Friday, April 10, 2015

Remembering Paul Robert Delmore | 1952 - 2014

My very beloved uncle Paul passed away just over one year ago, and I think of him constantly. I was honored to give his eulogy last year and have been asked several times for a copy. While I certainly don't mind sending hard copies around, I'm also posting it here for posterity.

Paul Robert Delmore
April 29, 1952 - March 31, 2014

Because he spent his adult life a plane ride away, my family has spent the last 40 years waiting for my Uncle Paul to come home. And when Paul finally arrived for a holiday or gathering, two things always happened.

First, you heard his voice. It was an invitation - deep and booming, but impossibly warm. Every word had an air of bravada, as though he should be on stage instead of in your living room.

Then you’d make eye contact with him. And as he beelined toward you for a hug, Paul’s eyes crinkled around the corners, and twinkled wildly. Despite his rich Florida tan, he was still Irish in every way.

And that was when the landscape changed. He was not a performer after all, he was your adored - and adoring - son, brother, uncle, cousin, friend. The ultimate conversationalist, cheerleader, co-consipirator. Even when you hadn’t seen him in months, Paul didn’t bother with small talk. He always started five questions in, referencing small details that he’d heard from others while trying to draw out new information. In a word, Paul wanted to know *everything.*

In fact, my mom Sheila remembers her parents, Bob and Margaret, saying that when Paul was born, that little babe craned his neck around to see the world he had just come into. He was taking it in, and he continued to take it in. Paul was extremely observant - he saw it all, commented on it all, and had strong opinions of how things should be.

As the Delmore children - Kathy, Paul, Dan and Sheila - grew up, the most important value instilled by my grandparents was the notion that you are kind and welcoming to everyone. Paul took this to heart more than anyone. I’m sure all of us here today can think of many times where his thoughtfulness made a difference. It could have been an unexpected postcard that served as a day brightener, or a long phone call where he reminded you how great our capacity to love really is. Paul always knew what to say.

He had a genuine interest in people, and he was well-served in this regard by another Delmore trait, the steel trap memory. Paul never forgot a face, detail, name or relation, allowing him to make connections where no one else could, even decades after the fact.

Together, this true love of people and his memory, made Paul the greatest storyteller most of us have ever known. Delmore family gatherings always included stories from days long since past - growing up on Salem Avenue, attending Most Holy Trinity or Benilde High School, stories of local shops, shopkeepers, neighbors, fellow churchgoers and friends.

No one thrived on those memories more than Paul. In fact, if someone brought up a story blurred by the years, Paul was not afraid to interrupt with the long-forgotten details. It usually went something like this: “How can you not remember that the neighbor’s cousin’s best friend’s niece was also the cashier at Warner’s Hardware in the summer of 1972?” It wasn’t only that he remembered, it was that he was incredulous that this information wasn’t stored in everyone’s memory for easy access. And so he stood there, his voice eclipsing the original storyteller’s as he mimicked the exact original quotes, in the exact original voices, of every bit player in the story. By then, his perfect, unique and contagious laugh would set in and soon it would overtake the room. And the stories would continue all afternoon, making it all the more difficult when he left for Florida. We would have to wait until his next visit to get to return to that level of belly laughter.

Paul spent much of his life in service to others. He was humbled by the idea of making someone’s day better or brighter, and he did so in his personal life but also for many years as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines and the job he held after his retirement. He had an uncanny ability to make people feel welcome, and important - which was recognized by Delta executives who promoted him into first class service almost immediately. Beyond this, his over-the-call-of-duty approach was greatly appreciated by the regulars he served and came to know on his flights over the years.

In short, people felt cared for in his presence. He was truly devoted to his parents, with whom he talked every day on the phone - if not multiple times a day. Despite the geographic distance, Paul remained an incredible caretaker to them. He bookmarked news items he knew his parents would want to talk about, and always had a treasure trove of anecdotes to share with them. But the truth is, the content of the conversation didn’t matter as much as the fact that he was calling - their chats with Paul were the highlight of their day. Because of his easy ability to travel, he also came to town for the big events and often for no reason at all. Over the last few years, he has generously chauffered my grandparents around town to go to dinner or to take them on long drives around their old neighborhoods.

The second best example of his caring spirit was that Paul - not once but twice in his lifetime - became the adoptive dog father of a dachsund. Pepper, in his childhood, and “Doggy” over the last ten years or so in Fort Lauderdale. While both dogs had perfectly decent families attending to them, they met Paul and their lives were never the same. If you heard anyone else tell that story, it would have seemed crazy - but when you knew Paul, it made perfect sense that the dogs had chosen him, and that the request had been honored by all parties.

The fast-changing world was difficult for Paul to accept. He would be the first person to say he didn’t like computers or cell phones, but I think what he truly didn’t like was how they changed people. Paul loved to make connections, to strike up conversations and offer his quick, quirky wit to strangers. And so as everyone started to quicken their pace, and spend more time looking at their phones than the world around them, Paul was dismayed to lose what he considered to be a pillar of the human condition. The power that comes from a random shared experience with a stranger who becomes a friend, if only for a moment.

The great mystery of Paul’s life, and now his death, is that he was able to show staggering levels of love, selflessness and kindness to everyone he met, but unable to give himself that same level of care. And so as we put him to rest, we ask that you remember the lessons he put on display for us everyday.

Be there for people, and love them. Show them they are important, by asking the questions no one else would, and not judging them for their answers. It may be that you have to put intention behind it. It may be that you have to slow down. But you will find that by offering kindness, it will be returned to you.

And when that kindness is returned, know that you are deserving of it. Recognize your value, and recognize that you are in fact invaluable. Know that those whom you love, love you back. Do not be ashamed or afraid to ask for what you need from them. Do not be afraid to be who you are. And know that who you are is enough. In fact it, it has always been more than enough.