THE BLOG

On My Father's Death from Brain Cancer: A Eulogy

03/09/2015 02:11 pm ET | Updated May 09, 2015

When a commenter at People.com impersonated me and in doing so stated that my father -- a long-term brain cancer patient -- had died, I could not have known my father would indeed die several months later.

This is a shortened version of the eulogy I delivered at his memorial service.

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Phil Schneiderman was born on April 10, 1947, the last child of three. And he died, Phil on Thursday, February 26, 2015, but not for the first time.

That's right, Phil died twice. He died for the first time on Dec 5, 2005:

Phil, 58, wakes for another day at the nearby office -- a rented space from his company, Key Equipment Finance -- where he will make calls to clients and prepare expense reports from previous trips.

Phil will spend hours on the phone with his customers, and also with colleagues from the many different merger-happy companies he worked at: Bank of America, Chrysler First, Deutsche Bank. His advice will help move people from one job to another, one city to another, one life to another.

He will imagine these possibilities during the drive down Manchester Road in suburban St. Louis. He will sing along to Motown hits -- perhaps Smokey Robinson's "More Love," but just as likely to the Michael McDonald "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

For Phil, these are essentially the same. He lives in a world where most things have found their own level.

He returns to the office parking lot after lunch, and then, suddenly, he dies.

Phil feels sick -- he knows something is wrong. He holds up his key to unlock the car door... and he takes out his key to unlock the car door...and he takes out his key to unlock the door.

And he turns the key, and turns the key.

The key is air. The key is made of air. The key is his finger. The lock is made of jelly.

He staggers toward the office and Phil crashes onto a couch in the foyer. No one finds him. The others have returned to their offices with pictures of eagles and inspirational quotations about teamwork and decision-making, and therefore about nothing.

The swelling of his tumor -- glioblastoma multiforme -- causes the brain to rub away his old personality, to produce a man whose memories are there along the edge of a distant planetary rim, interrupted by a meteor at the junction of the past and the future.

That day, the old Phil dies. And he never comes back.

The doctors open his skull and remove what they can of the tumor. The new Phil emerges from that degradation: He does chemo, takes 60+ pills a day, and submits to the poking and scanning of his body that will never cease until the time he dies again.

What the doctors don't know is that this isn't so much the old Phil surviving, as the new Phil -- the second one -- struggling to be born.

The midwife of this birth is his wife of so many years, Ruth, whose devotion and constant care keeps the new Phil alive. She organizes her life dozens of doctors and scores of medicines. She maintains, against her own need for peace, the constant bright lights of their bedroom and the blasting sounds of 24-hours news that provides, in its repetition, an anchor to the world that the first Phil once felt himself so strongly a part.

The new Phil, unable to find his pronouns, unable to name his relatives, will class his life in two ways. 1) "Before I died" and 2) "After I died."

Phil moves from a boyhood in Brooklyn to maturity in an age of increasingly political complexity. His lackluster grades reached new levels academic seriousness at New England College, prodded equally by his not-unrelated interests in American history and of not dying in Vietnam.

By the mid 1970s, Phil has become a schoolteacher in mid-state Delaware. The salary was not enough to support his growing family (my sister was born '78), so the first Phil became a salesman.

At Xerox, in Wilmington, he would take the orders of corporate clients, have copies made at the plant, and then hand-deliver the results to the businesses. He used the machines for other purposes as well, making dozens of copies with me of a t-shirt proclaiming, "I'm the Big Brother." These sheets of rainbow ink prepared me not only for my sister Lisa's arrival, but also of his life as a traveling salesman.

In sales, Phil found his calling. The first Phil was a talker.

And talking, you see, is the family business.

He talked his way through his first big deal with Carrier Corporation in the mid 1980s, and he talked, more or less happily, until that day in 2005 where he held an invisible key in the air and turned and turned.

After his first death, I came to know the second Phil as if meeting a different father. He could no longer care for himself, and yet this second Phil was a person of great and amazing love.

He understood, although he could no longer speak it, many of things that had eluded him in his old life. Phil came to better understand the value of words. Each day he spoke three to me that he had rarely said before: "I love you."

In those words that he could only find for me after his first death, Phil found the capacity to feel and to understand, because the words came from a place of surrender.

He had to give up everything to find them. Phil discovered during years of forced humility a meaning we often lose as we rush into our next business deal, our next life success, our next throwaway purchase.

In the final days, his world became even smaller. Only his left eye could crack itself open. And even then I could still hear what he was trying to tell me.

In the end, Phil knew how to speak without speaking. And he taught me how to listen.

We certainly want to remember Phil before he was sick.

And yet I also ask that you today remember the second Phil with me -- the one who lived these last nine years, and the one who finally stopped suffering last week.

Remember with me, friends, the second Phil Schneiderman.

Remember with me the second Phil Schneiderman, wracked with disease, enfeebled, aphasic.

Remember with me the second Phil Schneiderman, who told us each day -- and in each blink of his closing eye -- that he knew, when it mattered most, what it meant to love us each in return.