Monday, April 20, 2015

Daddies Irish Wake

Late in January of 1984, I had driven 750 miles, to be with my father as he underwent his latest Cancer surgery. Each mile of the trip, my mind was clicking off the years, which had been spent at my father’s knee. Years of always knowing my Dad was there for me. Years that now threatened to come to and end. 

Just as my heart and mind had feared, the surgery did not go well. The doctors quickly opened my father up and closed him again. As the surgery was much shorter than predicted, I knew the news was not good by how quickly the doctors came out to talk to my Mom and I. 

Parting with a loved one is truly one of the hardest things we must do in this life. But, in my family, we always had a clear perspective of the beginning; middle and end of life on this good green earth, as my Dad like to call it.  

It was a perspective, which my father had learned from his father, and generations before them had handed this Irish Wisdom down to each succeeding generation.  

My Dad was always such an inspiration. He possessed a special Irish sense of humor, which contained wisdom, love and great trust in God and His care for us all.

When the Doctor told my Dad he could do nothing more to stop the cancer spread, my Dad pondered this for a moment, looked the Doctor in the eye and with a weak, but familiar grin, said: “Well now, It’s January and Saint Patty’s day would be a perfect time for an Irish wake don’t you think?

I have always thought it was such a sad thing that the poor bloke who died, never got to enjoy his last party.”

With this seemingly amusing statement, the doctor just agreed, but silently shook his head later, as he told us; Dad was very weak and probably would not last but another week or two at most. Obviously, the doctor did not know my father well. Dad made out a list of final things he needed

to get done. On the top of his list was to throw his own Irish wake on Saint Patrick’s day – which was more than two months away. Even more startling, to those who did not know him, was a list of things Dad wrote on his personal calendar covering the whole year of 1984 until Valentines Day of 1985. The doctors of course humored my Dad and all the while were busy planning Dad’s hospice care and the end of his life, which, they were certain, would be just a few short days away.

With a week of recovery from the last surgery gone by, my Dad had enough of doctors and hospitals. He decided he wanted to go home to die. The doctors agreed and so we took Dad home, for what we thought would be a short time.

Even we could not envision that Dad would live much longer. He was so frail and weak the end looked imminent.

My father was to surprise us, one and all. One day, a few days after he returned home, he disappeared when mom was shopping. Now that was no easy feat, since he was bedridden and on oxygen, but Dad had gotten up, dressed, and walked over to the funeral home to plan his

his Irish wake. He expected his good friend Randy, the undertaker to help him pull it off. And while he was at it, he made sure to make all of his funeral arrangements and have Randy take him to pick out the gravestone. My Dad never let the moss grow under his feet in good times or in bad, and this situation was to be no different.


As the weeks passed, Dad seemed to grow stronger just by anticipating his goal of spending one last Saint Patrick’s day with his friends. Never mind it was to be his own wake…that thought didn’t faze him at all. If anything it seemed to give him strength and joy to be checking each item off his calendar, which he felt the “Good Lord,”


wanted him to get done before heading Home, as Dad called it…”Home to Heaven after finishing his mission.”


To everyone’s amazement, Dad made it to Saint Patrick’s day. His “Irish Wake” was one which none of us shall ever forget. Forget about tears, Dad would have none of that. There was joy, and story telling and remembering all the good times of our lives together. With my father’s special love of the bizarre, he also had his casket placed properly in the living room, with himself ensconced, as any self-respecting deceased should be. His best friends from childhood played up the Irish wake to the hilt, with Irish toasts and general foolishness born of the spirit of love. One of Dad’s buddies reached over and stuck his hand in Dad’s pocket to turn it inside out. It was an old joke among friends, that whether they were rich or poor, they would always stick together. And in the end, they would all go out with empty pockets, except for their rosary and an abundance of trust in God’s love and Mercy. 


All in all, it was an Irish sendoff, which was better than any Saint Patrick’s Day we had ever celebrated in past


years. From that day to the day he died, my father remained optimistic and happy. Of course, his doctor’s

were a bit stymied to say the least. Dad lived right up until the day he had marked off the last “to do,” item on his calendar. The only item not crossed off was Valentines Day 1985, the day he died. Dad passed away shortly after midnight and as if to punctuate his love for us, his grave marker, when it came, was heart shaped and engraved with Roses and Butterflies. I guess the “Good Lord” must have agreed with my Dad, that he had a few loose ends to tie up before heading “HOME.”


A Mutt Named Gyp

On a spring vacation, in the 1950’s, my family went to South Dakota. It was a combination trip of sightseeing, and visiting relatives. It was exciting to visit the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and other historic places. But the visiting relative’s part wasn’t all that much fun for me as an eight year old. I was definitely bored and quite shy as we stopped along the way to see various relatives I had never met. By the time we got to a Great Aunt Kitty’s house (my Grandmothers Sister), I stubbornly refused to get out of the car. Little did I know, that Great Aunt Kitty house was going to prove to be the best part of my vacation that summer, and provide the best medicine a shy and soon to be crippled, eight year old would ever receive.

After several tries by my parents, to convince me to be polite and come meet Aunt Kitty had failed, Aunt Kitty took matters into her own hands. She approached me and knelt down beside the car door and whispered; “Won’t you please come help me? I have a litter of new puppies, and one is very shy and scared. He won’t come to anyone. But maybe he will come to you as he knows you’re shy too.”

Well, shy or not, I figured I needed to try and help a poor puppy that was scared just like me and off we went to the barn. There in one of the horse stalls was a Momma dog and four pups. Three of them were running around and yipping and barking like any happy puppy does. But tucked away in a dark corner under some horse tack and saddles, was one little male puppy that was hunkered down and trying not to be seen, just like I had been doing in the confines of the car.

I got on my knees and crawled into the tiny dark space and hunkered down with him. I decided maybe we could hide out together until everyone else went to the house and he and I could just hang out together, avoiding all the noise and people neither of us were interested in being with. After the adults left us, the Pup slowly began to lick me and then began to play. He and I spent most of the visit running around inside the horse barn and exploring the world together. By the time supper time came, I still was not going to go inside, but Aunt Kitty said I could bring the puppy with me. No one could pry the Pup away from me.

By the next morning, the relationship with the puppy had become concrete. No one could separate us and it became another ordeal for my parents to try and get me to leave with them. Again, Aunt Kitty came up with the solution. She offered the Pup to me to take home as my very own. It sounded great, but my mother wanted no part of the idea. After more tears and refusals from me to leave the pup, my Dad said; “Well, that Pup would probably fetch Aunt Kitty a good price at the auction barn, so we really couldn’t possibly take her Prize Puppy.” At which I promptly got my little purse and took out the rest of my allowance that I had saved to buy souvenirs on our trip. I had a whole dollar and some change, which to me was a lot of money and offered it to Aunt Kitty who of course accepted it as though it were a vast fortune.

By this time my parents decided the only way they were going to win was to give into me and let me have the dog. By the time we got back home to our farm, spring break was over and I was back in school, but rushed home eagerly every afternoon to be with my new companion who I had named Chip, but my dad jokingly called him Gyp the mutt, (a farmer slang word for worthless) because the once shy pup, was the terror of the farm yard, chasing the chickens and the cattle and everything that moved.

Shortly after returning to school, we were all vaccinated with the very first Polio vaccine, which proved to be a disaster for me. Instead of just a mild reaction to the inoculation, I was one of a few thousand children across the country, who actually got a full blown case of Polio from the vaccine. The lab had inadvertently not killed the entire live polio virus in a few batches and it had disastrous results for the children who got the bad vaccine.


As spring turned into summer, I had spent most of it in the hospital and when I came home, I was no longer just a shy child, but one who could no longer walk. Chip a.k.a, Gyp, as my father called him, was again, my sole comfort and interest in life. From the moment I came home, Chip never left my side. Through all the painful therapy I had to undergo, Chip, was there and when I would refuse to try and walk, he would jump at me as though to say…”You can do it! Come play.” He instinctively began to take things from me and hold them just out of my reach, so I would have to stretch and work my muscles to retrieve them. That was something no therapist could get me to do, but Chip made it worth the effort. He knew how to make work seem like play. By the time fall rolled around, I was able to stand and Chip was always there to encourage me to try harder and take another step and another. Chip, knew that deep inside all I needed was encouragement that one day we would again chase the cows and chickens together. And so it was, that I learned to try a little harder, stretch myself beyond what I thought I could do, and achieve the freedom to live and love and trust in a dog my father called  Gyp…The best bargain I ever bought, even though he would never be worth much as a farm dog. He proved himself a wise and wonderful friend until the day he died.