As promised, nothing appeared on this blog since the notice of my father’s passing on Friday, until today. Below is the eulogy I gave at his service on Tuesday, October 24, 2006.
Reverdy Lewin Orrell, Jr.
Born: October 10, 1920
Departed this life: October 20, 2006
He was a gentleman, who lived and died with grace and dignity.
My father, Reverdy Lewin Orrell Jr was the son of Reverdy Lewin Orrell Sr and Mary Martinek. All of the ‘Reverdy Lewin’s’ in our family were named after my grandfather, Reverdy Lewin Orrell Sr and Grandpop’s uncles, Dr. Reverdy Benson Stewart and the Hon. Lewin Randolph Stewart, both Confederate soldiers in the Civil War. The Reverdy name will soon span six straight generations.
The names of Reverdy and Lewin continued in our family, as my son and I, proudly claim both of them. The Reverdy name will continue as a great grandson, Jackson Reverdy Orrell, will be born in early January.
It made my father very proud and happy to learn that his great grandson will bear the name Reverdy, as his middle name.
As one life ends, another begins. Last week, as the end was near, my wife Nora, found a very small fern tree beginning to grow in my father’s back yard. She dug it up, and it is now known as the ‘Reverdy Tree’. It will be cared for, then eventually planted in my grandson’s front yard in Winsor, Pennsylvania, as a living memorial to my Dad.
My parents were married for over 58 years, something he would tell all of the staff at Johns Hopkins on his many visits. Dad became very tired, about April of this year, and was diagnosed with leukemia during the summer. Shortly afterwards, he was diagnosed with fungal pneumonia, a nearly always fatal end to leukemia patients, especially those advanced in years.
We don’t even know the number of units of blood and plasma that was given to him on his twice weekly visits to Hopkins. Because of his age, he was not a candidate for the tradition interveinious chemo treatment.
He was enrolled in a new test study and was given a regiment of chemo pills.
Eventually, the fungal pneumonia worsened, as he had no immune system to fight back. Finally, a few weeks ago he began liver and kidney failure. He was hospitalized on September 9th and cared for by several wonderful nurses. Finally, we were told on Friday, Oct 6th that nothing more could be done. He was released and sent home on Saturday, Oct 7th to spend his final days in the comfort of his home in Halethorpe, Maryland.
It was then my father began a detailed list of things that he wanted done and the nurse at Hopkins made me promise I would do everything he wanted, without wavering. I did that, knowing as each item was checked off his list, I was bringing him closer to his final breath.
While given the option of returning to Hopkins three times a week for plasma and blood, Dad said from the start he didn’t want to go back. He was tired and knowing the end was near, wanted to go in peace and quiet.
We began the daily i.v. to still try and fight off the pneumonia. He told me that he would eventually tell me when he wanted the i.v. and pills stopped. That happened this past Wednesday night.
He said he didn’t want any visitors, but quickly relented so that he could see his brother Richard, and sister, Mary. He also wanted to see his niece, Phyllis, who had previously been a Registered Nurse. She helped and gave us tips on making him comfortable and brought her father over every day.
Dad wanted several things.
He wanted to make sure the car, which was only in his name, was put in my mother’s name. He was insistent we get the proper form and title for him to sign.
He wanted to try to eat an oyster sandwich. He hadn’t really eaten anything in several weeks, as the chemo had destroyed his taste buds. He only ate a few bites of the sandwich, but he tried.
The only thing we could get in him during his time at home was a few spearmint leaves, a handful of grapes, some soda, and a few caramel cremes.
Another thing he wanted was to have the photo of my Mom in the coffin with him, so he would have it forever.
My father was a very proud and dedicated Mason for over 53 years. Every year Maryland Masons meet at Bonnie Blink, the Masonic Home in Hunt Valley, for what is called ‘Cornhusking’. This has been an annual event for many years. At each event a special Masonic coin is presented to each brother present, representing ‘One Day’s Wages’. Dad only missed a very few Cornhuskings since becoming a Mason and had all but one of his coins.
He had hoped to attend this year’s event, which was held last Saturday. In the beginning we thought he might be able to go, but that was before his final episode. The Grandmaster had given me special permission to drive him up on the hill and park in the Grandmaster’s parking spot. There a wheelchair, oxygen, and a nurse would be waiting.
As the situation worsened, we knew he would never attend and my father would never get his 2006 coin. The Grand Lodge of Maryland was notified. They did something that has never been done before. They had me present two coins to my father ahead of time, as Dad wanted to be buried holding his Masonic penny forever. He was shocked to receive these coins and showed them to everyone who visited. He now holds that special coin. The Grand Master was notified of his passing on Saturday and was told how happy Dad was to receive the penny. The Grand Master said to tell everyone it was the very least the fraternity could do and was very glad that it brought some happiness to his final days.
Dad kept worrying about Mom, up until the end.
They had recently decided to put in a new heating and cooling system. It was to be installed on the Monday after he came home. His brother in law, Bill Malle, was to oversee the installation. We assumed we would postpone the installation as my father wouldn’t want this taking place during his final days at home. We were wrong. He insisted this be done as scheduled, much to everyone’s surprise.
I then received a call from his other brother in law, Ron Malle, who recently retired. Ron & JoAnn wanted to visit, but I knew my father’s instructions. It was then I came up with a plan. Ronnie could always bring a smile to my father’s face. Ronnie burst through the door on Monday morning, before Billie arrived. “Where’s that Billie?”, he shouted. “He’s late again. He called me and said he couldn’t get enough workers here to help. Here I’m retired and he calls me to help. I might as well help, because everyone knows Billie will mess it up.”
This was just what my father needed, as he started laughing. Ronnie put on quite a performance, which even got better after Billie arrived. They stood in the living room and argued about how things should be done and my father laughed. At one point someone said, “We’re lucky Frank isn’t here. He hasn’t worked with tools in so long, he doesn’t even know which end of a monkey wrench to use.” My father continued to laugh.
Last week, Frank & Kim flew in from Florida for one day for the sole purpose of seeing my Dad. That really touched my Dad and he told everyone about it. He also proudly showed everyone his 2006 Masonic penny.
He kept his sense of humor up to the end. Earlier in the week, his sister in law, Dorothy Kunsman, and her family came to visit. As I leaned over him, he whispered in my ear, “Don’t give her any beer or we’ll never get her to leave.”
I write some hard hitting conservative and social commentary on one of my websites and blogs. Suddenly, emails, get well and birthday cards started pouring in from around the world. I’d tell him every day how many emails I received about him and he couldn’t believe it. At one point the web server crashed because of the amount of visits to the website. It got to a point, I couldn’t answer all of the emails and went to a daily posting about his condition.
One of the readers, who is in fact, a customer whose website I designed, sent my Dad a hand painted birthday card. It was his favorite and he showed it to everyone who visited.
Dad changed his mind and allowed visitors after that Monday. He did it for two reasons. He knew how important it was for people to come and say goodbye. He also needed to hear that everyone would look after my Mom.
Imagine that courage. He knew he would only be with us for a few more days, yet all he thought about was my Mom’s welfare and other people’s needs. The only thing he wanted to hear was that everyone loved him and my Mom, and that everyone would look out for her. In his last days, he gave everyone what they needed, as he had done his entire life.
A few days after he returned home, he started to have some bad days. We thought he was about to leave us many times as his breathing increase, then decreased to almost nothing. He fought hard, not wanting to leave my mother behind. The frequent visits helped. As everyone told him my mother would be looked after, he finally became more assured that she would be cared for and not forgotten.
Up to the end, her welfare was all he cared about.
My son came over one night with a DVD of the baby’s sonogram. Sara had wanted to come to the hospital and house, but was forbidden to do so by the doctor. My father understood and didn’t want to run the risk of the baby being hurt. Reb & I brought the computer to my father’s bedside and let him watch the DVD of his great grandson. He mentioned that several times afterwards. He had a chance to see Jackson Reverdy Orrell and died knowing the Reverdy name would be carried on to another generation.
Dad asked to see Reds & Louise Gobel. Reds was his friend for over 70 years. He also asked to see Larry & Sue Stein. He and Larry had been close friends since my father joined the Masonic fraternity in 1953. He thanked each of them for being his friend for so many years.
My father was a huge fan of conservative talk radio. He could tell you the times and stations of the various shows. He enjoyed listening to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Les Konsolving, and Michael Savage. I can remember as a child, Dad going into the bedroom every evening and turning on the radio. During this past year, I would download the Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage shows onto my computer, then transfer these shows to a CD. During his last stay in the hospital every evening when I left I would put in a CD for the previous day’s shows for him to listen to.
A conservative to the end, the one final thing he did was vote by absentee ballot in the upcoming election. He wanted to be sure, much to the dismay of his brother in law, Bill Waldecker, that conservatives were voted for.
This is a CD of the last shows he listened to. He will have these now forever.
He is wearing his Masonic apron and is ready for lodge again. He told me the other night that he knew Carol’s father, Fred Gross, and Norman G. Williams, a close friend of mine, plus countless other Masons, were waiting to go to lodge with him.
During his last day and a half, he would slip in and out of consciousness. Most of the time, when I’d whisper in his ear, he’d answer with a word or two, or nod his head.
He said he saw his mother and father, his brother, George, and his dog, Pitiful. During one of these times, I asked him what he was going to do. He said soon he was going to give Pitiful her daily chocolate bar.
He also saw a bright white light which was getting larger every day. There were also other people around him, but he didn’t see their faces and didn’t know who they were. However he knew they wanted him to follow them to a better place.
We all told him it was OK to go with them, that his work here on Earth was done.
Finally, at 2:15 AM on Friday, October 20th, he left us to go to a better place.
My father wanted his wake to be held at Cactus Willie’s on Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie. He was a simple man who like a good meal at a good price. It was one of his favorite places to eat.
The country group known as Confederate Railroad, had a hit song called ‘Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind’. That song certainly applied to my father. He knew the value of a dollar and saved. He didn’t like gold or glitter, and never wanted attention thrust on him. He’d have a fit right now if he knew how much money was spent on these floral arrangements.
One expression that really exemplifies my father is the phrase “Actions Speak Louder Than Words.” He was a quiet man of few words. He rarely lectured me on anything. About the only thing I can remember him telling me several times was that ‘a car is merely means of getting from point A to point B.’ He never believed in buying a fast, flashy car; he only wanted one that was reliable.
He led by example. His actions, conduct, and demeanor should serve as a shining example to all of us. He lived and died as a gentleman with grace and dignity, caring more about others, than himself.
My father was very appreciative up to the end. I’ll never forget when he was getting ready to leave Hopkins for his final trip home. An attendant bathed and dressed him. He could barely stand. As she finished, he hugged her and shook her hand. He then thanked her for everything and told her it was a pleasure to met her. As he left Hopkins, the word quickly spread that he was going home. Nurses from all over the floor ran to say goodbye, each one crying as they bid farewell. He told them all it was OK, and that he was prepared to die. Here, at a time when he showed be the one comforted, he thought only of consoling others. His favorite nurse, Tracey, called him on October 10th, to wish him a happy birthday.
There is one more item my father asked me to do for him, which he made me promise to keep quiet about until now.
His wife, Jean; his sister, Mary; my wife, Nora; and his niece Phyllis; were all special people who looked after him daily during his last few weeks. He also loved his granddaughter in law, Sara; but knew she couldn’t see him before he passed. We were all hoping Sara could visit and shove her big belly in his face, but he knew her the baby’s safety would be at risk.
Dad requested that I purchase something special, properly engraved, for each of them, as a way of thanking them for everything they did for him. Each one, in their own special way, gave him something very special, that only they could impart.
Up to the end he only thought of others, being thankful for loving family and friends.
He was a gentleman, who lived and died with grace and dignity. I am a better man today, because of the strength of my father.
As we mourn the death of my father, I charge each of you to keep your promise to him that my Mom will be looked after. It was truly his most important wish.
We love you Dad and will all miss you very much.
Rest in peace, Dad; give hugs and kisses to our departed loved ones; go to lodge; and be sure to give Pitiful her Hershey’s chocolate bar every night. We’ll all be with you in time. We’ll all be sure to take care of Mom. Everyone will make sure that your great grandson is told all about his great grandfather, a gentleman who lived and died with grace and dignity.