Until just a few days ago, 23 years with you had seemed like a pretty long time; it took ages to get where I am now, grown up and on my own, a respectable adult. Now that you’ve died, 23 years seems to have diminished into instants.
When mom first told me that you were gone, I didn’t cry or jibber or shriek at the indignity; I just swallowed hard, and felt a sense of vertigo as everything that I knew to be a surety—that gravity pulls things down, that the sun comes out in the morning, that you would always be here to give me advice and take care of mom—was dashed to pieces. Believe it or not, one of the first things through my head was all the things that you’ll miss now: you watched me grow into a man, but we had only just begun to establish the different sort of relationship between a man and his father. You’ll never help me pick out an engagement ring; you can’t toast me at the occasion; you can’t hold my kids, you can’t watch be at my or Brady’s masters graduation. You’ll never retire with mom and take cruises and spend your time doting on her and the cats and the slew of eventual grandkids that would fill your life.
Now, we’re picking up the pieces, and as I go through both the important documents (mortgage, titles, certificates) and the trivialities (receipts for Olive Garden, credit card offers) of your life, I can’t help but feel overcome by a devastating sadness, because all my memories of you no longer have you as a physical anchor. I feel this hysterical need to document and preserve and organize everything about you, lest I somehow forget some vital part of you that needs to live on in memory. So we sift through your baubles, keeping tokens and mementos, trying to figure out what you left to mom, and where, and how to get at it, and I despair. I feel like a small child again, sitting in your bedroom, looking at all the little things in your jewelry box and feeling bewildered by the mysteries of your life.
But I also think of how much you loved mom, and ironically how much harder it makes it that you’ve gone. I’ve never seen anybody love another person as consistently and as passionately and as dearly as you loved her; I never really told you this when you were alive, but I learned about love from watching you; I only hope I show Allison the same love, the same patience, the same unceasing devotion that you showed mom. In some way that doesn’t yet manage to console my grief, you’re still around in your children and the way we act. I hope we make you proud; I think we do.
All of your co-workers said you talked constantly about your children and your wife, were always quick to whip out photos of your new granddaughter, brag about your sons, praise your wife. It’s only now that you’re gone that I see how far I have to go before I can be the kind of husband, father, and man that you were. I only wish you were still around as my role model.
Mom’s taking it pretty hard, but you could probably guess that. Love is such a dangerous gamble: you risk everything to love someone with all your heart, and she’s utterly defeated right now. You were her lover, her husband, and her best friend for 30 years, dad; she’s lost without you. Allison’s taking it hard, too, maybe even harder than me: she was only able to know you for about 6 years, but you made her feel like a daughter. Haley is having a hard time too, with her new baby’s birth being overshadowed by this mess.
Brady and I tried to be strong; like your brother Bob, we didn’t cry much, maybe by dint of our stoicism, perhaps simply because we were still numb from it all. I cried when I had to tell your best friend Al. I felt like crying when your brother David had tears in his eyes; I felt like crying when the first person to the wake raked his fingers through his hair and moaned “Oh, son of a gun, Eric….”
Years ago, when I envisioned my 20s, it never occurred to me that you wouldn’t be a part of them. I guess you probably didn’t either. But we’ll persist here, and we’ll take care of mom, and we’ll try to do justice to all your hard work as a father. I promise you that.
Eric W. Gunnink
Age 51, of Lafayette IN, formerly of Joliet, passed away suddenly, May 29, 2008. Eric devoted his life to his wife and children. He was the associate registrar for information services for Purdue University, former registrar for the University of St. Francis, received his masters degree in English at St. Cloud St. University, undergraduate at University of Nebraska, member of Grace Lutheran Church in Lafayette, and a former member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lockport.
He is survived by his loving family, wife, Shauna (nee Oerman) Gunnink of Lafayette IN; daughter, Haley (Brian) Brown of Yorkville; sons, Brady (Gillian) Gunnink of New York, and Benjamin (Allison Marcum) Gunnink of Joliet; brothers, Robert (Miriam) Gunnink of Arizona, and David (Deborah) Gunnink of Nebraska; infant granddaughter, Isabella Brown; and several aunts,uncles, nieces and nephews; godson, Austin Oerman.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Richard and Etta (nee Huizenga) Gunnink; and a brother, Douglas Gunnink.
Family will receive friends at Goodale Memorial Chapel, 912 S. Hamilton Street, Lockport, on Monday, June 2, 2008 from 3:00 to 8:00 PM. Lying in state, Tuesday, June 3, 2008 from 10:30 AM until time of funeral service at 11:00 AM at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1500 S. Briggs St., Lockport. Interment to follow at Woodlawn Memorial Park, Joliet. In lieu of flowers, memorials to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church or American Heart Association would be appreciated. Goodale Memorial Chapel.