Sunday, January 10, 2010

Eulogizing My Father

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand. ~ Old Irish Blessing

My brother John, the black sheep of the family, sober since our brothers, Jim and Dan, died 4 years ago, flew in from Minnesota to bury our father, feeling heartbroken and thinking that he wouldn't have a role to play in the funeral services. As it turned out, he, the eldest existing and unmarried son, had a very important role. He was my mother’s escort throughout the two days of services.

My sister, Sherry, a nurse, had taken a prominent role in overseeing my dad’s hospital care, and her husband, Nelson, read a moving tribute to my dad at the wake, as did Jamie and Rachael, two of my father’s grandchildren. Jamie remarked how his grandfather was like everybody’s Santa Claus, and he reminded us of one of my father’s trademark saying: “I love you more than you’ll know,” the last words he spoke to Jamie. We all laughed when Rachael remembered my father looking around at a family cook-out and saying, “Look at this population I created!”

At St. Ann's church, the next morning, granddaughters, Beth and Molly, shared readings from the Bible, my youngest sister, Tricia, read the funeral mass intercession prayers she had written, while my older sister, Kathy, opened the eulogy part of the services. Taking her place at the church pulpit, alongside my brother Joey and me, Kathy spoke of the circumstances of my father’s death before turning the microphone over to me. I read my essay, “Let Me Clue You in about My Father,” that was originally inspired by a “father’s day essay contest” I was a judge for. I read it on WVTF public radio this past Memorial Day and felt grateful to have honored my father with it before he passed away. While reading to the church full of people who loved my dad, I was remembering this past summer when I visited him and my mother, and he read the essay for the first time. Judging from the tears in his eyes and the number of times I saw him re-read it, I think he approved. I was happy that my description of my father evoked some laughter from the crowd because one of the last things I remember him saying to me was, “I like to make people laugh.”

My sister’s and my words were well received, but it was my brother Joey who stole the show. Joey has a severe case of dyslexia. During his school years, the school system was on the cusp of ignorance and awareness of learning disabilities. At one point, they wanted to put him in with the kids who had mental retardation, but my parents, knowing how bright he was, took him into Boston and got him tested, which led to special services and inclusion in regular classes. Although Joey couldn’t read, or even talk in elementary school with anything other than his made-up language that our brother John (Joey’s sidekick) had to decipher for us, we all knew he was smart as whip.

Through sobbing tears, hunched over the podium and with Kathy, me, and his niece, Heather (who was his designated support person), at his side, Joey spoke of how much it meant to him that my father praised the D’s he got in school, and how it was our father who encouraged him to build his first house…and the next and the next. Joey, who got his driver’s license by taking the drivers test orally and is now the president of his own company, had to work hard for days to write his eulogy and then read it out loud in public. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

Later, at the restaurant where the reception was held, it was my youngest brother Bobby who got the crowd’s attention with a piercing whistle so that his wife, Jeanne, could read the above Irish blessing. Jeanne also read a poem she had written and reminded us all that my dad was not only our Most Valuable Player (MVP), but that he chose to leave us while he was still at the top of his game (after beating pneumonia and getting off a breathing tube).

The population my dad created came out in droves to honor his good run. The stories were told, and laughter mixed with tears as we remembered how much we all loved him.

More than he’ll ever know.

~ Originally posted on on December 7, 2005.

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