Our final tributes

On behalf of the entire Herb family, a heartfelt thank you to each of you for following along on our journey and for offering up your prayers, love and support during this difficult time. From hugs, phone calls and visits to meals, flowers and donations, you have helped us to wipe away tears and take steps forward. It’s been made very clear that our dad touched many, many people – young and old – in his 66 years.

The following tribute was read during mass by my sister, Kelly: 

My sister has always been the writer of the family, documenting dad’s journey the past five months. Although it’s difficult at times to go back and read what we all experienced, my dad especially, it’s also a great reflection of the type of man, husband, father and papa he was.

My dad was a hard worker. A man of strength, determination, fight and most importantly, love.

I’m sure everyone here can attest to his strong work ethic. He was one of the hardest workers you would ever meet. I can still smell the orange soap he used in his garage to scrub off the grease after a hard days work, and I can still picture the dirt under his fingernails. He often worked long hours managing his own auto repair and towing business, leaving for tows in the middle of the night and still making it a priority to attend every sporting event or school activity and to be there every single holiday morning, even if it was just swinging by in between tows. He never missed a thing.

For the last 13 years, my dad was hit with many challenges. He dealt with more knee surgeries and replacements than anyone ever should in a lifetime. And while we remained hopeful that his last knee replacement would do the trick, we were hit with a double whammy of a another failed knee replacement resulting in an amputation, followed shortly by his cancer diagnosis. While most people would give up right then and there, my dad didn’t. I’m sure he questioned why all of this happened to him. I know we sure did. But my dad’s positive attitude, strength, determination and fight is what got him five more months of memories with his family and friends. Five more months of living. And for that, we are forever grateful.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve spent a lot of time reminiscing as a family. Family trips, softball tournaments, soap box derby races, Wildfathers…and the list goes on. But many of the memories were made on and off the softball field and with people who grew up and lived in this community.

While meeting with Bob Marcy the other day, we were talking about the time when Mr. Marcy let us use his funeral home van to travel to Illinois for a softball tournament. My dad was asked not to tell us what the van was used for…but my dad couldn’t resist. As you can imagine, with a group of teenage girls, many screams and laughs ensued. We also enjoyed many water fights outside of our hotel, resulting in my dad’s false teeth falling out and landing in a bucket of water. My dad always enjoyed making people laugh, and he was good at it. But he also had a sweet, soft, caring side.

This side was evident in the love and compassion he had not only for my mom, me and my sister, our husbands and his grandchildren, but for his friends and others he came into contact with. This often occurred with his nurses and aides during all of his appointments and hospital stays. He truly loved and admired each and every one…and the feelings were reciprocated.

While we are grateful for the last five months we spent together, always making the most of every day we had, I can honestly look back over my last 35 years and be confident that that is what we did every single day. Not one time do I think of what we should have done differently.

In some ways, living in Twinsburg made dealing with the last few days a tad bit easier. While driving into Conneaut the other day, I was hit with emotion as so many things reminded me of my dad. His former business across the street from the funeral home, the Broad Street hill where my sister and I raced soap box derby cars, the house we grew up in, Rainbow pizza.

Every memory is a good memory of our family. We lived big. Not just the last five months, but all the time we had together. And for that I am thankful.

I love you, Dad. Thanks for the memories.

I offered the following tribute to my father and my family during the burial mass:

For the last five months, in just 11 entries, I shared the story of my dad’s journey – of our family’s journey – with cancer.

Today, I want to share with you more about the man who inspired my writing, the first man I ever loved, my father, Chuck Herb.

I will say, the content of my regular blogs came naturally. It was so much simpler to capture what happened in those shorter time periods. To appropriately capture a lifetime was extremely challenging for me.

Dad was born in this small town of Conneaut in 1949 to Bob and Ruth Herb. He was the third of five children. I don’t know a lot about my dad’s childhood, but having three boys myself, I hear a lot of noise, picture a lot of wrestling – or even worse, and feel a lot of love. I’ve been told by his siblings that he was a typical middle child – quiet, laid back, a little rebellious, yet very kind.

He and my mom first spoke on the phone when he worked at a local gas station and she worked at Emco Wheaton. He asked around to find out more about this Carol Jussila, then made it a point to go to her office to handle some paperwork. He was smitten, and I believe the story goes that she was outside washing her car at her house at 570 Main Street. He stopped to ask her out. She interrupted him to ask what time it was, he said quarter to 7, and she said “oh no, I’m late for church” and ran inside.

Needless to say, they did have that first date – dinner then The Great Gatsby – and were married on Sept. 27, 1975. Three years later, I arrived…followed by Kelly in 1981. Based on the stories that have been shared about me as an infant and toddler, it would have been easy for my mom and dad to say “we’re done!” – so let me thank you both now for giving me the gift of a sister. I cannot imagine my life without her. She has always been my constant and confidant, especially during the last several months.

When I look back on our childhood, there are so many things that stand out. But, for me, what stands out the most is how close-knit we were. We did everything together as a family. Sure, Nan encouraged mom and dad to go out or take a trip together – just the two of them – but for the most part, it was always the five of us, Nan included. We went to sporting events and dance competitions and took amazing vacations as a family. And yes, we were the only family that rolled up to a softball tournament in a 40-foot motorhome, but the point here is that we were always together.

And, that still holds true today. My family lives about 10 minutes away from mom and dad, and Kelly’s family is just a little closer. We still go to sporting events and school activities together. We meet for ice cream and sit together at church on Sunday mornings. We have weekly dinners or cookouts at one of our homes. We are still…”that family.” And I couldn’t be more proud.

This weekend, when we were discussing the characteristics that dad was best known for, we chose work ethic, sense of humor, positive attitude and devotion to his family. I’d like to talk a little bit more about each of those attributes.

Dad was the hardest working man I’ve ever known. After years of working for someone, he and my mom decided to take a risk and venture out on their own, opening Chuck’s Auto Service at 213 Liberty Street on Nov. 1, 1980. This business was a huge part of our childhood. It was greasy manual labor, but it allowed my dad to work on something he loved so much – cars – while providing a wonderful life for our family. One of my favorite memories, and I’m sure Kelly would agree since we argued over who got to do it – was to call dad on the CB radio to find out when he’d be home for dinner — “Break 38 for the automan, got your ears on?”

It could have been easy for my dad to be so consumed with the success of running his business that he missed a birthday party or skipped a sporting event or a dance competition, but Dad didn’t miss a thing. He often arrived at a school function in his wrecker, wearing his work boots and blues with “Chuck” on one side and “Chuck’s Auto Service” on the other. I was so proud to see him. I’ll always remember his smell at the end of the day, the grease that didn’t wash off his hands, and the roughness of his skin from working so hard. I will also remember how soft his hands became as he grew older, as did his heart.

Another characteristic that people remember dad by is his sense of humor. He truly knew the right time to have fun and be silly and the right time to buckle up and be good. I mean, how many people can say their dad dressed up as “Mrs. Doubtfire” and proudly served as captain of the “Wildfathers Dance Team.” I can still picture his toe touch during his captain salute. There are so many Dadisms that will continue to make me laugh. Like how he always talked or made some noise right when you took a picture. Or how he made up his own words, like combining frustrated and flustered to create “flustrated.” Or, how he never knew where we were going, whether it was for dinner or a getaway. Someone would say, so Chuck, where did you go on vacation? And he’d say, Cozumel…when really it was Costa Rica.

His ability to laugh at himself and let others laugh with him carried on throughout the years, even during his time of illness. He made friends easily with so many nurses and doctors, who were both amused by his wit and inspired by his strength.

Strength. That, for me, is what defines my father. When I was a little girl, there was nothing this man couldn’t physically do. He was my own personal superhero. As he aged, his mental strength made up for the loss of his physical power. For the last 13 years, that man endured more pain and physical setbacks than anyone I’ve ever known. And he handled it with grace. He rarely complained. He smiled through the pain. He was more interested in how your day was than carrying on about his latest issue. His positive attitude is what helped others, helped me, believe that everything would be okay.

And finally, I want to reflect on dad’s devotion to his family. This was obvious throughout the years, but it became more and more apparent as I grew older. The love he had for my mom was the real deal. They were the perfect pair, and he lived to make her happy…even if that meant sitting in the car for hours playing on his tablet while she ran in and out of stores. And the love he had for me and Kelly showed in how much he loved our husbands and our children. No matter how sick or tired he was, he would still ride his scooter to a soccer or baseball game. He endured an entire day at Cedar Point, just to see his family enjoy one of our favorite summer destinations. The day before he was admitted into the hospital for the last time, he used every ounce of strength to get out of bed to watch me open my birthday presents and blow out my candles one more time. Perhaps the most profound moment of this journey was seeing him attend Braden’s 8th birthday party at Akron BMX. He had promised he’d be there, and he did just that before heading home to hospice care. That is devotion. That is strength. That is love.

I originally wrote my blog as a way to keep family and friends up to date on my dad’s journey so that we didn’t have to provide difficult updates and answer tough questions over and over again. Now, as I re-read my entries, I realize this is a tribute to my father and a testament to his strength and desire to live life to the fullest. I want my boys and my nieces, and their future families, to someday read his story and truly understand the meaning of love, commitment and family.

Braden – The bond you and Papa have goes so much deeper than sharing the middle name of Douglas. Remember how much he loved you and how much he loved watching you play sports and ride your bike.

Matthew – Your love for cars, helping others and organization comes from your Papa. He loved your old soul and your sweet personality.

Gavin – Every time I look at your handsome face, I see Papa. Your carefree attitude, sense of humor and love for speed is from him.

He loved all three of you boys – and Laina and Sophia – so very much, and he was so proud of all five of you.

Mike – They say you pick a husband that displays the characteristics of your father. And you do exactly that through your own work ethic, sense of humor, positive attitude and devotion to your family. Thank you for your love and support. Because of you, I was able to be there for my mom and dad during this difficult journey. Even when I felt guilty, you reassured me that I was where I needed to be. Garett, the exact same can be said of you.

Kelly – You always talk about how I am the strong one, but I hope you know how much I relied on your strength during the last several months. And, dad would be so proud of you today. You made sure he heard your voice and the love and appreciation you have for him. You will always be daddy’s little girl.

Mom – You are my inspiration. The lives of three of the most important people in your life – first your dad, then your mom and now your husband – ended too soon. But you continue to move forward and give everyone everything you have. The love and care you provided to dad was incredible. He fought for you, every day. My heart broke to watch you over the years, taking on more and more around the house and the yard. I know dad’s did too. But you always said, as long as I have two arms and two legs, I’ll take care of you. And you did. I am so proud of you.

I often hear you say – I don’t know what I’ll do without him, he was my rock. I want you to find comfort in the love and support you have surrounding you, not just today but as we move forward together.

After dad was diagnosed with cancer, I found myself asking why this terrible disease chose us, especially after everything we’ve already been through. I found myself cursing the year 2016. But a friend shared something with me that I gave to dad on Father’s Day of this year. And now, it applies to our entire party of 11.

I believe 2016 was not our worst year, but our greatest…
Our year of greatest strength.
Our year of greatest faith.
Our year of greatest hope.
Our year of greatest patience.
Our year of greatest risk.
Our year of greatest determination.
Our year of greatest courage.
It was our year of greatest survival.

Mom and dad…I am so proud to be your daughter. I love you – forever and for always.