Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Dad's Funeral

Today my family and I gave my Dad a first class funeral. Yesterday there were literally hundreds of visitors to the funeral home. At times I was overwhelmed. By the end of the night I was totally wasted from talking, smiling, being hugged, and shaking hands. Today started off with his funeral liturgy. I planned the liturgy by picking all the readings and songs. I gave each of Dad's grandchildren a part in the ceremony. Six of Dad's grandchildren, including my two sons, were pallbearers. The rest did scripture readings, prayers of the faithful, and a poem requested by my mother. I gave a eulogy. After the mass, we headed to the cemetery where my brother, Bob, an Air Force Reservist, arranged for a military honor guard since my Dad served in the United States Navy in World War II. When we arrived there were two sharply dressed Navy men at attention. As part of the ceremony they folded the American flag that covered Dad's casket and gave it to my mother. After that, one of them played "Taps". Standing outdoors, on a beautiful sunny day, with a deep blue sky, the haunting notes were very moving. Afterwards we paid our final respects and left Dad to rest in peace.

Here is the eulogy that I gave at the funeral mass.

Eulogy for Dad

It was just a few weeks ago, on January 18th, that we celebrated Dad’s 84th birthday. It was a Sunday. I tried to visit Dad in the nursing home every Sunday. When I got there that day Dad was in a great mood. There were lots of family members present and he was getting lots of attention. We sang “Happy Birthday” and gave him a cupcake with a candle in it. It was good to see him in an upbeat mood.

Dad was a member of what Tom Brokaw called the “Greatest Generation”. He was born in 1925. Calvin Coolidge was President and Pius XI was the Pope. He grew up during the Great Depression and he served in the United States Navy during World War II. After the war he did what millions of other men did. He came home and began to build a life. The foundation of that life began on June 18th, 1949 when he married my mother. If Dad had lived until this coming summer, he and my mother would have been married 60 years. The next big event in his life was me. I came along in the early spring of 1951. Over the next thirteen years I was followed by Carolyn, Kenny, Sherry, Bill, and Bobby. We have given Dad 14 grandchildren who in turn have given him four great grandchildren so far. At this moment one more is on the way. Life and the next generations continue.

Most of Dad’s working life was spent in the local power plants of what used to be called the Louisville Gas and Electric Company. Much of that time was spent working “swing shifts”. Working different hours every week must have been a great challenge living in a small house with six children. When I was young Dad often had to work on Sundays and in those days no Catholic ever missed going to church. Mass was still in Latin and here at St Margaret Mary there was a 5:30 AM mass. If Dad had to work that day, Mom would get all the children out of bed and we would attend this mass even in the dead of winter. In order for Dad to get to work on time we would have to leave right after receiving communion. He would take us back home, drop us off, and go to work. We would return to our beds. Later in the morning when we woke up for the second time, it was like the whole experience had been a dream. I can also remember a time when Dad drove me to church on a weekday, in a snowstorm, so I could serve the 6:00 AM mass. There simply was no thought of not being there. In those days the first three rows of pews would be filled with the Ursuline Sisters who taught in the school and the pastor, Father Stuart, was a force to be reckoned with. I can still remember him shoveling his way from the rectory to the church with his cassock blowing in the wind.

When I think of the childhood my siblings and I had, the image that comes to mind is a cross between “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Wonder Years”. I now know that life in the 50’s and early 60’s wasn’t as simple and uncomplicated as it seemed to be but it sure felt that way at the time. It was during this time that Mom and Dad began attending what surely has amounted to hundreds, maybe thousands, of sporting events for children and grandchildren.

Dad was blessed to have a long retirement of over 20 years. During most of that time he was in good health. He loved yard work and gardening. Before his health declined, he spent much of his time in the back yard regardless of the weather. Everyone in the family received a tour of his garden whenever they visited. There were times when I dropped by unexpectedly and found Dad tilling some soil, planting some flowers, or tying up some tomato plants. In those moments he often reminded me of some of the old monks at Gethsemani. Like many of the monks, Dad was a simple man and definitely in touch with the earth and things that grow. I inherited Dad’s looks and much of his personality but not his green thumb. The gift of growing flowers and vegetables didn’t pass on to me.

The last few years have been difficult for Dad. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease robbed him of his health and the ability to do the things he loved. Dad lived the last year or so in a nursing home. There were times when I visited him that he was exasperating. Dealing with him certainly taught me a lot about patience. However, there were other times that seemed like sacred and holy moments. I especially liked visiting him at meal time so I could feed him. Other times we just sat outside so he could feel and breathe some fresh air. It was probably in the last year that I felt closer to him than ever before. Throughout his ordeals he had his bad days but his sly humor also occasionally surfaced and it made you smile. It surfaced in his recent and final hospital stay. The night before he died several of us were in the room with him. While holding Sherry’s hand he looked at her and said, “You’re my favorite”. Sherry said, “Dad, don’t say that too loud. We’re not alone”. He gave her a wry smile, looked at my brother, Bill, and said, “You’re my favorite, too”. A few days earlier I was the only one at the hospital. While I was there the hospital chaplain dropped by and the three of us prayed together and Dad was given the Sacrament of the Sick. In spite of his Alzheimer’s, he still remembered all the words to the “Our Father” and “Hail, Mary”. It was another sacred moment.

Dad was not perfect. He had his faults. None of this is important now. What is important is the positive transformation that he made over the course of his life. He mellowed over the years and he handled the challenges of his recent years with dignity and humility. In the end he surrendered, as all of us must do someday, and he left this world in peace, surrounded by love. If Heaven is a collection of all the best moments in your life that lasts forever, Dad is now sitting in a lawn chair in his back yard, on a beautiful day, in the shade of a tree that he probably planted. Sitting around him are all the dogs he ever owned. Together they feel the warmth of the sun and the cool of the breeze, totally lost in the moment.

Michael Brown
February 14, 2009

2 comments:

bryansherwood said...

Beautifully written Michael. I'm sure your father is proud. May he rest in peace.

You'll continue to be in my prayers in the coming days and weeks.

Bryan

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