Eulogy for Emily Crockett, who died Oct. 16, 2011, at 26

Em at the Dolphin Research Center, May 2011
Emily went down with amazing grace.


The writing was on the wall when she got her first glioblastoma 18 months ago. Then she got another in eight months, another in four, another in two, and so on. Emmy hung in there, because that’s what she does, but it all went to hell Sept. 12. When Dr. Chi told her that her tumors were growing again, she turned to me with a look of love and pity and sweetly mouthed the words, “I’m sorry, Dad.”


Four days later she couldn’t walk. She was 11 days in the hospital and then 19 in the hospice, with five growing brain tumors and one more in the spinal cord. Losing her math skills, losing her short-term memory, mistaking dreams for reality – but never losing her fighting spirit, never losing her desire to live, her love, her kindness, her calm acceptance that was NOT resignation, never losing her quick wit, or her tendency to complain about me without any real justification. 


A week or so ago, on one of Emily’s last days, when it seemed that she had sunk way into herself and the words just couldn’t find their way out, I sat down too close to her on the bed, and she said, “Ow! Ow! Ow!” I said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I love you, Goosie.” She said, “I love you too. Especially when you’re not causing me extreme pain.”


Sometimes, to make sure she was still with us, I would call out to her in the middle of the night, from the fold-out-bed across the room. “Good night, sweetie, I love you. You’re the grandest.” And when she could, she would reply, “Good night, daddy, I love you too. You’re the grandest.” But that night she replied with the vocal inflection, but without words, “mmm mmm mmm mmm mmmm mmm.” That was good enough for me.


Her last direct communication with me was last Saturday morning, the day before she died, when, as was my occasional custom, I informed her that she was stupid and ugly. As was her custom, she slowwwly dragged her right-hand out from under the blankets, hoisted it up, and gave me the finger.


Emily did not to suffer bastards gladly. I raised her that way, by virtue of example.


In that last month at Mass General and at Rose Monahan hospice, Emily’s bravery and character impressed me more than ever, and I’ve always been impressed with my daughter, since she was a toddler who would grab my face,  squeeze it and twist to make a point.


She died the way she lived, loving, gentle, stubborn, and funny.


I’d like to take some kind of lesson out of her death, but I’m not sure there is one. I haven’t digested it yet. It hasn’t really hit me that my grand girl is gone.  I don’t miss her yet. She’s still so much a part of me.  But I will.




Emily and I had about a dozen games that we played, usually in the car, or at bedtime. Among them, some years back, was the shoe race. First she tied her left shoelace in multiple knots. The game was for her to untie her right shoe while I struggled to untie her left. You had to take off the shoe and sock, put them under the bed, touch the closet door, the room door, the closet door, the room door, the armchair, put your head against the wall and say the alphabet backwards, ZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJHIGFEDCBA, fly across the room and be the first one to sit on the bed.


We played this game for four or five years. I rarely won, but it came in handy when I was stopped by the state police on Cape Cod on suspicion of drunk driving (just because I was driving the wrong way on a four-lane highway, I mean really!). The police officer asked me to say the alphabet backwards. Ha!


So the lesson is: Parents, play games with your children. It’s good for the whole family.


We also had a game called “Going to Grandma’s House” where she jumped up and down on my belly while singing “Over the River and Through the Woods.” That lasted until she got up around 100 pounds.


Then we had a game that started when I would call her an idiot and she would call me a snidiot and I would call her a pidiot and she would then call me a fuckidiot. At which point the game was over and she had won. Unless she started it first, in which case I would win. That was really stupid. It grew from pidiot – fuckidiot to a game where if anyone said a word with the letter P, the other one would replace the P with the syllable “fuck” at which point that person would somehow “win”. For example I would say “You’re a poop.” And she would say “You’re a fuckoofuck.” This led to her saying things like “Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers” to which the appropriate response is “Fuckeater fuckIfucker fuckicked a fuckeck of fuckickled fuckeffickers.” This game, I’m embarrassed to say, started about five years ago, when she was 21, and continued pretty much for the rest of her life.


I could go on, but I won’t. Well, yes I will. I should at least mention our “assbutt” game. That got started one day when she was dawdling about going upstairs and I yelled out, “Get to bed right now or I’ll kick your a –” and tried to soften the phrase at the last minute by changing the word to “butt,” but instead ended up saying, “I’ll kick your assbutt.” She thought that was hilarious, so she said, “I’ll kick your assbutt behind.” To which I replied, “I’ll kick your assbutt behind posterior,” Several months later we were up to 83 synonyms for butt, and you weren’t allowed to add a new one until you first recited the entire list correctly. I promised her I’d read the full list at her funeral if she went before me.

So here it is.

Ass, butt, behind, posterior, rearend, tush,

bottom, bum, buttocks, gluteus maximus,

kiester, fanny, heinie, derriere, cushion for pushin',

buns, backside, caboose, tailfeathers, rump, booty,


Cheeks, moneymaker, groovething, kazoo, tuckus, moon, seat,

seater, hindquarters, rear, end zone, duff, hams, tail,

tail end, nates, can, arse, beam, prat, stern, fundament,

tushie, cules, breach, butt end, back end, bum-bum,


Hunkers, hind end, cut of beef, dutch dumplings, croupe, flesh-cushions,

English muffins, rumbleseat, badonkadonk, mudflaps, haunches, zatch,

doopy, cupcakes, hot cross buns, bippy, stump, loaves,

fudge factory, baggage compartment, end piece, junk in the trunk, globes


Biscuits, pope’s nose, backporch, tambourine, poundcake, hinder,

parking place, slapspot, setter, sitter


 By the way, if I died before her, which was our original plan, she was supposed to deliver my eulogy with the title “You, sir, are a bucking fastard.”


In case you suspect that my daughter was, shall we say, unusual, let me confirm that by reading just a few of the items from a 5-page, 61-item packing slip I found in her dorm room for gag gifts that she ordered from Prank It included:


Three swearing pens, one bagel with cockroach, three disgusting sounds pens, two packages of foaming sugar, one naughty duckie – which can be seen on the back of your program, and which uttered the most disgusting phrases – a floating eyeball, a talking fly swatter, an animated mooning Santa, and something called “revenge” toilet paper.



Em and Scout, together on the floor


But that was just one side of Emily.


I rarely let myself wonder, during all the years that she struggled with brain tumors and their side effects, what might have been. What she might have become if illness hadn’t changed her life. So intelligent, so determined, so beautiful, so loving. She could have been anything she wanted. A surgeon, a mathematician, a musician, a civil rights lawyer, a mother. For her it would have been a multiple choice question. 


In 1994, three years after her first brain surgery, when she was relatively healthy and just turned 9, she held the first annual citywide meeting of children’s rights.


This came as a distinct surprise to me. I was walking home from Honey Farms when I noticed a piece of paper taped to a light pole:

“FREE! IMPORTANT!” it said in big pencil letters. Then in regular type it continued: “Come to the first annual citywide meeting of children’s rights. Come have refreshments and sing along with the musical entertainment. First there will be a speach and then question and answer time. After that there will be, last but not least, opinion time.”


It included directions to my house. Emily and her friends Samantha, Amanda and Becky, who called themselves the Nature Club, had taped these to light poles all over the neighborhood and handed out 50 copies of the flier to neighborhood kids, with instructions that said, “If you don’t go, please give this to someone else in the city of Worcester.”


I realized that this was the secret project she had been working on for weeks, hiding the computer screen with both hands whenever I walked into the room.


I covered this event for a column when I worked for Worcester Magazine, so I’ll read you my account of what went down.


The day dawned clear and bright. Forty-eight day lilies graced the margin of the porch from which the voice of oppressed youth was to resound. On the sidewalk to the left was “the opinion table,” topped with an empty Milkbone box for contributions. To the right was a table for refreshments – three kinds of cookies and two kinds of chips bought by the Nature Club with a loan from Becky, the president.


No one showed up.


As the hour approached and the hour passed, the president and the two other members were nowhere to be found. No kids arrived – rebellious or otherwise.


The remaining Nature Club member – in print dress, dangling earrings and pink sneakers, all received on her ninth birthday, the day before – paced the floor, rushed to the door and saw her plans crumbling around her. Tears may have been shed, angry words may have been shouted about her traitorous fellow club members – I wouldn’t know: I was late myself.


But then a small miracle occurred. The older brother of the Nature club member, the 10-year-old boy who was terminally bored and violently nauseated by girl things, volunteered to read aloud the speeches of the missing members. Had there been any tears – which, or course, I would have now way of knowing – they vanished immediately.


The reporter arrived and had his choice of lawn chairs. The member’s mother videotaped. The good brother awaited his turn. The member strode outside, holding her speech on a computer printout longer than she was tall.


Here’s some of what she had to say:

“Hi, welcome to the first annual citywide meeting of children’s rights. …  


“Children are humans, just like adults, and we should have the rights adults have. Many people don’t understand how hard it is to be a child. It’s not like it seems, because children have feelings and we can’t learn everything immediately, so at school when we have to try to learn so many things at once it gets very complicated.


“School is one of the things that make our life difficult. Most schools try to teach us what to think and not how to think. We shouldn’t have to memorize things without knowing them too. Knowing and memorizing are not the same at all. Knowing is really understanding, but memorizing is remembering exactly what things are and how things would be if they were changed. …


“Computers are not smarter than people. … Children need to think, and do think, as much as everyone else. Computers can be helpful sometimes, but just when they make people think. …

“Children should have the right to know about things that are going to happen in their future, because when we grow up we will be expected to know how to use our own money and be able to do things for ourselves.


“Adults should always try to understand children because children might have something extremely important to say. Children have the same basic problems and lives as adults. We don’t have as much experience to the world as adults and we aren’t allowed to do as many things as adults because we are younger.


“Although that is true, we need to be allowed to do things without having to prove that we can do them, because if we have to prove that we can do something dangerous and the only way to prove it is to do it, and we’re not allowed to do it, then how can we prove it?  Do you have an answer to that? If you do, please go to the table on the left.”


There was much more – about safety, about the environment, about responsibility, about privilege:


“Don’t we have the same feelings as adults?” the good brother read. “Well, we do. We should have the same privileges if we have the same feelings, shouldn’t we? I sure think so.”


When the speeches were over, the reporter, the mother, the Nature Club member and the good brother adjourned to the opinion table, where the reporter put some money in the Milkbone box and the good brother opined that while he agreed with part 6, section 1, that children should have the same rights that adults have, he didn’t agree with part 6, section 2, that children should be able to do the same things as adults. “Cars are too large for us to ever reach the pedals,” he pointed out.


Just then, President Becky arrived with a friend (her mother had made her late, naturally), and we adjourned to the refreshment table, where, between mouthfuls of cookies, the outspoken children of Worcester were heard to sing the only song they could agree on the words to, “Old MacDonald.”


A few months later, Emily’s tumor was growing again.




I know I have gone on forever, but I want to say one more thing. Valerie and I didn’t just raise a smart, kind, loyal, courageous and amazing daughter. We raised a smart, kind, loyal, courageous and amazing son too.

Emmy and Jackson at Christmas 2002


I’m 37 years older than Jackson, and since I’m not going to be around to speak at his funeral, I want to say a few things now, while they count.

Jackson Crockett is a remarkable, wonderful young man, and I couldn’t be more proud of him. I have sometimes wondered why he turned out so good. He was still 7 when Emmy’s tumor was diagnosed. He lived through years of worry about her, years when her parents focused relentlessly on keeping her alive and helping her succeed, when Emily got all kinds of attention and publicity because of her unique heart-tugging story. And he turned out great. Really great. How does that happen?


The answer is in his own inner strength, his love of people, his kindness and generosity, and his ability to make friends and keep them. Plus he’s real smart. And dashingly handsome, the bastard.


Jackson did get a lot of love when he was growing up. He was always our darling and he still is. His mother adored him, and cried the whole year before he went away to college. I remember one time when he was an infant and it was my turn to get up with him when he was screaming. I took him downstairs and paced the kitchen floor singing, “Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man, washed his face in a frying pan, combed his hair with a wagon wheel. Died with a toothache in his heel. Get out the way old Dan Tucker, Get out the way, old Dan Tucker, get out the way Old Dan Tucker, you’re too late to get your supper.” I sang that for 45 minutes, until he finally stopped and stared at me with the strangest expression.


Until he was three, I’d sing Jack to sleep on my shoulder with a trilogy of Billy Price songs “Eldorado Café,” “Rough and Tough” and “Slip Away.”


I even saved his life twice on vacation. The first time was when I took him canoeing in a thunderstorm. We got out of that one, but it was hairy. I had to yell, “If we turn over, swim to the top!”

The second time was when I took him swimming in the ocean in a riptide. We got out of that one too, but it was really hairy. I had to yell, “Swim! Swim! Swim for your life!”


OK, I know what you’re thinking, but I still maintain that I deserve some credit for the fact that Jackson is still alive.

From the age of 5 to 13 we went to almost every baseball or basketball game Jackson played. Em would come along and do math problems. Those were some of the best years of my vicarious life, watching this handsome kid bang the boards, play defense, make the right pass. He was smart, unselfish, and athletic.


As a freshman in high school, Jackson had an assistant coach who would swear at the kids in the locker room and call them vile names. Jack eventually left the team, but got his revenge in his senior year when he played in the student-faculty game, and kicked that assistant coach’s ass-butt-behind-posterior-rearend-tush all over the court. Jackson doesn’t suffer bastards gladly either.


Jack grew independent in high school, partly to differentiate himself from his Mom and Dad – OK, from his Dad. He didn’t play guitar, he cut his hair short and colored it wildly. He wore a duct-tape suit to his prom. Jackson, like his sister, has a strong sense of right and wrong and social justice. He joined the Gay-Straight Alliance at Burncoat, and even went to a prom with a gay friend so the guy could attend.


This caused me to do some soul-searching. But just when I had decided to tell him that it was OK if he was gay – not that there’s anything wrong with it – and that I would always love him just as much, it turned out that he wasn’t gay after all. This made for a rather awkward conversation, in which I think I explained that it was also OK if he wasn’t gay – not that there’s anything wrong with it. And really, never mind. How about those Red Sox?


Also in high school, Jackson met a most wonderful girl, Kaithlyn Kayer. After eight years of “courtship” they finally got married in January of this year. The suspense of waiting for him to propose almost drove Valerie nuts. Kate has a large extended family, and they have done a fine job of raising him too.  


When Em got sick last year, Jackson and Kate moved up here from Washington, D.C., to help. They took her to Trivia nights, they drove her to Boston, Kate took her shopping, they spent the night with her so I could get away, they moved last month into an accessible apartment so that Em could stay over with them in her own room. Jackson had a wall built in our dining room so Em could use it as a bedroom downstairs if necessary.


Jackson was the only brother Emily ever needed. Kate was the sister Emily never had. Kate was an angel to her, and Emily loved and trusted Kate. Jackson took turns staying overnight at the hospital and the hospice. Kate would soothe Em, brush her hair, comfort her in any way.


I give my boy a lot of credit for finding Kate and holding on to her. He is a credit to his gender. And like his Dad, he knows the value of a good woman.


In one way, Jackson is all I’ve got now. It was four of us and now it’s just two. And I love him dearly and appreciate him more than ever.


But it’s not really just two. It’s all the Kayers, and the Orchiniks, and the far-flung Crocketts, and the people we love, the people we play music with, all those people who have been so kind to us over the years, whose kindness we hope to repay. All of you – and your little dogs too.


So that’s my boy, Jackson, right there, thank goodness. And that’s my girl, Emily, forever in our hearts.

Em at keyboard


We thank you, people.