I have been silent for the past month due to my father’s final illness. I last wrote while on the train to visit him in hospital. The following week, though his will was strong, his body was weak, and could sustain him no more. Yesterday we celebrated a requiem mass in thanksgiving for his life. I volunteered to speak, and this is what I wrote:
As hard as it is to say goodbye to our Dad, today is also a time to say how we really feel about him, and could have said more often while he was with us.
I think, as a family, we all find it hard at times to say how we feel, but as God’s given me a way with words, I’ll have a go!
Dad will be remembered most for his jokes, not because they were always funny, but because, as another Irish funny man might say: ‘It’s the way he told them!’
We used to groan as he told us the same joke again, with the same delight as if it were the very first time, and he’d keep us guessing about whether or not he would remember the punchline!
At my eighteenth birthday party he said to me: ‘I didn’t know you had a friend with one ear.’ When I said I didn’t, he said: ‘You must have. I asked him if he wanted a drink, and he said “No thanks, I’ve got one ‘ere”!’ He told the same joke to all my friends, and it was a talking point for days afterwards.
A few years ago he went with Mum on the parish trip to Lourdes, and entertained fellow pilgrims with more corny gags. He would wiggle his little finger at someone and ask ‘What’s that?’ When they didn’t know, he’d say: ‘It’s a micro-wave!’ Fellow parishioners still remember him fondly for that today. The former parish priest here wrote to Mum this month to say ‘I can imagine him sharing his jokes and giving the angels a micro-wave!’
As I’m also fond of silly humour, I’m told the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree! I used to be uncomfortable with being compared to Dad; he didn’t often have the words to express how he felt, but he showed it in so many ways which, looking back, I know I didn’t always appreciate.
We didn’t often see eye to eye, but that was mostly because we were so well fed that we all grew taller than him! And from the tightness of this suit you can see we are still enjoying our mother’s Irish hospitality!
I used to think I knew better – and sometimes I did, but only because his hard work and sacrifice gave us opportunities to learn and grow that he never had.
I used to get frustrated that it was hard to talk to him sometimes, until a friend I confided in wondered if I was expecting him to be something he was not, rather than accepting him for who he really was. It took a while to grasp this, but once I did, I was able to reach out and begin to appreciate him. Then when I turned 40 I wrote him a letter. This is part of what I wrote:
I’ve been so busy this last few years that I’ve neglected what’s important, especially family. I’m sorry I have been so far away, and had so little time to spend with you. When I was younger I now know I didn’t always appreciate how hard you worked to give us a good home and education, and how much you really cared for us. Now I’ve just realised I’m almost the same age as you were when I was born, so that means I’m definitely old enough to know better now. I know how hard it has been for me at times to be far from family, but I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for you to come to London alone to find work and a home for us. We don’t use the word ‘love’ much in the family, though we do show it in lots of ways. I don’t think I’ve shown enough to you, Dad, and I’m sorry for that. Thank you for all your sacrifices for us. I love you very much.
Dad will also be remembered for his big heart, with room for all six of us, plus our spouses, and twelve grandchildren – especially them, as in retirement he gave so much of his time and energy to them in a way, I now know, he would have done for us, if he weren’t working so hard and long hours, sometimes in two jobs, to support and nurture us in every way he knew how.
In 1998, after celebrating 40 years of marriage, Dad was diagnosed with an enlarged heart, and began regular hospital treatment . We didn’t really know what this meant at first, but it developed into heart failure and, just before our parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary in 2008, Dad was admitted to the intensive care unit. That weekend we were told he might only live less than 48 hours. Stubborn as ever, Dad decided he would go on, and he gave us the longest weekend ever!
Dad survived and thrived for a further five years, thanks to the love and devotion of his wife, and the huge family he raised, inspired and entertained. He also got to meet his first great grandchild.
He gave us a few scares in the meantime, but he bounced back so many times, we began to think he was made of rubber!
During his last stay in hospital, the staff could not believe Dad had been able to remain at home in the care of Mum and the family without nursing and social care support.
They described him as a good natured and charming man, and he was able to flirt with the nurses until his last days!
As much as we knew the day would come, I don’t think you can ever prepare for when the doctor says there’s nothing more they can do.
On 31st October, our Mum’s birthday as well as Halloween, we got the call to go to the hospital as Dad’s health was declining. He stayed by Mum’s side until the early hours of 1st November, the feast of All Saints, then quietly breathed his last…
Mum says he wanted to go with the saints, not the witches!
Thanks to all of you for your love and support in being here with us today, and especially those who supported Mum and Dad through his last illness, and all of us in our bereavement.
Dad was a humble man – I’ve no doubt he’s looking down on us here in amazement at how much he is loved and fondly remembered by so many people.