told me to squeeze your hand as tightly as I could. Then you encouraged me to close my eyes and mentally remove myself from the dentist’s chair and imagine myself at the beach, lying in the sun. Years later you lay in the emergency room gripped by fear, awaiting endless tests, prodding and poking. When your hand was entrusted to mine I encouraged you to imagine that same beach. But you declined to take the mental journey just as I declined years before. The comfort came not from the mental escape to another land but from the human touch between mother and son.
You showed Vicki and me the soft side of God’s love. I remember when you received your driver’s license as a middle-aged woman. I was in my early teens and not yet old enough to have a driver’s license of my own. So you willingly took some of your maiden voyages transporting guitars, amplifiers, drums and my longhaired friends simply so we could pollute the world with what was music to us and noise to you. Yet, you didn’t complain even though I knew you were extremely anxious about testing your newly developed skill in such a chaotic environment.
Yet your love could and even did cross the boundary of the unconditional and entered into the arena of the naïve and gullible. Could you really have believed the vomit in your car was from your teenage son’s drinking too much soda the night before? Only a mother’s love could believe the best about her son when he was at his worst.
Vicki and I will always appreciate the multitude of your sacrifices for our family, some of which we are ware –many of which we are not. On countless days you dutifully went to Met life and worked faithfully at your typewriter in a small office to help pay the mortgage, put food on the table and send your children to school.
After I left home and married Wenda, you received her into our family as your own daughter. Then when we had children of our own you again demonstrated your loving and maternal ways, earning the title, “Yiaya” (Greek for “grandmother”). You then gave a new generation the love you gave to Vicki and me. I watched in amazement, as your unconditional love for your grandchildren seemed to deepen beyond what I thought possible. You babysat by joyfully and repeatedly taking Jenine and Jason to Gompers Park and patiently playing with them. You taught Jenine to draw. I’m convinced Jenine’s love for art was first cultivated during the years you spent with her on your living room floor guiding her small hands across countless pieces of paper. When we took our children to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs, Jason then only a preschooler nestled in your lap and slept while everyone else in the stadium experienced the pain of yet another Cub loss. Perhaps that’s why he still remains an avid Cub fan to this day, still enduring more disappointment with each passing year. Twice each year you bought Jason a new suit so that on Sunday mornings he could dress up like his pastor-father. It wasn’t until that little boy grew up and had children of his own that I finally understood how grandchildren could capture your heart.
It was a joy and a delight to have you attend the church I served when I was a young and inexperienced pastor. Hearing you say each week, “Bill that was the best sermon you ever preached” was wonderfully affirming. However, even though I enjoyed hearing it I never told you I didn’t really believe you. Yet, the deepest complement came when you told me that it was in that church you experienced a deeper relationship with Jesus. I was inspired as I witnessed your growth in faith. Hearing you share your first-ever public prayer was a profound experience for me. I also remember how you experienced success in dieting by memorizing a verse from the Old Testament book of Proverbs. The words of Proverbs 23:2 stood sentinel on your refrigerator door. “Put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.” It was a joy and delight to see you embrace God’s grace and grow in His unconditional love. And over the years we both have learned though God’s love is always unconditional it is never naïve or gullible. God truly loves us and invites us back home even when we are at our worst!
I’m so grateful that you became aware that Jesus always deeply loved the little girl who grew up without the comfort of her own mother. Jesus was there with the eldest girl in her family who served as a surrogate mom to her siblings during the depression. That same girl shouldered the responsibility of helping her four siblings survive the illness and absence of their own mom. Jesus continued to love and lead the young wife who after World War II endured the hardships of marriage and entered into a new extended family by living with her mother-in-law. Jesus wept with the young mother who lost her infant daughter after only a month of life. And Jesus encouraged and strengthened the industrious mother who tried her best to bless her family, simultaneously working as a secretary, homemaker, wife, and mother. And God continued His faithfulness and support for the elderly woman who survived cancer and experienced the pain of divorce as an octogenarian (By the way remember when you see dad that there is no fighting in heaven). Even after suffering the effects of dementia you continued to endure these hardships not only by being a Spartan (it is not surprising to me that Spartan blood really does run through your veins) but also more importantly by receiving God’s grace, love and strength. Even when dementia assaulted your mind, your spirit never became harsh or bitter. The Lord showed His love and grace in your final years by providing you with the support of loving and capable care givers. Vicki and I are deeply grateful for people like Evaline, Glennis and Carol. We are also grateful for your joyful countenance and your recollection of us as we struggled with the challenges of coping with your dementia. It was such a privilege and honor to be with you and witness you take your last breath as you left the home you’d lived in for 50 years and entered your new eternal home. You were there to bring Vicki and me into the world. How appropriate it was to be with you during your exit.
Mom words could never express our deep love and great appreciation for you. We will deeply miss you even while your memory lives in our hearts. As I express my gratitude for you I know that I also speak for Vicki and Ty, Wenda, your grandchildren, great grandchildren and so many other family members and friends. And while imagining ourselves at the beach, lying in the sun may have been a poor prescription for dealing with the temporary pains of life, our sure hope of Heaven through Christ, for you now realized, is substantial and secure. I’m grateful that I don’t have to say a final “good-bye.” Yet, the “so long till we meet on the other side is still painful!” So please accept our deepest love and appreciation for being such a loving mother, wife, Yiaya and Proyiayia.
Your forever-grateful son,