The repass was a wonderful way to celebrate Dad's life & spirit too. The last time we were all at South City Grill was to surprise Mom for her 65th birthday last December. Felt like life was coming full circle somehow. Cousin Mitch shared a comprehensive photo slideshow of Dad and his life -- so many occasions, so many moments, so many connections with family & friends. I appreciated tremendously that folks had an opportunity to share their memories with us in such a public & intimate way. Thank you so much. We look forward to sharing memories of Dad often.
Dad's ashes will be with Mom in Jersey City. Mom has given second thought to bringing them to the Philippines since she will be living most of the year in the States. I'm extremely relieved that Mom changed her mind. I think she is too.
Mom, Al & I decided to leave Jersey for a few days to decompress. Al & I had originally planned to get away at this time to the MA shore off season along with both Mom & Dad. On the drive up, I was sad & overwhelmed thinking about how Dad was supposed to be with us too. Back in June, Dad said to us that he didn't think he would be able to come. He was right.I am reminded that as my life begins a new chapter, one without Dad physically here, I will be a grief dancer for a while. And that's okay. Part of the process, I suppose. No doubt, we will each have our moments. As we walked onto Sea Gull Beach this morning, I looked at the vastness of the water and felt the warm sun as well as my Dad's presence. The quietness of that moment embraced me with such peace.
For those of you who were unable to attend Dad's memorial service, we missed you. Please know that we do understand. Here is what I shared:
How to begin to honor the life of a man who was my father, my mother’s life partner, a brother, an uncle, and good friend to so many? Since my dad had been in hospice care at home, I’d been hesitant to begin writing about his life. At Dad’s request, we brought him home to die peacefully, and he asked me to be sure to write a good one.
Dad’s life is more than just an interesting story. It is the journey of a man who arrived in Jersey City in 1967 to meet a woman who would be his remarkably doting wife and experience a life that included both a son and daughter, loving nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, in-laws, cousins, godchildren and wine-drinking, card/tennis/golf/mah jong-playing buddies.
Dad and Mom moved all over Jersey City before settling on Nunda Avenue along Lincoln Park and eventually Gates Avenue bordering Bayonne. While many of Dad and Mom’s old friends moved to the suburbs, Dad and Mom chose to remain in Jersey City for its convenience and familiarity. Jersey City is where my parents met. Jersey City is where Michael and I were born. Jersey City is where Mom grew her nursing career with Hudson County. And Jersey City is where Dad cultivated many of his long-standing friendships.
Since doctors diagnosed Dad with aggressive advanced stage prostate cancer more than three years ago, Alex and I made every effort to visit with Dad and Mom a little more frequently, making sure to make our weekly Sunday lunches. Great friends, Dad and Al have had many philosophical and laughter-filled conversations, sometimes trying to out-rationalize each other. As Dad’s health deteriorated, we visited more often, stopping by on weeknights after working in the city on our commute back home to Parlin.
During one of our meals, I asked Dad, What is the best advice you can give Al and me? “Live a simple life,” he said.
Dad was a man of simplicity. Enough money to more than provide for his children. Enough love to grow a marriage that withstood 40 years and financially support extended family when needed. Enough faith to appreciate Catholic brotherhood. And enough strength to fully enjoy living with cancer.
Living simply is best described by Dad’s daily routine. Attending daily morning Mass here at Our Lady of Mercy. Senior discounted coffee with his buddies. Hitting a few golf balls at the local driving range. Grilling in the backyard on a weekend afternoon. Family karaoke with Dad’s high scoring renditions of the songs, “More” and “My Way.” Spontaneously deciding to catch a movie with Mom or ring up his buddies for a friendly round of mah jong. Sitting in his canopy chair at Bayonne Park engaged in sudoku.
The months before Dad embarked on the last leg of his journey, having suffered renal failure Dad dutifully underwent long-term dialysis. It eventually became too much to endure along with the pain caused by spinal tumors. In early August, it was apparent that we, as a family, had to support Dad in how to best live the rest of his life. We halted all medical treatment, including chemo and hemodialysis.
In the hospital Dad turned to Al and said, “You be the one to talk to me. Those ladies don’t know how to talk to me.” Dad was decisive, confident and amazingly strong. “I’ve had enough. Stop it all. No chemo. No dialysis. I’m ready.”
“It’s better to go straight than to take the winding road,” he said.
Dad always enjoyed speaking in metaphors. Out of grad school, I was living alone for a long while. Dad would often say to me, “A flower with no bees buzzing around it – smells bad.” Thanks, Dad!
We’d known that Dad had been ready to die for a long time. He’d been sharing with us since March that he didn’t know if he was going to make it to this December. Having returned from a respite in the Philippines this past winter, Dad was also able to enjoy time with family in California this past spring. In addition, visits from grandnephew Malachi and niece Kathleen as well as nephew Mitch were rightfully timed this summer.
What I will cherish more than our historical argumentative adolescent daughter-father relationship is the summer memory of our Keyport outing this past July. Despite the unbearably painful bone metastases, Dad walked with a cane then. We wanted to meet Dad’s ongoing request to go crabbing and enjoy a day along the bay, where the serenity of the water and summer breeze will forever carry Dad’s spirit -- his robust heart, stamina and courage.
We love you, Dad.