Tag Archives: death

Harvey’s Mailbag

First, a big thank you to the many of you who sent me messages after my last post.  It is nice to be appreciated for your writing.  For me, it’s nice to be praised for something that was about my dad.

One of my sisters pointed out (rightly so) why Dad would have been laughing at me running.  He was an actuary.  Numbers never lied to him and the more data he could get his hands on the more complete a picture of your impending mortality he could paint for you.  Runners, it seems, tend to die.  Well, if I remember this one correctly, it had something to do with the fact that all human beings die.  In a nutshell, though, runners tended to enjoy a negligibly similar mortality with non-runners (there was always that control group).  In other words, overall, running doesn’t make you live longer or shorter.  But it did correlate with death from (do not quote me on this) an enlarged heart.  Again, there wasn’t a direct cause and effect, just a correlation.  Whatever, I’m going to keep running so I have a way to burn up the nervous energy of an ex-smoker – as in, “What do I do with my hands!?”

Now then, on to the rest of the mail.

Six and half years ago, right after moving to Texas, my wife, in-law’s, and I traveled to Oklahoma one night to see one of my favorite singers – the immortal Frankie Valli.  I then wrote a story about it.  I’m not even going to link it.  If you want, you can find it for yourself.  In that story, as in so many stories I’ve written over the years, I employed a sort of absurdist humor.  For the uneducated or uninitiated, this type of humor is represented by several key hallmarks including series of events that do not follow (often in an extreme fashion, also called “non sequitir humor”), descriptives that are patently false yet played for reality, and a sense that the narrator may in fact be suffering from dementia.  In my story about Mr. Valli, the reader ought to be able to tell a few things.  First, I truly do love this man, his voice, and his contribution to the world.  There is no denying that.  Second, I am using absurdist humor to prop him up.  In other words, at an age when every human on the planet has outlived his actuarily lifespan; Frankie Valli is still making a buck, doing what he loves.

So I received the following comment…

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Takeaway: People read Harvey!

At first I wondered if the person posting the comment was a personal friend of Mr. Valli.  Then I began to realize something…  There is at least one person who read a post of mine almost seven years ago and remembered it well enough to dredge it back up.  In an absurd way, this person just validated my writing.  But let me address the issue at hand because I do not like to stifle criticism.  I’m a big boy and I can take it.  The comment was civil in tone.  Let’s assume that we live in a world in which a guy from Newark, NJ can’t poke some fun at an idol of his who also happens to come from Newark, NJ (which is a pretty awesome place, by the way) and is a gazillionaire celebrity who’s probably seen worse on the pages of Billboard Magazine.  Let’s assume.  Well, then, Mr. Valli and your dear family, I apologize for hurting your feelings.  If you’d ever like to suggest that my writing is crap please feel free.  It’s on me this time.  I promise I won’t even cry.

In the meantime, if you’d like to keep reading I will keep writing.  And Frankie, if you’re reading this and you ever feel like sending me an autographed headshot for my kids (who also adore you), let me know.  I’ll send you my address.

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Having Run the Race

In a few days I will mark the passage of one year since my dad died.

 

 

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Remrandt’s Apostle Paul (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Just writing that sentence made me feel a little weird.  My father remains the finest man I will ever know.  Not only did he give me life but he took care of me.  For the 39 years I had him on this earth with me there was never a time when I didn’t know in my heart that he cared for me.  Through my childhood he raised me, provided everything I needed and many things I wanted.  He gave his advice, though not always in a sit-down “Son, we need to talk” kind of way.  In fact, we never had a conversation like that.  He taught by example.  I never heard him complain, not even once, about a solitary thing in life.  We laughed one night at dinner a few years back when he made a comment about not liking pot roast much because Mom had been serving it for dinner almost every Sunday for years.  He was happy with the life God gave him.

But one year earlier the light seemed to go out of his life somewhat.  He was old.  He was tired.  And he had just been dealt a terrible blow.  In October of 2015 my oldest brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I still hate that term.  My parents watched as their son, who had lived perhaps not the most exemplary of lives, literally came home to die.  Thirty years earlier they had lost three children in a terrible tragedy.  Back then Dad didn’t have time to grieve.  Now, he couldn’t help himself.  No parent should ever lose a child.  To lose four…  I can easily forgive him for coming to the conclusion that it was his time to let go as well.

My dad was fond of a passage in Paul’s Letter to Timothy.  “I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith.”  When he died these words came back to me.  The man was a fighter, stalwart in his faith.  That’s what he taught me.  I remember in the day or so after her died printing a copy of that passage.  Mom had asked me and my niece to read at his funeral.  I was honored to read at this mass.  My dad had been a lector for years when I was growing up.  From him I learned my love not only of the Catholic faith but of what was his passion – the liturgy.  I remember so many years, day in and day out, before I moved away where I would go with him to mass every day and later as an adult when I would take him with me.  I, too, am a lector and I think of him every time I read at mass.  My niece, a young girl of 13, had been reading at daily mass – the mass they’d take Grandpa too – for a while and I know how much he loved to see her read.  But something happened.  When we got to the sanctuary, she asked me where the reading was.  I mistakenly mentioned that it was in the book.  Instead it was in my pocket.  She read a different reading.  It was still very fitting but it wasn’t 2 Timothy 4:7.

I had to make this right for him.  At the cemetery I mentioned to Mom what had happened and asked the priest if my niece could proclaim that reading there at the grave.  She did.  Somehow it seemed more fitting here.

The last words spoken in the presence of his earthly remains were from his granddaughter and I know in my heart she was speaking them of him.

“I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith.”

My dad impressed upon me the solemn duty of an Irishman to attend wakes and funerals.  “It’s just what we do,” he had said to me before.

And as if to show him I had learned his lesson I stayed behind with the funeral director as the last man, his youngest boy, until my father’s casket was lowered to his final resting place.  I dropped the rose from my lapel the fifteen feet or so and watched as it landed squarely on his coffin.  I was kneeling in the dirt as I said good bye to Daddy.

Other than the impending anniversary, I don’t know why this memory is haunting me at the moment.  I still talk to the man every day.  Typically I blurt out “Dad, help me!” with one of my many crises.  I’d like to believe he’s working overtime to obtain for me whatever particular grace it is I’m seeking at the moment.

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Dad doing a crossword.  He did one of these every day for decades.  I learned to love crosswords from him.

He was an amazing guy.  Anyone who’d ever met him loved him.  He was funny, smart as a whip, and incredibly loving and kind.  His family was his world.  And my mom…  She was the sun, moon, and stars to him.  There is one thing he taught me that I think I actually get right most of the time.  I learned how to love from the both of them but I learned how to treat my wife from him.  I never saw them go anywhere where he didn’t open her door.  He laughed with her.  He thought she was the most beautiful creature God ever put on the earth and he was always happy when he was with her.

In a few days I will board a plane and travel to see her and to celebrate and remember a remarkable man who gave me life and taught me how to fight, to run, and to keep faith.  I can’t say I’m much of a fighter or a runner and I often feel like despairing; but he taught me what to do.  The reason I was a teacher for so many years was because he first taught me.

As we draw near to that day, I will carry him ever more in my heart remembering the lives he affected and how much better we all are because he fought and ran and kept the faith.

God bless you for reading this far.  Say a prayer for my family if you would be so kind.  And say a prayer for me.  40 years from now if even one person could say of me that I kept the faith I will die a happy man.

Oh, and I started running again.  I’m 40, I’ve got a major spinal problem, I just quit smoking after 22 years, it’s cold, and I suck at running but I’m doing it.  Dad is probably laughing.  But perhaps I’ll be able to say literally that I’ve run the race.

A Memory of Dad

This afternoon I was having a moment of great fun with my students.  Some of you aren’t shocked.  One of the reasons I know teaching is in some way my vocation is by how easy it is for me.  I mean that as in it never seems like work.  I love my kids and every day brings truly great joy and really fun times.

In this particular class I was talking with the kids, going around the room.  The lesson was on coming to understand the conscience as the seat of judgment.  I mentioned my Dad as having among the best judgment of anyone I’ve known.  This is significant because I had just told them that the grace of God made present in the sacraments enhances our ability to judge effectively.  “Dad went to mass every day, kids,” I said.  [I’ve got to get back to that.]

Something strange happened.  While I was talking about him I began to feel like he was in the classroom with us.  That’s not too unusual for me.  I’ve always believed in the strong presence of those we’ve lost still in our lives.  But I began to wonder a few things.  He never saw me teach.  Actually very few of my friends have.  It’s a shame, really.  I’m pretty freakin’ awesome at it.  But it’s strange for me because I remember how he taught.  He was not a teacher.  In fact, he didn’t suffer most teachers well.  The man was a genius though he lacked the patience to express what he knew to those of us who were not on his level.  I still fear numbers because of how he corrected my math homework as a kid.  “What the hell did you write all those extra numbers on the page for?” he’d ask.  “Well, um, Daddy, Sister said that’s how you carried the, um, extra num” — “Can’t do it in your head?!”  In truth it was funny and I certainly learned a few things like how to frustrate him when I wanted a laugh.  Sitting at the piano one day I asked if he wanted me to teach him how to play.  The conversation ended with “What’s the matter, can’t play both hands together?!”  Of course I said it in a much more innocent tone than you’re imagining.

But Dad always admired those who could do things well, especially if he could not.  He was never envious, just impressed with good work and, especially, with good performances.  Don’t you know I taught one of my best classes ever this afternoon.  I wanted him to see how good I was and wondered if he’d be impressed.

I mentioned a “memory” in the title and almost forgot to write about it.  Driving home from work, still thinking about Dad, my mind wandered to an incident from years ago.  I was 23 years-old, laid up with a bad back and the accompanying paralyzing sciatica.  I spent weeks on the couch in Mom and Dad’s living room, awake all night and asleep all day thanks to the painkillers I was taking.  Some days, I’d be awake for a few hours in the early afternoon, though, and these were the worst times because everyone was out and I had no company.  I had dozed off one day, kind of depressed about a lot of things.  When I opened my eyes I saw my father sitting on the couch next to the chair I was on.  He never sat in that room for anything.  He had noticed me sleeping and had decided I needed him nearby.  He had even gotten us each a dish of ice cream.  He must have known that would wake me up.  You see, he was also looking for company.  There was a game show on the History Channel and he had no one to watch it with – or at least no one who would give him a challenge.  I felt better for a while.  We sat together and shouted out answers about WWII at the screen.  I think I even “won”.  Who can’t carry the one now, old man?!

I don’t know why that memory has always stuck with me.  But I’m glad it has and I’m very glad I thought of it today and I wanted to share it because maybe it will make you glad as well.

Gone Home

This morning my brother went home to God. He died peacefully, at home as he had wished. My sister was with him. She had cared so well for him these past few months and he was so grateful. But he was grateful, truly grateful for everyone who came to see him, to visit, to care for him.

I saw him last night via FaceTime. He didn’t look good. That’s an understatement. I could barely understand him. But before we said… Come to think of it, we didn’t say goodbye. As we ended our conversation I said simply “I love you.” And clear as a bell, through the pain and morphine he replied “Love you too, man.”

A priest came to see him. Many priests had been to see him. He gave him last rites, Viaticum, and an apostolic pardon. 

When my mom called to tell me this morning she said “All I ever wanted was for my children to go to heaven.”

I’d say she’s four for four. 

Rest in peace, brother. I love you. 

Holy Saturday and Prayer, Prayer, Prayer

My friends, please pray for me.  Please pray very hard.  The recovery is going better every day.  I have been blessed with so many wonderful people surrounding me.  In particular I have been blessed in the form of a friend with whom I have recently become even closer (thanks to pages and pages of email correspondence).  He is a remarkable man and I have promised my prayers for him as well so please join me in praying not only in thanksgiving but also for his intentions.

Today is Holy Saturday.  This is a day of waiting.  This is a day of reflection.  It’s always reminded me of the day after a funeral.  We just buried someone and now it’s time to try to begin the process of picking up the pieces and getting back to some semblance of normal.  If you’ve ever lost someone close to you than you know what that day is like.  If not, chances are that you will experience it in your lifetime.  There’s no rush to get there.  It’s not a contest to see who can grieve more.  I was talking with Wilma during the week and we both said the exact same thing.  I mentioned why I love Holy Week and the Easter Triduum in particular…  “To me,” I said as she joined in, “It feels as if you’ve just lost your best friend!”  Yesterday we commemorated the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Tomorrow we will celebrate His resurrection.  This day in between has to exist because without it, things would move so quickly we wouldn’t have time to process His death.  No, today is the day we simply wait.  We wait and in that time of waiting, we could do no better than to keep watch and pray.  Remember, He promised us He would rise again?  It would have seemed like a magic trick if He had simple died and then jumped off the cross!  He had to be in the tomb those three days (as Jonah had to be in the belly of the whale).  It shows us that His death was real.  And as we know, there can be no resurrection without death.

So pray today.  Pray very hard today.  If you’re stumped, pray the Psalms and then read through the Passion in the Gospels.  Then, stop and remember that we have a God who loves us so much that “He sent His only begotten Son so that all who believe in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  (Jn. 3:16).

God bless you and don’t forget to pray for me.  Very special intention…

The First Year

A more somber note today, friends…

Today marks one year since my father-in-law died.  You know, for a time there I wondered what could possibly have been in God’s plan to bring our family here to Texas.  For a while I would say in prayer “My God, why have you lead us into this desert to die?” with just a hint of sarcasm.  But on that day, when my wife called me at work, I knew the reason.  It became apparent in an instant that we had been here for the final few months of her dad’s life.  For my wife to have had that time to be around her parents and siblings in a way they had not enjoyed for so many years; that was the reason.  I grew up always surrounded by my family.  But she left home in high school to attend a boarding school and never really returned.  So sometimes God reveals His will in a flash and almost after the fact.  Don’t forget that, kittens.  Whenever you find yourself unhappy or discontent and you don’t know why or how you’ll get to make things better; just hold on for a while and pray.  And enjoy the moment that God has given you.

Getting Back to the Business of Blogging

Things are settling down.  Getting back to normal…

First, a big thank you is in order to all who have been offering their prayers and support to my mother-in-law, my wife, my sister-in-law, and all of our family.  Your kindness means so much and will never be forgotten.

Second, thank you’s go out to two of the best bloggers on the planet.  When I simply could not go on last week — mostly out of exhaustion — I was able to rely on my sister and my friend to provide not only quality blogs (each in her own particular idiom) but also a good measure of comfort.  Please support them by reading their blogs.  I hope to return the favor some day.

“Land of Hope and Glory/Mother of the Free…”

Finally, I want to share a tender moment I experienced on Sunday.  On the surface it seems to have nothing to do with Marigold; but it really do, as my son would say.  I had to attend the graduation for the high school where I teach.  Normally these things are a mix of joyous pomp and soulless motion-going.  On the one hand I (and my fellow teachers) are happy for the kids.  We can relate to that joy bursting in the hearts of 17 and 18 year-old young adults as they put behind them their high school years and the pride they feel for their parents and grandparents in attendance.  On the other hand, I wonder why I have yet to commit the words to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance to memory yet since it plays on a loop in my head for a week after each graduation.

We graduated slightly north of 300 students.  Each name was painstakingly called out and each name-bearer meticulously sauntered across a seemingly endless stage, shook hands with five people, picked up an empty diploma case, and then stepped aside to “hold for a picture”.

Toward the end of the list of names I heard one that caught my attention.  It was the same last name as the previous graduate.  What was even more coincidental was that the first names started with the same initial and even sounded alike.  “I bet they’re twins,” I thought.  My suspicions were confirmed.  The first graduate, a young lady, stopped shy of the photo-op spot and held up one hand as if to tell the photographer to wait.  The other hand, she used to motion to her twin brother as if to say “hurry up!”  He grabbed his diploma and sprinted over to her.  Jumping into frame, they hugged for the camera, ginning ear to ear.  “Click!”  Then they walked off the stage together.

In that one instant I saw what I had always imagined my own graduation would have been had my twin sister survived childhood.  Sure, when I got my gold class ring before graduating college, I had her name engraved on the inside, alongside my own.  The ring went missing a few years later.  But this moment, this was real gold.  How it ties in?  Well, she’s in heaven alongside our Marigold (so I’m telling my kids) and this moment reminded me of God’s plan for all of us — a plan which is life and not death.