I recently heard a speaker say that life isn’t about winning the race, it’s about finishing the race and how many people we can help finish the race.
I guess sometimes we finish suddenly, on both legs with working parts, and sometimes we finish slowly, losing parts along the way, but still moving towards the finish line, bringing along whatever we have left. Pat finished his race on March 6, 2015, when he passed away peacefully in my arms with our children next to us.
We were supposed to have more time. It wasn’t enough. But when I looked around me at couples married a lifetime, struggling to face separation for health reasons or death, watching their pain as I bore mine, I realized that even after fifty or sixty years, they too will wish there had been more time. When two people love each other and choose to spend their lives honouring and cherishing each other because they want to be together forever, no amount of time will ever feel like “enough”. It will always be over too soon. One heart will always be left broken, wishing there was just one more day, one more hour, one more moment to hold onto their “other half” before it’s too late and everything changes into something unimaginable, whatever that might be for them. I just didn’t get enough time.
But in the end, I helped Pat finish his race, and after everything we had been through, my final prayer was answered: he passed away peacefully in my arms and he did not die alone without me there to hold him. I got to say goodbye, knowing it was the last time. I don’t remember details about that day, as I do about the day of his accident, but as he was leaving us for this last time, I was given the one thing I didn’t have from that day two years ago: my final embrace, one that lasted for as much time as I needed, one that was burned into my memory and that I will hold onto in my heart forever. I didn’t think my heart could feel any more broken than it already was, but it does. The finality of losing him forever is a new kind of painful and something that will take time to process.
I wanted to share the eulogy we prepared as a family, which was delivered by our son at Pat’s funeral. We had intended to focus on the bigger picture of his life and leave the accident out of it, but the more we shared our ideas about what we wanted to say about him, the more we realized that the short time since his accident was as significant as the rest of his life when it came to his affect on the people around him. What had been for us a devastating trial seemed in retrospect to be for him a final testament to who he was as a person. Because of that, I’ve chosen to share it here:
Dad spent a lot of years in his early life battling various health issues, the loss of his father at an early age, the loss of a brother. He came through these difficulties and eventually met Mom and together they raised Kate and I. He always worked hard for his family so that we would have what we needed and would have been willing to work two jobs rather than have mom go to work, because he knew it was important for her to be at home with us. He was always more concerned about Mom and us having the things we wanted than about getting things for himself, to the point of wearing shoes with holes in them that none of us noticed until he mentioned water was getting in, and Mom had to make him go and buy himself a new pair of shoes because he didn’t want to spend money on himself.
He was always a man of faith, he wasn’t necessarily overly involved in things, but he did what was required of him and knew what was right. We heard many stories from his days as an altar server growing up in Pugwash, where he was part of a group of servers who had a great relationship with the priest who spent time doing many fun things with them. He was more shy in his later years about becoming an adult server but with lots of encouragement from me we were able to get him involved and he eventually took charge of organizing the group, and doing the job of sacristan. He was involved in the Knights of Columbus and became a 4th degree member in 1985.
Dad was often reserved about his feelings, his sense of humour, and showing affection to people outside of our family, but he had a very sensitive heart full of compassion and cared for others, especially those who were struggling. Dad was a man who often cried at the mention of another person’s pain. Many people only ever saw the quiet side of dad.
After his accident people saw the beauty of God in him because he often asked people “do you go to church? Are you catholic? Do you believe in God?”, “Are you married? Do you have children? Do you have a family? Are you going to church this Sunday?” “Michael, do you have a girlfriend? This nurse is single. Are you still going to be a priest? Katy, are you going to get married?” Whether or not he understood it himself, it seems that the real question he was asking in all of these was “are you loved?” We don’t ask each other questions like this because we feel like it’s awkward or inappropriate, but he had no inhibitions and he asked the questions because he genuinely cared about people, about their home life, how they were, and whether they had a faith life. Somehow, in his vulnerable condition, he understood at a deeper level how much God loved him, in a way most of us struggle all our lives to discover.
The people who have approached our family since he has passed away have talked about how beautiful Dad was, and during the time he was on earth in his wheelchair it was hard for our family because we were struggling with all the stuff that goes along with that, and with all the things that we missed about life with him before the accident, and there he was wanting to sing hymns and say prayers, and just about every day when Mom picked him up to take him to the house for a visit, as soon as he got in the van, he asked if he was going to church. But at the same time, he needed to be lifted in and out of his bed at the hospital, required constant supervision, couldn’t swallow properly, and was unable to remember most of the life he had shared with us, even though he knew that he loved us very much. He talked about how good people were to him, how they took such good care of him, and he never complained.
It’s almost like now that he’s passed it frees us to see the beauty of the life that he lived and even though the last two years were full of suffering, when he wasn’t suffering he was smiling, and he was laughing, and he was telling us all that we were the best thing since sliced bread, and he was precious and he loved and appreciated everyone and told them so. We don’t do that as a community or even in our families, because we’re afraid to show our emotions, but he wore his heart on his sleeve. So when people came to visit him, he would be so thankful to them and appreciate their time and their efforts and the people that spent time with him were very affected by his innocence and his purity of heart, and the precious, vulnerable person that they saw.
So we got to spend years with dad as a hard working faithful husband and father who took care of us, and then we got to experience taking care of him. Yes, it was hard and yes we asked questions about why it had to be that way. But now it is easier to see that everything about him was a gift, because he taught us things we would never have learned about life, about people, and about love. So, I think today dad would just want us all to ask ourselves “ARE YOU LOVED?” Thankfully, in tribute to him, our family can say “yes, Pat, we were, by you”. And looking out now at all of you who have come to show your support and respect for dad, we can say “yes, we are.”