Saturday, May 30, 2009

Third flush off the old bush

My father died in March, shortly before I began writing here. As he lay in the hospital bravely taking on the last of what cancer threw at him, I spent as much time as I could at his side. And when he finally slipped away, I — the journalist in the family — was assigned the task of penning his obituary. I knew my father well, but upon reviewing his written history and professional bios and the bare facts of his legacy and accomplishments, I was stunned by the now obvious theme in that list. Everything he did — his humble legal career, his dedicated military service, his part in the creation of the Methodist senior center in which he passed away — was done in service to others. There's so much to be proud of on his resume, but there is no pride. He worked hard, and he did well, but he was always working for something greater than himself. That's what made him so great.

So after the obit, I wrote his eulogy. Standing up at his funeral was easily the most difficult task I have yet faced, and I'm glad that only comes once in life. When trying to frame this theme of service, I thought back to something I had noticed during those hours spent at his hospital bedside. A card, one of many such things, had been left behind by the maid. On one side, it denoted the time his room had been dutifully cleaned; the other bore a printed quotation or some such aphorism meant to comfort or inspire those, like me, who would come across it in a trying moment. This one, in a few sentences, told of Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy (for whom this and so many other Mercy Hospitals are named), and her focus on service to others. Even as she lay dying, she wasn't thinking of herself, asking, "Will you tell the Sisters to get a good cup of tea ... to comfort one another?"

That evening, Mom and I shared some Constant Comment as we discussed the beautiful service, his beautiful life and the many people who are better because of Dad's commitment to serve and comfort others. Then I drank a toast to the old man with a glass of his favorite claret. To close with his favorite parting words: "Be good and you will be happy."

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