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Monday, November 13, 2023

It all went by way too fast


The Eulogy of Walter Thomas Gunn

August 3, 1936 – October 13, 2023

Delivered on Wednesday, October 18, 2023

I have been entrusted with the great privilege of delivering our father's eulogy. I have always been the comic relief of my family so I’m not sure my dad remembered that when he wanted me to write this, or maybe that is exactly why he wanted me to. 

It is impossible to encapsulate his 87 years and I could list his many accomplishments but all of the memories we each hold dear are nestled in the subpoints.  

When my dad received the news five weeks ago that he didn't have much time left, his response to me was 

"It all just went by so fast."

My dad's childhood was full of speed, heights, explosions, risk, and rebellion.  I didn't learn any of this until he chose to open this vault of information to his grandkids. He loved sharing stories of flying planes with his dad, spending months at the lake house with his sisters, and racing cars, go-karts, dune buggies, motorcycles, and well, anything that moved. By his own account, he passed the time with practical jokes like filling the cracks of the street with a mixture of gasoline and oil and waiting for a car to come so he and his friends could light it resulting in a wall of flames and smoke that would startle the driver and delight my father. 

My dad was named after his grandfather, Walter Thomas Gunn who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois. His father was a lawyer and it was an unspoken assumption that being the only son he would follow in their path. But his true passion was in art and he got a BFA in Industrial design.  After college, he was drafted into the army and after that, he worked at a few different design firms before moving to Chicago. My dad had a keen eye for art and beauty, so it makes perfect sense that when he met a model named Nancy she would become his wife just 9 months later. 

She said he always loved to plan adventures. Most would require a road trip where my mom would drive and my dad would play the ukelele and they would sing ALL the way up to wherever they were going. My dad adored classical music so the songs with lyrics that they both enjoyed were limited, but when I asked them which one was their favorite, they simultaneously said "You Are My Sunshine." And after 57 years of marriage, I believe that to be accurate.

Their next big adventure was when they had their first baby, Natalie.

Two years later Nathan was born and after a long intermission, they had me, Noelle. In case anyone didn't catch on to the "N" theme, he punctuated it by giving me a doozy of an N middle name, Nannette, which he loved saying.

My dad's strength as a father was to highlight our individuality and encourage us to celebrate our uniqueness. 

He did this by spending Quality time with us. He would take months off of work every summer and plan family trips.  He enjoyed sharing "firsts" with us.  He had never been to Alaska so when Nathan was 13 they drove there and he taught him to shoot guns, fish, and camp. Another First was when he took Natalie to France, and England where they visited castles and art museums,  and had picnics with baguettes and chocolate.  We took a 5-week family road trip in a motorhome to Canada then down the East Coast. A few years later we drove to California.

He would take me on long walks to discover treasures in the woods.  On one of our walks, we stopped to look at a tree and he asked me what I saw. I explained the trunk, the branches, and the leaves. "But what else do you see?" he asked. That's it, I said. " But what about the space in between the branches? That is where you can see the light coming through!" We spent the rest of our walk calling out the newly discovered shapes I was seeing for the first time"

My dad was a creative soul, Always painting and sketching.  He would find inspiration in nature or the many many books he read from the comfort of his Charles Aimes chair. 

He rarely missed a game, performance, or graduation not only for his children but also for his grandchildren as long as he was able. 

In 2015 it was rumored that Walt Gunn was going to be the Champion of the senior pickleball tournament in Green Valley, Arizona,  when a serious accident occurred.  He had lost his footing fell off of his deck and broke his neck, which resulted in him being paralyzed. 

We were told he would never walk again or be able to use his hands again.   This was heartbreaking to anyone, but especially an artist.  

But my dad was incredibly strong and within two years, he not only learned to walk again, but he had an art show featuring all of the paintings he had done after his accident.

This is the artist's statement he wrote: 

As part of the intensive regimen at the Rehab Institute of Chicago, an artist would arrive every week to allow patients to take a class. After avoiding it, I decided to give it a try. My first attempt was a disaster. I couldn't pick up or hold a brush. I was devastated, and I gave up. 

But at the urging of Nancy, I tried again and with the help of a device that would attach a brush to my finger, I discovered that I could make simple paintings. I have been blessed that my wife Nancy has been by my side every day and night to the current day and I am truly grateful.

My parent's love for each other has been an honor to witness, especially in the very last moments, she never left his side. 

On one particularly difficult evening as his oldest granddaughter, Madelyn fed him ice chips, he openly reflected to her "I think when you get very old, you start to get very tired of dealing with it all.  But I'm not sure though,  this is my first time." 

It was then that it occurred to me, that in his last moments, he was sharing another first with us all. 

We were navigating this final first together.  Nathan read to him and when he asked what type of book he would like to hear he asked him to find one about courage.  In the final weeks, Nathan read over three books to him and when we thought he was sleeping, he would make a comment about a character or add a historical fact.  There was nothing he wanted from any of us, other than our presence.  I would lie next to him and we would discuss the shapes of the clouds passing over the skylights in their bedroom. 

 I witnessed each of his grandchildren sit with him multiple times and talk for hours.  Yet sometimes we didn't.  And the silence felt reflective and intentional.

My Dad recognized that HIS life's best days were now behind him. and he wanted us to know that some of our best days were yet to come.  

We have not yet seen it all, we have not yet felt it all 

and there are so many more "firsts"  and beauty that we have yet to discover and experience. 


But next time, he won't be able to able to be with us in person.


I recognize that it wasn't just about him spending quality time with us, but that he was teaching us just how precious time itself is.  

He will be with us in the moments we slow down, be present, and notice the light coming through in the vast empty space his death is leaving in our world.


This will be in 

the music we make, 

the art we create, 

the books we read, 

the poems we write, 

the ice cream we eat,

the nature we observe, and 

the laughter we hear. 

But especially when we all come together to spend time with each other and see what he did in his final days.  

The faces of the people he loved most.


His beloved Nancy, Natalie, Nathan, Noelle, Julie, Don, Madelyn, Jasmine, Jordan, Justin, Brandon, Dylan, Caroline, Brittany, Olivia, Nicholas, Colin, Parker, Finegan, Jack, Oscar and his new great-grandson Sutter Walter. His sisters, Andrea and Molly, his nephews and nieces, As well as the faces of his dear, dear friends.


You were right dad, it all just went by way too fast.

Monday, August 28, 2023

I Get Knocked Down But I Get Up Again

Originally read for Mamalogues 7/22/23

Back in the late 90's after I had finished working a double shift at a cocktail bar I walked to my little convertible at the top of the parking garage in Santa Monica. It was 1:55 a.m. and I knew that if I waited 5 minutes the gate would go up and I wouldn't have to pay. It was a warm night and could see the ocean from where I was standing.  I took the top down on my car and decided to take my baby doll t-shirt off too.  As soon as the gate went up I was cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway in a bra blaring Chumbawamba all the way up to Malibu. I could feel the ocean spray on my skin. When I got tired I made an illegal U-turn and went back down to West LA to my apartment doing my best not to wake my roommate when I closed my door and collapsed into bed. I didn't even wash my face.  I was twenty years old and a wild fun carefree spirit. My friends and I would flash people just for the thrill of it.   I was auditioning during the day and waitressing at night. My goal was to become famous. 
Six years later I vividly remember bringing my newborn son home from the hospital and as I shut the door behind me I had a distinct feeling I was shutting the door on that girl that I was. 
I had begun a trip without any directions and within 7 years we had three more babies.   During this time I received numerous gifts from my sons with the letter "M" on them because they didn't know I had a name other than Mommy.  And to be honest, I had forgotten too. I embodied this role and I referred to myself as Mommy- often in the third person. When I would come home from work I felt like Simba from The Lion King when he finds himself in the valley and the ground shakes and he looks up to see a stampede of Wildebeests careening towards him. My 4 sons would get into fisticuffs to see who could hug me first.  
 Being the one and only girl in my house I had celebrity status.  It was what I had wished for right?  My entire identity was Mommy.  If you looked at my social media you would think it was curated by a publicist to show what a Modern Mommy looks like. 
 As the years went on though, my homecoming looked more like the scene when Simba returns to Pride Rock to find it desolate and carcasses (or dishes and bowls) are everywhere.  I call out Hello hello hello.. only to hear an echo. 
I soon realized that I was no longer the girl my boys wanted to hug most. Our house became frequently visited by more interesting girls.  I was kind of excited about this, at least at first.  Somehow when I had morphed into Mommy my brain had been stunted and I actually felt like I was able to commiserate on these girls' level.  I mean, after all, it wasn't that long ago I was her age. I imagined that when she talked with me in the kitchen she saw a slightly older woman who she wanted to ask advice or talk about how cool I was. Just the fact that I thought that, is a clear indication of how absolutely uncool and out of touch I was.  She saw a mom that she was humoring long enough to establish trust so she could get the hell out of there and be alone with my son.  Upon this realization,  the urge to rescue my boy was primal. Much like I did at the park when the bratty little girl pushed him down the fireman's pole before he was ready and I caught him just before he hit the ground. That girl is probably still recovering from the mommy who growled at her a decade ago.  It turns out a teen boy would rather hit the pavement face first than have his mommy rescue him.

That night I washed my face and as I applied numerous anti-aging serums all over my body I took a long look in the mirror and realized my mommy celebrity status wasn't aging very well.  Think of 90's Brittany Spears and today's Brittany Spears. It is amusing, but what began as hot ended up being a hot mess.

By the time I had four teens my identity of mommy was fading but I was desperately trying to hold on to it.  And although my boys still needed a mom, they were pretty self-sufficient.  When my two older sons left the nest I found myself grasping at anything to keep mommy alive. I realized the hard way that young men do not like being babied and the more I tried the more resentful they became. If I continued to make decisions for them, they would never know that I truly believe that they are capable of making decisions for themselves.   I found that by releasing some of this responsibility, I had more free time. But if I wasn't Mommy then who was I?  
Of all the times I had wished for alone time, now that I had it, it felt uncomfortable.  The woman I was before I had kids was a stranger. And frankly, pretty irresponsible.  
I feel like I'm in the purgatory of womanhood. Wandering around trying to discover what my purpose is.  Along the way, I started believing that my self-worth was only validated by how much I was needed.  I don't even know what I like!  Up until this point, I have been making my own dinner decisions on what other people like to eat. I read books that my book club chooses.  I do workouts that my coach tells me to do.  Netflix tells me what to watch, and Spotify makes my playlists. My hobbies are...Instagram? Oh my God.. Now I understand why ghosts are always women floating around houses, they are trying to find themselves for all eternity! 
Around this time my mom texted me to ask if I wanted to use one of their cars this summer since one of our older sons is home and we could use an extra one.  The Audi TT convertible..
I said yes and rushed to pick it up as soon as possible.   When I sat in the driver's seat I immediately put the top down.  I felt a tinge of excitement when I adjusted the rearview mirror and saw that there was no third-row seat.  I took the long way home in the opposite direction towards Lake Michigan.  As I accelerated I felt the wind in my hair and as the sun kissed my face I remembered what it felt like to be ME.  That girl never left, she just grew up.  She may not flash people anymore, at least not on purpose.  She still loves taking risks. At that moment I was going 5 MPH over the speed limit.  So maybe the years have taught me to be more of a  fun care FULL spirit and less of a carefree one. 
I put on Chumbawumba and as I made a u-turn my spirit felt ignited.   My mom knows that I am capable of making my own decisions. She also intuitively knew that I thought I was stuck but by encouraging me to do something I used to love to do, she showed me that the road was not a dead end, but merely a fork. She knew exactly what she was doing when she gave me the keys to her convertible.  I didn't become a wild woman when I was in California, I was born from one.  She knew that the future path would look different, but it is still beautiful, and there so much more of myself to explore.
The word mommy is a pronoun and the word mother can be a verb.  Even if your children are grown they will never stop needing to be mothered. 
As I pulled into my driveway looking windblown, it hit me, my mom had a red convertible and she would return from a solo drive looking the same way.  She is the original wild woman but as a little girl I only saw her as Mom but she is so much more.  She had a full life before me and is living a full life after me. And I absolutely adore her for it. 
Being a wild woman is not about flashing people. Being a wild woman is returning to your girlhood and becoming all the things you WANTED to be. But you didn't because you were too busy becoming the girl that other people thought you should be.  
Being a wild woman is having the courage to allow your past and present selves to come together and discover the future woman you are becoming without other people's opinions deciding for you. The very best thing I can do to show love for my sons is to show love for myself.
At the end of The Lion King, middle-aged Simba finds himself at a metaphorical dead end and receives a message from his father that solves everything. He says in James Earl Jones voice.... Remember who you are...  Remember who you fuccking are....

The answer is not outside of ourselves, but it is always in us, Sometimes you just need to take your top off and listen to where your soul wants to take you.