It’s been just over a week since my dad passed away.
I felt awkward through most of the ritual of grieving because everyone around me seemed to feel the loss very intensely, but I didn’t. Reasons were suggested, by myself and others: “you’ll feel it later,” “he wasn’t part of your daily life,” “everybody grieves differently.”
It’s not unusual for intense emotions to leave me numb at first. It’s a bit like a bomb going off in the chambers of my heart: at first, all you can hear is nothing. Then, a dull ringing echo. Then, finally, the enormity of the thing seeps in until it hits you full in the face.
So when I felt nothing, it was a familiar nothing, and I expected it to change over time. Today, it did.
The thing that hit me, out of nowhere, is that he really doesn’t exist anymore. The only things of him that remain are the memories I have, plus some photos and video.
This is a cliché I’ve heard hundreds of times, but as usual, it had to become real before it felt real. My dad doesn’t exist anymore. His set of thoughts, experiences, feelings, ideas no longer churn in the world. He is also an echo, one that only rings in the minds of people who knew him.
It’s too much for one person to hold. I can barely contain myself. How can I hold onto another person’s spirit and keep it going?
That’s when the nothing started to rise into the echoing ringing in my heart.
I can’t hold all of who he was. I can’t hold it for myself or anyone else. And that’s when I felt, in my body and not my brain, the importance of writing, and pictures, and video blogs. The better word, I reluctantly admit, is “art.”
The things we create can only be created by us. One day, the engine inside us that turns experience into journals and jokes and memes will go cold, and the only part of us that lives on is what we create, and what we create in others.
In the long view of history, that’s who we really are. We’re alive in a body for just a moment in time. We live far longer as the long echo of what we said and did.
It’s too much to ask those around me to carry me on into the future. I have to do it myself.
I’m going to try to write more here now.
Below is the eulogy for my dad. As the writer of the family, it was my job to step forward and try to capture him in a limited number of words. It’s not all of him – there aren’t enough words. But it is a reflection of him. It’s a poem of him. And it was my honor to write it.
At 10:45 AM on Dec 8, 2016, the sixty-eight year journey of Earl Dee Newton’s life reached its end.
He was born a butcher’s son in Baltimore, Maryland on Nov. 14, 1948 to Lloyd and Catherine Baker Newton. In 1966, with the draft in full effect, he did what he would do for the rest of his life: charged headlong into the problem. Just before his 18th birthday, he signed up with the Marines.
His military service led him to his professional calling in helicopter maintenance, and over the next forty-plus years he would storm to the top of his field. The demand for his skills took him all over the world, from Thailand to Saudi Arabia, Egypt to the Bahamas. The majority of his life he spent setting things right – a faulty engine, a misbehaving tractor, and the problems of those who came to him for his wisdom.
He could hold his own on nearly any subject – physics, world history, pop culture, politics. He spoke broadly and with conviction: he could take hold of a room, whether a board room or a bar room, and hold its attention for as long as he liked. He was fond of throwing enormous parties, where one could find investment bankers crowding in with blue-collar folk over a plate of hot wings. His natural humor, both coarse and clever, had a way of putting anyone at ease and welcoming them into his world.
With that wit came a quick tongue and an independent streak that didn’t always (read: didn’t ever) defer to authority. But it gave him plenty of fuel for nights spent telling stories. He’d lean in over the table he built with his own hands, a confident grin breaking on his bearded face, and he’d begin: regaling friends with the gritty details of nights spent in a New Orleans lockup or avoiding beheading in an Iranian jail.
He defied death on multiple occasions: undersea building piers in Baltimore’s harbor, plummeting four thousand feet into the Vietnam jungle in an inverted helicopter, barely escaping on the last flight out of Iran when the Shah fell. He was a master black jack player and won tens of thousands of dollars in casinos from Las Vegas to Cairo. He was a self-taught carpenter, skills he put to use in his log cabin in the woods (a childhood dream realized).
His life can’t be communicated by words, but if it has to be, then it can only be done in verbs. He built, traveled, fought, loved, gambled, won, lost, won again. He inspired, infuriated, examined, educated, argued, innovated, and now, finally, he rests.
He is remembered by his partner in this life and others, Robin Martha Newton (née Garrett), and his many children, both biological and acquired: Earl D Newton, Jr (Los Angeles, CA); Katy Newton (Euchee Valley, FL); Jason, wife Cori, and daughter Joselyn Newton (Panama City, FL); Ashley, Cassandra, and Tate Burkett; Jessica McCabe; Summer and Kaci Brackins; Jamie Burgess, and Kyrsten Fehl. He is likewise survived by other loving family members, including his brother Sherman Newton and wife Kathy of Delaware, sisters Carol Ammons and husband Roger and Michelle Rapski and husband Tony, all of Maryland.
In lieu of flowers or condolences, the family requests memories and stories of Mr. Newton be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.