Diagnosed with ALS just 18 months ago, he lived the end of his life with amazing grace, but the last few months were truly terrible. As he lost his ability to move and ultimately to communicate, each goodbye grew more painful. The man I knew as my dad became lost. He wouldn’t – doesn’t—want me to wallow in sadness, and yet I need to honor that time in the journey.
I am, in fact, not sure of what I want to say, or how to say what I feel today, the day we laid him to rest. My thoughts are a jumble of euphemisms – he fought the good fight; he showed courage under fire; he was at peace; he’s in a better place.
As I’ve greeted friends, family and strangers offering condolences this week, I’ve nodded and agreed with heartfelt variations of all of the above. My dad touched so many lives in unique and meaningful ways. I love that people wanted to share their experiences with me. And I love that he was loved by so many people. I will always be grateful for the way that people gave a piece of my dad back to me through their stories, their prayers, their hugs, and just their presence in my life.
This entire experience, diagnosis through death, has left me amazed.
My dad amazed me. For all of his many amazing attributes, my father was never a patient man. But, as ALS stole the abilities to walk, to move, to eat and to drink, he remained calm, unhurried. He found a peace within himself that I had never witnessed. (He would doubtless tell me that it was the spirit of the Lord holding him still, holding him up.) He sincerely found each day a blessing.
His wife Jane amazes me. Married to my dad for 27 years, Jane has been the model of courage and conviction. She honored my father’s wishes to the very end, taking on the responsibility for his care so he could stay in his home. She opened her doors to friends and family at any hour and gave everything she had to make his world better. I’ve come to know her so much better through this experience and am so proud to have her as a stepmother and as my friend.
My brother amazes me. My “little” brother stood taller than his 6’2” in the face of ALS. He never turned his back, or shied away from any need my father had – physical, emotional or otherwise. My dad trusted him more than anyone other than Jane and he more than lived up to that trust. The way he stepped in, and stepped up, constantly inspired me. I’ve always seen the boy in my brother. I now recognize the man and I could not be more proud to call myself his sister.
My dad’s parish family amazes me. At St. Thomas of Villanova, my father found his passion. I told many people this week that he found more joy and fulfillment in his few years of volunteering there than he did in the 30 years of his “career.” His parish was a true gift in his final years, a period I will always think of as the happiest time in his life. They surrounded our family with love and prayer and faith. They took care of little details and kept us fed and transported people and pictures and flowers. They are the definition of community. What would this have been had we not been carried along by Father Tom and Connie and Leo and all of the STV family?
We took this journey together and, although I come out on the other side saddened, my life will be better for the people I’ve come to know and for the true love I witnessed.