My Dad passed from this life one year ago today, Dec 15, 2020. Sometimes it feels like it was years ago; sometimes it feels like it was yesterday. There are days I well up with missing him; there are days I’m glad he is free from the struggles of this life. Such is the nature of loss.
Due to Covid, I gave his eulogy 6 weeks after he passed. I loved writing it (with the help of my sibs.) I love delivering it. I loved honoring his life in this way. I wanted to post his eulogy today because I want to share him with the world again. He was a light in my life that is gone in the flesh but still shines in my heart.
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I thank all of you here today (Feb. 1, 2021) and those who are watching by live-stream for joining us today, and for loving Dad. I have to say, Dad would love knowing his story is on YouTube.
First and foremost, Dad was an adventurous extrovert.
He loved people and would chat with anyone, from people he knew well to strangers on the street. He had a great sense of humor and charisma that drew folks in. Growing up in Indiana as one of 8 children, I imagine he was accustomed to the chaos and escapades that occur in a large family, and from his Navy days through his retirement years, he made lifelong friendships. At the time he passed, he had 173 people on his “contacts” list.
Dad loved music and studied piano from a young age.
He was raised in the Methodist church but converted to Catholicism at age 19 after he attended a Christmas midnight mass and experienced the beautiful music.
He received a music scholarship for his freshman year of college but would complete his degree only after a 3 and ½ year stretch in the Navy due to the eruption of W.W.II. Our mom served in the Navy during that same time, but they did not meet until several years later.
Dad and mom were married in 1950, after both graduated college. In Ft. Wayne Indiana, they had four children in six years. I could only find a few blurry photos from those years, as Mom was lost in cloth diapers and Dad was busy working for the State Board of Health. Once home, it was his job to keep four youngsters entertained.
Being a kid himself, Dad was the ultimate playmate.
Exploring the outdoors, visiting state parks, and trekking through woodsy trails were frequent excursions for us.
We have myriad memories of childhood ventures with Dad. I loved walking in our PJs to Dairy Queen with him after dinner, twirling around in the living room while he played the piano, and trips to the dentist with donuts afterward. I didn’t always love Sunday Mass, where we all learned to sit still like toy soldiers and listen to the Mass in Latin, but I came to appreciate it.
I am so grateful our parents took us to church.
My sister Terri loved that Dad was her first piano teacher. Joy to the World was the first song she learned, and Dad was so proud of her when she mastered it. She felt very grown-up at 13 the year she and Dad walked to Midnight Mass together; it was a treat staying up that late.
As part of Dad’s job as a food inspector, he visited slaughterhouses often, and young Terri joined him on one trip. When she felt sick watching that process, he sent her back to the car. Terri decided she never wanted that job. She became a teacher instead, like Mom. When Terri was older and had a job, she and Dad would share M&Ms every payday; she would buy one week, he would buy the next. Terri also remembers him telling her she would be the prettiest girl at the prom.
Phil remembers a camping trip when we were all teenagers. A trip from Indiana to Texas to visit relatives was planned, as well as a day trip to Mexico. In preparation for the trip, Phil and Dad built a plywood box to mount on top of our car to carry the 6-man tent we would be using at campsites along our journey. For Phil, this was very exciting since he loved camping when he was in the Boy Scouts. Terri and I loathed camping, which for some strange reason made Phil enjoy it even more.
On our way home, Phil was driving when we came upon an accident. We pulled over and Dad gave aid to a man with a profusely bleeding arm, probably saving his life.
This intoxicated man coming our way had crossed the line and hit the car directly in front of us, head-on.
It suddenly dawned on Phil that if the drunken man had not crashed into the car ahead of us, we were the next car in line. Fortunately, no one died, but Dad made it very clear that all lives are important, even the man with the bleeding arm who had caused the accident.
One memory that is very vivid for all of us is from 1976 when our special-needs brother Greg died after complications from a fall.
He was only 23. We grieved together in a private hospital room where my siblings and I saw Dad cry for the first time in our lives. Through his tears, he apologized for any neglect we had felt due to the additional attention he and Mom had given to Greg over 15 years. We were stunned by his distress over this. None of us had ever felt ignored or uncared for. If anything, we had benefitted from learning how to care for and be sensitive to someone who needed extra help. But this was Dad’s heart: are all of my children OK?
Due to Greg’s influence on our family, our parents founded a school for special-needs kids in a small town in Indiana, where Mom was the first principal. Dad was always aware of the outcast, or the disadvantaged, and on more than one occasion, brought home last-minute guests for dinner. Mom, a planner, was sometimes initially exasperated, but always made the meal stretch to feed everyone.
This mindfulness of the overlooked or needy is a lesson my siblings and I have tried to exercise in our own lives.
Family, faith, music, and chocolate were dad’s passions.
He cherished his kids and was delighted when each of his 11 grandchildren was born.
He loved the Charismatic movement of the church and the prayer group he was part of for over 20 years in Rockville MD.
He loved celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary by renewing his vows to Mom in a celebratory Mass. In the past decade, in his wheelchair, he would accompany his brother Knight Ray to the abortion clinic in Orlando to pray on the sidewalk for the women in crisis there. He played piano/organ in the church for nearly 75 years; even in his final weeks, he was playing Christmas Carols on the piano with the one hand that was not affected by Parkinson’s.
And everyone who knew him knew he was a chocoholic. I wish I had purchased stock in Hershey 50 years ago.
When our parents moved into an assisted living facility 11 years ago, their extended family grew. Dad the extrovert made a point to make it around the building, first with his cane and then in his wheelchair. He was curious about people’s background, their former work, and their families. The ALF director dubbed him the facility ambassador because he always sought out the new residents and sometimes knew the house gossip before she did.
The caretakers at Greenwood Place became family to us as well, because they attended to both our parents every day for over a decade and got to know them as well as we did.
As our parents become more disabled, Vitas hospice joined our team and we came to rely on them as well. Our family cannot express how much we appreciate the efforts of these health care workers. Over the years, we saw how hard their jobs are and the sacrifices they make. They deserve hugs and baked treats and bigger paychecks. We want to honor them here today. (GW and Vitas associates stood and the audience applauded.)
Here is where Dad’s story dovetails so tenderly with our beloved pastor, Fr. Tobin, who was “promoted to heaven” just a month ago today.
Fr. Tobin had been a part of our family’s life for nearly 20 years, and he knew Mom and Dad well. He had visited them multiple times in the hospital, in rehab, and at their ALF, where he would come to hear confessions. He was with Dad within minutes of Mom’s passing in Jan. 2020. He knelt on the floor near Dad’s wheelchair and comforted our devastated father until his tears ran dry.
In his own journey, because Dad loved life, he had some anxiety about dying. In his final week, he told me he didn’t want to die because he would miss his kids. I assured him once he was with Jesus, he probably would not, but that he could certainly keep an eye on us from heaven.
Two days before Dad passed, he wanted a visit from Fr. Tobin. Father came that afternoon. Dad admitted to Father that he was afraid he would not get to heaven. He feared he had not been good enough, and due to growing disabilities, he felt he felt had not done enough. He was not confident that he would be with Jesus.
Father assured Dad that he was a wonderful servant, that he had served God all of his adult life. He told Dad that it was a lie from the devil that Dad would not be welcomed into heaven, that fear was not from God, and to reject those thoughts. He gave Dad a few statements to repeat: I love you, Jesus. I trust you, Jesus. I place my life in your hands. Father promised Dad he would get to heaven.
The following day, Father returned. Dad was more subdued on that second visit, and Father prayed with him again, restating his words from the day before: I love you, Jesus. I trust you, Jesus. I place my life in your hands. Just a few hours after he left, Dad passed peacefully.
When, shockingly, Father Tobin passed just two weeks later, our family grieved again, as has this church community of over 2,000 families. There are no words to describe the magnitude of this loss. This makes Fr. Tobin’s final visits to Dad even more precious to me.
Father Tobin was able to comfort Dad in a way we had not been able to do; he ushered Dad peacefully from this troubled, sullied world into the arms of Jesus.
I now have an image that feels directly from Father Tobin and Dad, and I shared this at one of the votive services for Father. Grinning, Father and Dad meet in heaven. Father remarks to Dad, “KJ, you beat me up here,” and then with a twinkle in his eye, he whispers, “I told you so.”