My dad passed away on Feb. 24. It was expected. He had been ill with a laundry list of medical conditions for years and in and out of the hospital often. But on November 15, 2018, he went into the hospital and never came home. He had been moved into a subacute facility, but was never able to get to the point where he could get out of bed. He continued to decline slowly and had so much pain particularly from bed sores. About 3 weeks ago, he requested comfort care, so we knew the end was imminent.
From the moment he passed late last Sunday evening, I felt like I had been cannon-balled into a whole other life. Everything else is put on hold. Funeral planning is more work than I, or my family, ever anticipated. And it was even a combined effort between 4 people! There are endless phone calls, not only to notify friends & family, but to notify Social Security, banks, doctors, etc. It’s mentally and physically exhausting.
We held the visitation at the funeral home for him on Friday, then a Mass on Saturday. The services were beautiful. My dad was a Vietnam Vet, so we had military honors at the funeral, complete with the playing of taps & the presentation of an American flag to my sister by two army members. I had never witnessed that and it was so moving. Also, the outpouring of support from friends & family was amazing. One friend told me “people just come out from the woodwork!” and she wasn’t kidding.
It’s surreal that it’s over and he’s gone. There’s still paperwork to fill out and getting my mom settled, but I don’t know that the reality has set in just yet. Plus, you don’t have a whole lot of time to grieve before the services, but I hear this week could be tough.
I’d like to share the eulogy I wrote (with contributions from other family members), and Justin read on my family’s behalf.
Good morning everyone.
On behalf of Ruth Ann (John’s wife), daughters Pay & Jan, grandkids RJ & Pumpkin and son-in-law, Scott, we want to thank you all for coming today. My name is Just. Well Justin, but John, or Papa K as I call him, had a thing for shortening people’s names or giving a nickname.
John Kopec was a misunderstood man. The most true labels for him were soldier, a Pollack and the man of 99 lives. But he was also a husband, a father, a Papa, a bother, an uncle, a father-in-law and a friend.
These labels fit him to his very last day. No amount of suffering was too much and to say he had a few brushes with death is an understatement.
Starting with moving from one low-income housing to the next, then being drafted in August 1965, joining the army and being sent overseas. John fought for our country in Vietnam and for that, we are eternally grateful.
The Vietnam War may have ended, but when he returned to American soil, he continued to battle his own demons.
Vietnam never left John, yet he hardly talked about it. The most he would say was, “girls, I spent 13 months living outside in the jungle. I never need to go outside again.” He was very proud to be a veteran and for his service, we were too. Ryan & Sarah even had him honored at their school events, which he loved being a part of.
As we all know, his suffering continued in a long list of issues, like diabetes, heart disease, neuropathy and COPD. More than 20 surgeries since the 1980s and 17 stents, we’ve known for a long time that eternal peace would be much better for him—and us—than this kind of living.
We would like to share some of our favorite things about him.
For me, one of my fondest memories of Papa K is when I called to ask for his permission to propose to Patrice. For people who don’t know me, I am a joker. Papa K and I like to banter back and forth. I was really nervous when I called. He of course said yes, but later told me he wanted to mess with me and say no! He didn’t because I was in a remote area with bad cell service when I called and he thought “what if he loses service and thinks I really said no??’ Papa K and Mama K, thank you for bringing the most important person into this world and letting me be her husband.
Papa K had an incredible sense of humor and was quick-witted with comebacks. All of his friends from his 30 years at GMAC can attest to that.
He was the best “brudder,” but very protective. Patricia, his older sister enjoyed a lot of lonely Saturday nights in high school because everyone was too scared to ask her out! As for his baby sister, Elaine, he spoiled her with gifts, even while overseas in Vietnam.
He had an uncanny long-term memory. If you asked him what date he won the lottery, he would tell you that exact date or when man stepped foot on the moon or what day he was drafted and what day he came home.
He made “To Do” lists in all CAPITAL LETTERS and used highlighters to highlight each task, even when the “to do” list included “Get mail” and “open mail.”
He had his own style, which included “dungarees,” “bermudas,” white socks up to his knees and bright-colored sneakers. And always a watch.
He was the only male we knew who used a hair dryer after every shower and his silver-grey hair, which he had since age 29 was his pride. He even joked he looked like Phil Donahue.
He was early for everything. The girls had to be at this church at 4:35pm every Saturday for the 5pm mass. He used to make Thanksgiving reservations the day after Thanksgiving. He was the first person on Mansel Drive to put out the garbage pails for pick up.
He was extremely frugal and a financial wizard. He even taught the girls about interest rates by borrowing money from them and letting them charge him $1 in interest for every day he didn’t pay back.
He recommended the best books and the worst horror movies.
He was a UFO expert and wholeheartedly believed. He even had an encounter documented by Life Magazine.
He was the best storyteller, especially to his grandkids. Ryan’s favorite was when he and Papa would get a call from the White House because aliens were attacking and the government needed their help.
His cars were always spot clean and never older than 2 years.
He loved going out to dinner. He would look up the menu in advance and write down his choices, in all CAPITAL LETTERS and highlighted of course.
He would think the house was chilly if it went below 80 degrees and would always yell, “Ruth Ann! Close the door! You’re letting the heat out!“ He would bundle up in his heaviest jacket and hat just to get the mail from the mailbox.
He would buy everything in bulk. If anyone needs a box cutter, a highlighter or a bottle of Perrier, please see me afterwards.
He taught valuable life lessons and would repeat them so his family would memorize it.
And to end, I’d like to share one of the best lessons. Life has peaks and valleys.
If there is anything we can learn from John Kopec, it is to be humble about the hard times.
We love you JJK, be pain free and rest in peace.
***The monthly currently post will resume at the end of March, as “currently,” this is the only thing on my mind***