GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Those who knew Bob Eleveld opening The Grand Rapids Press this week were greeted with a bit of a shock.
According to our media partners at Mlive.com, among all the other obituaries, there was Bob, smiling and holding up a bottle of wine. Beneath the photograph was his name and a date range: 8/3/1936 – Not Yet
After reading the first few lines, it becomes clear that Eleveld’s obituary is not an obituary at all.
“Hel-“LO”! This is Bob Eleveld. As I write this notice, I am still with you, although my doctors have informed me that this status will change in the near future.”
Eleveld, 80, announced this week that, in leiu of a funeral, he will host family and friends for a “celebration of life” open house on Saturday, March 18.
“We’re calling it the nobit,” said his daughter, Kerry Eleveld.
A prominent local attorney, most recently with Grand Rapids firm McGarry Bair, Eleveld has also long been involved in local and national politics as a local Republican Party chairman, a candidate for state representative and a member of the East Grand Rapids City Commission.
Kerry Eleveld admitted it’s a bit unusual for someone to publish their own obituary and make plans to attend their own memorial service.
“Yes this is unconventional, and yes some people think it’s a little weird,” Eleveld said.
But for her father, she said, nothing could be more appropriate.
When Eleveld came to work for McGarry Bair, his daughter said, an important condition was the continuation of a tradition he started in his own law practice. Now Eleveld’s “Cookie Day” is a tradition the entire firm embraces, where anyone is invited each Wednesday at 10 a.m. to share in conversation and fellowship.
“I think of him as a creator of community,” Eleveld said of her father. “And this is one last moment where he can sort of bring people together in an unusual way.”
A giant end-of-life party may not be for everyone, she said. But for her dad, nothing could fit his personality more perfectly.
“My father is a very social person,” she said. “He’s the kind of guy who — when you walk into a restaurant with him — he talks to 3-5 people on his way to the table. He knows the name of the waitress, the hostess, the bartender and several patrons and he stops to say ‘Hi’ to each and every one of them.”
With death being an uncertain reality, Eleveld points out that not everyone has the opportunity to gather their friends and family together and say goodbye.
“Not everybody is fortunate enough to have that option,” she said. “What he really wants to do is celebrate the time he has had with people rather than mourn the fact that he’s not here anymore.”
Her father suffers from blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm, a rare type of leukemia. The cancer first presented on his skin in August 2014 and he started treatment in May 2015.
After nearly two years of battling the cancer, Eleveld has stopped treatment.
The weekend after Thanksgiving 2016, some members of the family shared a dinner out in Seattle with Eleveld and his longtime partner, Michele McIsaac.
As they talked about him coming to the end of his treatment options and the plans for a belated 80th birthday party sometime in 2017, someone suggested moving the party up.
“We had about 6 people there and everybody just sort of lit up at that idea,” Kerry Eleveld said. “That was the moment that we as a family and my father and his partner first started considering it.”
The idea of having a party instead of a funeral is nothing new, she said.
“Long before he had cancer, he would always say don’t throw a funeral for me, have a party,” Eleveld said. “This feels like the perfect way to honor my father, because it’s the way he wants to do it. It seems perfectly fitting.”
But setting a date for the party proved to be a little more difficult, she said.
“Because you want to hold as much hope as long as you can,” Eleveld said. “The question is, when do you plan the end of life party? Nobody’s ready to call it a day too soon.”
The moment came, she said, at a meeting last week with his doctor, who told him he likely had 4-6 weeks to live.
“Then they got to work,” Eleveld said.
In his “nobit,” published first in the Sunday, March 12, edition of The Grand Rapids Press, her father invited the “countless people who have influenced my life” to join him Saturday at Thousand Oaks Golf Club, 4100 Thousand Oaks Dr. NE in Grand Rapids. He invites friends, colleagues and family to come and “share a roast beef sandwich, some shrimp and a beer with – on me!”
It will be the only public event to celebrate her father’s life, Kerry Eleveld said.
“This is the sole sort of event that we’re having,” she said. “He just absolutely never wanted a funeral and we’re not going to have one.”
Though intended primarily as a way to gather friends and family together, the “nobit” has generated quite a bit of interest, Eleveld said.
The “guestbook” attached to Eleveld’s online obituary already has several entries. Though many are from family and friends, some are from strangers reacting to the idea.
“Sir, I do not know you, but reading your invitation to celebrate life was the neatest idea I’ve read today!” Patricia Deur-Vis wrote. “I can see myself doing this some day.”
Another guestbook signer admits to not knowing Eleveld personally, but says in writing the obit he has earned “my utmost respect.”
Kerry Eleveld said she thinks her father’s plans raise questions about how we deal all deal with death.
“I do think there is a lot more thought now nationally about what end of life means, about how we should approach it and what’s meaningful and what isn’t,” Eleveld said. “And if there’s a better way of doing this than we’ve been doing it.”
For those who still don’t understand the motivation behind her father’s unusual decision to draft an obituary and hold a open house prior to his death, Eleveld points to the last line of his “nobit”:
“Please know that the end of my life is the ultimate “peanut item” in comparison to how much I have enjoyed my life with all of you,” he wrote.
She explains that “peanut item” is one of her father’s favorite terms to describe items of minuscule importance. His death, Eleveld said, is a minor occurrence in his own mind. The important thing is all the time he’s shared with others.
This article was first seen on Mlive.com.