Sunday, April 23, 2017

Love Your Face: Eulogy for My Dad

            Let’s begin by going back about 24 years, specifically to the first Sunday of April, 1993.
            This particular Sunday, Bob was feeling under the weather, with what he thought was the flu. On the advice of the doctor, my mother drove him to the ER. As it turned out, Bob wasn’t suffering from the flu. He was in the midst of a massive heart attack. 
             That evening was a blur.  We were told to prepare for the worst. Somehow, Bob survived that first night. 
              For days, Bob’s vital signs rode more steep ups and downs than a city of Worcester school bus.  Exhausted, we spent our days camped out in the ICU waiting room of the old Saint Vincent’s Hospital on Vernon Hill, impatiently waiting our turn, one family member at a time, to visit with him.   
           Again and again we asked ourselves: How could this happen to such a fit man who always ate right – except for his once a week dose of chocolate cake or blueberry pie from Sam’s Bakery – and exercised  regularly? He was barely retired a year at that time. Eighteen holes of golf followed by three mile walks were a regular part of his daily routine.
            Then it was the following Sunday, one tumultuous  week later, a beautiful spring day with the promise of new life in the air: Sun shining brightly; Green grass poking up through what remained of the winter snow.  Bob’s room in ICU was still crowded with all kinds of scary, beeping machinery. We arrived for our usual visits, but he cut them short. He didn’t want to wear himself out. It was the final day of the Master’s Tournament and he was determined to save up enough energy to watch it.
            We took this as a good sign. And indeed it was. That evening, his vitals began to stabilize. Within days, he was moved from ICU to a regular hospital room. Granted, there were some pretty talented medical professionals involved in Bob’s recovery, but deep down we knew the truth. Golf saved him.  
            Given the substantial damage to his heart, doctors estimated Bob had about four years of living left. My father, a man of integrity and honesty, made sure we were all aware that he’d been given an end date. He wanted us prepared.
            “What are you gonna do?” He’d say to us, shrugging, not one tear in his eye. “Hey! I’m lucky to be alive.”
             Bob’s brush with death back then turned out to be a gift.  Because we were all aware that the future wasn’t guaranteed, we treated every day as though it was his last until this mindset became ingrained in each of us. We always took the opportunity to express to him, Patsy, each loved one, how much they mattered. Nearly every interaction ended with a phrase my grandmother, his mother, had started to regularly say to all of us: “Love your face.” 
            Over the phone: “Love your face, dad.”
            “Love your face kid.” 
            After an evening out or an afternoon excursion, a big hug and a wet kiss on the cheek: “Love your face. Love your face, kid.”
            “Yeah. Yeah. We know.  Love your face, dad.”
  ,         There were lots of ways my dad could have chosen to act in the years after his heart attack. He could have sat back, given up, and waited for death, for example. But as history shows us, Bob wasn’t that type of person. He always pushed for more. He was the first in his family to graduate college. Got his doctorate in education, when a bachelor’s would have been just fine.  He so finely honed his golf game that, in his prime, he won golf tournaments left and right and got not one hole in one, but four.
            Married above his station – he liked to joke -- the smart, funny, and beautiful Catherine Patricia.         
            He not only visited his mother every Sunday, he also stopped in on Mondays for lunch. She’d always have a half sandwich, a glass of milk, and a piece of fruit waiting for him. He went above and beyond as a dad too by giving us his most precious commodity, his time: piano sing-alongs – "I’m a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch" was my personal favorite – beach and ski vacations, piano lessons, golf lessons, trips to Canada, Florida, and Ireland.
            Rather than sit back and wait for his heart to give out, Bob lived every day as if it was his last. In the process, he defied all his doctors’ predictions. Within months of his hospitalization, he returned to golf, determined to regain his strength. And he did. Over the next two decades, he and Patsy traveled everywhere: Florida several times a year, all over the U.S. to visit Tara, and then all over Europe as well. He loved spending time with his grandchildren. Was proud to be there in person to see Katie and Bridget accept all sorts of academic awards and graduate middle school, high school, college. He loved spending time with Conor and Annie Cate: buying them books, tracking Conor’s swim team achievements. He couldn’t get enough of Annie Cate’s piano playing. He and Patsy shared in their joy as they visited some of the most beautiful and historic sites of Europe.  
            The fact that Bob continued to live – truly live in every sense of the word – is a gift that still inspires awe, even here and now. But the fact that we all knew – my dad especially, that every single one of those days was a gift?  And that we got to see that gratitude every day, in a life so well-lived?  And get to feel that gratitude still, here and now?
             That’s a gift that will keep on giving.  
            On behalf of my mother and father, Tara, myself, Katie, Bridget, Conor, and Annie Cate, thank you all for being here today. As my dad said many times, especially in the last few months, always with joy in his heart and gratitude in his soul, “You’re all good kids.”
            Dad, you’re a pretty good kid too. For always and forever, to infinity and beyond, we love love love love love your face.

Back in the '70s, near Killarney: My dad practicing his golf swing. 

1 comment:

  1. I have my dad's two hole-in-one plaques, with golf balls perched on protruding metal in the shape of drivers -- more significant, perhaps, than the shadow box with medals he won in the Pacific in WWII. These lovely, silly and wise, confounding men will be with us always. You capture him beautifully!