Thank you so much for being with us today to celebrate the life of an extraordinary man. Before we end today’s service, I wanted to tell a story of remembrance.
In his younger days, Dr. Henry Dunwoodie firmly believed that a strong cup of chamomile would fix just about everything. It was his answer to all life’s curveballs. Flopped a test? Have some tea. Relationship problems? Brew a pot. Lost your job? Pour a mug and mull it over. It seemed to him that the world was always moving, like the cogs of the golden clock on his mantelpiece, and that every hardship would pass.
He thought it better not to let hard times get you down, for, after all, all rough patches must come to a close, right? But that was before he realized what a naive idea that was. That not all cracks could be filled in with tea therapy and a good night's sleep.
Henry was in college when his father passed away, and it stopped him in his tracks. He drank endless mugs of tea in the weak light of his flat, trying to understand. Nearly 50 years later, he still wasn't sure he did. At the very least, it helped him to recognize that there are things that can’t just be waited out. The hole his father’s death left behind inspired him to pursue a career in psychology. He wanted to help untangle the problems of others. Perhaps it was because he didn’t want to face his own. Whatever his reasons were, it turned out that Henry Dunwoodie was quite a good listener.
Granted, he was, perhaps, not your average psychologist. Many of his patients weren’t entirely sure what to think when he showed up to a first appointment on his worn-out skateboard in brown khakis, a white tab-collar shirt, and loafers. He looked like a character sprung from the pages of a comic. And his ties were a topic of great conversation. Never a plain blue or red tie. No, more often it was bananas. Little bananas on a green background. But he also had others, with dinosaurs, rubber ducks, tacos, and bumblebees to name a few.
It goes without saying that he was the subject of many concerned mothers wringing their hands in front of the receptionist’s desk in the therapist's office. “ Yes, but I’m just not sure this Dr. Dunwoodie is right for my Billy. Did you see his… skateboard?” They would ask hesitantly.
Nonetheless, all who had been with Dr. Dunwoodie for a long time were used to his quirks and loved him dearly. Any negative words against the dear elderly man were angrily shot down.
One girl in particular, a little slip of a thing called Elise saw him as her very own savior. She didn’t speak very often. If she did, her silvery voice was barely above a whisper. When she came to Henry Dunwoodie for counseling, she hid in a corner for the entire session with her gray eyes squeezed shut, rocking back and forth. Henry Dunwoodie simply got down on the floor and sat beside her, ignoring how his old, brittle joints protested.
It went like this for several sessions. The two just sat together behind the wide berth of the squashy red couch. Perhaps someone walking by his office to get some coffee assumed that Henry Dunwoodie had finally cracked. All that was visible from the hallway was his grizzled tuft of hair peeking out from behind the scarlet upholstery. Elise’s caseworker, who stood outside of Henry’s office, wasn’t at all sure what to think. Henry was supposed to be helping the troubled little girl, and yet he seemed to be doing nothing.
But really, the two of them were just...sitting. Just being still in the silence. And whether or not she realized it, that was exactly what Elise needed. Sitting on the cold linoleum floor for the fourth day with the little girl, Dr. Henry thought about the things her watery eyes had seen. From what her caregiver had told him, Elise had been recently rescued from an abusive single mother. He didn’t know too much of the details. He didn’t need to.
When the police showed up to remove seven-year-old Elise from her mother’s custody, the little girl screamed and screamed.
Her social worker began searching online for a therapist on the car ride to the Children’s’ Center, as Elise howled next to her. She found a Dr. Henry Dunwoodie. In his online bio, he was wearing a tie with lots of little peaches on it.
She brought Elise to him the very next day for “ Emotional Assistance.” She hoped he could help her to forget, to move on.
And as the two of them sat there day after day, it seemed like bringing the already emotionally confused girl to a man who clearly had a screw loose was a bad idea.
But one day, the little girl turned to Henry Dunwoodie and asked him in a voice so soft that he needed to turn up his hearing aids to hear her, “ Do you like puzzles?” And he told her he did indeed.
After that appointment, Henry Dunwoodie took himself to the store and bought as many puzzles as he could carry. And as he put them together, back on the floor of his office with Elise, they didn’t talk about putting her pieces back together or try to connect the puzzles to life. Instead, they talked about why the tucan in the rainforest scene had such a large beak.
And once Elise started talking, Henry realized how much she had to say.
For the sake of time, I’m afraid I must hurry our story onward. As Elise bounced from foster home to foster home and the years crawled by, Dr. Henry Dunwoodie grew to love the little girl and looked forward to her visits and all she had to say. He would sit back in his big chair and do what he did best; listen. Listen as she described the squirrel named Sammy who had lived in her backyard, her newest foster family, the smell of rain.
She was a girl who had seen her fair share of hardship, but Henry did an incredible job of balancing difficult topics with casual conversation. There was never one without the other because Henry believed that neither should be ignored. He used to tell Elise that they were the pieces of her puzzle. ( Ah, there’s the puzzle analogy you were all waiting for.)
But in February of 2001, Elise’s foster family of eight months told her that things weren’t working out. They had a baby girl of their own on the way, and just didn’t feel like they could care for Elise.
And as fate would have it, the very next week, Elise’s birth mother came knocking, asking for her baby girl back.
At their next appointment, Elise lapsed back into silence. She didn’t want to talk about her mother or Henry’s tie with the hippos on it. She didn’t want to talk at all. And for the first time, he didn’t know what to do.
So that afternoon, Dr. Henry Dunwoodie made a decision. The biggest one of his life. He locked up his office and walked down to the town courthouse to file an adoption request for Elise Hackleman.
Many of you know me as Elise Dunwoodie. But before I became the young woman I am today, I was a little girl who had been wounded by the world.
Dr. Henry Dunwoodie was my adoptive father, and he really was my savior. He helped me, not to forget my scars, no, because they make me who I am. But he taught me that what I experienced as a child didn’t need to overcome me. I could be more than the words that hurt me, more than the hands that are etched across my past. He believed in me, even when I was the girl with the haunted eyes who shivered in a ball in the corner of his office. He believed in me when I was broken.
A hot mug of chamomile can’t fix everything. Even Henry Dunwoodie didn’t “fix” me. But he showed me that you don’t need to forget your hurt to be whole.