A year ago today my father passed away in the wee hours of the night from terminal stage 4 lung cancer. It was a long, hard, but a privilege of a journey. Following the days of my dad's death, I wrote and spoke my father's eulogy at his funeral. Goes without saying the task wasn't easy - least of all emotionally - but I was so honored and proud to do that for my father - to honor his life in that way. For reasons to lengthy to explain I decided NOT to post his eulogy a year ago, but now, as I sit in the shadow of his death, one year later, reasons have changed. So, to both friends and family alike (regardless if you were at his funeral or not) I would like to share my words of my father with you; words I spoke at his final respects.
Before I get started, I want to sincerely thank each of you for attending my father’s funeral Mass. My mom and I were saying the other day, (when more and more people spoke of coming) how stunned my dad would be to see all these people making it out to pay him final respects. Truly he’d be honored.
Many lines come to mind when I think of how to describe my dad. He was hardworking and determined; he was dedicated to his commitments; the man was mild mannered and had a way of not sweating the little things.
Being born in the middle of a family of 13 children in Saint Joseph, MO, my dad learned at a young age the value of hard work. Before he reached the age of 10, he had his first job as a golf catty, to pay for Catholic School tuition, that he was told he would go to, and pay for. This virtue of hard work would be one of his greatest branded assets. To say the least nothing was handed to him, or any of his siblings for that matter. As a matter of fact, I recall him recounting the experience of saving months of wages to go to his senior prom; of which he paid for all on his own. This story, of course and appropriately crossed my ears as I wanted x, y, and z for my senior prom, but had no job to pay for it.
But I digress...
Immediately following his high school graduation, my dad hopped on a one way flight to California as he attended community college briefly, while living with his brother Pat, before he enlisted in the Air Force in the height of the Vietnam War.
Four years was spent serving in the Military while studying to attend a four year University; and he saved every penny he earned while in the Air Force to put it straight to his education. And so he was bound for the University of Chicago upon completing his service to his country. Putting himself through college – a top notch one for that matter – was indeed one of his proudest achievements; and one of which I enjoy bragging about when it comes to my dad. Seven years in Chicago; 4 years as an undergraduate, studying economics; and the remaining years were spent pursuing a Masters in economics. My dad always described himself as thought out and an analytical man; and his colleagues he met after college have, and can attest to his intelligence.
Sometime after his return to California, my dad and mom met at a local Catholic parish in Buena Park; worked in youth ministry; and later began dating. When I say my dad was mild, it holds true to his proposal to my mom. After popping the question, and not getting an initial response, my dad patiently waited for my mom’s answer. Any other man might not be as even keeled after a marriage proposal – it was one of his gifts for sure – that peaceful serenity that is.
As a father and a husband, my dad was dedicated to making sure we were all taken care of; and that he provided for us. He did this well! Being a valued employee for Arthur Anderson, Arden-Mayfair and H&R block, he put more than bread and butter on our table. My brother Joey enjoyed Tai-Kwon-Do; my older sister Katie enjoyed flute and marching band; my younger sister Gabriella enjoyed cheerleading; while I enjoyed colorguard through junior high and high school; among family camping trips, amusement parks, and occasional family vacations to coveted locations. Truly, we had what we needed, and some of what we wanted.
For those who really knew my dad, knew he was a man of few words; more actions than a lot of talk. Unless of course you get him talking about Quigley family archive stories, or economics or politics; then good luck wrapping up the conversation. At any rate he’d only speak if the matter was truly dire, or of moral right or wrong. For a man, and for a father, who chose his words wisely and thus frugal with them, it was something that my siblings and I didn’t always understand while growing up. Truthfully speaking, it wasn’t until recently, that I’ve come to understand this kind of spirit and way of being that characterizes my dad. In short, he spoke when it mattered; and when it mattered he meant to make you hear and understand him.
Another quality my dad possessed was his financial intellect. Having his bachelor’s degree in economics, working as a computer programmer and doing tax returns for H&R block, numbers was his hobby. And even as a father, he made sure to impart all kinds of financial wisdom to my siblings as well as myself. No matter if we were 10 years old and half listened, he made sure to give us his financial talks. As one of his children, I know our financial well-being was an aspect of our lives he greatly desired for us.
Truth be told though, I didn’t always understand my dad. Much of my adolescents and sometime after high school was spent grabbling with a disconnect I felt from him. It wasn’t until demons from his childhood came to surface, that I came to understand wounds from his past, that hadn’t fully healed; and how his one vow as he became a father was to break the cycle he endured. For a father who I had trouble understanding, I could finally appreciate his actions to save my siblings as well as myself from a youth of pain. Suffice it to say he kept his promise; which again I sensed he felt was another notable accomplishment for him.
As a brother to Marcia, Henry, Ernie, Suzie, Jean, Mike, Bill, George, Tom, Peggy, Jim and Gerald he was known at times to be mischievous, roughty, and competitive, but also quite the peace maker at other times. As an uncle he enjoyed introducing new card and board games, with the occasional motorcycle ride. As a husband, he took great care of my mother; always having a way of easing her worries, and showing her great and profound love. He loved and still loves my mom very deeply! One way I have of knowing this was upon asking him what he’d miss the most of life; he stated without hesitation: "your mom." Next to my mom, I know he also deeply loved my brother, two sisters and me. He always wanted the best for us.
Being a man of faith, his Catholic identity was first and foremost something he wished to impart on his children; and something he always held close to his chest. He didn’t always talk personally of his faith with God; and spent some time away from Sunday Masses; but you could tell it was always there. Honestly speaking, watching him come back to Mass, and being in full participation delighted us as a family. And even after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, I never witnessed anyone asking for more confessions and anointings of the sick. In his last months before his last breath, as his speech slowed, and his body slowed, there was a prayerful presence to him, be it on the porch, laying down, sitting. His thoughts were with God. I found it such a gift that two days before he past, Father Jack was able to give him last rights, as his brother Pat, his sister in law Susie, a close friend of mine, and our family surrounded him in that moment.
As much integrity and hard work as my father lived by, and raised his family by, the moments of leisure were few and far between. That being said, I know he was grateful for the last year of his life. No, none of us were grateful for the illness that took his life – least of all him. Yet, the fact he was essentially forced into retirement gave him that intentional quality time with his wife, his children, and his siblings; it gave him time to travel and see tourist destinations he had always dreamed of walking past: such as Rome, Paris, Lourdes and Hawaii. This past year gave him time for heart to heart conversations that time hadn’t allowed before; it gave him time to find that final lasting peace between him and his family, his wife, his children, his siblings and their family; it gave him time to uncover demons from the war, from his youth, and conquer them; and in turn be at lasting peace with God. As it were, and before cancer wreaked havoc, I witnessed such a peaceful serenity in my dad about his life and mortality. In his own words, “I’ve lived a full life. I went to and finished college, I had a successful career; I got married and had a family, and did a fair amount of traveling. I’ve faced and dodged death a number of times, and I’m at peace with what I’ve accomplished.” Simply put, my dad didn’t fear death. So a mist the pain (emotional and physical) there was grace in this last year for him; as well as our family. What a gift!
Upon reflecting on this serenity my father held, it reminded me of a quote by Morris West…
“We all fear death, we shrink from the suffering which may precede it. We quail from the mystery of the last leap, which we must all make, into eternity. But we are followers of the Lord, the Son of God who suffered & died in human flesh. We are the inheritors of the good news which he left with us: That death is the gateway to life, that it is a leap not into darkness, but into the hands of Everlasting Mercy. It is an act of trust, an act of love, by which, as lovers do, we abandon ourselves to, become one with, the Beloved."
It goes without saying my dad was ready and at peace with that final leap that final Amen into eternity with the Beloved.