Born: October 11, 1929
Died: July 24, 2003
'Say not in grief 'he is no more' but live in thankfulness that he was'
I'm not sure just how to begin. It's kind of like handling a porcupine. What hand do you use? Because anywhere I begin, I know I'll feel the prick of tears as clearly as that old porcupine's quills.
Husband, Father, Dad, Tom, Granddaddy, Papa, Great-Granddaddy, Brother, Uncle, Friend, Knight. Or perhaps my favorite -- Saint Thomas, for the many things he put up with without complaint. However you knew him, we have all come together today to share our thoughts and memories of someone who was very special to us all.
I'd like to start a little over fifty years ago, when a handsome young man met a pretty young woman at a fraternity ball. She, however, was his roommate's date, and when he and the roommate eventually swapped partners for a dance, the pretty young woman gently kissed the young man's neck.
He was horrified.
He reared back and promptly told her not to do that again.
Because, you see, she was his friend's date, and he was above all, a gentleman.
Fortunately, he had the good sense to ask his friend if he minded if he asked the pretty young woman out. The friend didn't mind, the handsome young man invited the pretty young woman out, and the rest, as they say, was history. It was only six months from the time they met until they married so you can imagine the rumors that were rife. Of course, by the time I arrived, seven years later, most of those rumors had been put to rest. My brother Christopher was born five years later, but sadly, did not live. But when Tim came along in another two and a half years, the handsome young man and the pretty young woman felt their family was complete. Mama was 34 when Tim was born, and she always used to say it made her realize why God gave babies to young women! But Daddy always seemed to have the energy and the patience to deal with two children who were almost from two different generations.
Mama loved Daddy. And Daddy loved Mama. Throughout my life, that was the one constant I was most sure of. It gave me comfort and security as a child and it gave me an ideal that I could only hope to achieve in my own life. Actually, it went beyond Daddy loved Mama. Daddy adored Mama. Believe me, there were times when I didn't understand that intense love and commitment, but I never doubted it -- not for a moment.
When Daddy became so sick, I really saw how very much Mama adored him as well. Her commitment, her love, and her faithfulness, where truly awe-inspiring. Throughout his long hospitalization, when anyone would ask what they could do for him -- he had one standard answer: "Take care of your Mother," or in the case of friends, "Take care of Betty." It was all he really asked for.
Daddy was always focused on someone else -- never on himself. He worried about Mom, he worried about me and Tim and his grandchildren. He worried about people at church and neighbors and friends. He never worried about himself. When I went to see him in the hospital one time, during his "silent spell" when he wasn't able to speak, I was sitting with him and talking when Mom left the room. As soon as she left the room, he began to try to say something for me. I couldn't tell what he wanted so I tried several questions: "Are you cold?" "Are you thirsty?" "Do you need the nurse?" Finally, he raised his hand and made a sign, and it dawned on me -- he wanted money! So I asked him if he needed some money for something. But no -- I'd misinterpreted. Lying in his hospital bed, recovering from surgery, with no clear path of what was going to happen in the future, he was worried about me and wanted to make sure I didn't need some cash! That was Daddy.
I am so grateful that we had time with Daddy to begin to transition into his leaving us. While it could never take away the sting of his absence, I think it has made this difficult time somewhat easier. It is comforting to know that his closest family had the opportunity to be with him and talk to him and let him know how much we love him. What a gift that was! The week before he died, my oldest daughter Jane came and stayed for five days. My other children, Karen, Steven, and Hayes, as well as my grandchildren -- his great-grands -- were in and out as well. And on the Saturday before he died, I was privileged to spend the whole day with him. He was weakening, but I had all day to talk to him in bits and pieces, and I was able to put into words so many things that I would have hated to have left unsaid.
As the time grew shorter and his illness advanced, he began to focus inward. I asked him once if he was scared of dying. He shook his head vigorously and gave me a very firm, "No!" but then added softly, "Just a little nervous." Then he looked at me and said, "Please pray for me."
Mom shared with me how one night, as she lay in the bed next to her husband of fifty years, she woke in the middle of the night and began to cry. She was trying to lie still and not shake the bed, because by then Daddy wasn't sleeping well and she didn't want to wake him. But then, a warm hand crept into hers and handed her a tissue, and a voice in the darkness said, "It's okay. I cry sometimes too."
Daddy was a great model. We learned more about what life was really like from what he said, or did, or lived by his example. We can't leave Mom out of this, for she was often his guide and our threat to what was to come ... as in "wait until your father comes home or hears about this", or "go ask your father," because we knew what his answer would be. "What did your mother say?" There's a great line in an old John Travolta/Kirstie Alley movie called "Look Who's Talking." In it, John says to his son, "I think the most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." And Dad, you certainly did that well.
But perhaps the best example of all that you set for us though, was your faith. You were ever a man of faith -- faithful to God, faithful to the church, faithful to your family. It was from your faith that the seeds of my own faith -- a faith that has given me comfort and seen me through tough times -- was born. You didn't just "talk the talk" -- you "walked the walk." You were the first one to sign up to help at whatever it was that needed help. You were always ready to make a donation or support a just cause. You were active in ministry. As a Eucharistic Minister, you felt so privileged, so blessed, to be able to share your own special devotion to the Eucharist with others in our Catholic family. It was that willingness to set the example that made all the difference in the world.
Dad had a special devotion to the Eucharist and being unable to receive the Body of Christ was probably the most difficult part of his illness. When Mom and Dad were in Boston, at the rehab facility, Mom would receive Communion and hold Dad's hand -- sharing it with him through her faith. Once we realized that Dad could receive Eucharist in the form of the Precious Blood -- through his feeding tube -- we were all so pleased that he could once again be part of his Savior through this special Sacrament. Dad was my youngest son's sponsor for Confirmation and it was a wonderful year for both of them. As we gathered around Daddy's body on Thursday morning, Hayes said, "You taught me so many things that strengthened my faith and showed me how to be a good man. I am so proud that I have your name."
We were gifted by your sense of fun and your sense of humor. You always loved a good party and you loved a good laugh. As odd as it may sound, the house has rung with laughter these past few days as we've celebrated all the joy-filled memories you've left us with. What a blessing it is, that our family can gather now and remember you with smiles as well as tears, with joy as well as grief, and with hope in eternal life instead of despair.
I think, if my Dad could be here, he would challenge us to hear these next words and take them to heart:
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sun on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled light
I am the soft star that shines at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there; I did not die.