One of the things a person worries about when they move away from the country where they were born is that the people they love will fall ill or worse. When I moved to Ireland, My 78 year old father was in relatively good health. Last year, when he was sick, I was lucky enough to be able to spend six or seven weeks with him, helping him out and getting him back on his feet. Unfortunately, this year, we weren't so lucky. My father passed away on April 24. He was the most wonderful man I've ever known, and my heart is heavy with the sadness I feel from having lost him. Below is the eulogy I read today. I'm posting it as a testament to his tenacious spirit and the joy he brought to so many people's lives. In a week, my husband and I will return to Dublin, where I will go back to my regular life, although nothing will ever be the same again.
My father was a fart smeller, I mean a smart feller.
When I was a kid, Dad posed to us the difficult and profound philosophical questions, such as “Are you an ugly girl or a pretty monster?” And such apt observations as, “You look just like that guy over there. Except for the moustache...He doesn't have one.”
Anyone who knew my father for even an hour knew that he had a dry sense of humour. At the same time, my father was never loud or brash. When my brother and sisters and I were young, he had a way of making us laugh even when we were determined to be miserable. If we claimed to have a stomach ache, he would test our ailment with a simple question: “If I rip off your arm, and hit you over the head with it, would your stomach still hurt?” He had a raspy, gentle voice, which he almost never felt the need to raise in order to get a person's attention. His quiet nature made him pleasant and easy to be with, as talking was never a necessity, but if you wanted to, he could converse on just about anything. He was good company, whether it was walking the streets of Venice, strolling through a flea market, lounging on the beach, having breakfast at a greasy spoon, or just sitting on the couch watching TV.
Despite his generally laid back nature, my father had that Coraccio curiosity to understand how things work. By things, I mean both physical and metaphysical. He preferred to come out on top, but he didn't need to always win. For understanding the cause and effect of why things happen seemed to lessen the disappointment when they didn't turn out the way he wanted them to. He never expected too much out of life, and so when something did go the right way, he had a habit of remarking on it with surprise. “That was kind of cute,” he'd often say, or “How fortuitous!” His joy was usually quiet, as was his sorrow. If he could move on to the next goal, he always had something to look forward to.
If I had one of those days when it seemed like I would have been better off not leaving the house in the morning – the kind of day when everything goes wrong – I often called my dad to tell him what I'd gone through. I knew that in the process of regaling him with the day's events, we would both have a good laugh. I can't explain why or how, but I knew that if there was anything comical to discover in a mishap, my father would appreciate it. Sure, I could have been in tears while going through the experience, but re-seeing it through my father's eyes brought us both laughter. Other times, when I called my dad with the usual complaints about work, school, and romance, he often gave me the same advice: “You just gotta keep hustlin'.” This simple philosophy virtually encapsulates my father's entire life. No matter what was thrown his way, he quietly persevered. And in his 80 years, he did a heck of a lot of persevering.
We made a lot of jokes about luck. It seems like his wasn't always very good. Everything, and I mean everything he had in life was earned. He taught us that if you want to be loved, you need to show love. If you want to be appreciated, you have to appreciate others. If you want devotion, you must first be devoted. It's not a guarantee, but it's the only way you will ever have a fighting chance. So as a result, he had family and friends who loved, appreciated, and were devoted to him. And this, I think, is how he measured his own success. And it had nothing to do with luck.
My father taught us to do the things that make us happy, to love the people we want to love, without shame, unabashedly, and without reserve. He taught us to enjoy ourselves, to please ourselves first, and to revel in the joys of the moment: the simple things like a good meal, a sunny sky, a surprise card in the mail, a cold beer when you're doing yard work, a good cup of coffee in the morning, a back scratch, a phone call, or an enjoyable book. I could spend all day listing the things my dad enjoyed, because despite everything, he never took his life for granted, and I never once saw him feeling sorry for himself.
As he was coming out of lung surgery, groggy from anaesthesia, unlike most people who would ask, “How did it go?” or “How am I doing?” my father struggled to find the breath to ask me, “Where are we on the itinerary?” We had a goal, and he was hustlin' to reach it, and he never quit. He never gave up on himself, and he never gave up on any of us. So now, when the grief and loss feels like it's simply too much to bear, and I wonder how I'm going to make it through the rest of my life without him, I know exactly how. I'm going to keep hustlin'.