Eulogy for Paula Hess
By Casey Hess
August 20th, 2016
As I look around at the faces I see here today, I can’t help but remember: The last time many of us were together was for our wedding, on the beach in Captiva Island, Florida.
You remember: It was a small wedding, by design, an intimate event that enabled everyone there to connect with one another in meaningful ways. As we planned this memorial, it was important to me to create that same kind of event today. Just as we did then, albeit under different circumstances, I want to take a moment to thank everyone that traveled here today, that made time in your busy schedules to be here with us in person. It means so much to me, and to Paula’s family and it would certainly mean the world to Paula.
Before I go any further, I’d like to thank Tony Weisman, Doug Ryan, and Brittney Deaver from Digitas, the company I work for. They have been supportive beyond my wildest dreams from a personal and work perspective, and also financially, as they’ve made it possible for us to be here at this beautiful venue. They are not just co-workers, or bosses. Everyone has those. They are the best and most supportive representatives of one of the kindest, human, and compassionate companies around. I can’t thank them enough.
And to all of you, it’s been very gratifying and emotional to receive your contributions to the GoFundMe that was set up at the request of the late Maria Ketsios, Paula’s aunt, who recently passed after her own battle with cancer. She left the earth asking her daughters Elizabeth, Vicki, and Dena to make sure that people didn’t send flowers or donations to her, but that they extended their support to Paula, to our family, as a final gift from her to us. The GoFundMe was set up by them, and has morphed into something I will be forever grateful for beyond any words that I could think or say. It is truly remarkable, and for that I feel blessed.
As I was thinking about how to do Paula’s Eulogy and who should do it, I knew for certain it should be me. But I also knew that I don’t really like the center of attention, and that I am not necessarily naturally good and confident as a public speaker, and most importantly, as a Hess, I can conjure tidal waves of tears at the first rush of even the slightest emotion. So I ask you practically and symbolically to help me through this speech, and through this whole episode of my life, as we all continue our search together for love, trust, happiness and peace.
I met Paula 16 years ago when I dramatically changed my own path, and put to rest my own fear, pain, and insecurity. I wrote a song back then with a lyric that explained it best, I wrote: “How could I have loved/when I really hated me?” And it was this transition from self-loathing to self-loving that shined a light on me and allowed me to play way above my weight class with a beautiful girl like Paula. So on this night together with all of you, I will once again embrace my fear, my pain, our pain and the collective grieving and sadness, and “sit with it,” as some of us like to say. I will breathe with it, and know how it feels and how it dissipates, and ebbs and flows. Because this is how life is. It’s just like the waves in the ocean, on Poipou beach in Kauai, one of our favorite spots. Sometimes gentle, sometimes rough, but always constant. I hope to share these waves with each of you tonight, and move from our collective sadness into celebration, as that’s the way Paula would’ve wanted us to find peace, to dance amongst the waves.
A few things about Paula
Last December, as she continued to battle cancer, Paula really began to think about what was important to her. She was a passionate feminist, not much interested in small talk, more interested in making a difference. One day, seemingly out of the blue, she started to collect random items: extra winter hats, mittens, a granola bar, some moisturizer, an extra chapstick. She gathered them and packed them into Ziplock bags that she kept in her car. Driving by Belmont and Kedzie, a busy intersection under the highway near our home , Paula would look for homeless women she could help out. I later learned she had discovered the idea for these “Blessing Bags” on Pinterest – if you knew Paula, you know she spent a fair amount of time on Pinterest – This is the type of person that I was lucky enough to spend sixteen years with. She was a crafter, a designer, and a true creative. When I think back about Paula and the thing I probably loved most about her, it was her attention to detail in things that many of us would just gloss over. She didn’t care about money. She often shopped for clothes at thrift stores. She was happiest buying fabric and designing a large P to sew on a purse she made, or making one of her many baby slings, or creating a beach bag made from plastic bags from stores on Sanibel, or a home made Kleenex holder.
Although she was a detail person, that didn’t mean she was punctual. Regardless of what plans we had, she could get carried away designing a costume for a dance team over a pot of coffee, with Otto nearby creating his own comic book and Nelson keeping the universe safe from Angry Birds. One, two, three o’clock in the afternoon, and we hadn’t left the house – it didn’t really matter as long as the atmosphere was full of creative energies. I admit, I have been known to sneak off to my basement studio from time to time myself.
My wife had an assassin’s vocabulary. If you were ever unlucky enough to be invited to a game of Words With Friends or Scrabble with her you know what I mean, or you may have witnessed me being put in my place for using the wrong word, or the wrong verb tense, or not knowing its Latin origin. As a child, Paula would sit up at night — the insomniac that she was, with a flashlight and a dictionary, reading sequential pages at a time to absorb, understand, and make sense of the language. She didn’t need to ponder the universe and its meaning, she had millions of words right in front of her like stars to gaze at. She truly had a love for words, and as I wrote this Eulogy, many times I closed my eyes to listen for her guidance, her spiritual grammar checking.
Paula was a dancer in her soul through and through. I looked up the definition of dance as I wrote this, and it immediately made sense why we were together. Dance is defined as “moving rhythmically to music.” In our relationship, I was the music, and she the dance. And so she chose a path in life to stay as close to dance as anyone can, and cherished her job with Universal Dance Association, with Julie Manning and her work with Glenbrook South High School, and countless other dance teams around the country. In reading so many of the Facebook posts mourning her passing over the past two weeks, it became even more apparent to me just what an inspiration she was for so many people. And in turn, that has made my time with her that much more special. It’s been remarkable to continue to learn what an understated ability she had to make others feel so close as well. Not everyone ever meets their true soul mate, the person they can be most vulnerable with and trust, the person they look forward to brushing their teeth with, the person that wraps each and ever thought that the enters and leaves their mind. I was the music, and she the dance. We completed each other.
She was such a fan of All That Jazz, the movie about Bob Fosse’s life as a dancer and choreographer. There’s a quote from Bob that that I think fit Paula’s approach to life so well, as she was fearless in her work. It reads: “Live like you’ll die tomorrow, work like you don’t need the money, and dance like nobody’s watching.” I walked into my relationship with Paula saying over and over in my head, “I’ll be fine if she likes me for a minute, and fine if she loves me for a lifetime.” I know now that she did love me, my boys, and my entire family and friends for a lifetime. It was a lifetime cut too short for sure, but as I tried to explain mom’s cancer to our boys, I told them she lived a full life, just one that was a bit quicker than we hoped for. So, she has left us with a great responsibility: to honor her life, to mend our own broken hearts together, and to join forces to ensure our boys prosper, as she herself has already worked so hard to ensure.
In closing… It’s my wish that all of our lives move forward, inspired by the grace, dignity, strength, and courage of Paula Kintonis Hess, a great Mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend to us all. And the most beautiful, creative, and a passionate dancer I’ve ever known.