Just a quick entry today. I'm not entirely ready to reflect on yesterday's service, but I know I will be soon. For now I will just say that the boys and I are completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, support and friendship being sent our way. We appreciate you all so much.
I mostly just wanted to share the Eulogy that our Rabbi Susan Abramson read for Neal yesterday. She was kind enough to send me a copy so that I could share it with you. From my perspective she really captured Neal so well and I would love to share it with you.
Her Eulogy follows below:
It is hard for us to wrap our minds around the fact that we are here today at Neal Fox’s funeral. No one was more full of life in every sense of the word. He lived every day to the fullest, with enthusiasm and passion. He enjoyed every moment and every person he was with. He was a model for all of us as to how to be upbeat, kind, loving and giving in the face of a horrible death sentence.
We all knew this day was coming for a long time, but we are amazed that Neal was able to postpone the inevitable for as long as he did. He lived years longer than the original diagnosis. Four months ago the doctors gave him a week or two to live. I went to see him in the hospital and came away feeling like this was the end. I was literally shocked when I visited him at hospice the following week. He greeted me in the living room, jumped up and gave me a tour of the facility, showing me the brochure, telling me about all the amenities, joking about where he was allowed and not allowed to have a poker game. You would never in a million years know that he was a patient there. I have never heard of someone going back home from hospice because they got back to being well enough that they didn’t need to be there.
Even before his illness, Neal schooled us all about exactly how to be a loving son, husband, father, son, brother, uncle, friend and how to make every person he encountered feel good, with his infectious smile and laugh.
He was a loving and devoted son to Arthur and Marcia. His mother couldn't be here today because of health issues, but she told me how very close the two of them were, how they spoke on the phone all the time, and what a wonderful person he was. She said that she has a picture of the two of them in her apartment that she can always look at and feel that he is always with her.
He and Michelle had a loving relationship for 22 years. I will be reading what Michelle wrote in a moment, but I wanted to mention that Neal loved to brag about her all the time. Neal was an amazing cook and made my favorite matzah ball soup and roast chicken when he and Michelle catered my family's Passover seder every year. But when he would deliver the food to my house, he would make a point of opening the cake box and saying, "and of course here's the cake Michelle made. Her flourless chocolate cakes are the best. Look, she even put a flower in the middle. She's incredible." You didn't have to ask him twice to show you pictures of all the amazing cakes Michelle made. His constant line was "can you believe this? She's so talented."
Neal was the most loving, caring, involved father to Ben, Jeremy and Matthew. Talk about bragging… I could barely say hello before he would launch into their accomplishments. He was so excited when Ben got into his dream college and so proud of how well Ben did there this year.
I rarely go to plays that temple kids are in, but Neal invited me numerous times to Jeremy's first high school production. He kept telling me how wonderful Jeremy was and I wouldn't be sorry. Of course I went, and during intermission Neal came over to tell me again how great Jeremy was.
Neal was so proud at Ben and Jeremy's Bar Mitzvahs. His sons' Jewish education was extremely important to him. He personally drove Ben to confirmation classes and field trips and after every one would tell me how great it was that Ben was learning the material. And as for Matthew, Neal would always take me aside and tell me that Matthew was such an amazing person, how he was so kind, sensitive, and wanted to make everyone around him feel good. Neal called him his mini me. He and Matthew loved talking about history, discussing Communism, playing games, watching movies, going on school field trips and sporting events. They had a special relationship.
And I know the three of you loved your father and appreciated everything he did for you. Ben, you told me that he was the cool parent. He was the one who let you see violent movies and slightly inappropriate movies like Ted. You remember how he stayed up with you all night playing video games when you had meningitis. You liked his spontaneity. How he suddenly invited you to go to a monster truck show with him. Jeremy, you loved how he would go to random local shows with you and take you out to dinner. He was the one who would let you do stuff that your mother wouldn't let you. Matthew, you recall him making your favorite tuna fish sandwiches. He was always there for you. You loved hanging out together.
He was one of the most giving people I ever met, the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. He was always thinking of everyone else around him, instead of himself. Throughout his illness, he did everything in his power to keep everyone's spirits up and make it as bearable as possible for everyone around him. The most important commandment in the Torah is Love your neighbor as yourself. Neal embodied that rule, from the way he embraced every person he met, to his empathy for anyone who was suffering. He was truly horrified by what he saw happening in our country over the past couple of years.
Neal grew up in Randolph and graduated from Randolph High School in 1984. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Bridgewater State College, and his master’s degree from Emerson College.
But the most important part of the story is when he met Michelle:
Neal and I met in December of 1992 when we both worked for the same chain restaurant, the Hearth ‘n Kettles on Cape Cod. Neal was an assistant manager at the Yarmouth location, and one of his old roommates, Frank, was the manager in Hyannis where I worked as a waitress… back then they made us dress like pilgrims! When the company holiday party came around, Frank told both of us that we HAD to meet each other… that we would be perfect together. He fancied himself a matchmaker and was determined that we should meet. We spent most of the party together, dancing and talking and getting to know one another, and I remember feeling “this one is different, don’t do anything stupid” right from that very night. For our first date we went out with another couple that I worked with to a very nice dinner, and then to a night club to listen to music on acoustic night. We had a great time, and Neal, knowing that our matchmaker Frank was quite the practical joker, decided we should pull a prank on him since he was so nosy and invested in our budding relationship. We came up with an elaborate story of the worst date ever where Neal had abandoned me alone at the club while he left with another woman. The next day, my coworker friend warned Frank that the date had been a disaster and not to ask me about it because I was really upset. I showed up to work and Frank was hiding from me most of the day…. While desperately bothering my coworkers and trying to get details of what had happened. At the end of my shift, Neal showed up to pick me up for our second date, and Frank freaked out. He started yelling at Neal…”Are you crazy? What are you doing here? Get out before she sees you!” At which point I came right over and gave Neal a hug and a kiss on the cheek hello. Frank nearly passed out in shock.
Another special memory I have is of Neal’s marriage proposal… it was New Year’s Eve and he booked a very nice restaurant for us the Nimrod, near where we lived in Falmouth on the Cape. We had a wonderful surf and turf dinner and as midnight was approaching he was very eager to get home. I got a little snippy because I was enjoying myself and wanted to have a cup of coffee before we left. But he was adamant that we had to be home by midnight. So we left and when we got home he told me to start a pot of coffee and turn on Dick Clark so we could watch the ball drop at midnight. And lo and behold, when I opened the bag of coffee, there was a ring box inside! Neal then got down and proposed right at midnight. I was so surprised and loved how he knew me so well that I would want my coffee right away! Oh, and I said yes.
Neal loved becoming a father. He was so excited the whole time and came to every doctor check up with me when I was pregnant with each of the boys. He used to sing silly songs that he made up to my belly! Of course in a silly voice…
You’ll be here in 3 months, la la la la la.
You’ll be here in 3 months, la la la la la.
You’ll turn our lives upside down, la la la la la
But it will all be worth it when you smile, la la la la la
As you can tell… humor and laughter was a big part of our life together, right from the very start. Neal was always smiling… even when times were difficult he always found a way to make it bearable with his incredible positive attitude and zest for life.
He had a way with people that was very special. He was a master conversationalist and was comfortable talking to everyone from corporate CEOs and even a celebrity or two, to the garbageman and mailman. He never judged people by what they did for a living or how much money they made, he paid more attention to who they were as people. He enjoyed getting to know new people, and making them smile or laugh. He had a very genuine laugh that could be heard above a crowd. He love life and he loved his family.
When he was originally diagnosed with cancer in November of 2014, he was told he might only have 6 months. Thus begun the bucket list, and we became determined to cross off as many things as possible and to fit as many memories into whatever time he had left. We went to Vegas, California, he played golf on Pebble Beach, saw Hamilton on Broadway, and saw live games of all 4 major Boston sports teams. He even took Ben to see the Monster Trucks! He loved to travel and was the BEST travel companion. I used to call him “vacation Neal” when we traveled because his joy at visiting new places was so contagious.
Neal loved his sports! Especially the Patriots and Red Sox. He was so happy the first time the Pats won the Super Bowl. It was a week after Jeremy was born and his mom and dad were visiting with us to meet their new grandson. He went on and on about how wonderful it was that he got to see that game with his father. He was also a very good golfer and enjoyed sharing the game with his sons. He started taking them to the driving range at very young ages and enjoyed playing on the golf course with Ben as he got older and also with his nephew Jacob.
Neal also loved his food! He was a wonderful cook and taught his sons how to master the grill. He owned his own restaurant and enjoyed winning people’s hearts through their bellies. He loved food so much that even when he was no longer able to eat it, he would watch the Food Network on TV all the time.
He was my greatest supporter. It was an ongoing joke between us that every time I would make or do something new he’d say, “you should sell those!” or “you should start a business doing that!” He helped me feel confident to take risks and try new things, and to believe in myself. I know he tried to do the same for his sons too. He was so proud of their talents and would boast about them to anyone that would listen. He was so happy to be able to tour colleges with Ben and travel with him across country to visit his first choice. He was excited to see every show or concert that Jeremy performed in, and he loved to spend time with all of his sons sharing their excitement even if it wasn’t one of his interests. He and Matthew loved to watch movies together… especially superhero movies, or Harry Potter and Star Wars. He loved them completely and was fully engaged as a father. He loved to take them camping when they were little and accompanied them on many many Scouting trips and museum overnights. He loved having that special time with them.
Neal loved spending time with his extended family also. Knowing his time was limited, he asked his siblings and their families, and my siblings and their families to come together to spend the winter holidays together… while he still felt relatively good and so we would all have that lasting memory. We booked a couple of nights at Nordic Village in NH and just had a wonderful time enjoying family. Many family members traveled from other states to be there, and it meant so much to Neal that everyone came together for him.
One thing I’ve been told over and over in the last few days was what a wonderful guy Neal was. I have been told so many stories of how he has always been the first to help out a friend, to lend a helping hand and more. Aside from his contagious laugh, his heart of gold was his trademark. He was the definition of the word “mensch”. Over the years he volunteered countless times at blood drives and fundraisers for the Immune Deficiency Foundation in honor of his boys. We traveled together to DC to meet with legislators to advocate for better healthcare for immune diseases. And he was very passionate about politics and had enormous empathy for others. He had a very strong moral compass and he never wavered from the direction it sent him.
Through determination, a positive attitude and a little bit of stubbornness, he managed to live for 3 ½ years after diagnosis. Shocking his doctors, but squeezing as much out of life as he could. He taught me so much about making the most out of life despite the cards you are dealt.
He was a loving brother to Lesley and her husband Jim. From Lesley:
There is not enough time and paper to write everything I would like to say about my relationship with my brother Neal. As kids, we spent a lot of time together because we are only 2 years apart. We were always there for each other, with the exception of a few sibling fights. As teenagers, Neal hung out a lot with me and my friends. They loved him too. He would go skiing with us, weekends in Newport, etc. Neal is a funny, warm and easy-to-love person. When Michelle and Neal first met, it was hard to share him. I would ask him to go to a concert or something like that, and he would have to ask Michelle. That was the beginning of letting go of my little brother. I was the maid of honor at their wedding. Then I got married and we shared the experiences of the joys of marriage and having children.
When he got diagnosed with this horrific cancer, we were all in shock. Neal took it on and he lived every day as if it weren’t there. He always showed up with a smile and plenty of laughter. He made this journey easy to go through with him. These past couple of months is when I started to see his decline. And then last weekend, I knew it was time. But even then, he showed his silly side through his expressions. I love my brother, I will miss him in this world until the day I die.
By the way, Neal, you never told us what food to put on the table at holiday meals that would represent you, like the holiday candy we have for dad, and the cream soda we have for Nana Fay.
He was a loving brother to Russell and his partner Brian:
My brother approached me at a restaurant where were having my birthday dinner. It was a cold January night. He had recently received his diagnosis and he told me that he was going to see dad! I thought..Ok what do I say to something as evocative as that? Think fast! I said “Well Neal, I'd like to think that you would fight this challenge!” Little did I know then that he would live 3 and half years. I've learned that the guy was just made of stronger stuff. He made it very easy to see him, be with him through this, and most of all he allayed our sadness and fear as best as anyone could, that he had made peace with fate.
My childhood memories of growing up with Neal have been replaced by adult ones, going to concerts, swimming in my pool with the kids which he found very relaxing and fun. I'll miss those days with him. Neal was generous of spirit and he enjoyed waxing philosophical like we used to do with our dad. I remember he called me after taking a self-awareness seminar called the Forum, to tell me that he loved me and was very proud of me and my accomplishments. I feel lucky that a guy like Neal was my brother because he was a gentle true spirit and from our conversations I could tell we got each other.
He was a loving uncle to Jacob and Hayley.
Jacob: I loved talking sports with Uncle Neal. I had a lot of fun going to the Red Sox and Patriots with him. He was always accommodating and took care of others. He took us to the golf range and laser tag when we stayed at their house while my parents were away. He was a fun uncle and I will miss him very much.
Not only did I have the pleasure of having Neal in my life, but I was able to have him as one of my uncles. I can definitely say he was one of the most joyful and enthusiastic people I know. The times I got to spend with him were at family gatherings, as he always showed up with a smile on his face excited to see everyone (even when he was a little late). I always remember the way he told jokes and then began to do his memorable silly goofy laugh. When my parents went away, Uncle Neal and Aunty Michelle immediately stepped up and took care of us that week. While there, I went with Uncle Neal to Market Basket just to pick up a few items. You would think he had a job there because every single employee was on a first name basis with him. This was an example of how his joy resonated through everyone. My Mom told me that I hum when I eat just like my Uncle Neal did as a young kid, and probably as an adult too. We both enjoy our food. Love you Uncle Neal. I will miss you at our family gatherings.
He was also a loving brother in law to Michelle's 3 brothers and their spouses: David and Molly , Sean and Corinne, Brendan and Beth
And their children:
Ziv, Roy, Nathan, Dylan, Vida and Liam
This is from Vida:
I'm so very grateful that I got to spend so much extra time with Uncle Neal this summer by staying with him and Auntie Michelle. My earliest memory of Uncle Neal was a road trip we took to visit Uncle David in NJ... and all the way down, I was sitting in the back in my car seat with my mom and dad, and Neal was so enamored with me that he spent all his time driving waving at me in the rear view mirror and and saying "Hi Buddy!" to make me giggle and say "hi Buddy" back. And later that year, Ben was born! Uncle Neal, I will miss you forever, "bye buddy!"
He was a loving son-in-law to Erlend and Bonnie. This is from Erlend:
Every parent with a daughter hopes and dreams that she will find a good and kind life partner. When Michelle introduced me to Neal it was soon apparent she had found her soul mate. The two were joined in a deep and abiding love that carried them safely through a seemingly endless series of challenges. Neal was always a humble, kind, and gentle husband and father to his three wonderful boys. No one could ask for a kinder more faithful son in law. It has been my privilege to spend more time with Neal and Michelle than most parents would. He was always looking for the positive side of things and that spirit helped him and his family through the months since cancer invaded their lives. He demonstrated more strength, cheerfulness, love and endurance than anyone could have anticipated. I loved him and I will miss him as long as I live.
I can promise you and everyone who knew Neal would know that he would not want us moping around now that he is gone. He would definitely want us to live our lives full of joy, laughter and love. He would want us to spend the precious days he no longer has squeezing every last drop of out of life that we can. This is Neal's legacy and lesson for us. Live life to the fullest, have no regrets, no holds barred. Don’t leave anything on the table. And do what we can to make this world a better, more loving and compassionate place.
May his memory always bring a smile to our face and our heart and our soul. He leaves this world, but not our hearts, with the greatest crown of all, the crown of a good name. His memory will be for a blessing.