Writing the Eulogy
Prior to my dad’s Mass of Christian Burial service on Tuesday, December 23, 2008, I was really unsure if we would even have someone read a prepared eulogy. It was about 9pm on Monday and we had just returned from the second viewing at the funeral home. It had been a long day and I was emotionally drained. During the viewings we had decided with Father Robert Finamore – who would officiate over the church proceedings - that Carol and Alison would do selected readings from the Bible and that I would read a eulogy. With the church service beginning at 10am on Tuesday there was little time to prepare. I finally sat down at 2am that Tuesday morning and began with three ideas or stories to form the basis of a eulogy. The one I went with was a story about leaving Southern Maryland Hospital during my dad’s initial stay – when he first learned he had lung cancer – back in May 2008. I remember wishing I had more time to refine my work, but I finally wrapped things up at 6am so I could get a little rest. Despite the lack of sleep the reading of this eulogy, though incredibly difficult to get though at such an emotional time, was one of the proudest moments of my life.
“The Great Escape”
On May 19th, my father found out that he was quite ill. After about a week or so in the hospital they decided to discharge him pending his upcoming surgery at a different hospital. I remember him calling me all excited saying, “Come and get me. I can leave him!” He wanted to come home. Boy, did he ever want to come home.
I remember showing up at the hospital and seeing him dressed and sitting on the side of his freshly made bed. Beside him sat a clear trash bag with all his spare belongings. He looked so vulnerable and it reminded me of a kid going to school for the first time. He was so excited. Before he could leave we were told we had to wait for a host of folks to come in and sign his discharge paperwork. Well that was no quick task. We waited over two hours and several times his doctor instructed us not to leave without a proper checkout. He said it was important. I think he sensed two pigeons about to fly the coop.
The doctor reinforced the fact that we could not just walk out. He said after the checkout was complete transport would come up with a wheelchair and take my dad to the hospital exit. Well, before long he hit the breaking point. I told my dad, “I’ll be right back. You might want to grab up your bag of belongings.” I walked down the hall very nonchalantly and found a spare wheelchair. I wheeled it back to the room and dad eagerly hopped in it. I took one last look out into the hallway and away we went. Dad was chuckling and said we were executing – “the Great Escape.” I think he felt like Steve McQueen during that mad dash.
The days that followed and led us to today featured so many tough times – but so many more memorable days preceded May 19th. Our dear father had a philosophy about life – don’t take it too seriously and enjoy every day in a meaningful way.
He had a lot of great qualities but two in particular stand out to me. The first was his sense of humor. He had a natural ability to make just about anyone laugh – even at the simplest of things. He always kept things lively no matter how serious the situation. He even made staying in the hospital a fun time. The days and nights we spent with him in the hospital were crazy. His constant harassing of the nurses. Introducing Carol as, “This is my oldest daughter. She tried to kill me yesterday” – there is a story behind that one! Insisting he had to have shaved ice vice the ice cubes that they provided him. Kindly pointing out as you arrived for your watch that day or night that, “If you planned on sleeping today you are in for a bad day.” He always kept us laughing and even being with him in the hospital was a riot at times. It was never forced – it was a natural gift. If you knew my father I know this much – you have some hilarious stories to tell.
The other great quality was the generosity he showed to all those who crossed his path. Over the course of his life he made so many friends and he always tried to make them feel welcome. I remember he would think nothing of inviting single military folks from work – young kids away from home and unable to be with their own families – over for Thanksgiving dinner. Or taking Oxana into his home and bringing her into our lives forever. To garner my father’s friendship was an incredible blessing. The true mark of a worthy existence is to make the lives of those people around you better. He certainly excelled at that.
My dad always made sure others were taken care of before himself. Especially with his own family. You could always turn to him when you were enduring a bad stretch or were down on your luck. He was like having your own personal safety net. If you fell he was always there to catch you and put you back on your feet. And without ever having to hear him say, “I told you so.” He made life easier for me, his wife, his daughters, and his grandchildren. We are so appreciative.
Much like that day in late May, I wish me and my sisters could snatch up a wheelchair and whisk our dad right out of here. I can see us racing down this aisle, him looking back at us as we laughed the whole time. I can see him clutching his precious trash nag of belongings as he says, “Let’s go get a beer.”
But it is not to be. However, we can all take comfort in knowing he is on his way to bring joy and laughter to all his family and friends who have since departed our company. As he passes through this phase of his life and goes on to greater things, he leaves us with so many, many precious memories. But don’t be too sad – for he is on his way to Heaven – and that is truly the greatest escape of all. Rest in peace our beloved father – knowing your family cherishes you and all that you have provided.