Sunday, October 09, 2005

A moment

Two years ago today, I lost my dad. He was a quiet man. An internalizer. Until things had simmered long enough. And then, everything came tumbling out at once. Since he has been gone, I have spent a lot of time thinking about his life. And my life. And it’s true. The thing I kept denying. I am my father’s daughter. We are made of the same fabric. I internalize just like he did. I am self critical to a fault. Just like him. I have a deep belly laugh that was born from his voice. He loved openly and had a hard time letting himself be loved. We share this too…

I feel lucky that there was some time when I knew I would lose my dad before he was gone. It was awful and scary but it also gave me one very precious gift that it has taken me two years to fully appreciate. It gave me time.

Here’s what happened. My dad fell in June of 2003. I was very busy at work and I didn’t have a lot of time to pay attention to the nuances of the phone calls with my Mom. It was convenient to believe what she was telling me so I chose to believe that it was no big deal. I reasoned that I had a trip home to Boston in August - I would see for myself what was going on very shortly.

Well, I went home, and everything was not ok. My dad could barely walk. He was very weak. He was clearly very sick. And I was immediately relieved of any thoughts that he would recover. He fell again the day after I arrived. He went into the hospital 4 days after I arrived. And things started to tumble from there. There was a lot to deal with and I stayed for three months, long after my vacation had ended. It was a tough time for my family. But looking back, in many ways it was also a beautiful time. My siblings and I re-established connections with each other and accepted each other in ways we hadn’t ever attempted before. My mom and I became very close friends again for the first time since I was 10. And I got to spend three months with my dad - telling him over and over that I loved him, that I would be ok. It was a time when I was able to live with extraordinary strength. Helping my Mom. My brothers. My sisters. I didn’t shy away from the details. I didn’t ignore the facts. I got scared sometimes, but I have never been as strong as I was at that time.

There were moments that helped me through it. I went to NYC a couple times for work. To check in. To get a little break. We kept debating whether or not I should go back to Seattle for a little bit. We finally decided I should. I brought all my things to NYC. I went to work. I was heading to the airport the next morning. And my brother called. I needed to get back to Boston. Things were not going well. I called Heidi, Kip, Paul. Paul and I had dinner. A very tender meal where I shared the details of what I was going through for the first time to someone outside my family. He carried my suitcase to Heidi and Kip’s apartment. I would stay with them for one night before heading back to Boston in the morning. When I went up, Kip asked me if I wanted a drink. I said yes, that would be nice. He opened a brand new bottle of Irish Whiskey and poured us each a small glass. He bought the whiskey in honor of my dad. Heidi came home and we toasted my dad and I felt safe. I could go back and be strong again.

My dad died about a week after I got back to Massachusetts. In our home. Quietly. With my sister, my mom and I holding on to him. He didn’t want to go. The last movement he made was to kiss my mom as she told him she loved him. He was a quiet man. And he lived and he died with passion. I did the eulogy for his funeral. I am publishing it below, to share something of him, his life. On this day that marks one moment of his legacy.

This story of my Dad starts in 1945. He was a junior in high school that year. It was a time of hope in our country and it was a time of hope for my Dad. He went on his first date with my Mom. They graduated from high school together in 1946. They were married in 1951 and in 1953, our Creegan family started to grow. My parents raised children for over 40 years. My sister Martha was born in 1953 and I didn’t graduate from college until 1994. I often wondered. . . what made them do that? Six kids over 40 years. Every time I asked my Dad, he would answer very simply, “It’s what we wanted, Jennifer. We wanted a big family and we wanted to build them a home to grow up in.” They got what they wanted.

It wasn’t easy raising six kids. Money got tight sometimes. Time was scarce but my parents worked hard to raise us to love each other well and to cherish the thing we call “family”. I can remember so many things about what family meant to my Dad --

Taking me to father/daughter nights at Notre Dame.
Watching my brother James play hockey in Canada.
Walking my sister Maureen down the aisle.
Helping my sister Martha around her house in Vermont.
Sitting contentedly on the beach with my brother Ricky as they solved the problems of the world.
Saturday’s with Rob. Small jobs. Big jobs. Rob was always by his side.

I remember the anticipation of Friday nights, when I would change out of my school uniform, put on my play clothes and wait for my Dad to take me to the candy store. We would load up on M&M’s and Coca cola and we would sit and watch The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.

I remember the stories of golf trips to North Carolina. Ricky, Rob, James and Dad. The Creegan men. Playing golf and having the very important “boy time”.

I remember the look of concern and then laughter on my Mom’s face when she would come home after Real Estate class and find my Dad and I crying in front of the TV. “Have you two been watching Little House on the Prairie again?”, she would say. Sheepishly, we would nod.

I remember my Dad’s face when he told me that Maureen had given birth. That he had a grandson and I had a nephew. He was so proud. So happy. And I thought – he must have had this same look when each new child entered his life.

When I broke my arm and my brother Rob wanted to know how my Dad had let that happen, I remember my Dad determinedly and tenderly looking at my very concerned brother and reminding him that he was the Dad. And that he had things under control.

I remember that each day, my Dad never left for work without giving my Mom a kiss. And I remember that every night, kissing her was the first thing he did.

My niece Erin had a Snow White dress and she would twirl around and say, “Look at me, Papa”. And he would tell her she was his princess. Collin loved trucks and would run around the house with them, playing hard, and my Mom would tell him to stop running and Dad would say, “Mary, Mary. Let the kids be.” And then he would give Collin a little wink. Gary Robert, his first grandchild. “Such a good kid,” my Dad would say with the proud look of a man who loves to be “Papa”. Amanda and Ryan, the little ones. Born so close in age. They added such tenderness to my Dad’s life in these last few years.

And Karen and Gary. Entering our family through marriage. They are quiet people entering our loud clan. Holidays would often find Karen quilting and my Dad and Gary watching a movie in the den while the rest of us were being our loud Creegan selves in the living room.

And then came Linda and Lia, Jill and Kelsey. New additions to our family. My Dad was so happy to see James and Ricky find love.

I remember my Dad with his friends. 4th of July parties with the Lombardi’s. All those bridge games with friends from work and from the neighborhood. New friends in Kate and Bruce. Old friends like Aunt Margie and Uncle Bill. So many friends have touched my Dad’s life. And meant so much to him.

I remember those summers when Aunt Pat’s family would park themselves at Brentwood Road and we would go to the beach and into Boston. And my Dad and Aunt Pat would laugh so hard, it sounded like we had wolves howling in the house.

I remember what it meant to my Dad when my brother James was elected to the Planning Board in Chelmsford. How courageous he thought it was to run for office. How proud he was of all of James’ accomplishments.

I have also learned so much from my Dad in these last couple of months. I learned what the bond of brothers can mean as I witnessed the silent conversations between my Dad and his brother Paul. I learned what it means to have a life partner who is – through the good times and the difficult – the one by your side. My Mom is my hero. She loved my Dad so deeply. So well. With such courage.

My sisters have been here through it all. Loving him. Caring for him. He would sigh with relief when Martha, his oldest daughter, wiped his face with cold water. Martha has traveled here every week, helping my Dad. Loving my Dad. Loving our family.

Each day, my Dad would hold on to Maureen’s hand and find a compassion so deep. A love so open. Tender caring that she is so strong to give.

I thank my sisters for what they did for our family. The compassion and love my sisters showed to my Dad was inspiring and beautiful. Each day, they nurtured. They listened. And they gave him what he needed.

I learned what it means to be with my Dad. My brothers Rick and James and I have been here often. Traveling in and out. We have helped and we have loved. And my Dad was always so glad to see us. He would hold our hands with his tight grip. “Are you ok out there?” “Do you know I love you?” And we would respond, “Yes, Dad. I love you too – so, so much.”

And, finally, my Dad would look to my brother Rob for strength and truth. My brother Rob. Who looked after the decisions and took care of my Dad’s best interests through it all. I know that if my Dad could be here today, he would look at my brother Rob and he would say, “Thank you. Thank you for loving me. For taking care of me. For letting me go. You are a gift.” And so I say it for him. Thank you, Rob. Thank you for loving us all. For taking care of Dad. You are a gift.

My Dad was a quiet man. Sometimes you could sit in the same room for hours and there would be no break in the silence. Don’t let the quiet fool you. He loved us. Fiercely. Determinedly. And with the best he had to give. When I left for New York on business a few weeks ago, I went to see him. To say goodbye. I think it was the first time we both realized that we may never see each other again. He took my face in both his hands. He had tears in his eyes. And he looked right at me and said, “I am so glad we did it again. I am so glad for you, Jennifer.” Me too, Daddy. Me too.


At 7:26 AM, Blogger Brikin Blog said...

Thanks for publishing that. It's beautiful. Please know that we're thinking about you and love you.

At 10:49 PM, Blogger Eve said...

That was beautiful- your dad must have been smiling very proudly down on you during that eulogy.

At 12:35 PM, Blogger tina said...

I'm so glad you wrote about that, honey. The post and the eulogy are both beautiful. We love you!


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