It has been ages since I've updated this blog. My passion for personal writing is no less strong today than the day I staked out my claim on this little corner of the Internet, it's just that work and family obligations have required far more attention than at any other time in my life. I believe this is called "growing up" or something to that effect.
As many of you know, this week my Dad finally gave up his fight with Alzheimer's and the associated complications of pneumonia which ultimately take the lives of so many Alzheimer's sufferers. Watching this incredible man battle such an insidious disease has been positively gut-wrenching... something I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy. The ordeal, however, has brought some positives:
- You find out in a hurry who your REAL friends are. The number of people who have reached out and offered support has been overwhelming. Some have watched our children so I could make emergency trips to the hospital or nursing home, many more have provided a sympathetic ear as I recount the latest trials and tribulations, and an astounding - actually, an OVERWHELMING - number of people have reached out to me via social media and offered prayer support. For that, I can't thank you enough. (And, yes, #AlzheimersSucks)
- You get to see just how strong the fabric of your family is woven. When someone you love is afflicted with this disease, it will shake you to your core. My Mom, sister and I have had shouting matches, shed tears, and bruised egos. My wife and kids have had to make due without me for extended periods of time. I've cancelled more social engagements than I can remember. We've been stretched and pulled in every direction but, given a bit of time and the occasional slice of humble pie, the bond of family only gets stronger.
- You get to find out if your company "walks the walk" when it comes to taking care of employees. Lots of organizations claim to have a "people first" philosophy, but precious few can make good on that claim. My employer, however, far surpassed my expectations in every possible way. From regular check-ins on my Dad's condition, to receiving weekend calls from the CEO urging me to skip business trips so I could focus on taking care of my Mom and Dad, and millions of other small gestures in-between, I couldn't ask for a more understanding or caring workplace. Truly a remarkable environment. (And we're growing - and hiring - like crazy. I love it when good things happen to good people.)
So now that the wake and funeral is behind me, and Dad is finally at peace and in a far greater place, it occurred to me that many of you who have offered support and prayers have never even met my Dad. So, in an effort to help you get to know a bit about the man who quite literally shaped me into the person I am today, I thought I would share the eulogy I wrote and delivered at this morning's funeral service.
Words alone could never really capture his spirit, but I think this will give you a little glimpse into who he was and what he was all about.
======= FOR DAD =======
One of the saddest ironies of the human condition is that death is just a part of life. Kids grow up. Parents become grandparents. And the older we get, the more we'll spend time in Church for occasions like this.
The past couple of years have been tough for those of us who know and love Dad. Alzheimer's is an evil thief, one that steals those we love in bits-and-pieces right before our eyes. He had been fighting this for so long, and it takes such an emotional toll on the family, that at times it was hard for me to even remember the days before the confusion and frustration of this disease took root.
But then an interesting thing happened.
Late last week, we got the phone call from Dad's nursing home that he was beginning to fail yet again and that we should come in. My sister and my Mom made their way from Methuen and, after arranging some last-minute school pickup coverage for my kids, I made the drive up north from my home on the Rhode Island border. We all met at his bedside and there we sat vigil as we watched this incredible man do what he's always done best: put up a fight.
It was during this time when we were all together, crammed into his tiny nursing home room, that something clicked. Instead of thinking about the worry and stress this disease had placed on him and our family, all I could think about we're the good days. I remembered him coming home from work and playing catch with me until his shoulder was sore. I remembered driving through Hyannis in his big '83 Buick Regal - with the sunroof open and the radio blaring - during one of our annual summer vacations on the Cape. I remembered how he used to fall asleep watching TV on a Saturday, but would wake-up and yell "I'm watching that!" the minute I touched the dial to put on a cartoon or play Atari.
I remembered him and my Mom getting ready to go out to eat with friends on a Saturday night, or him taking me Christmas shopping in Salem, New Hampshire, and ending our night over a hot fudge sundae at Friendly's in the Methuen Mall. I remembered him picking up bread at Pappy's and taking hours to deliver it to all the neighbors... and how much he loved to have cookouts... and how, when he was working the grill at my Little League Bar-B-Q, all of my friends would switch to eating hot dogs because he always burned the burgers.
I remembered Christmas Eve at my Grandparents' house and how, after they passed on, he picked-up the tradition and our house became the party destination. I remembered how his eyes lit up and how the man literally glowed when he held each of his grandkids for the first time.
All of these wonderful memories came flooding back into my mind and instead of feeling sadness, I honestly felt a bit awestruck. My Dad was a man who lived an incredibly rich and full life and he made an impact on so many lives and in so many ways. When I look at the incredible strength of my Mom and my sister. When I look at my amazing nieces and nephews and my own gaggle of beautiful kids, I see bits and pieces of Dad in all of them.
Even during the relatively brief period of time he was at the nursing home, he managed to leave his mark. As we sat by his side all weekend long, nurses would continually pop in to check on him, to say a prayer, or just share their favorite Sam story. At the end, before he drew his last breath, we had several members of the staff standing by his bedside to say goodbye and send him off with a kiss. We're all blessed because, simply stated, anyone who met my Dad was a better person for it.
I began today by stating that death is a part of life, but because of the sacrifice Christ made for us all, we also know that - beyond the shadow of a doubt - life is also part of death. Dad is in a better place now. He's with his Mom and Dad. He's with my Uncle Junior. And knowing Dad, he's probably sitting down and having a Sambuca with Sinatra right now. The point is: he's finally at peace.
So I don't want any of you to leave this Church with a heavy heart... that's the last thing in the world Dad would want. He was a hard working guy who taught me everything I know about being a friend, a father, a husband, and a worker. He did it all and he did it with a wink and a smile, no matter how tough things were. A little piece of my Dad, in ways large and small, will be with me every day of my life... and I pray the same for you. That's the best way to honor him and his memory. Not with sadness and regret, but with lightness and joy.