June 8, 1942 - May 17, 2012
Richard James Proebstle Eulogy
By Jim Proebstle
I am honored greatly to be able to express myself with you on behalf of my brother, Dick. But first, I would like to thank each of you for your presence here and the wonderful compassion and kindnesses in your cards, emails and phone calls to the family. They really did make a difference.
In 2005, Steven Jobs addressed the Stanford University graduation class and in his commencement address he was quoted as saying, “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there.” He expanded the point by saying, “Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. In his conclusion he said, ”Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
I started thinking about this more. While the physical and metaphysical changes for Dick are self apparent, changes that came as a byproduct of his death became interesting. I’d like to mention a few:
- Mike and Patty and Carole and I were privileged to tag team what turned out to be a week-long vigil with Dick. During that time it became very apparent as to how much Mike and Patty had grown into their responsibilities in managing the complication of Dick’s affairs over the last few years—right through until today when we say farewell. They loved their father very much as he loved them.
- I changed because Dick’s situation gave me an opportunity over the last few years to give back to a brother who gave so much to me. Our connection at all stages in life was very strong. It was Carole, however, who noticed that despite my changes, Dick and I had grown to look more and more alike. She came into Dick’s room at the Peabody the night before he died. I was asleep on a recliner chair next to Dick’s bed. My head was back, mouth open, breathing heavily; just as Dick’s was. Carole laughed out loud with how much we looked alike and nearly put a Post-it note on my forehead saying, “This is the visiting brother…do not medicate.”
- Dick was a challenging resident in the beginning at The Peabody. I saw their staff change over time, however, and continually make the second effort in order to make Dick feel at home. It was heartwarming to hear their stories while we were there as to how Dick had become part of their family.
- Some of you know that Dick’s brain has been donated to Boston University where leading research is being conducted into Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE dementia. It’s a growing concern for players receiving repetitive head concussions in contact sports and can only be diagnosed post-mortem. Isn’t this just classic Dick Proebstle overachievement. His greatest contribution in sports may be yet to come…after his death. Hopefully, it will facilitate change.
- Throughout the process of Dick’s death, family and friends, like yourselves, made comments that aren’t a normal part of day-to-day living. Sometimes these acts of love and compassion go unsaid in our lives, but not this time. I was particularly comforted by everyone in my immediate family and in particular by a voice mail message from my son, Jeff, which I will probably never erase.
- Lastly when considering these changes and I’m sure there are many others, the ultimate question arises…Are we really going to change? Will we actually become better as a result of reflecting on the experiences of the death of someone we love?
As a brother, I look at Dick’s role in life as a Warrior…”a man of honor experienced in the battle and willing to lead and take on the fight.” Positive characteristics for a Warrior include: competitiveness, achievement driven, leader, high personal code, etc. These all leave us with very big shoes to fill. I know first-hand from St. Joan of Arc, Central Catholic and Michigan State just how big those shoes were. But, just as there are strengths to being a Warrior, there are also weaknesses; ego driven, hard on relationships, inflexible and self-destructiveness to name a few.
Carole has a saying in her psychology practice that, “Life is all about learning.” With that thought in mind, Dick got a Ph.D in life. His amazing talents translated into outward success, as well as major setbacks. When I combine his experiences (both the high’s and low’s) with what we now recognize as literally decades of progressive suffering from CTE dementia—Dick’s last 20 + years were very troubled. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy for me and those around him to track the debilitating signs of the disease (withdrawn, aggression, depression, failing executive functioning leading to judgment, decision-making and financial management issues, anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, and even psychotic breaks with the final result being an overall diminishment of mental and physical capacities). As a Warrior, his natural instinct was to cover these up by fighting back…believing he could overcome…as a Warrior does…as he had always done. As the saying goes in sports, “The great ones play hurt.” This was no more evident than at his induction at the Stark County HS Football Hall of Fame. I knew I would have to do his acceptance speech, which I was honored to do, but that wasn’t enough for Dick as he insisted on taking the MIC to talk. For several minutes he held the audience’s attention attempting to say what was important to him. He could not articulate a single audible word as much as he tried. What everyone in the room did hear, however, was the heart of a champion.
Participating in Dick’s life and reliving it over during the last few weeks was a fantastic journey that I’ll treasure as a brother. Growing up with parents who showered us with love and solid direction; Dick’s life started here at St. Joan of Arc in grade school as an altar boy, voice in the choir, student and athlete. That led to a phenomenal student-athlete experience at Central Catholic, and to Michigan State University where he graduated on time and received 5 varsity letters in baseball and football. Afterwards, canoe trips with older brother John, vacations together, building a family and spending time in MN are just some of the remembrances that will be missed. As his career in business developed, many achievements followed with his responsibilities at IBM, NML and Mid-States Equipment.
For me, however, it’s the loss of a brother who always bailed me out of difficulties while growing up, Dick gave me solid advice when I was about to make a wrong turn, he was helpful beyond expectation on projects involving time and labor, and his subtle yet powerful words of encouragement, just when I needed it “about how proud he was of me” and “how he always referred to me with others as a winner,” left their indelible mark. In football the first rule of an offensive lineman is to protect your Q-back. I could have never asked for a better Q-back to protect.
I found a place to conclude this eulogy in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which is probably appropriate considering the time I’ve taken. The quote comes from the character, Prince Andrew, “Love is life itself. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists only because I love. Everything is united by love alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to this eternal source called God.”
The wound we feel now losing Dick, as a father, brother, uncle, friend or teammate will turn to a scar. We just have to remember that the scar we carry is a sign that the wound has healed and that life is moving forward.