CELEBRATING THE LIFE OF PAUL TSCHUDI
“These things are true. That life derives from love, that love invites loss, that loss brings grief, that grief brings growth, and that growth means life – and so the circle is complete, and grief is a part of life. The door is open, enter life.”
– Paul Tschudi, Epilogue to “Grief: A Wall or a Door” (2006)
Paul Tschudi passed away on Wednesday April 7, 2021. This In Memoriam site brings together his loved ones to grieve and mourn his passing, and this site is also meant to commemorate the extraordinary life of Paul; to celebrate our personal experiences of him; to share stories and to laugh as he would at this crazy thing called life.
Paul loved many of us in the ways we needed to be loved, and we invite anyone to register on the site or share your Memories. For any questions, please Get In Touch with us!
IN MEMORIAM PAUL TSCHUDI
Paul Francis Tschudi was born on October 15, 1947 in Dayton, Ohio. On April 7, 2021, he died in a fire at his house, which he had called home for 28 years, in Washington, DC.
Between these two dates, Paul lived a generous, caring, loving life that is not easy to adequately summarize or categorize. We can certainly recite the places and countries he called home, and the corresponding eras of his life. He spent his childhood and young adulthood in Dayton, but was drafted and sent to Vietnam in 1969. After his tour of duty, he lived and worked in 10 different places across Washington, DC; San Diego; and Saudi Arabia, and also traveled around the world to 17 countries. In 1986, he came back to Washington, DC, where he lived for the last 35 years of his life.
But while a life can be organized into such phases and places, these only provide the framework for the story. In “The Yellow Hooch,” a TEDxGWU talk he gave in October 2011, Paul noted: “I am who I am today because of my experience in Vietnam...I would not trade my experience for anything. But I would not wish it on anyone.” Deployed to Vietnam on March 28, 1969, he spent 15 months serving, not just his country but humanity, as a medic. But the experience, as he put it, made his soul vanish. The hooch where he lived with his brother-soldiers, many of whom he stayed connected to until the end, was able to sustain that soul, but could not rebuild it. And thus, after his discharge on June 22, 1970, Paul spent the next 14 years wandering, “coaxing [his] soul to return.”
As one of Paul’s favorite bumper stickers remind us, not all who wander are lost – or perhaps, wandering can be a means of finding our way. When Paul returned to Dayton after Vietnam, he immediately bought a cherry red Mustang convertible and stopped cutting his hair. He worked at a camp for developmentally disabled adults for the summer, then left Dayton behind and landed in a basement apartment in Washington, DC. Those early DC years were filled with friends old and new. Paul built a core of long-lasting relationships and had a lot of fun. He was a full-blown hippie, devoted to Joni Mitchell and all manner of explorations. Saturday nights at his second, light-filled apartment were spent with Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, and fragrant Indian feasts. Sunday mornings meant yoga, lunch, and long strolls through the city. He loved sampling all the international cuisines DC had on offer, and had a knack for finding great family-run restaurants.
Paul left DC soon after the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in November 1975, going on an extended, hilarious cross-country road trip with two friends and their German Shepherd, Pookie. Friends gradually followed him, forming a San Diego family. Paul played in the sun and surf, and nurtured his soul for the next decade. He worked with seniors for several years, then segued into a stint as a salesman at International Male, San Diego's hottest men's boutique. Disco hit around that time, and he loved going out to dance. He spent a couple of years working in Saudi Arabia and traveling intensively, then returned to Washington, DC.
Paul’s life, ultimately, is a story of resilience, optimism, and joy. In that first decade-and-a-half of “wanderings” after Vietnam, Paul’s soul “finally, finally felt safe enough to return” to him. By his own account, he coaxed it back “by again discovering that there’s really good in the world,” and he emphasized that it is the people, both in the hooch in Vietnam and in his life since, “who have healed” him. But Paul’s own phrasings belie what is undoubtedly the full extent of the truth. The good in the world was and is there in part because Paul put that goodness into the world. Likewise, if his loved ones healed him, Paul did as much, if not more, for us by loving us.
Paul’s love and friendship was a gift. He could form a connection to virtually every person he met. It was almost a fault, and there were times when it seemed impossible to walk around a beach town or do a grocery run without Paul eliciting a compelling life story from some new acquaintance. The more cynical among us made fun of Paul for how fast someone he just met could already be his “new best friend,” but he himself was seldom cynical. He was an extremely loyal friend; once he committed himself to the friendship he would not let it fall away. Miles and years might keep them apart, but he kept in touch with old friends as far back as high school. He cultivated a diverse collection of friends, all with very personal, individualized interactions. He treated each person as a unique self, and had a prodigious grasp on memories.
Paul extended much care and grace to people. He had a kind, gentle, open face, and – though he himself never liked it – a soothing, calming voice. That kindness and empathy helped many of his friends through difficult times, though frequently he did so by showing us that we are braver and more resilient than we think. He would often give his friends little presents: a small piece of handmade jewelry; a baked good; a charm or friendship bracelet; an animal totem; a scarf to keep us warm; a plant to nurture; a Buddha pendant; a pocket angel coin. A button that he especially relished handing out said, simply but powerfully, “I am loved” – some friends in return gave him a painting of the button – and it helps us understand what he wanted these gifts to do: to remind us how much strength being loved can impart unto us.
Maybe most of all, Paul made us laugh. He had a tremendous sense of humor, and each of us likely has our favorite Paul joke. Sometimes, that humor was unintentional. He could be a goofy, silly man. He wasn't particularly handy with household chores and maintenance in the early days, which often led to amusing situations. He could hilariously misunderstand something – usually because he was being naive, child-like, gullible, or too trusting – and then mock himself for being “so dumb and stupid.” But his humor was also wilful and even purposeful. He made us laugh with an awful pun; an unexpected or even inappropriate quip; a dumb phrase repeated ironically and to the point of ridiculousness; a clever observation of absurdity – and by doing so, often helped us through adversity.
Paul loved all creatures great and small, providing to them shelter and love. As a young boy, he adopted many animals, including some wild ones he probably should not have. Over the course of his life, he was a dad to seven dogs, the first four being Sancho, Mut, Erin, and Pookie. Heather lived with Paul from 2001-2009, and made him a fan for life of Westies. Duke, Paul’s second rescue Westie and his buddy from 2010-2019, had a particularly special place in his heart. Baxter, a terrier mix, was adopted in September 2020, and the good boy stayed with Paul until the end. For the last few years, an outdoor stray cat christened Will Feral came by daily for food, and sometimes even deigned to hang out in the cat house Paul set up for him. Likewise, in his backyard were bird-feeders, bird-houses and bird-baths. Paul spent hours watching the birds snack away, but he especially loved seeing families of birds teach their young ones how to bathe and frolic in the cool bath waters.
Paul’s love for others, and our love for him, was thus a big part of how he rebuilt his soul. And there was no line between his personal and professional care of others; such care was all part of how he found good in the world, and also released good into it. Still, it is worth registering how Paul, in his professional life, did incalculable good in systemic ways. Much of this came from him devoting much of his life, especially his final 35 years, to working with people facing grief, loss, and life transitions.
The bulk of this work was with The George Washington University, at which he not only earned his MA and Ed.S., but went on to hold assistant professorships in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences; the counselling department of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development; and the School of Nursing. Paul developed, in 1994, the first counseling course at GWU on grief and loss. This led to many other courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels, mostly focused on resilience and normalizing the journey through life transitions. He was also the founding director of a graduate certificate in Grief, Loss and Life Transitions. In 2006, Paul also developed the GWU End-of-Life Care Summer Institute, which for 10 years brought together people from all different walks of life working on contemporary issues of grief, loss, and life transitions. More recently, Paul worked in particular with veteran students. From 2014-2018, he provided counseling and academic coaching services to veteran students, and was a faculty advisor for the GW Student Veterans Association.
Away from GWU, Paul was, from 1993-1997, the executive director of the St. Francis Center, today called the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing. He also maintained a private practice for over 15 years, and through it all, he was an educator, conducting talks, workshops, retreats and classes.
Paul leaves behind his loving partner of 32 years, Mun Hou Lo of Singapore. Initially living in different American cities, and then on different continents, the two of them were able to make their long distance relationship not just work, but thrive. They always treasured their time together, which, in the last two decades, was a few precious months every summer and winter. Though they traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia (in 2007), and Costa Rica (in 2010), what mattered was being with each other (and the dog), and they were content to do so mostly in DC (with occasional trips to Rehoboth Beach). Above all else, they rested with each other. They shared tremendous amounts of joy, laughter, and happiness, and at least one of them feels that his greatest accomplishment will always be that he got to love, and was loved.
Paul is also survived by four nieces and nephews, Janae Tschudi-Evatt (and husband Tom) of Stafford, VA; Jefre Tschudi (and wife Cora Marie) of LaPlata, MD; Jennifer Tschudi Smith (and husband Jeremy), and Jonathan Tschudi, both of Mount Gilead, OH; and his first cousin, Judith Tschudi Servaites of Dayton, OH.
Paul will also be dearly missed by many, many friends across the world. For all too many of us, Paul would have been the person we leaned on to help us through the tragedy of his passing, and it compounds and multiplies our grief that he is no longer here to be that rock and to provide wise and funny counsel. We can only look, then, to the example of his life and words. Paul spent a good part of his life reminding us that life transitions (even when they are positive and exciting) entail losses, and that by not labeling them as losses, we feel as if we are wrong to grief during transitional moments. It is of course much easier to recognize Paul’s passing as a deep, tremendous loss. But he would probably encourage us now to conversely see the loss as a life transition. “In order to have a new beginning,” Paul said in an interview in 2014, “you have to let go of something...It is about letting go of that which was and preparing for that which is to come – a normal and natural part of life. Perhaps it makes us more fully human."
CONNECTIONS TO PAUL'S LIFE WORK
Links to some special words by or about Paul
The Washington Post honoring Paul's contributions to GWU and the discipline of grief, loss and life transitions
Dean Jean Johnson, Founding Dean of GW Nursing, pays tribute to Paul Tschudi during the 10th Anniversary Gala of the GW Nursing School.