The funeral address for my Father

What our beloved Father Romek Sopek taught us.

My funeral address for my Father - March 7th, 2015.
(Translated from my original Polish speech by my son, Maciej Sopek)

He taught us what work is.
This was particularly difficult, as he lived most of his life in a time when the fruits of one’s labor did not benefit those that deserved it. And yet he did prove, by setting his own example, that the value of work does not always lie in its immediate result – that it resides in higher principles: professional honesty, good education, reliability, refraining from doing politics in work and by means of work, or, finally, in avoiding laziness, the sin that corrupts the human soul.
He also taught us, especially during our time in Gorzów, about the value of rest, especially among nature.
When I’m thinking about this on this special day – about this sphere of Dad’s life – a fragment from the poet Norwid comes to my mind: “to work – so that one is resurrected” …

He taught us humility and modesty

Probably nobody who knew Romek ever saw or heard him boasting about his accomplishments or achievements – neither in mundane matters of daily life, or in his professional career.
Today there is no doubt in my mind that the following words best describe Dad:

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth”.

And to be perfectly honest, this humility is something that Romek, being only seemingly gone now, will continue to teach us for a very long time.
He taught good sense of humor
Last Saturday – precisely a week ago – when we were saying each other goodbyes before my trip to US, Romek, already very weak, whispered to me – “remember I’m inviting you”. I asked “What are you inviting me for?”. He replied, smiling: “What do you mean what for? For vodka of course!”

Romek’s good sense of humor, which he retained despite having suffered for so long, was yet another sign of his unpretentiousness, and I think that this will be another thing that he will keep on teaching us… We’re not always good at it.
He taught us that there is no greater value than family
It was Dad who taught me this simple, and yet all too often forgotten truth: that we are on this Earth only thanks to our parents, grandparents, great grandparents and all our ancestors, reaching back to the beginnings of civilization. Romek set the example of how to fulfill the basic duty of existence in its most fundamental aspect – to carry on the light of life - building families, bearing and raising children, and supporting them.
He taught us that this is the only important thing that will be left after we are gone from this world.
He taught us that taking care of our families is not confined to ensuring material goods, but that it involves things ordinary and simple, and still so often forgotten – kindness, tolerance, everyday attention.
I am absolutely certain that this wisdom of Romek will continue to inspire us for a long time to come.

He taught us tolerance and respect for the freedom of others

Raising us, he never forced anything upon us. He would suggest, approve, criticize - but ultimately, the freedom of choice was ours. For good and for bad.
As we all know, Romek had a very firm worldview – an attitude inherited from our grandfather. But he never displayed any lack of tolerance, even towards people who, in those dark times in Poland’s history, chose values opposite to those that He, his father, and our entire family believed in.
He was even able to understand those who, having misunderstood his stance, wrongly considered him their enemy, here in Łódź, when Poland finally regained independence. Despite being treated very unjustly, he never lost faith in Solidarity and the meaning of our entire path towards freedom.
This seems like a paradox, but in a country divided so much these days, such a lesson in tolerance will be of the highest importance.

He taught us that when we go astray, we can always return to the good path

I remember one conversation with Dad – it was probably decades ago – when he told me, in a manner that was quite unusual for him, that as long as we are able to apologize and atone for our misdeeds, it is never too late to improve ourselves and our relationships with others.
But he also said that such things cannot wait; that the very moment in which we realize what we are doing should be the moment of our return to Good. Not “someday”.
This lesson will remain with us forever and we would like to teach it to our children and grandchildren.

He taught us not to surrender

As we all know, Dad suffered for many long years. Because he never complained about his plight, or did not rebel against it – one could assume that he surrendered.
Not at all!
When he was taken to the hospital three weeks ago, he was very nervous, because he thought they would hurt him somehow. When Mom calmed him down and explained what was actually happening, he told her why he was so agitated – “I just want to live a bit longer”.
Many people in such terrible physical state give up altogether and want to put an end to their suffering.
Dad saw that which matters in life the most: life itself. Seeing and feeling the world, having thoughts, meeting the loved ones - regardless of one’s condition, or even pain – and in this sense, he never surrendered.

But he also taught us that eventually we must give up

In this attitude of our Dad lies the essence of life. Eventually, we must all depart from this world.
In this sense, we must surrender. There is no force that would make us immortal in this world, healthy and strong forever.
But if this does not result in capitulation, or a scream of rebellion, or the insanity of fear, but instead, we humbly face even the worst physical limitations; if it involves a profound awareness of everything around us – then in this lies true victory. This was the case with Romek – everyone who spent even a few moments with him in the last few years knew that, despite often being unable to talk, he still had a perfect grasp of everything going on with and around Him. 
In this sense, Romek taught us the greatest and the most important lesson that a Father, a Husband, an uncle, a neighbor, a friend -- a human being could teach us – a lesson in dying.

Dad was a poet

Perhaps many will not believe it, but yes, Romek wrote poetry - as modest and naïve as Nikifor’s[1] paintings.
Nearly all of his poems told stories of families – the one from which he came, the one that he created, and those of his children.
This is why I would like to finish today’s laudation with three fragments from his works.

The first longer poem began this way:

Once in the village of Rudka
the Sopek family lived among farms
Grandfather Grzegorz, a solid farmer
He greeted work with open arms.

He wrote these verses for one of the family reunions:

Mother bade us farewell fondly
Words of kindness, uttered promptly
Avoid evil, she would teach
Telling us - - “God bless you each!”
Having said her warm goodbyes
For the road she gave supplies
Mom shared everything that she could
Loved her children equally good.

When life’s autumn finally came,
Parents now alone became
This life’s song forever sung:
What is old makes way for young.

And now a poem that is truly legendary among our family: “A merry tale”
I will only read a fragment:

Who left Rudka? Marysia, Janusz, Lolek,
Romek, Mietek and Władek.
They arrived at the city
At the farm stayed Father.
Romek, Lolek, Janusz, they became technicians.
Marysia a pharmacist, Mietek a physician.
A colonel! – became of Władek.
Who’s the farmer?… Father.

Romek, Lolek, Janusz - see theater plays,
Marysia – on great concerts,
Mietek, Władek – in cafés,
Whose hard work is then? Father’s!
Romek, Lolek, Janusz - like to drink champagne,
Mietek and Władek – cognac, for a change.
Marysia – only coffee – otherwise don’t bother!
Who still drinks buttermilk? Mon -- and Father.

All their tummies are well rounded,
Mietek, Władek getting stronger,
Marysia keenly blossoms too,
Ever thin remains - Father…

I am certain that Romek is smiling today knowing how we all appreciated his great sense of humor. Dear all, let me finish this speech with this joyous remark.  

[1] Nikifor was famous Polish „naive” painter.

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