And so the date was set 10 days from that moment—just enough time to whip up a decent-sized soiree. It was a bit of a rush job since his doctor wasn’t sure whether the cancer had entered Dad’s brain. If we wanted him to truly be present, we needed to do it soonest, the doctor advised.
Once we had a date, Dad began every day with a countdown to the party. “Seven days left,” he would say, and so on. But he was also growing weaker by the hour. A few days out, he had permanently surrendered to a hospice bed and was experiencing fewer and fewer lucid moments. He was slowly slipping away.
At the same time, his “nobit” had captured people’s imaginations. Once posted on Facebook, friends of the family wrote things like, “What an inspiration!” and “This is how we should all do it.” The piece also generated a wave of media interest. I was tapped to handle it, ultimately giving a handful of interviews to print and broadcast outlets, including a local paper and TV station. The story was picked up by the Associated Press in English and Spanish and ended up in dozens of outlets from coast to coast. When it hit a New Zealand site, we told Dad he had gone “international!” Media coverage wasn’t our first priority by any means, but spreading the word about this unique idea had been important to Dad and it took on a life of its own.
The Friday before the party, we made contingency plans as we weren’t sure whether Dad would be able to rally one last time. But when Saturday arrived, we couldn’t rouse him and we knew he wouldn’t want people to remember him like that anyway.
So about 25 close family members banded together to give Dad the bash he always wanted. From the moment we arrived at the venue, people streamed in to say a final farewell to a man whose special gift was bringing a touch of joy to the world. For the last 25 years, he made a point of having lunch once a week with someone he didn’t know. Every January, he would meticulously fill his old-school daily planner with the birthdays of friends and acquaintances so he always remembered to honor their special day with a phone call or a meal. As an attorney, he followed an unusual path—the older he got, the less he charged, especially when people couldn’t afford it.
We had expected a gathering of several hundred, but roughly 500-plus people packed the place to capacity. Attendees filled two poster boards with Post-it notes we had provided—some 250 of them relayed thoughts like, “Bob, You taught us always to be: •Optimistic •Kind •And have a grateful heart.” A little boy whose family had frequented my Dad’s favorite breakfast haunt—where they had regularly played “cars” together—brought by a miniature hot rod as a gift with a note reading, “I remember ‘are’ meetings at Big Boy.” A waiter from Dad’s regular lunch nook stopped by with his usual order of a Caesar salad, add salmon, and a green tea. If it’s not clear by now, Bob Eleveld liked food and he liked sharing it with people.
Attendees left hundreds more personalized notes on customized cards that we had originally intended for them to take with them as a party favor. The back of the card quoted from his nobit: “Please know that the end of my life is the ultimate ‘peanut item’ in comparison to how much I have enjoyed my life with all of you.” It was a riff off of how Dad routinely distinguished between things that mattered in life and those that weren’t worth the bother—“peanut items.”
At one point during the party, Dad awoke at home. Upon finding that all his family members were at the event, he looked at the hospice worker with his big blue eyes and asked: “Are they doing it right?” She had a coworker immediately send some video and pictures of the packed house back for his review. Apparently satisfied with our execution, he settled back into his pillow after what was probably his last truly cognizant moment.
The next day, he passed peacefully as about 20 of us circled around his bed reading notes friends had left from the day before. A hometown guy born and raised, he had spent a lifetime specializing in community. He wasn’t necessarily flashy, but he was engaged and brought a certain gregariousness to everything he did.
While I knew many of these things about my father, witnessing this concentrated outpouring of love that truly celebrated his presence rather than mourning his absence crystallized for me what a difference we can make in people’s lives through small acts of kindness. At the end of our time here, it’s these precious moments that survive us—little else really matters. It turns out, you don’t have to be extraordinary to be extraordinary.
(P.S.—A special thank you to Daily Kos reader ScottyUrb, who posted a beautiful dedication to my father in real time a couple months ago. Many, many heartfelt thanks.)