A year ago today, eight days after his death, my father was laid to rest. Yes, I said eight days, not the normal two or three like everyone else due to a trying ordeal with the cremation folks. But, similar to most situations with Pop, things didn’t always go as planned. In any event, I was blessed enough to give the eulogy that day and I’d like to share it with all of you today. I know I didn’t read this word for word, but this is what I had written down. Rest in Peace Pop.
First of all, I’d like to thank Father Tom for being here today. You knew my dad for a long time and there’s nobody else that the family and I would have wanted here today so again, I thank you sir. And not just for today, but for everything you’ve done for my father throughout the years. He was truly blessed to have a friend like you in his life.
I’d also like to thank everyone for being here today. I look around this room and I am flooded with memories. Biff, you were his best friend in the world and the memory of you and him and all of the times our families spent together over the years always puts a smile on my face.
And that’s just who Dad was. He always wanted people to smile. And even more so, he always wanted to make someone laugh, even if he looked completely ridiculous in the process. Even in the last year of his life, we went to Confetti and bought a blowup doll for his room. And he would talk to it and cuddle with it if he knew the nurses would be coming into his room just to see the look on their face, just to make them laugh and brighten their day just a little bit. I was talking with a member of the staff at Fondulac just the other day and she knew that the nursing home just wouldn’t be as fun without Dad around.
And there are many, many stories like that about him. One that always sticks out to me was when I was about 8. Dad had lost the hand about a year before and had finally decided to just own it. God had granted him the serenity to accept the things he couldn’t change so he just started using it as a tool for jokes. So he and I go to the grocery store. We had a pretty decent cart load so we start putting things on the conveyor belt and you could just see the little light bulb go on. So he just looked at me and simply said “Watch this.” The cashier couldn’t have been older than 17 and she’s just ringing everything through. So he turns around and takes off his first prosthesis and puts it up there with everything else and the look on this girl’s face was priceless. She looks at it and looks at me. I don’t know what the hell to do so she looks at Dad and he is doubled over laughing hysterically. And I bet that this girl probably still tells that story 25 years later.
That’s the effect that he had on people, even if the instance wasn’t a funny one. I remember coming back from my grandmother’s apartment. There’s a steep hill leaving her place and a guy had fallen off of his bike and was banged up pretty badly. He had no idea where he was, where he lived or anything. Dad had gotten out of the car and held this poor man and just talked to him, trying to make him remember anything at all until the ambulance arrived.
Another that sticks out is again from my youth. I was sledding with some buddies at the hill next door and I watched a kid get hit in the mouth with one of those big, heavy wooden toboggans. It completely separated his jaw but he was able to let out the loudest scream I think I’ve ever heard. Well, Dad heard it too from next door and in zero degree weather comes out in shorts, a T-shirt and his bare feet and he runs down this hill, picks up this kid he’s never met. The kid is bleeding all over him but he doesn’t care. He runs through the snow into our house and takes care of him like he’s his own until his parents and the EMT’s show up.
It’s stories and moments like that that can define a person and can make a difference in how you look at somebody and it’s things like that that I’d forgotten until recently because let’s be honest here, the old man certainly had his faults. He made a lot of mistakes that hurt a lot of people, including myself. And it’s always easier to focus on the bad things in life than acknowledging the good ones. And it’s a pain that I held onto for way too long and it nearly killed me. It made me a very bitter and angry person and I know that’s not who he wanted me to be. And it’s not the way I want to live my life. So I’ve been able to let go of that anger because I started to open myself up to the good stuff and really remember all the good things that he had done, things I had forgotten about, no matter how mundane. Watching him have foot races with Kimberly in every single parking lot we were ever in. Building a very detailed train set for my brother because the old one was just too simple or building me a new ring for my little wrestlers because Hulk Hogan had slammed Andre the Giant one too many times through the plastic WWF one from the store and countless other things like that, small things that add up over time to make a life worth remembering.
But I think what I will take with me the most is how much fight my father had in him. Life overall is a fight but his was insane. Most of you know his past so I won’t even get into that, but you all know how hard he fought to put the things he had done behind him and move forward to try and be a good husband, a good father, and a good man. And sometimes when he fell short, he fought for years to try and make things right.
For those who don’t know, my father had a daughter from his first marriage. Her name is Patti and she is here with us today. After 40 years, he fought to revive that relationship and he succeeded in doing so. Patti, if you didn’t already know, he loved you very much and was so happy to have you back in his life and I’m glad that you got to know him a little bit and I was honored to share that moment with the two of you.
And then there’s his fight physically. OH MY GOD! The things that this man went through in his life. They say a cat has 9 lives. I think Dad got about 50. I think we can all agree that what we’re doing today should have happened a long time ago. He lost fingers then had them reattached but didn’t think that was painful enough so four years later, he decided just to take the whole damn hand off. Two heart surgeries, multiple types of cancer, addiction and the thing that really should have killed him a few years ago was the fire. He laid in a hospital for four months, endured five more surgeries, and basically asked death “Is this all you’ve got? Because I’m not ready to go just yet.”
And that led to the most inspirational moment I’ve ever witnessed. After the fire, the doctors told him that there was a good chance that he may never walk again, but he fought and fought through months of grueling physical therapy and when the day came, he stood up, oxygen tank and all, and walked Kimberly down the aisle on her wedding day. My brother and I looked at each other in amazement as he stood tall and proud as he walked alongside her. And believe me, my sister was not the only one in tears at that moment. Honestly, anyone in that room who wasn’t crying just doesn’t have a soul.
And that’s the legacy he will leave behind. Life is going to knock you down over and over again. It’s whether you choose to get back up that makes all the difference. And he chose to get back up time and time again. To reconnect with Patti, to walk Kimberly down the aisle and meet his grandson Patrick, to help me become a better man and meet his granddaughters Ashlyn and Brooklyn, to watch Matt be who he’s gonna be and become one of the strongest men that I know. His legacy is firmly cemented in this family and it will live in all of us and it lives with all of you as well.
And that’s how he knew it was okay to go. For those who don’t know, Dad died very peacefully. He knew it was time and as I sat with him in his last moments, I knew he was ready and I whispered to him hoping he could hear me. “Just go Pop. We’ve got it from here.”
So to honor my father as you move forward in your own lives, just remember to keep getting back up. Remember to love. And always remember to laugh.
Rest in peace, Pop. You don’t have to fight anymore.