Eulogy for my Father in Law – June 18, 2010
Good Evening. Thank you all for coming. My name is Leigh Stang and I’m proud to say I am Contrad Hebert’s son in law. My wife Danette and her mother Eileen asked me to say a few words over Con. Not because I knew him the best, but because I look at things kinda sideways and they thought I might provide a different view of Con then would be expected.
As you may or may not know, Con suffered a heart attack two weeks ago. So he’s lying in the hospital bed and the thoracic surgeon comes to speak to him. He tells Con that they performed an angioplasty to clear a blocked artery. He tells Con that if wants to live a little longer, he’s gonna have to change his life a bit. He’s gonna need some more excersice, but not too much. He’s gonna have to take blood thinners and beta blockers and 8 other mediations every day for the rest of his life. Con says OK. He’s gonna have to change his diet. Alright. No more salt. Sure. No more caffeine. Makes sense. But the final demand was too much for Con… The doctor said no more ice cream and he said that’s it, there’s no point now. The prospect of no ice cream stopped his heart.
It’s ok to laugh at that, it’s kinda funny. But at the same time it sums up the kind of man Con was. A man who actually, ACTUALLY, did enjoy the little things in life. Because, some time before I met him 16 years ago, he figured out that the little things are the big things. That the best thing you could do for yourself every evening is to sit down and slowly savor a big old bowl of ice cream. The slowness of it, the smoothness of it, the velvety, decadent luxuriousness of it, that there isn’t much in life that can’t be helped with a generous dollop of ice cream.
I thought about that on Tuesday as I drove to Edmonton to get my son Braedon and my nephew Scott from the airport. I thought about all the lessons Con taught me over the years. Always without saying anything. He was riddled with arthritis. Hips, knees, hands, back. But the only time I heard him complain was when he said he didn’t want to take the medication because it made him feel out of sorts. Fight through the pain. It’ll go away eventually. Ever notice that he smiled all the time? No matter what was thrown at him? The more he smiled, the lesser the problem seemed. Never hears a cross-word. Anger didn’t seem to have a point in Con’s life. I dare anyone here tonight to think of a time when he spoke an unjustified word about a person, or a situation, or an event.
As I drove along the highway with the rising sun at my back, ruminating on my loss, I started to notice how green the surrounding countryside was… is. That made me put something else together, that I never noticed until that day. When I would go to Con and Eileen’s, and if I was in a bit of a snit, about whatever petty thing was bothering me that day, Con would amble over to where I would be brooding and take me into his garden. HE never asked me what was bothering me, but instead showed me his giant tomoato plants. He never prodded my problem out of me, but would talk about how those damn birds were eating all of his Saskatoon’s despite his most valiant efforts. Then Danette would come out of the house and we would leave to do, whatever…and I always felt better. Whatever I was stressing about would seem a little bit ridiculous and a lot less important. These are all great lessons… great lessons.
Which got me thinking about great men. men that lead countries., men that have gone to the moon, men that have climbed Mount Everest. Great men. Not really. Great achievements, certainly, but not necessarily great men. Deeds don’t make men great. It’s how they interact with their fellow man that shows who they truly are. How they quietly and with momentous humility open their hearts to strangers and friends alike. And Con did that. Every day that he was on this planet he did that. He didn’t have to be a President, or an author, or a captain of industry. He wore many hats during his life. his last being a jeweler. A humble job. But think of all the lives he touched doing that. Men buying rings to ask girlfriends to become wives, husbands buying wives anniversary presents, children choosing something for Mothers day, Father’s day, birthdays, holidays, retirements, celebrations… always. A humble job, but massive impact. And in the middle of it, Con, with his immaculate suite and teddy bear charm. He never tried to be more than he was. A simple man, loving a simple life. And in that humility he exceeded his restrictions and became a great man living a great life.
The simple man idea got me thinking about the Zen story of the old man of the mountain. You know what I mean? The really old guy that lives at the top of some mountain, and dispense wisdom to those worthy to hear it. Well that’s Con. He’s the old man on the mountain. He’s the one with the answers that never offers his opinion. Except in my story, he lives in a garden, not a mountain. And some young fool, me, comes to seek the old master and after finally finding him in some secluded corner of this lush and vibrant place, tending to a little plant that everyone else would have given up on, the young fool asks. Master Con, tell me, please, what is the answer to all the questions?” And Master Con slowly straightens his creaking back, wraps his leathery gnarled fingers around the worked and smooth handle of his treasured dutch hoe… you know the hoe he’s had since 1958 or something like that, which is a lesson in itself… anyway, he leans on his hoe, lifts his face to the warm summer sun and is quiet for a long moment. Then he lowers his face, looks directly at the young fool and says with solemnity “I don’t know, let’s go have some ice cream and think about it.”
Thank you Con for being in all our lives and for giving us the lesson of ice-cream.