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Ode to Dad

Dad was only sick for 3 weeks. It was 21 days from diagnosis to death. I was there for 14 of them. He died at 82 with 16 grandchildren, 5 children who lived in 5 different states and none of them the state where my parents lived. Jane, his wife of over 55 years, and all 5 of his children were with him when he died. It happened so fast that I reassured people, Dad lived till he died and when he saw the finish line, he ran for it. He wouldn't have been happy any other way.

About 400 people attended his funeral in a large Catholic Church in Southern Maryland. Below is the eulogy I delivered at that service. While I've become a good public speaker, I was a shy teenager, who ran for student council president anyway and couldn't give a campaign speech without sounding teary from fear of speaking in front of an audience. Like the evolution of my public speaking skills, I started Dad's eulogy with a shaky voice, paused and finished strong.

For those who may not know, my name is Kathleen, and I am the oldest of Dan’s five children. I am happy and proud to share my thoughts about my Dad with you. While anyone can find out about Dad’s accomplishments, scholastically and professionally, I want to share with you some things about him that you can’t know from a resume. Dad was an intelligent and talented person who took his work, faith, and sports, but not himself, seriously.

To the grandchildren, I want you to know how much Granddad loved each and every one of you and to remind you what he valued in life – family, faith, fun, fairness, honesty, education and above all, kindness. While “the Judge” could be stern, at his core, he was a very sensitive person who always was available with an understanding ear and reassuring response that no matter what your problem, “everything’s going to be ok.” If he were with us today, he would be the saying the same thing to all of us.

He was a fun-loving Dad who used to get down on all fours when we were little and ride us around to deliver each of us to our beds in a game we called “stations” – probably the only way to get us to bed at a reasonable hour! Dad was very witty and always making jokes, especially puns, plays on words and teasing Mom. Even when we were little, Dad loved hats and deliberately wearing silly clothes, often pairing plaid and stripes and asking, “Does this match?”

At church, whenever the priest would say “Let us pray,” he’d lean over and whisper to me, “Tomato pray.” When walking me down the aisle at my wedding and I was crying tears of joy, he leaned over and told me, “Don’t worry, Kathleen, it’s not a hostile crowd.” Even at the end of his life, he joked with the doctors and nurses to lighten the mood for all of us. He had an amazing memory and loved poetry, both serious and silly, and even in the past few weeks he was able to recite some of his favorites, like, “Preacher and the Bear” and “El Dorado.”

He led a balanced life, spending as much time with family and friends, as working. He adored all sports, playing them, watching his kids and grandkids play, professionals play, including his beloved Redskins, regardless of their record. Dad loved music, especially Irish, and was very involved with a men’s music group and enjoyed that several of his grandchildren played instruments or sang.

Dad loved to read, especially mysteries, and he really enjoyed TV. But he was most centered around my Mom, and one recent show called Coroner he liked because the main character was named Jane! He decided on Mom before she decided on him, and she tells the story of him inviting himself to her friend’s out of town wedding early in their dating. When he asked her for a date and she said that she couldn’t go because of the wedding, he told her no problem, he’d drive her there. Theirs was a love story of nearly 60 years, which was poignantly evident in these past few weeks, when they would often just lean their foreheads together and look at each other.

Since my Mom was the only girl with 3 brothers whose father died at a young age, my grandfather was very happy to know that they were engaged before he passed. I’m certain he’s greeting Dad in heaven now and thanking him for taking such good care of Mom.

I once heard a great sermon about marriage from a priest who said that while he had never been married, he thought he knew what made a good marriage from his parents because when he asked his father why he married his mother, his father said, “Because I knew she could help me get to heaven.” I think my father would say the same about my mother.

My father had a strong faith and was at peace when he passed away at home surrounded by his family. I firmly believe in the communion of saints and am confident that Dad is joyfully reuniting with family and friends who went before him; having a laugh with his brother Pat, a homemade donut made by his feisty mother, drinks with his close friend Don Deaver or old neighbor Bill Cassidy, and enjoying a hearty welcome from both Jack Walshes, with a “Hi Dan, glad you’re home.”

I’m sure he will continue to watch over us from heaven with as much love and support as he did here on Earth. Although we are sad, we know Dad is enjoying eternal happiness. He lives on in all our hearts and we miss him dearly.

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