Three years

I remember so vividly three years ago today.  There are times when I could not tell you what I had for lunch yesterday, but those last moments in the hospital are crystal clear.  I mentioned in June 11th is coming. that right there at the end I sang to him our wedding song, and I told him, “I will not make a big deal of this date.”  I knew he would hate that.  And I’ve tried to maintain that… plan the memorial sporting event around this time of year / father’s day, plus “celebrate” father’s day.  And I managed again this year to not tell the kids what today was… I didn’t think I would get away with it this year, because A mentioned it the other day, “isn’t June 11th the day daddy died?”  But she did not mention it today, and I did not bring it  up.  I told them there was a special end-of-the-school-year treat coming.  And it did – we had an ice cream truck come to our cul de sac!  They loved it!

Tim and I once took part in an “ice cream Thursday” tradition at work, and today being the ultimate “ice cream Thursday” brought me some joy.   It also brought the opportunity to celebrate the end of this difficult school year, with three months of the kids at home, all of us at home, staying safe from the corona virus.   We were delighted to have other neighbors come down for the ice cream truck, including R’s  first grade teacher!

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But I can not help that this day hits me hard.  As much as I want it to be just any other day.  The date is everywhere.   I wrote the date on a million forms and papers, had it engraved several places.  The date is engraved in my heart.  And try as I might to not make a big deal of the date, it ends up making a big deal to me.  So many memories flood in.  The whole day feels heavy.  Tim loved me so much for who I am, I am sure he would forgive me for this.  This guy here, his son.   This week I mentioned daddy while we were in his hammock together, and D turned to me and said very seriously, very matter-of-factly “Mama, my daddy  – he is always dead.”  It surprised me as he has never said this before.  But it is also simply true, however much I hate that this is his reality.

I am sad that due to the corona virus, we will not be able to celebrate with friends and family at the memorial sporting event this year.  But I am hopeful that we will be able to do that next year.  This time in history that we are in right now also feels very heavy: emerging into summer, and a phased re-entry into a “new normal,” and trying to imagine what comes next.

I so hope that this time brings transformational social change that we desperately need, change that makes it a better, kinder, safer world for every single citizen on earth.   I know that is what Tim would want for the world his children live in.

Three years, and so much has changed.  We have all changed – me, and each of the kids.  The world around us is changing fast.  I hope we continue to change with it.  I have no doubt that Tim’s light, life, and spark will be in our hearts always.  Always.

“You have stolen my heart
And from the ballroom floor we are a celebration
One good stretch before our hibernation
Our dreams assured and we are, we’ll sleep well… sleep well… sleep well… sleep well”
~ Dashboard Confessional “Stolen” (Our wedding song)

Saying Goodbye to Dad

It was a difficult decision in this environment, and a risk, I know, but I decided to leave the kiddos for several hours today and head up to PA  for my dad’s < 10 person funeral mass. 

The absolute saddest part of dad’s passing was the timing.  Dad had been ready for a long time.  Before Tim died, I spoke to him about how much I wish that across the country we had Death with Dignity options.  Imagine if Dad could have made his own choice?  He would have made it years ago, and gone to rest peacefully, surrounded by the support of his family.  My heart breaks to think of the sadness and the confusion of this time.  I can only imagine this is the case for many other patients in care facilities across the country, who can not understand why their family members are not able to visit.  Death is always sad for those of us left behind.  It is a heavy weight to carry.  But I like to imagine a world where the suffering can find their way home in peace, in a manner and time of their choosing.  

I am glad that I was able to go today.  I wrote and gave the Eulogy, which I will share here.  I may have broken my own connection to the Catholic Church in 2016, but I can not deny that Father Ed did a beautiful job with Dad’s mass.  He had met dad, and he read carefully the background on Dad that my sister-in-law, Gaby, provided.  He incorporated those thoughts beautifully and connected them to both readings and the gospel in his homily.  My sister, Jean, and my Aunt Kathleen did a beautiful job with the readings, my Aunt Dolly with the prayer of the faithful and the Church staff who joined for the piano and singing did a gorgeous job.  The pianist went so far as to add a few chords of ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ at the end after hearing the end of the Eulogy.   And my mom, who I hate to welcome to widowhood, was her strong, beautiful, elegant self.  

Here are the words I shared today with the small crowd allowed for the funeral mass.  Mom hopes to have a burial that more can attend in the future.  

Good morning.

(Here I ad libbed that before I started I wanted to mention that my immediate family had joined a video chat the previous evening to wish my 18 year old niece a happy birthday and we had agreed… as weird as this funeral mass is for all of us here  – the size, only a few immediate family members –  it would have been right up dad’s alley).

We, here in this room today, and others that could not be with us, we are Dad’s legacy. Most significantly, Mom, Joe, Jean, and I (and our spouses and children) are dad’s greatest legacy.  Even though he couldn’t always show it the way we might have liked for him to, it has always been clear to me just how much Dad loves each and every one of us.

At my first job after college when someone would accept a new position and be moving on to the next adventure, we would celebrate (sometimes roast) them with a top 10 list, Letterman style. At my husband’s Celebration of Life, we developed a collection of things that “we learned from Tim” particularly for our children to have for years to come.

So today for this small group of us gathered here, I will share the top 10 things that I learned from Dad, whether directly or indirectly…

  1. The value of family, resilience and perseverance.  I know how much it meant to Dad that he and Mom got to fulfill a longtime dream of visiting Ireland together, where they met some of dad’s cousins and saw where his mom was born.
  2. The value of education. Dad always made it clear how important he found education of all kinds.  The love of a good book! And a library! Dad was a lifelong learner. And it’s not surprising then that my sister, Jean, is an educator.  
  3. The value of hard work – whether this be at school, work, around the house or in the yard, where my brother, Joe’s nickname for Dad – “Johnny Flamethrower” – came.  Dad’s favorite tools may have been his lawnmower, leaf blower, and subsequently lighter – to light the leaves on fire… eventually only on the county-approved days.  
  4. The value of understanding and appreciating cultural differences.  This was something I think Dad struggled with personally all his life.  He made a point to talk to me about gender and racial equality in particular, as well as the damage of prejudice, and every year he looked forward to signing right up for the Church and Synagogue interfaith community sessions.
  5. In a similar vein, Dad taught me the value of a good debate, of challenging the status quo, of pushing yourself to think differently then you’ve been taught to think.  
  6. Dad taught me that it may never be too late to reinvent yourself.  This was something Dad did over and over.  Brother, son, friend, soldier, Stone Container worker, husband, Philadelphia Police officer, father, Wharton School Business student, Blacksmith/farrier, rubber stall mat installer, woodworker, chef, grandfather, student of history and law.
  7. Dad taught me the importance of mental health. Mostly, that mental health and challenges with it are very real.  I learned through him the damage of secrecy, and with it the value of transparency, openness and speaking the truth.  
  8. Dad taught me that It’s never too late to bury the hatchet… When Dad’s brother Hugh was sick, I went to visit him at his home and he told me and Tim about Dad coming to visit him in the hospital.  They had not spoken for many years. Uncle Hugh looked me in the eye and said “if roles were reversed, MaryBeth, I don’t know if I would have done it…. He was the bigger man.”  Nothing in all the years of my life could have prepared me to hear those words. I was shocked, but I was also incredibly touched, and those words have stayed with me.  
  9. Dad shared with me words he often recalled from his sister, Patsy… Regarding burial for GrandPop Saunders, and whether it be with Grandmom Saunders, or in a plot where in the future Grandmom Mary could be buried with him, Dad said Aunt Patsy told him, “Johnny, let us appease the living, rather than the dead.”  Dad and I spoke of that many times and it stuck with me.  Based on the life I’ve lived, those words have been incredibly important to me.  
  10. For many years, on the second Sunday of December, my family would go cut down a Christmas tree.  Whenever we would do this, Joe, Jean, and I would wait to hear the words Dad always spoke “Just remember, the farther you walk out, the farther you need to walk back.”  We laughed about it a lot, but it’s a valuable lesson in life.   

When I was young, Dad and I enjoyed watching The Wizard of Oz together, and he made me memorize “Somewhere over the Rainbow”.  He’d even record me singing it on a little black tape recorder.  

I hope you are somewhere over the rainbow, Dad. I know a couple people who will be happy to show you around. May you be at peace. May you be at home. There’s no place like home.