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.”