[This is the message I gave at my dad's funeral service quite a few years ago.  I post it here on the possibility that others who are facing the loss of a loved one might find some of it useful.]


    When my wife and I named our last son, it was really hard to decide on a name.  We kind of thought he would be our last boy, and there were so many boy's names we liked.  We finally narrowed our list down to three names, but then we were stuck.  So finally we decided to give him all three names.  Michael Thomas Josiah Marmorstein.

    My dad's parents don't seem to have had this problem.  With eight children and more to come, they didn't have names to waste, so they only gave him one name: Robert.

    It always seemed kind of unfair that Dad didn't have a middle name, so sometimes his kids and grandkids would suggest another name for him.  And today, in his honor, I'd like to suggest some possible middle names for Dad, some names that are particularly appropriate.

    The first name that comes to mind is "Mr. Music."  Robert "Mr. Music" Marmorstein.  You see, Dad loved music, and he loved to sing.  Life with Dad was like living in a musical.  He could burst into song anytime, anywhere.  He often sang lovely, lyrical things like "C'est L'Amore" and "Oh, Marie," but Dad really came into his own when leading songs around the campfire.  It was amazing to watch him as he turned even the most timid group of kids into a laughing, smiling choir, with everyone singing at the top of their lungs.   Dad didn't play a musical instrument himself, but, in some ways, he was the best musician of us all.  Better than Marc who writes such wonderful songs?  Better than Paul with his gold records?  Yep.  Because, you see, it's not so hard to get other people to enjoy a good song.  But anyone who can turn "Three Wooden Pigeons" into a much-requested hit--well, there's a musician for you.  Robert "Mr. Music" Marmorstein.  It has a nice ring, but it's easy enough to find something even better.    

    How about "Legs."  Robert Legs Marmorstein.  What a great name for Dad.  Why?  Because Dad loved dancing, and because he danced so well.  His version of Cotton-Eyed Joe was as good as anything Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly could come up with.  But what really stood out about Dad's dancing was what he could do for his partner.  Like Astaire and Kelly, Dad could make any partner look good.  My wife says that, when you danced with him, you felt like the most graceful woman in the room.  All the women wanted to dance with Dad.  But it could be a bit, well, embarrassing.  Dad would go up to a woman, say "Do you want to dance?".  They'd say, "Sure"--and Dad would look around and say, "Well, we'll see if we can find someone around here who will dance with you."  Didn't work with my mom, though.  They first met, I think, at a dancing class.  Dad came up with his usual line, "Do you want to dance?"  Mom returned the question, "Are you asking?"  He hesitated.  "Yeah, I'm asking."  "Then I'm dancing," she said.

    I'm pretty sure Mom didn't know at the time how true those words were, exactly how much she would be dancing after that.  But dance they did--everywhere.   And everywhere they went they brought smiles to peoples faces.  They stopped by a student dance at Northern a few years ago.  They danced for a bit, having their usual good time.  As they were leaving a student rushed up to them with a gift certificate.  They'd won a prize in a contest they hadn't even entered.  Robert Legs Marmorstein.  A very good name.  But maybe there's something still better.

    How about Aquaman?  Robert Aquaman Marmorstein?  Dad loved the water, another one of the many things he and my mom had in common--though she didn't know that at first.  Mom grew up on Puget Sound, and loved swimming no matter how cold the water.  When she and Dad were first dating, they went out swimming one day.  Mom, of course, jumped right into the water.  Dad pretended to be afraid of the cold water.  He hesitated, and hesitated.  He put one toe in the water, and stepped out shivering.  Finally, Mom coaxed him into the water, and I'm sure she was thinking "What a wimp."  Somehow they decided they'd have a race.  Now Mom is a good swimmer, and apparently she had a lead for a while.  But then zoom.  Presto/chango: Aquaman!  See Dad was a great competitive swimmer.  When I was in high school, he could still swim faster than half the swimmers on the high school team.  But what was neat about Dad is how much fun he had in the water.  On the diving board especially, Dad was really something to see.  He had this clown-diving routine in which he called himself "Slowpoke," a routine which brought smiles to people's faces for years.  One of us would be recruited as straight man.  "Hey, Slowpoke, is diving dangerous?"  "No," he'd say. "Landing is dangerous."  He was still clowning around on the board at 70--still doing that wonderfully funny full gainer.  And you could always depend on the question, "Hey, how high do you think I can jump?" right before his patented (or at least, seldom imitated) one-foot-off-the-board pratfall.  Robert Aquaman Marmorstein.  A great name, but still not quite good enough.

    How about Mentor?  Robert Mentor Marmorstein.  Dad loved teaching, and he was incredibly good at teaching all sorts of different things.  He taught elementary school, junior high school, and classes for adults.  He taught citizenship classes, dancing, swimming, reading, writing, social studies--and on occasion, even mathematics.  Whatever it was, his enthusiasm filled his students with a love for the subject.  I don't think there ever has been or ever will be a better swimming teacher: not just because his swimmers picked up the basic skills so quickly, but because they got, as an added bonus, his love of the water.  And as a dancing instructor--well, it was unbelievable how quickly he could take a group of people who had never danced before and get them dancing everything from The Bear Went Over the Mountain and Seven Jumps to The Virginia Reel and Texas Star.  And they had such a good time learning.  Dad called squares at elementary schools, at universities, at recreation centers, and at churches (even Baptist churches), and people always wanted him back.  Robert Mentor Marmorstein.  Not bad.  But I've got a still better name.

    How about just plain Dad, or for you grandkids the name he gave himself, "Grandpops?"  Robert Dad Marmorstein or Robert Grandpops Marmorstein.  There are lots of public service announcements about dads these days.  "It takes a man to be a dad."  Well, Dad didn't need the public service announcements.  I don't think anyone ever tried harder to be the best dad he could possibly be.  Dad was always involved in his children's lives.  He was a part of our youth organizations, an Indian Guide leader, a Cub Scout leader, and a Boy Scout leader.  And dad was always there for all our school activities.  He went to just about every play, concert, speech, or sporting event we were involved in.  I've coached athletes whose parents seldom or never came to a game.  That wasn't a problem with Dad.  In fact, Dad kept coming to our high school wrestling team's matches long after all of us had finished wrestling!

    And Dad was always there to help us with our schoolwork.  Of course, getting Dad's help carried some risk.  Marta once went to Dad for help writing a book report on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and, before she knew it, she found she was writing on The Ugly American--a book she hadn't even read.

    But Dad was always looking out for us.  I don't know how many times he literally gave one of us the shirt off his back.  And then there was the time Donna and I were stuck on Latrobe road.  We had all the kids in the car.  It was raining.  There was no phone anywhere close.  And all-of-a-sudden: there was Dad.  He just had a feeling we needed him.

    I'm sure Marc and Jody and Paul and Marta could each tell dozens of stories on how Dad came through for us just when we needed him.  Robert Dad Marmorstein.  The best yet, but still not enough.

    There was so much more to Dad than what I've mentioned so far.  There's his love of books and of learning in general.  There's his love of travel.  And then there's his general love of people.  One of my daughter's English teacher's was introducing the word "extrovert" as one of that week's vocabulary words.  She turned to Miranda and said, "Now your Dad: he's a great example of an extrovert."  It made me laugh, because if I'm an extrovert, what was Dad?  The kind of man who walks up to a complete stranger and talks to him as if he were a friend--and far more often than not turned him into a friend.  Dad had friends everywhere--partly because everywhere he looked he saw someone he wanted as a friend.

    Dad had a rich, full life.  He had a wonderful wife that he loved, probably the greatest thing any man could have.  He had six kids and sixteen grandkids, and he was loved dearly by every one of them.  He had Seventy-eight years filled with wonderful experiences, and wonderful memories.  Could a man possibly want anything more?  

    The answer to that is absolutely yes.  Dad used to sing a song.  I don't know the title of it, but some of the words were, "When you come to the end of a lollipop, you always long for one last lick."  When I was a kid, that seemed to me the saddest song in the world.  And it seems to me even sadder today.  Because we've come to the end of the lollipop--and what I wouldn't give for one last lick.  I want so much one more round of The Bear Went Over the Mountain.  One more look at Cotton-Eyed Joe.  One more family trip to Burton.  One more "hug for grandpops."  Hey, I'd even settle for a rousing chorus of Three Wooden Pigeons.

    No.  Seventy-eight years is not enough.  A hundred and seventy eight years would not be enough.  A thousand and seventy eight years would not be enough.  No.  Even after a long, full, life death is horrible, and I would do anything to undo it if I could.

    And I'll bet everyone in this room feels the same way.  And you know what?  There is someone in this room who, unlike the rest of us, can do something about death, and already has done something about it.

    Now when a loved one dies, people often get angry with God.  It's certainly a natural reaction--but, in a way, it's really ironic.  Because, you see, God hates death more than we do--far more than we do.

    It's interesting to see Jesus' reaction to death.  John 11.  Jesus friend Lazarus has died.  Jesus comes to Bethany where Lazarus is buried.  And then the Bible tells us "Jesus wept."  Now this is, in a way, very strange.  Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead.  So why was he weeping?  It seems to me that Jesus isn't weeping about Lazarus' death, but about death itself, the death that awaits every one of us who walk this earth.  Now remember that Jesus was a man of immense self-control, a man who could endure the most excruciating physical pain in silence, a man whose patient endurance of scourging and crucifixion convinced even his tormentors that he had to be the Son of God.

    But here Jesus weeps.  And its clear that, if Jesus weeps, God the Father too weeps at the thought of death.  


    Because, as the scripture tells us, God is love.

    Now as the Greek philosophers attempted to define love, they concluded, quite rightly, that love is, in part at least, the force of attraction, the force that binds husbands and wives together, the force that binds parents and children together and that binds friends together.  Love, even on the human level, hates separation.  It's hard for me to be away from my wife and kids even overnight.  Leaving our friends and relatives in California to move to South Dakota was one of the hardest things we ever did. Sending my son of to college: well, I got so choked up I couldn't even talk.  And death?  Well, death is the greatest of all separations: and that is why God hates it so much.        

        God is love, and death is the very antithesis of what God is, the separation that is the very opposite of love.  And God hates death so much that He did the hardest thing he could do in order to defeat death--in fact he did what I think is the only thing God would find hard to do.

    God the Father sent his Son to die.

    I think it is impossible for any of us to know how horrible a thing this death was for both God the Father and for Jesus himself.  We may be tempted to think: well, the death only lasts for three days, and then Jesus is alive again, so it's no big deal.

    But it was a big deal, greater than we can imagine.   We see this from Jesus side of things in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus was in agony, sweating great drops of blood: not for fear of physical pain, but because of the pain of separation from the Father. 

    But at the price of pain greater than any of us will ever feel or imagine, Jesus through His death broke the power of Death.  As many a preacher has said, death just ain't what it used to be.  It is no longer the inevitable end of the story of every man--and it isn't the end of Dad's story.

    Dad used to sing a song that laughed in the face of death.  "You can dig my grave with a silver spade."  It talked about all the wonderful things there were in store in heaven: a starry crown, a golden harp, a long white robe.  He wasn't always as confident as that song made him sound, and I think most of us don't have quite the assurance we should about the good things that await after death.

    Now my academic specialty is eschatology, the study of ideas about life-after-death, heaven, hell, and judgement.  I suppose after all those years of study, I should be able to tell you exactly what awaits Dad now.  I can't--and the Bible indicates that no-one can explain fully what waits in heaven.  The Apostle Paul had visions of heaven--and said there was no way to put what he had seen into words.  The scripture says "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man the good things that God hath prepared for them that love Him."  Until we're actually there, we can only guess at the good things in store for us in heaven.  It's my guess that one of the greatest joys will be the reunions we have with lost loved ones.  Dad may even now be celebrating with my saintly little brother Eric whose short life touched so many people in such important ways.  He may be getting that starry crown and golden harp he sang about.  And there's even an outside chance he may be teaching an angelic choir to sing "Three Wooden Pigeons."  But whatever's happening, it's good, because we have a good God, a merciful God, and a loving God.

    And that brings me to my final middle name for Dad.  Love.  Robert Love Marmorstein.  Love because of all the things he loved: music, books, dancing, swimming, and life itself.  Love because of all the people he loved and who loved him.  And love because he now finds himself enveloped in a greater love than anyone can possibly imagine.  Because we have a God who is love, whose love triumphs over even death, and in whose love we can find comfort and hope even in our deepest sorrow.