This is the eulogy I delivered for Dorothy at her funeral on August 17, 2005 per her immediate family's request. It was an honor for me to be the one to give the eulogy since I had only met her 4 years earlier.
I was not blessed as other family and friends were, to have Dorothy a part of my life throughout my life. I only got to know her in the final four years of her life.
This of course was due to circumstances beyond either of our control.
Due to being placed for adoption at birth I was not to know any of my birth family while growing up or through much of adulthood.
I found my birth parents after eight years of combined searching for them. It took almost another twelve years of searching, painful at times, to find the first member of my extended family.
That family member was Dorothy Wanda Lepczyk Graczyk!
What a treasure I found when I found her! She was like a finely cut and polished jewel.
When found, Dorothy immediately welcomed me with open and loving arms into her family and her life. It was through communication with Steve that I was able to connect with her.
We exchanged a few letters; then I was to make one of my yearly trips to Michigan to continue my search, it was then I had my first opportunity to meet Dorothy.
I remember arriving at her home on 28th street not sure of how I would actually be received, how sharp she might be mentally as she was already in her late eighties and thinking I would probably only be there for an hour at most…was I ever in for a surprise!
She would not accept a formal handshake upon greeting me at her door...only a kiss and big bear hug would do. I immediately fell in love with her and knew she would be a very special and important person in my life in the years to come.
She began telling me about my maternal great grandparents (John & Frances Piechowiak), and the many uncles and aunts there were in the family. One of those aunts, (Bessie) was her mother. An uncle (Bob) was my grandfather. Dorothy was a first cousin.
She shared many stories with me that first day. It was a treat I had never imagined. The real treat was yet to come!
Dorothy had a photo album in her closet which she asked me to get out. Because of its size we took it to her kitchen table.
She opened the album to the first page she wanted me to see. There before me were photographs taken in 1920 of my great grandparents. I, now 51, had never seen pictures of them. I stared at the photos and tears began to well up in my eyes. I glanced over at Dorothy and there she was with a twinkle in her eyes and a broad beaming smile on her face. She placed her arm around my shoulder and just held me; though they had passed on even before I was born, she knew what seeing these pictures meant to me.
She continued going from page to page showing me photos of aunts and uncles I was never allowed to know, Aunts Bessie and Wanda, Uncles Eddie, Stanley, Wallace, Walenty and others. Each had passed on years earlier so I would never know them in life. She, however, brought each of them to life for me as she talked about each. She had even written narratives about John & Frances as well as her mother Bessie. It was truly amazing seeing my heritage opening up in front of me.
She regretted, even up to the last time we visited, that she was never able to find the photograph of my grandfather that she knew was somewhere in the house. I never met my grandfather as he passed before my search for family and I have never seen a picture of my him.
What I thought would be an hour visit turned into over 5! I visited her again the very next day for yet another 4 hours.
I fell in love with Dorothy that first day we met. She was so open and warm as well as so loving to me. She made me feel I had been a part of her family all my life.
She had a way of sharing stories that they almost came alive to you. I'll share just a few of the many in this tribute.
I remember her sharing about what had been the Piechowiak family homestead over on 33rd and Jefferson. She was so descriptive that when I actually had a chance to visit inside the home over a year later, though the house had been remodeled several times over the years, I felt I had walked into the past. Dorothy’s account of the home had been so detailed that I could actually picture in my mind as I walked through my great grandparents, aunts and uncles being there. I could almost smell the aroma of a cigar that my great grandfather would have filled the house with so many times years ago. I looked for the special staircase she had told me about, where great grandma would store her vegetables from the garden as well as her treasured gifts from her children. It had been removed years ago for safety reasons.
I made it a point each time I visited Michigan to go and visit Dorothy.
Each visit with her was special. When I moved here to Michigan a year ago, I was blessed with even a greater number of visits with her.
We exchanged cards for holidays and birthdays as well as gifts at Christmas. I have two gifts from Dorothy I will always cherish. Though 89 at the time, she knitted me a full size blanket for Christmas 2002. This past Christmas one of her gifts was a Christmas stocking she had made back in 1979 entitled, “Toy Shop.” It was beautifully beaded with toys and even a teddy bear which she knew I loved. These will be cherished family heirlooms for me.
Late Saturday night, after Dorothy passed, I hung her stocking and got out her blanket and wrapped myself in it. I thought of the many memories she had blessed me with and cried for the loss and emptiness now created in my life.
Dorothy had been a very special and important person in my life these past four years. She loved me and I loved her. She allowed me to walk into the past I was never allowed to live in with her and our family.
I remember when I told her the story of the first time I found out I was Polish how I recounted having told so many Polish jokes growing up…and now I had to realize I now was one. She laughed so hard!!
I remember when I authored my first book in 2003. It included a chapter entitled, “First Christmas.” It was about spending my first Christmas with real family….it included tales of my visit with Dorothy at that time. I spoke of Dorothy and shared a few of her stories. When she received her copy of the book I surprised her...it included a photograph of her and I together. She was so tickled that I had chosen to include it. Even while in the hospital she would tell the nurses about her author first cousin, beaming proudly. She also told them, “I have my picture in a book.”
Our last opportunity to visit, though we didn’t know it at the time, was this past Monday. Steve gave us this, what was to be our final time alone, for which I will be forever grateful. We talked a bit more of family as well as other things.
She at one point, with tears in her eyes, said, “I wish our family had been there for you when you were growing up so you wouldn’t have had to endure all you did. I am so proud of you and the man you turned out to be.” I began tearing up as well as I held her hand and responded, “You may not have been able to be there as I was a child….but you have been there these past years. You have loved me and I you…I could not ask for more.”
I believe in some way Dorothy knew this was our final time alone together. This was her way of saying good-bye. I gave her an extra special hug and kiss that evening as I departed.
I was privileged to spend Dorothy’s final hours with her Saturday morning. Though she was unable to communicate, and I don’t know if she could hear me, I could only repeat several times how much I loved her and how special she was to me.
Steve and I were each caressing one of her hands and stroking her hair when she took her final breath and passed into her earned reward.
Dorothy was a remarkable, wonderful woman. I was blessed to have been able to share in her final years. She became a very close, important, special person in my life. What a treasure she was, a treasure which I will cherish for the rest of my life along with the very precious times we spent together. I am a better person for having been given the opportunity to know her. I wish I had found her earlier in life…but God knew when the time was right.
She gave so much to me, not in material things, but things one can hold onto inside oneself for a lifetime. I hope and pray I added just a bit to her life.
I will miss her greatly but I will have so many precious special memories to hold on to...all because of Dorothy!