My eulogy for my father, Jerry Allan Williams, who passed December 29, 2022.
In lieu of a witty one liner or an embarrassing antidote, I’ll just say what I’m actually thinking. No daughter wants to be put in this position, but since we must be here, I want to use the time to tell you about the man I knew. The man we’re all here to celebrate. You knew him as Jerry. I knew him as my dad.
My father and I were inseparable when I was a little girl. He made sure my childhood was glowing. Filled with chocolate ice cream with rainbow sprinkles after art lessons and merry-go-round rides in Bryant Park during Christmas trips to New York City. He was always the prankster, the trickster, the flouter of any and all rules. My father and I’s favorite tradition was the five o’clock whistle. Every Friday, the country music radio station would play Earl Thomas Conley’s “Finally Friday” and we would drive to the nature reserve at the end of Reseda to enjoy golden hour together. I gave each of the hills names, and he knew them all. Even as a girl, I remember the excitement brewing underneath the surface every Friday when we’d get in the Explorer and drive off into the evening air. When our dog Charlie came into our lives, she would join us on our Friday drive up the road. He always brought her with him to pick me up from school, and they would both hang out the window in excitement. During Halloween, we’d take a day to go explore the decorations. We’d spend hours going to every Halloween store, Michael’s, Home Goods, Joann’s, and more with fall drinks in hand. He shared my affinity for it, or rather I grew into it because of his infectious enthusiasm. During Christmas, we’d watch every version of a Christmas Carol under the sun and compare various versions. I’ve never met someone so enamored with twilight hour. He found a certain mysticism in it. He noticed every bird’s call, and often texted us with blurry, indetectable pictures of a hawk or an owl he saw in his travels. You could visibly see him becoming agitated when we were still out somewhere as the sun was waning. He was eager to get back and use the last moments of sunlight to sit on the porch and read. Those hours were the most precious to him. Our family’s bonding activity was always movies. Movies with bowls of popcorn. You’d always know where my dad’s spot on the couch was from the ring of salt and popcorn kernels strewn all over the cushion. His spot was the closest to the piano so as to provide easy access for him to slip to the bench in the middle of the movie and start playing along with the film score. I loved watching him perform, but I loved those moments more than anything. When I’d suddenly hear him playing Chopin at midnight or when I got home from work to find him watching one of his operas or lectures, book in hand, score in hand, studying along with them. Some would say his gift is music, and that is certainly true. But something else stands out to me.
I think my father’s greatest gift was his sense of wonder. I’ve never seen such a tortured artist, but I’ve also never seen such a visionary. He loved standing in bodies of water. Any water hole, any river, any pond, he wanted to swim in it. During the summer months, you’d be hard pressed not to find him lying in the pool after hours in his studio. He loved listening to birds call, smelling the earth after rain, sitting in gardens. He would always say, “he never met a tree he didn’t like.” He used to lie on a blanket with first our dog Charlie, and now our dog Luna for hours, noticing every detail of the ambience around him.. I’d often pull into the drive to see them lying together on the grass, face planted in a book or lying back in quiet leisure. His favorite feeling in the world was taking his sandals off during summer time to feel the grass beneath his feet. You could say he was a “look at the stars, look at the trees” type of person. But it was more than that. When we would find ourselves sitting outside on the porch, driving along Ventura Blvd, and standing in the ocean with toes curled in the sand he would say, “note the trees. Note the breeze. Note the sound of the water." And I do. Because of him.
It used to frustrate me that wherever we went, be it an amusement park or a Costco, he’d bring a book, find a lonely bench, and park there any opportunity he could get. What I read as dismissive was his method of observation for the world around him. Always a learner. Always curious. Always finding beauty in the unsuspecting. It was hard to believe that this same contemplative, gentle observer was the same man I heard screaming words too choice for the Lord’s house in his studio, or riding the bumper of some unsuspecting driver. The man couldn’t legally drive in the state of Utah. The same man that would stride ball parks ahead of anyone walking with him, and then act confused when he turned around to see the shrinking figures of his companions yelling after him to slow down. Notoriously reckless and chronically impatient, his selective contemplative tranquility seemed an oxymoron. Oftentimes his larger-than-life personality and eccentric antics would turn into a somberness, a weariness, that I think would surprise most people. I knew he heard symphonies in his head, I knew he mulled over the past, I knew he ran conversations and scores and endless to-dos through his mind constantly. I think that’s why when the curtains closed, he was a rather solitary man. Sometimes downright brooding. Looking for moments of respite in the constant whirring of his mind. It’s not easy being a genius.
Not to say that his larger-than-life persona was simply another performance. No, he genuinely loved people. He loved the Earth. He loved God. He loved music. But I think to carry so much love and to be so extraordinary is occasionally a double-edged sword. I want to attest to his complexity, his intellect, and his immeasurable depth in navigating life with that level of talent, and the burden of his own greatness.
Through it all, he never let Lauren and I doubt for a moment that he was proud of us. Almost to a fault. I suppose now I can laugh about it, but he always had a way of inserting us into social situations we really shouldn't have been in. I distinctly remember among my top five most embarrassing moments of my life, my father pulling me up to a piano at someone else’s wedding and roping into an impromptu rendition of "Tale as Old as Time." He kept copies of my essays in his bedside desk and pictures of every costume I ever made. He was always the first person I showed a song to. I trusted his musical opinion more than anyone’s. He would always say, “Someone will always be better. A better artist, a better singer, a better writer. But no one can tell it like you can. So if you’re going to tell it, tell it with your own voice.”
It wasn’t until the end that I realized something that was so clear all along. He and I would often end up filtering our words for fear of rocking the boat around each other. We kept a steady equilibrium, but sometimes we would struggle to find our footing. Every now and again the walls would crumble. And only outside looking in do I understand. He and I are exactly alike. We both feel music viscerally. It makes us shake, it makes us scream, it makes us flail our hands and make weird mumbling noises underneath our breath. We both would fixate on a particular hot dog from this particular place or a tradition, and could speak or think of nothing else until we found or did it. If it didn’t happen, we’d try to pretend it didn’t completely ruin our day, but it most definitely would. Anytime we saw a natural pool or body of water, we’d be called to explore it. We’re both highly expressive individuals when in a large group and often become the life of the party, but wax reclusive the moment the curtains close. When you’re young, you don’t like seeing a mirror of your parent in yourself. But now it’s so clear I could almost laugh. I told him as much in those last moments. I don’t know if he heard me then, but I know he hears me now. How proud I am to know this. That I am his daughter, and he is my father. What a wonderful thing to know.
I don’t want to remember him as one dimensional or shower him with empty words he’d probably find insincere. I want our walls to come down, one last time. I want to remember him as the multi-faceted, complicated man he was. I want to remember him as the one who always wanted to take the long way home, but never wanted to wait at a light. The one who loved Will Ferrel, but couldn’t stand Elf. The one who poured over books and scores for hours, taking in each syllable with reverence but couldn’t remember what day of the week it was. The one who loved Fridays and twilight, and lying on a blanket with a dog at the end of the day. I understand more than ever how human he was. Charismatic, intelligent, faithful, generous, humble, adventurous, talented, sentimental, loving- yes he was all these things and so much more. But more than anything, he was my first best friend. And my hardest goodbye.
Daddy, I don’t want to do the rest of my life without you but if I have to, I want you to know I will live it with a sense of wonder. You taught me that. I will do it with humility and teachability. You taught me that. I will find my voice in music and share it as best I can. You taught me that. I will keep learning, keep striving to lighten the burdens of another, and always take the long way home. You taught me that.
Thank you for loving me well. Thank you for loving life well. Until we meet again.