Thursday, December 1, 2011

Oh Life, You Precious Tricky Bastard

I realize that I have been fairly absent online for the past two weeks, but what a two weeks it has been. A lot can happen in 14 days. Two weeks ago today my Uncle Rich passed away after a sudden and unexpected massive heart attack. He spent three days in the ICU, surrounded by doctors and hospital staff who were working hard to get his heart to pull through. Outside of his room, his family gathered; waiting and praying for the best, but apparently it was Rich's time to go.

In a fog of mourning my uncle's seemingly untimely passing with tears of sorrow, confusion and pained laughter from stories that were shared around his dining room table, we all have to find our own ways to deal with such a great loss. Many times in the past week and a half, during my daily tasks I have to stop, just fill my lungs with air and try to regain some focus. To say that we are all deeply saddened is a gross understatement. Rich's passing not only affected his wife and three sons and their families, but also his father, his brothers, his sisters, his in-laws, his 20-some nieces and nephews, his other extended family, his friends, his colleagues and the entire community where he spent the majority of his life. He was a highly driven, intense, serious, generous, passionate, devoted and honest man. He served not only his family, but also the community and our country. The impact he had on people was evident in the six hour long wake that was held at the church. Six solid hours of people lined up, waiting over an hour to speak with the family. It was incredible.


When such a traumatic loss occurs, one finds themselves cursing the fact that the entire world doesn't just stop for a while so that one can digest their loss. Just a moment of nothing to adjust to their new reality. We want the chaos of everyday to still, the noise to cease, the motion to calm, so that we can attempt to make some sense of our emotions and our thoughts and our sadness, or maybe just so that we can numbly sit and catch our breath.

But the world doesn't stop.

The clock keeps ticking off the seconds... and minutes.... and hours. Days pass. Life continues. We still need to eat, bath, sleep and generally "handle our shit". But the fact that things continue to move and progress is really our greatest blessing.

Every day is different. For me, every day as of late is a day of healing. Every day is a day for reflection. Every day is a day for love. Every day is a day for gratitude.

Last night, as Brock and I shared some wine after the kids were in bed, I finally had a chance to "be still". In the warm glowing light of my house, which is newly adorned with the Christmas decorations that I spent the last three days displaying in an almost crazed frenzy of constant motion, I had a chance to breathe and that breath filled me with peace. I had a chance to reflect on my life- past and present. For instance, I chuckled about the argument that I had yesterday with Thing 1 about why I, in fact do not think that my Nalgene drinking bottle is the perfect place for his dirty socks. And I felt proud as I marveled at Thing 2's recently acquired knack for making proper animal noises and perfecting an evil laugh. This time was in fact so healing for me that I woke up this morning, yearning to wear hot pink. It was not until later when I was sorting laundry did I realize that I have spent two weeks wearing grey or black.

So I will tell you soon about our Thanksgiving and Black Friday, but until then, I want to share with you my gratitude for my life. I want to let you know how sometimes I am overwhelmed with my good fortune, especially when it comes to my family and friends. I want to let you know that you all are a part of that.

Although I truly feel I can best honor my Uncle Rich through living my own life to the fullest, I struggle to find the proper words to do his life justice here on my blog. That is why I am posting the eulogy, which was written and delivered by Rich's brother, my Uncle Kurt. I can say that I am truly blessed and extremely proud to be a part of my family. I love them all fiercely and am grateful for every one of them.

Without further ado:


The following was prepared and delivered for Rich's funeral Mass by his brother, Kurt.


First of all, on behalf of the entire family … I’d like to say thank you for the

incredible outpouring of respect and support today and throughout the past week. It

is remarkable … and we deeply appreciate it. … I think it clearly reflects a couple

of things.

One … Rich touched a lot of lives…

And two… he left us too soon… period. We all still want him to be here.

Rich was special to everyone here… but that special connection wasn’t necessarily

the same for everyone here. … And that’s what I want to reflect on today.

How did you know Rich?

There are the obvious connections… brother… husband… dad… Papa Rich…

in-law… cousin… uncle… friend… colleague… And while those connections are

important to those closest to him… that’s not what defined him. … What defined

him were the character traits he displayed through the roles he played… roles like

coach… volunteer… leader… organizer… This is who Rich was. … This is what

Rich did.

So for the next few minutes… I’d like to share some thoughts… and memories…

and observations about Rich… his character and his passions… And whatever your

connection to Rich might have been, I think you’ll recognize threads of these

things in that relationship…

I’ll begin with Rich the fan. … And let me start by stating the obvious, Rich had

something more than a “passing interest” in sports… In fact, if there’s a sports

chromosome, I’m sure he had one… and I’m also pretty sure he passed it down…

He was a life-long Cardinal fan, and I think it’s fitting that he was able to see them

win one more World Series. And I’m sure he had a full appreciation for the way

they did it… being ten and a half games out of first place with five weeks left in

the regular season ... seemingly out of contention … only to scratch and claw their

way into the post season, … then continuing to surprise everyone in their march to

the title series. … And there was that historic game 6, with the Cardinals twice

finding themselves one strike away from losing the series, and twice delivering

clutch hits to win the game and ultimately the series. There was no quit in that

team. … It’s as if that series was scripted for Rich. He appreciated knowing what it

takes to win, but even more so doing what it takes to win. He appreciated the

excellence that can be achieved through hard work and dedication. … In fact, he

appreciated those things enough that he would… at times… become a fair weather

fan. It didn’t matter where the team was from. … If they were performing at a high

enough level on a national stage, you might find Rich sporting a t-shirt or

sweatshirt bearing their name. … Connecticut … Duke … or whomever. … It was

his current billboard for excellence. And he would rotate it as needed. But these

were short term attachments. As his son Matt described it… “He’d be the first one


on and off the bandwagon” … But there was nothing fair weather about his support

for the programs to which he was more deeply connected. He was passionate about

the Iowa Hawkeye football and basketball programs, and his support for Aquinas,

Holy Trinity, and Notre Dame high schools was unwavering.

But Rich was much more than just a sports fan… He was a fiery competitor. And

his competitive spirit was fueled by his work ethic all his life. As a kid, Rich would

spend countless hours practicing basketball and baseball at home in “less than

ideal” conditions. His basketball court was an uneven, gravel driveway where,

when dribbling a basketball, a true bounce rarely occurred… but that only served

to sharpen his ball handling skills. He would dribble and shoot for hours on end.

That same gravel driveway doubled as a baseball field, where Rich would stand

out on a make shift pitching mound, go through his imitation of Bob Gibson’s

wind-up, and fire fast-balls toward a car tire which had been mounted on the

garage wall to define the strike zone. Whenever he could talk his kid brothers into

it, Charlie and I would step up to the plate and try to hit his amazing “stuff.”… I

think it was probably Rich’s first encounter with coaching… He taught us how to

hit and how to field. … We’d go out to Rodeo Park… where we had a lot of space

to run … and Rich would pull out his fungo bat and launch these towering fly balls

and challenge us to chase them down. He cheered our successes and helped us with

our fundamentals. … But the point is, even with my earliest memories of my

brother, he was always ready to practice … always ready to play … always ready

to teach. It was part of his character.

His competitive fire clearly showed up as a player. … If someone was taller than

he was, he believed he could out-jump him. If someone was faster than he was, he

could often out-quick him. … He constantly pushed his limits. There wasn’t any

notion of “good enough” because there was always room for improvement. All he

wanted to do was get better … and there were no short cuts … so he just worked

harder. … It was part of his character.

In baseball, I remember watching him take the plate during a pony league game

only to get beaned by a pitcher… a fastball to the head. … His helmet absorbed

much of the blow, but it knocked him right to the ground. Now a lot of players

might call it a day at that point and head straight for the dugout … which seems

reasonable … but after the coaches tended to Rich, … he got back to his feet and

wanted to take the base that he’d been awarded for being hit by a pitch. So we all

sat there and watched while he staggered and weaved his way down the first base

path. He probably should have headed for the dugout, but Rich had a tendency to

just “gut things out” … it was part of his character.
That same character showed up in cross country. Anyone that wanted to play


basketball at Aquinas in those days was required to run cross country for

conditioning. Now Rich wasn’t what I would classify as a “natural” runner … yet I

remember watching a cross country meet at Sheaffer Golf Course. … It was late in

the race where the runners are coming back into view as they head for the finish

line… and there was Rich… leading the pack. I think he won that race, though I

honestly don’t remember. … But what I do recall is what he looked like trudging

across the finish line. He seemed to be wearing more pain in his expression than he

did accomplishment. I think he had willed himself to the finish line. But that was

the way Rich approached things. You see… it wasn’t good enough just to run for

conditioning… Rich wanted to win. If he was required to run cross country, he was

all in … It was part of his character.

Eventually, Rich fully transitioned from player to coach. He had an obvious

passion for coaching. It was his gift. And fortunately for an untold number of

young athletes, it’s the gift that kept on giving. Being the feisty competitor that he

was, he set the bar high for his players… but he also took the time to develop them.

… He was as much a teacher as he was a coach … When kids showed

improvement, he’d raise the bar higher and develop them further. He stressed

fundamentals … He planned practices meticulously and executed them like you

would a game plan. … He treated the kids fairly. … Just like he wanted to be better,

he wanted them to be better. So he worked with them tirelessly to help them build

their skills, understand their roles, and execute. … He experimented with

incentives and motivational techniques to encourage them … One of the more

enduring incentives … for taking an offensive charge … involved a simple form of

bribery. … I suspect his conversation with the kids went something like this:

“Alright … here’s the deal … you take a charge … I buy you a Coke.” … And

inevitably during the course of game action, a defender would stand his ground and

take the charge … and you’d hear a familiar “that’s a Coke, Rich” as a reminder

from his players. Then later on after the game, you’d see them at the pop machine

as Rich made good on his promise. …

But building their skills was not his only objective. … He also wanted to build

their character. … He was obsessed with doing things the right way. … He

instructed his players to play with class … to remain humble … to demonstrate

sportsmanship … And if they didn’t, they’d quickly find him in their face. … He

was cautious about celebrating successes … but quick to point out mistakes …

Even after a good performance, things could always be better. … It was his way of

keeping their egos in check … of keeping them humble. … Rich knew that you

could only expect to be successful if you eliminated the mistakes … And he

expected success, so mistakes would really set him off. … Ask anyone he’s ever
coached … they’ll probably have a story for you. … But that was just Rich being


Rich. … It was his never-ending quest for perfection. … And whether his players

knew it or not, behind the scenes he was doing the things he needed to do to

become a better coach. He would watch coaching videos and read books … take

notes … incorporate what he learned into his practice sessions. He would spend

hours watching game films, breaking down teams … re-charting games …

accumulating and evaluating statistics … putting together practice plans and

strategizing for games. … And he loved every minute of it. … It was part of his

character.

Now we all know that perfection in sports is elusive… rare in fact… but he was

relentless in his pursuit. When it came to coaching, he just didn’t have an off

switch. After Coach Rump coached his boys and their teams through every level of

sports up through high school… including two years as head basketball coach at

Aquinas… Coach Rump became Coach Dad as an assistant to son Ryan at Notre

Dame high school. … Coach Dad was responsible for the scout team … but he

coached them like they were the varsity. … He set the same high expectations …

developed them the same … taught them the same. … It didn’t matter. …

Everyone who wanted to play the game needed to know what it takes to get better

… what it takes to win. Even this year, with Ryan no longer in a coaching position,

Rich was assisting his son Matt with his junior high girls’ team. Matt said that Rich

came into one of their first practices and told the girls; “It’s OK to expect to

practice perfect” … Then Matt and Coach Dad set about the task of identifying and

correcting their mistakes. … As terrifying as it must have been for Matt and the

girls when Rich had his heart attack after the game last Monday, the simple truth is

that Rich went down while doing what he loved. Coaching was his passion. It was

part of his character.

I think it’s safe to say that Rich loved everything about basketball … except the

part that wore stripes. … For whatever reason … he had a severe intolerance for

officials. … About the only thing that set him off worse than a mistake by one of

his players was a blown call by an official … He had a one word description for it

… PATHETIC … and his use of the term … when directed toward the offending

official … got him T’d up more than once. … Ryan found the perfect metaphor …

Rich and officials … it’s like a dog and a mailman. … But the simple explanation

is that Rich had the same high expectations for officials as he did for his players …

he wanted them to call a perfect game. … So they never stood a chance.

But there was a lot more to Rich than sports. … He was also a public servant –

Rich was selfless in his service to the schools, the church and the community. …

School boards, park boards, civic organizations, rodeo concessions… it didn’t


matter what it was … you can read the full list in his obituary … If there was

something that needed to be done, he was a willing participant. But on closer

inspection, Rich did more than just participate. … You see, Rich didn’t just do

things… he owned things. … For him, there was more to volunteering than just

completing the task; he wanted to improve the process. He was a leader and an

organizer… He treated his public service assignments the same way he approached

coaching and playing … He gave them everything he had … And when an

assignment ended … he’d look back … reassess … and identify ways to make it

better next time. It was incredibly time consuming. … But he continued to do it

anyway. And it’s not like he didn’t have a day job. I honestly don’t know how he

did it. … And then there are the private sacrifices most of you don’t know about.

… Like the family paper route. … For 12 years … from the time Ryan was in

junior high to when Andy graduated from high school … they delivered papers in

the morning … So every day for 12 years … seven days a week … Rich got up

somewhere between 3:30 and 4:30 in the morning and prepped the papers for

delivery. … There were a lot of papers to be delivered in a short span of time … so

like everything else, Rich fully embraced it. He determined drop points near

neighborhoods … and the boys jogged … not walked … from house to house. …

And he altered the process as necessary for efficiency. … Why would he do that?

… Because he wanted his boys to have a source of income … and to learn the

responsibilities of a job. … But he also want them to have evenings free for their

school activities. …

Another common sacrifice was for Rich to take vacation or personal days to help

the school raise money through detassling efforts … How’s that for a fun week

off? …Always putting other first, … He coached on his own time… he served on

his own time… but he never sought celebrity or recognition … and he never

complained. It was just Rich being Rich… selfless. It was part of his character.

At the foundation of all this was Rich’s faith in God. He was a devoted Catholic

with a strong sense of morality and tremendous integrity. And in as much as we are

all human… and sin… and fall short in the eyes of the Lord… Rich walked the talk

pretty darn well. Consider the instruction that Jesus gave to his disciples in

Matthew chapter 20:

But whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your


servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the

Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom

for many.

I think Rich understood this, and he demonstrated it with a life led in


service to others. … And I’m clearly not alone with this sentiment. Rich’s uncle

Mark, upon hearing the news about Rich, shared with me this phrase … translated

from a ancient Gaelic song … which he felt was appropriate for Rich …
Some men say Lord, Lord, Lord … Other men do the Lord’s work.


As Mark then


said:

“Rich did the Lord’s work.” … It was part of his character.


At home … what little he was there … Rich was a devoted husband and proud

father. … I’m sure Beth would have liked to have seen some of that same passion

and energy applied to the growing mountain of paperwork on that table in the

house … or to the yard work … but they were committed to each other and fully

supported each other … She often served right along side him. … And when not

serving … she’d be cheering from the stands. His boys all gave him many proud

moments … Let me give you just three highlights … 1. Taking a Notre Dame team

to the state tournament with Ryan … twice … while coaching at his side. That was

the fulfillment a dream … 2. The joy of being Papa Rich to those two, adorable

granddaughters born to Matt and Lindsey. … and 3. Being there when Andy got

his wings. Rich’s life was full of blessings.

So … how did you know Rich? … As the passionate fan … the fiery competitor …

the coach … the teacher … the selfless volunteer … the man of faith? The

character threads he displayed in those roles, when woven together, tell the story of

Rich the man.

But that fiery competitor is no longer with us. … Our star player has been lifted

from the game … We may not agree with the call… but there’s no point in arguing

the call. No one is going to change it. So what would the coach do in this situation?

He’d turn to the bench… give us all a collective nod… and say; “Get in there …

you’re in the game. … It’s time for you to step up. … This is what you’ve been

practicing for… nowshow us what you can do.” … We may

not think we’re ready for that, but he’s prepared us well… he’s shown us the

way… he’s led by example… what a great role model.

To say that we’ll miss Rich is a gross understatement. We’ll grieve the loss. But if

we’re to be as selfless as he was, we should also rejoice and be glad for him… On

the foundation of his faith, his quest for perfection has come to an end. He will

spend eternity in perfect love… and perfect peace… and he can rest in the

company of our Lord.


Congratulations, Rich … Great game, coach … and thanks.

16 comments:

  1. Oh, Johi, I am so sorry for your loss. Your uncle was obviously an incredible human being who gave all that he had and more. You've been given an amazing guardian angel, and I'm sure he's cheering everyone on from up above. Prayers of healing and strength for you and your family.

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  2. Thanks Kelly. So appreciate your kind words.

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  3. Johi, that was beautiful. I am so sorry for your loss but so honored that you shared this with us. I love you, my Sister Wife.

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  4. @Jen- Thanks. I felt like it needed to be written before I could get back to funny. I love you too, sister wife, especially if you can fill my freezer with large game. lol!

    @Erin- you know I love you too, you hussy.

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  5. Johi, that was a beautiful tribute to a great man. Sorry for the loss to your family and the community.

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  6. Dear friend, I am so sorry for your loss. What an amazing man. May he rest in peace and his memory live on in the hearts of many.

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  7. Big, deep breaths for you, my friend.

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  8. He sounds wonderful. And what an incredible loss for your family & everyone who knew & will never know him. I am so sorry for your loss & completely understand what you are going through. Keep living your very full & complicated life & keep him in your heart. This will indeed honor him best. Big hugs to you. Love, your other sister wife! <3

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  9. I am so sorry for your loss. May you all find peace and comfort in knowing how well-lived and well-loved he was in life.

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  10. Your uncle sounds like he was a truly great person. I am so sorry for your loss, you are in my thoughts dear.

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  11. yes, when we have tremendous grief, it sure would be nice if time stood still. your post was so moving, johi. and your uncle sounds like a man who lived life and touched others the way God means it for us all. i'm so sorry for your loss.

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  12. Hey Lady - I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm sure your Uncle Rich is smiling right now to know that your tribute to him is to live your life AWESOMELY. Hugs to you.

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  13. I love my readers. You all are the best. <3

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