“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:2
The response is always the same: shock-filled eyes, open mouth, furrowed brow, tilted head, and the question.
Always the question.
“Funerals? How can you love funerals?”
And my response is always the same.
“How can you not?”
Over the past fifteen years, I’ve had the opportunity to work at a funeral home, officiate numerous funeral services, and attend more funerals than I can count.
I love funerals.
Don’t get me wrong. I hate losing the people I love and the endless waves of grief, sadness, emptiness, and anger. Death is an enemy.
So how is it that one can both hate death and love funerals?
Well, funerals are simply the active, oral version of what I do with my clients at Memory Lane Jane—write, curate and preserve their life stories into an heirloom book that perfectly (hopefully!) represents who they are from cover to cover. A “good” funeral—in particular, a good eulogy—captures the very essence of a person from start to finish, just like a good life story. Memories are shared. Stories are told. Pictures are organized. Heirlooms are on display. The funeral is essentially the closing chapter, the big finish, the grand finale of a life story. Who doesn’t love a great ending? Seriously, skip the Netflix binge and find yourself a funeral to attend instead.
In a weird way, I often leave (good) funerals more connected to and with more knowledge of the deceased than when I arrived. Last week, I had that very experience.
My husband’s Uncle Cory VanBruggen passed away after fighting glioblastoma for seven years. He was a very quiet man and we had few conversations over the last twenty-two years of knowing one another. I knew very little about him.
Then I met with Cory’s family to organize his funeral service, and to write the obituary and eulogy. I left our gathering several hours later with the warm feeling that comes after visiting an old friend. I learned so many details about Cory’s life: his family, his likes and dislikes, his values, his hobbies. Oh, and about that one time he built a PLANE BY HAND.
Was Cory’s funeral sad? Of course. Will he be deeply missed by his family? Undoubtedly. But setting aside an afternoon to celebrate and close the final chapter of Cory’s life was a wonderful gift. I am grateful to have played a part.
To honor Cory’s life, I want to share his eulogy with you so that you can join me in celebrating his life, sharing his stories, and carrying on his legacy.
Corwin VanBruggen’s Eulogy
I’d like to start out Cory’s eulogy today with an apology. I’d like to apologize to all of those patient passengers who happened to be in Chicago’s Union Station 55 years ago. We know what a pain it must have been to have to carry your bags up the broken escalator or wait in those long lines for the elevator. It’s just that, well, Cory couldn’t help himself. That escalator was a site to behold: the moving tracks, steps, and handrails overwhelmed the four year old boy. There was no way a creative and inquisitive boy like Cory keep his hands off all of those buttons. Can we blame him? Well, turns out, we can. Those people in Union Station did. Cory somehow stopped the crowded escalator and not one person could figure out how to turn it back on. It’s likely that given enough time, Cory, even at four years old, would have figured it out. But there was no chance his embarrassed family was going to stick around for that. This wasn’t the first nor would it be the last time Cory’s curiosity got him in hot water.
Corwin NMI (No Middle Initial) VanBruggen — he actually received mail addressed like that — was born in Holland, Michigan, on June 23, 1963, the second child of Edwin and Gladys VanBruggen. His older sister and childhood buddy, Pam, was born fifteen months earlier. Neither Pam nor Cory had a middle name because their father Edwin disliked his so much that he chose not to burden his own children with one. The same year that Cory was born — 1963 — United States auto makers had their second best production year in industry history, producing 7,636,993 passenger cars.
Chrysler released its 1963 Chrysler Turbine, an experimental car powered by a turbine engine, and very near and dear to Cory’s heart, the summer he was born, the Ford Styling department handed design details to Dearborn Steel Tubing (DST) to build the Mustang II prototype, which provided America with its first glimpse at what every male over the age of 16 would fall in love with (including Cory): the Mustang. In 1963, a bottle of coke cost five cents, a new car cost about $3000, a gallon of gas was 32 cents, and most relevant to Cory’s family, a new home cost $19,300.
Cory’s father was a social studies teacher at Holland Christian High School, but he had bigger academic dreams. The young family of four moved to a tiny house in Iowa city while Cory’s dad earned his masters in political science at Iowa State University. They were poor as church mice, but that didn’t stop little Pam and Cory from having fun riding on carts at the grocery store and flying kites in the local field. Cory was a mama’s boy and sickly as a young child. He had severe allergies and couldn’t stand the light. You’d often find him with his head buried in a pillow.
After graduating, Cory’s father took a job as a professor at DePauw University in Green Castle, Indiana, where Pam and Cory attended elementary school. Some of Cory’s favorite childhood memories took place in that small midwestern town. The family laughed together at The Carol Burnett Show on Mondays and camped together in the summers—in a camper that Cory’s father built. Sound familiar? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. They visited museums, airshows, and parks. They tubed—all four of them—on Green Lake. The infamous day that Cory’s mom’s hair got wet after flipping on the tube will always rank as legendary. Cory was a boy scout and his mom was a troop leader, and he played little league.
But more often than not, you’d find Cory alone or with his dad building something, anything, from model airplanes to forts. Or he’d be drawing funny cartoons or laughing at silly faces his sister made at the dinner table (and subsequently getting into trouble for it). Cory liked really corny humor.
While he was ever the prankster to Pam, for the most part, Cory was quiet and reserved. He always preferred a few good friends over a crowd. He was easily embarrassed and never liked to draw attention to himself. Cory wasn’t someone you fought with. He’d just walk away and it was over. Except for when it wasn’t. Cory was fiercely loyal. Mess with someone he loved and he’d mess you up. Just ask the kid in Green Castle who bullied his sister.
After Indiana, Cory’s family returned to Michigan and settled into their family home in Cutlerville…and well, I should clarify, Cory settled into the basement in Cutlerville. His basement was his workshop where he could put his high kinetic intelligence to use assembling rockets, building models—Cory was born to tinker, born to inquire, born to fix, born to build, take apart and rebuild it better.
Cory graduated from South Christian High School in 1981 and enrolled at Calvin College. After two years at Calvin, Cory, much to the chagrin of his father, decided to follow his dream of working with airplanes at the Detroit Institute of Aeronautics. During his time at Calvin, he earned his private pilots license. The change in academic settings just made sense. Cory graduated from DIA and worked for Transcontinental Airlines as an aircraft mechanic and then moved to Columbus, Ohio, to build the B1B Bomber for Rockwell International.
Cory was introduced to the love of his life, Jan VanDyke, through a mutual friend on New Year’s Eve 1986. Cory was living in Columbus at the time and Jan was in Grand Rapids. They started writing letters to each other and visiting when they could. Phone calls increased from once a week to a few days and then to every day. Jan had to spring for unlimited long distance. The pair fell fast and hard in love and married on November 6, 1987, about ten months after they first met.
A few months after they got engaged, Cory moved to Detroit to work for Northwest Airlines, where Jan eventually took a job as a gate agent. The “D” terminal at the Detroit Metro Airport holds a lot of special memories for Cory and Jan. They’d sneak away and eat lunch together. If Cory happened to be working on his favorite plane, the DC-9, Jan would find him in a good mood. But if it was a DC-10 day, watch out! Cory wasn’t going to be pleased.
Cory and Jan first moved into an apartment, complete with Cory’s workshop—a must-have—in the storage closet under the stairs. They moved into their first home, a condo in Livonia, in 1989. Again, Cory set up a workshop in the basement and began building an ultra-lite plane, along with remote controlled planes…so many RC planes.
When Cory and Jan weren’t working, and when Cory wasn’t in his workshop, the two loved to travel the country and explore. Following three years of lots of fun together, Cory and Jan had their first son, Andy, in 1991. From the get-go, Cory was a hands-on dad. Whatever Cory was working on, he let Andy, work on, too. Outside, inside, it didn’t matter. Andy was Cory’s little shadow…and Cory didn’t mind a bit.
Mark was born prematurely three years later in 1994. The stress and worry that comes with a premature baby was enough to trigger some deep depression in Cory, something he and many of his family members struggled with throughout their lives. After some wise counsel from Cory’s father-in-law, David VanDyke—“Just move home to Grand Rapids and be near the family. There are plenty of jobs. Just come home.”—Jan and Cory packed up their two boys and moved back to the northeast side of Grand Rapids (near where Jan grew up) in 1997.
During the next season of Cory’s life when he wasn’t tinkering in his basement workshop, building giant backyard bonfires—don’t talk to the neighbors about those— or constructing an elaborate treehouse (complete with a pulley system to the house) for Andy and Mark, Cory worked for Tiara Yachts, honed his woodworking skills at Howard Miller Clocks, and later became a skilled tradesman at Pridgeon & Clay.
Cory wanted to be a good dad for his boys. He wanted them to feel safe and accepted and loved. Any chance he had, Cory would stop what he was doing to play with Andy and Mark, or invite them to join him in the garage, in the shed, in the yard, in his workshop, on his bike…who knew where Dad might be and what exactly he might be doing. But the boys were always welcome. Mark inherited his dad’s mechanical skills and Andy, his interest in cars.
The family was involved at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids where Jan spent much time talking after the service and Cory spent much time waiting in the car. Their family camped many summers at Wilderness State Park and in typical Cory fashion, rather than relaxing on the beach, Cory tested out the seaworthiness of his hand-built canoe and sea kayak. No surprise…they both survived the Straits! Anything Cory could get his hands on he either crafted into something beautiful, fixed, or improved, even, later on in his life, numerous medical devices, much to his doctor’s dismay.
On December 13, 2015, Cory, Jan, Andy, and Mark’s world changed forever. Cory was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. Doctors told Cory he had 12 to 18 months to live. Well, we know how that turned out. Cory against all odds lived seven years…82 months. And he didn’t just live, he didn’t just survive. He thrived.
In fact, during these past seven years while full of their share of difficulty—39 MRIs, three ambulance rides, three surgeries, two rounds of radiation, chemo, and countless pokes and jabs, to name a few—Cory took a glass half-full approach to life. Both he and Jan trusted that God was the Great Physician and that God was at the center of everything—the good, the bad, and the real bad. They adjusted to their new normal and actually began to enjoy life together again. They traveled to visit their son Mark in the Air Force in Washington State and Colorado. They took long road trips around Florida, always pleasantly surprised by people’s kindness along the way.
Cory didn’t complain and even after his last surgery this summer, as weak as he was, he was determined to walk again. He had the fighting will to live until the very end. Unfortunately, glioblastoma was one problem — probably the only one ever — that Cory couldn’t fix. Cory, at the age of 59, stepped into glory surrounded by his family on Wednesday, September 28, 2022. Our go-to, fix-it, build-it, make-it-all-better guy will be greatly missed.