In the decade that I have written my blog, I have never put up a post by a guest blogger. But this is a special post: the eulogy delivered at the funeral yesterday by my brother Tom for our dad, who died Feb. 2, age 101. Both my brother John and I think that no better summary could have been given of the meaning of our father’s life than what you’ll read here.
My brothers and I would also like to thank Fr. Joe O’Brien and Fr. Tom Quinn, the concelebrants of the beautiful mass at St. Cecilia’s Church in Englewood, NJ, where our dad was a fixture at the 10 am mass each Sunday for nearly 60 years.
In the past week, many people remarked how amazing it was that my Dad Mike (or “Mickey,” as they called him in his birthplace, County Clare, Ireland) lived beyond 100. And yes, he was amazing. He was truly “one of a kind”! He was a great man – largely for the way he lived life to its fullest.
Mike was defined by his great personality, his unrelenting work ethic, and his faith in church and family. My dad could light up any room he entered. While short in stature, he was big in heart. He was lively and sociable, a true “people person” – always wanting to meet old friends and make new ones. He was at his happiest when he could expand his circle of friends that he could share stories with. My brothers and I called him the unofficial Mayor of Englewood – certainly the “Mayor of West Street”. [He seemed to like that distinction!] He was loyal, dependable, and genuine, and his mind was as sharp as a tack – Nothing got past him.
My dad never went past grade school, but he taught me everything I needed to know to run my life – just by watching him as a kid! With the strength and determination of three men, he deserved my mom’s nicknames for him: “Man of Steel” and “Superman.” Once involved in a project, he finished it, no matter the time of day or difficulties.
For all his persistence, he was the ultimate realist too, squaring-up to ANY adversity and accepting whatever fate dealt him. He was accustomed to that from tough conditions and his farm life in Ireland …. Money and “things” were always in short supply back then– but he looked forward to bettering himself. When I was back at the family farm w/ my Dad, taking long walks outside Cree village, I asked, “How did you ever leave a place so beautiful?” He said, “I left with nothing, but then again I HAD nothing. I had to look forward and not back.” Upon arriving in New York, he didn’t aspire to succeed in traditional ways. He was a simple, unassuming man - simple clothes, car, lifestyle, and house. He didn’t need more than that when he could find innovative uses for duct tape around the house! But he achieved success through raising 3 devoted sons, living comfortably, and making countless friends.
The only things truly important to him were: church, family, and making a living. Saint Cecilia’s church was his “real home” for so many years. Like for all the Irish, the Church was his haven that welcomed him and made him feel as if he belonged. In terms of family (similar to my Mom), he was most proud of his boys.
My Dad was also a devoted husband, taking such good care of my Mom for so long, but especially when her health declined sharply toward the end. And his grandchildren brought him so much joy in his later years.
When it came to making a living, he knew one thing: how to work long and hard. He never had just one job; he worked 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. He never stopped! – even after retiring at age 72. It inspired us to see how driven he was. Somehow my Mom and Dad made sure we had all our needs met and then some. We brothers never needed to worry – my dad made sure of that. Actually…his favorite perspectives on life were: “things could be better…but they could also be worse” and “If you have your health, you have everything.”
Everything about my Dad was Irish: his listening to Fordham’s radio program, “Ceol na nGael,” his music CDs in the living room, his optimism, his funny Irish expressions (some, we suspect, that he invented!), his twinkling eyes, his impish grin, his storytelling, his practical jokes (which he sometimes spent hours planning), and his endless teasing (mostly about our girlfriends, real or imaginary).
When he was about 87 yrs. old, still endlessly energetic and seemingly indestructible, I thought he would never die. He often asked strangers how old they thought he was (with a gleam in his eye) and then have them guess. It gave him great pleasure to fool someone and he would laugh about it for weeks. Like most of the Irish, he loved to recall his childhood and youth. My brothers and I heard the same 20 stories about 1,000 times. He became disappointed if you didn’t let him finish, because it prevented him from laughing once again at his pranks. Some of the best belly laughs I ever had came after hearing one of my father’s Ireland stories. However, Mickey did also have a famous Irish temper if things went wrong – but it would disappear in a matter of minutes.
I would be remiss today if I didn’t thank a number of people here that kept my dad going long past 90: Bernadette and Lois (his caregivers), the “Edward girls” (as my Mom would say), all the doctors at Leonia Medical Associates, my Aunts Peggy and Mary for their frequent phone calls, the various kind neighbors, … but mostly my brother Michael. Both John and I owe a debt of gratitude to you, Mike. You had the hardest job of all over the past 10 years with Mom too. Sometimes I don’t know how you kept it together at all, Mike.
This past month my dad only suffered a short time. His brain was still active and aware; it was just his body (with 101-year-old parts) that ran out of steam. There is one advantage of reaching 101 … there’s already lots of friends and family in heaven waiting for you to arrive. I envision my Dad re-united with my Mom, dancing to an Irish reel w/ broad smiles on their faces, and roaring with laughter once again with his brothers Tom and Paddy.
And so it goes …even leprechauns don’t live forever. Goodbye Dad. We love you and are forever thankful for all you and Mom sacrificed for us. Our memories of you will always bring smiles to our faces, twinkles to our eyes, and that sense of unconditional love.