Eulogy for Dean Stanley Canada
Vail CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: The following is the eulogy read at the funeral of Dean Stanley Canada, read by his daughter, Collins Canada.
13 August 2008
My dad’s illness took away from him so much of what he loved, yet he remained optimistic and found new ways to stay active and engaged in the community. Before his lung transplant, it got to a point where tying his shoes took his breath away, but he never let that stop him from living his life. He was courageous and uncomplaining and thankful for all the time he was given. When the physical demands of selling real estate became too much for him, he looked for other ways to start giving back. He was Volunteer of the Year at the Eagle Valley Humane Society. He also volunteered at the Literacy Project at the Avon Library. While living down in Denver, he taught GED classes and volunteered at the National Jewish Hospital. He also took classes through the University of Denver and his courses included classical music appreciation, philosophy, and most significantly for his family, memoir writing. My dad left to my mom and me a precious gift in his writing. As a way of remembering and celebrating my dad, I am going to share with you reflections on his life in his own words.
My dad might have done better and lived longer if he had moved to a lower elevation. Vail, after all, is a place where even people with healthy lungs have a hard time breathing. My mom and he looked at other, lower places to live, but they always came back to Vail as their home. The main reason for their staying was not the weather or the environment, but rather the community, all of you, with whom they had a history and the strong bond of friendship. I would like to express my deepest gratitude for all of the love and support you have shown my mom and me over the past week, but I would especially like to thank you for the support and friendship you showed my dad. His life was richer because of you.
My dad had a gift for making friends from strangers in the briefest encounters. His warmth and openness crossed all barriers, and he looked for ways to get people talking about their own lives, and then he remembered, forever, their stories. Over the past three years, he got to know nearly every nurse and attendant, it seemed, at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver. He remembered the names of my friends, even if he had only met them once. My parents drove out to visit me in Williamstown, Massachusetts every year I was in college. The first time, they stopped at a barbershop in Victor, New York, and (though he didn’t have a lot of hair to work with) he came out raving that Al, the barber, had just given him the best haircut he had ever had. The next year, my dad walked in the door and Al looked up from the head he was working on, pointed, and exclaimed, “Vail, Colorado – right?!” The third year, Al and my Dad greeted each other with a hug. My dad radiated warmth and kindness and could make anyone feel at ease with his quite, gentle manner. I learned to listen and observe from my dad.
In 2007, he wrote the following: “To me a human life matters, whether black or white, beautiful or ugly, tall or short, rich or poor, Jew or Christian or Muslim or atheist, sane or insane: these are just labels that set us apart. All have human dignity. There would be no prejudice if we celebrated our similarities. We all share and crave love and acceptance for who we are, not as someone wants us to be.
It is difficult to reach out to another, to love another without first loving ourselves. Everyone has a toothache and baggage and it keeps our love from emanating out to another person and up into the universe. But when you come to realize that all we have on this earth is our time and our integrity and that we are here to serve each other, we all have the capacity to become like Mother Teresa”serving one person at a time. One person hurting with a toothache at a time and it could be our spouse, our child, our neighbor, our paper boy or that complete stranger standing over in the corner alone.”
My dad went into real estate not for the money or the thrill of the sale, but because of all of the wonderful people he got to meet and the interesting stories they had to tell. I met so many of his clients because, while he was working with them, they would invariably become his friends”lifelong in many circumstances. It was through real estate that my mom met my dad. She was trying to buy the Canada A-frame in East Vail, which he had listed. My mom started noticing my dad for the man of kindness and integrity he was, when he talked her out of the buying the house and himself out of the commission.
My dad modeled integrity for me in the way he lived his life. He was a caring, accepting father, who rarely gave advice, but when he did it was valuable. The three of us, my mom, my dad, and me are a small, but close family. Though I tried living in Boulder, Boston, and Palo Alto, I wanted to come back to Vail to be closer to my mom and dad. Of his family my dad wrote: “Of all I have received or given, my daughter is the most precious of all. Having a family is the only gift I have ever given myself. As I reflect back, I often feel I will have passed through, failing to have done anything worthy to deserve one line in the eons of history. By many, I may be remembered as a real estate agent but I want to be remembered as having given life to a child. My life has been empty and meaningless until I reflect on my daughter and her mother. My wife, my daughter, Collins, gave meaning to my brief tenure on this planet.” My dad was God’s gift to my mom and me and we will both miss him dearly.
Mom, you and dad made such a loving and nurturing family for me. Everyday, you reaffirmed the vows you made to each other on your wedding, especially when sickness replaced health. Mom, dad was truly blessed to have you in his life. You sacrificed so much to care for him. Of you he wrote, “How lucky I am to have found Charlyn and to have chosen her out of all the choices I could have made. There is no doubt I made the right choice.”
My mom and I have mourned my dad much longer than these past five days. His respiratory illness robbed us of time we would have spent hiking and skiing together, exploring continents, and playing as a family. In 2004, I wrote the following on Thanksgiving Day, exactly one year before my dad’s lung transplant: “Though I know exactly where my mother wants to be buried, and that my father cringes at the thought of his body suffocating entombed in the ground, we have not often spoken about death as a family. I think that my father almost died in the hospital this past week, and the abruptness with which I was reminded of his impending premature death struck with full force. A lung transplant could extend his life another ten or fifteen years, but the failure of such a major surgery seems to present the possibility of picking one’s own date to die. We sat huddled in the living room, my mom and I on the floor, my dad in his favorite chair with the dog on his lap, crying, grieving, and finally talking about the decision that we, that my father has to make.”
My dad, as you know, decided to get a lung transplant. While the doctors were prepping him for the surgery, they pointed out where they would make the incisions, approximated how long the surgery would take, and describe what he could expect during recovery. Always making light of situations, my dad replied with something to the effect of, “Okay, that all sounds fine. Now…what can you do about my nose?” I know my mom has always been happy that I inherited a nose from her side of the family rather than from his.
My dad did not for a second regret receiving his new lung. He lived for two years and seven months after his transplant surgery, and for the first year of that time my dad felt younger and healthier than he had in the ten years proceeding. In 2005, He wrote a letter to the donor family of his new lung that I would like to share with you:
“Dear Donor Family,
Not too many people on this earth get a second chance at life. I did because of a compassionate caring person in your family. I was told before the surgery a new lung would improve the quality of my life but perhaps not the quantity. I am so thankful to be alive for however long God grants me life. I promise you I will honor your gift with my last breath.
Thanksgiving now has a whole different meaning to me. I was called to University of Colorado Hospital on November 23rd at 9:30 PM, the surgery from 3:00 AM to 8:00 AM on Thanksgiving put me on the road to a new life. Only a week before, my wife was concerned I would never see 2006.
After struggling for breath for ten long years, especially the last six months where I had to concentrate on each breath I took, the first step in the ICU without supplemental oxygen was worth the struggle. I now find enormous gratification in the smallest, most elemental pleasures. Taking my first shower after surgery was heavenly, waking up in my hospital bed before dawn to the most beautiful winter landscape I have ever experienced living in Colorado, walking at dawn in Washington Park when it is still so peaceful with only the soft nuzzling sounds of the geese still snoozing and a few eager squirrels darting about sharing the experience with an occasional jogger or an early riser like myself. I find myself weeping for no reason at all except in finding pure joy in my new life thanks to someone who cared enough to become a donor. I weep for your family in your loss. What a courageous and compassionate gesture to offer part of oneself so that someone might live.
We are a very active family who enjoy Colorado to the fullest. We hiked, jogged, biked, swam, skied and traveled together until I was about fifty-four when I went on oxygen twenty-four hours a day. Since 1996, I missed so many wonderful experiences with my family but I encouraged them not to quit doing the things we once enjoyed together. Many times my wife and daughter came home from a hike in tears because I was not able to share in some wonderful experience they had encountered that day. Well, now I have nothing to hold me back and a lot to look forward to. At age sixty-three, I feel like I am twenty again. In honor of the gift from your family, I am exercising daily in anticipation of hiking and the many other things I can enjoy with healthy lungs. I will continue to honor my lung as long as I am able by doing my part to keep your gift alive by giving back, to pay the good fortune forward, and to spread the word of this blessing. I will always keep your loved one and your family who gave me a second chance at life in my prayers.
Sincerely and gratefully yours, Dean.”
My dad made good on his promise to the donor family. He hiked up Booth Falls again with us. He and my mom hiked up the Shrine Ridge at the peak of wildflower season, and we have a wonderful photo of him at 10,000 feet without oxygen. Even during his last week in the hospital, he was trying to keep exercising so that he would be strong enough for the next surgery he needed. He continued to have such optimism and hope that the doctors would do the best for him. And though he knew the surgery was risky, he went into the operating room in a fashion that will be remembered in family lore. He shifted the gurney into 5th gear, and as the doctors and nurses wheeled him away my mom called after him, “Bon Voyage.” He replied, “Hasta Luego.” My mom then said, “Vaya con Dios.” And his parting words, which elicited peels of laughter from the nurses, were, “Don’t forget to flush.”
Neither my mom nor I were with my dad at the hospital when he died on Friday. We are certain that his brother Stuart, who also died at age 66, was there to take him by the hand into heaven. My dad said the following at his brother’s funeral, and it bears repeating, “Stuart was always my best buddy, my mentor, my hero, my advocate, and I being bashful, my spokesman. He was kind and gentle, never teased, embarrassed, or was jealous of his younger brother. He included me in every thing he did….Of all the memories, I will remember him most for always being my friend and for his eternal optimism and humor.” Dad, we miss you. I know that you wanted to dance with me at my wedding, and there are so many other things in my life that I will miss sharing with you. Even though you are no longer here in body, you will always be with me, with us, in spirit.
As you remember my dad, I know he would like you to do two things. First, savor a big, deep breath of fresh, mountain air, and second, don’t forget to flush.