My heart is filled with joy and gratitude at the conclusion of my father’s funeral rites today. The visitation last evening brought many fond reminiscences, and it was so gratifying to hear how others valued my dad through the years. This morning’s funeral liturgy was just beautiful in every way, especially with the participation of my children and nieces and nephews, followed by a simple but meaningful burial that included singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” (my dad’s favorite) and a flag ceremony with “Taps” (my dad was a veteran). A simple lunch at our house followed, thanks to the assistance of my husband’s siblings. Below are the remarks of remembrance that I presented at the start of the liturgy. Two of my brothers, the youngest and the oldest, also spoke, and each of us emphasized a different facet of my dad.
I have wondered this week what my dad would think about his passing being memorialized on Facebook. By early Wednesday morning, several of his grandchildren – and his children — had begun posting about it. One grandson shared a YouTube video of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” – a hit song from the 1980s – because listening to it always made him think of Grandpa and, he also noted, “You could always just call him Al.” This observation really captures my dad’s personality and general approach to life. The man you could “just call Al” enjoyed his friends, was devoted to them really, loved to socialize, had a keen wit, and laughed often. In the days since his death, I have heard many stories from people recollecting these traits of his.
But to fully appreciate my dad’s “Call me Al”qualities, it’s also important to recognize that he experienced a bit of pain in his life. The deaths of two premature infants while he was still in his 20s. Being widowed at age 39 with four young children. The financial setback of closing his restaurant when he was 60 years old. And possibly worst of all, facing an inevitable slow decline after a diagnosis of dementia. Yet adversity never knocked him down for good. Although Al didn’t put much stock in psychology, the term for this ability to maintain optimism is resilience. Al was resilient, and to the very end, his inherently positive nature prevailed.
I remember standing in the driveway with him at the house on Principio Avenue, at their big garage sale as he and Ag downsized before moving to the condo. Feeling a little unsettled as we watched people peruse tables and tables of familiar items, even though by then I was married and had a house and family of my own, I turned to my dad and asked, “Is this hard for you?” “Of course this is hard for me,” he said, “My uncle gave me some of these tools 30 years ago. But I’m not going to need them.” I was touched by his honesty and still admire his ability to move forward and do what needed to be done even though it was hard. More than once I remember him saying that the most difficult thing he ever did in his life was to take my sister, Kate, to board at the state school for the blind in Columbus after my mother died. But he did it, because it seemed best for her in the circumstances.
Regularly now, I consciously summon Al’s fortitude when faced with things that feel hard but are necessary. In fact, in recent months, while making decisions about placing him in nursing facilities, I commented to my siblings, “This is what Dad would do if he were in our shoes. He would understand. This just has to be done.”
And now, finally, he is at peace, he is home. “He sees angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity. He says, Amen! and Hallelujah!”