Eulogy….. (and then, of course, there were the unicorn farms)
Suggested Background Music: Avett Brothers; Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise
Growing up in Cleveland, there were few career options available. There was the forced labor in the salt mines that some west side parents sell their children into when they are ten or eleven. There was also manning that demilitarized zone stretching between Toledo, Ohio and just outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana with an AK 47. Many Cleveland parents romanticized the manning of the DMZ to their children, explaining the “domino theory of farming” and how if Ohio fell to Indiana, then PA would fall, followed swiftly by NY and then none of us would have MTV. Some parents also sold children to the Akron/Canton scientific experiment labs, although that fad had passed by the time my sisters and I reached grade school.
And then, of course, there were the unicorn farms…
What child growing up in Cleveland didn’t dream of being selected as a unicorn wrangler at one of the many farms in Parma, Strongsville, Huron and Garfield Heights? Decked out in leathers, astride a dancing Lipizzaner Stallion….holding a pure gold lasso…wrangling unicorns. If you’re never been to Cleveland, that’s what you’ll see. Many go to Austria to see the Lipizzaners. Few go to Cleveland to see the Lipizzaners working with the unicorns. And this is a mistake.
Only the King of Cleveland could choose the unicorn wranglers and he chose a limited number, forty-two, annually. To unicorn wrangle, you had to be a pure blood Clevelandite. And they did DNA and blood tests. No mixed blood allowed. No Buffalo blood. No Detroit blood. God forbid no Pittsburgh blood or Browns/Steelers half breeds. Pureblood Clevelandians only.
My three sisters (Melinda, Patti, and Moira) and I were blessed throughout life. Our parents neither sold us into white slavery nor filled our little heads with empty dreams of being chosen for the unicorn farms. They allowed us to be who we were and encouraged us to follow our dreams. I am certain that if, at age eight, I had exclaimed “I want to own and manage the Dairy Queen at 2505 Lamar Avenue in Paris, Texas when I am a grown up, while maintaining a nighttime spelunking business in the caves in nearby Sulphur Springs”, my parent would have gotten me the soft serve ice cream version of my sisters Easy-Bake Oven. And cramp-ons. They would have given me cramp-ons to climb the oak trees in the back yard and little flashlights to hold in my teeth. For preparation. My mom and dad encouraged us to decide what to be. And then go be it.
Certain mirrors make your face look better and certain colors make your eyes pop. I special ordered the mirror in the bathroom near the door through which I leave each day and chose the blue to make my eyes pop. I am nothing if not vain and like to line up the mental odds in my favor as often as possible. When I stop by this room for the final look before heading out the door, I walk out feeling sassy. Here’s the room color. Makes my baby blues go POP. It is a good color Under the “live, laugh, love” sign in the upstairs bathroom is a photo of one of my best college friends (and cheerleading partner) in college Jen, my father and me. On a bad hair day. This photo is one of my favorite photos. Jen died suddenly in January, 2008 leaving behind a husband and several wonderful children. Dad died eleven days ago.
Dad was a two to three pack a day smoker, depending upon the day. Given that he was shackled to a wheelchair and unable to run either marathons or compete at an international level in triathlons for the last twenty years, none of us begrudged him his one vice. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in November, 2011 and took the diagnosis in the fashion with he raised the four of us. He laughed. When I was alone with him in the ICU he said: “Daniel…..when I get out of here, I think I’m going to finally quit smoking. But don’t hold me to that.” Then, he asked me for a dip. That evening, he also asked me to write him a fitting eulogy. One that was full of laughter, not evoking too many tears. One that explained how much he loved his wife, children and grandchildren without sounding too prideful or boastful. Most of all, he wanted everyone to walk out of the service smiling. The way my father went through life. I wrote the eulogy long hand on twenty plane flights for the next month and the eulogy was never read aloud. And it turned out pretty crappy, other than the swear words.
I read the following words to dad in January, the two of sitting alone in the kitchen. We laughed a lot and I made jokes about when he told me about the birds and the bees by telling me the “old bull and the young bull sitting at the top of the hill looking down at a herd of cows” joke. That was the story I would have told if I got choked up. Dad, telling me a joke for three minutes and then releasing me back out into the Fielding’s front yard to play football as the dissuading speech to young pregnancy. At the end, dad said: “Daniel, that’s wonderful and I have three rules. First, get rid of all the swear words. Second, don’t make your sister Patti cry. Third, make sure you mention Dick Walsh and make one of those stupid signs you make and hold it up during the service. Have the sign say ‘Dick Walsh’.”
Here is what was not read at Saint Ladislas last week. I took out all the swear words. There were three thousand four hundred seventeen swear words, making this read like Tolstoy in January.
“On behalf of Moira, Patti. Mom, Melinda, and Aunt Sheila, thanks for joining us here to celebrate dad’s life. He had one hell of a life. First, the rules. Dad gave me these rules and they will also apply to each of you during the eulogy. First rule, we don’t swear…..especially the F word. This is church, so please make sure you act “churchy” Second, no one is allowed to make Patti cry. If you make Patti cry, I will find out and you don’t need that sort of hassle on a funeral day. And I don’t want to have to put the smack down on anyone on funeral day. Third……we all need to mention Dick Walsh, all day. If you are sitting near Dick Walsh right now, please point him out so that everyone knows who he is. Dick was a saint over the past few years and dad wanted me to mention him. Dick Walsh, Dick Walsh, Dick Walsh. Dick Walsh.
I remember watching Ted Kennedy’s 1980 convention speech with my father at the Clague Road home where we spent our formative years. The part that sticks with me all these years later was sitting there with the strongest man any of us every knew and hearing Teddy Kennedy read these lines from Tennyson’s “Ulysses”:
“Though much is taken, much
Abides and though
We are not now that strength…
To seek, to strive
To find, and not to yield.”
The “made weak by time and fate” portion may have applied to dad through the years, yet it did not. Dad did not allow it to apply to him and the ending…….”not to yield” was the line most applicable to dad. When we were alone in his hospital room back in November, right after he told me he was choosing to finally quit smoking, dad told me that regardless what his pulmonologist said, he would make it through the end of May to celebrate his anniversary with mom. And, he did.
Our father was, without a doubt, the strongest man to ever walk on this Earth. And in January he asked me to skip the rest of this paragraph because he thought it too boastful.
Patti got dad’s eyes. Man, but I wanted dad’s eyes. I got a Target, K-Mart knock off approximation of dad’s eyes, while Patti got dad’s eye color. Dad had the most wonderful, expressive eyes. Patti and I both got dad’s laugh, thank God (sorry Father Whateveryournamewas). A laugh that is as loud as a thousand armies, more infectious than Ebola, and as startling as snow in July. It was a damn fine laugh. Clearly, Melinda got dad’s brains and was able to retire her senior year in college with a comfortable next egg of just under three billion dollars. Moira got the empathy, the stern voice (when needed) and the “face light up completely” at the end of a joke. You can see it from top to bottom when Moira gets a joke and is about to cackle. IT is dad, through and through.
Everyone got the love lessons. The four of us were fortunate enough to watch out mom and dad love each other for a full forty-nine years….through good and bad. We watched them fight and make up rapidly. We watched them each allow the other to be who they are and to grow together and individually. I see mom and dad’s relationship in my sisters’ relationships with their families daily and it is a beautiful and rare thing. Of everything dad taught to us and left behind when he chose to leave last week, that “love” thing is the most valuable. And the most wonderful.
My Aunt Sheila once described our father as “the most successful man she ever knew”. This is true. He and mom showed all of us how to correctly love, argue, make up, and move on. Moira, Patti, and Melinda’s marriages, their wonderful children, and the relationships we all see there are evidence of dad’s success. None of us ever wanted for anything and, most important, dad made us laugh every day. And each of us…..Mulligan and non Mulligan……will think of dad in the future and we’ll smile. Then we’ll laugh. That is a most fitting party favor and leave behind.
Dad liked this poem and wanted you all to hear it today. Henry Scott Holland wrote the poem. Someone please sit next to Patti and make sure she does not cry. We do not want to violate Rule #2. Thank you. “Death is Nothing at All”, by Henry Scott Holland.
“Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well”
Midway through the church service, I looked two seats down and saw Patti sitting there, smiling and dry eyed. I nudged mom and said “tell the priest I’m not reading the eulogy when we get communion.” Mom held up the communion line (she was first) six minutes later, giving a very lengthy explanation on the 86’ing of the eulogy. Priest looked back at me: I winked, said “yep…what she says goes….no eulogy” and then made the “let’s get this show going” sign with my purple, casted arm. Believe I also pointed at a nonexistent watch while shrugging. Communion finished up without a hitch and we went and buried dad with a bagpiper man playing “Amazing Grace” on a beautiful seventy-three degree day in the Land of Cleve. It was a beautiful, Irish funeral.
Mom rented the same place where Melinda and Moira had their wedding reception for the post-funeral, Irish gathering. They had to bus in alcohol from throughout Ohio and parts of West Virginia; however, by the end, everyone was satiated. Eventually. Then, mom, Melinda, Patti, Moira and I went back to mom and dad’s for what we thought would be a single cocktail before saying goodbye for another three to six months. No kids…..just the adults and our friends Mikki, Joan, and Chad. And Melinda and Patti’s husbands Mike and Ron. And we gave our nieces Brenna and Erin special “adult” passes for the evening after they promised to do “ear muffs” whenever we screamed “ear muffs”. Erin and Brenna also had to swear an oath of secrecy and sign it in lamb’s blood. Moira’s husband Steve will certainly receive the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 for taking the kids with him and allowing us our special time with Moira.
We sat there on mom and dad’s screened porch from 3:30 p.m. until just before midnight….laughing and drinking…..drinking and laughing. Throughout those eight hours, we laughed as a team more than we have laughed as team in the last twenty years combined. No children. None of my ex-girlfriends. Laser focus on Mulligans. And that is the most fitting eulogy ever for dad, a world champion laugher in his day. We laughed. And Patti did not cry.
We miss you, dad. You were the finest unicorn ever raised or wrangled in The Land of Cleve.
“If you’re loved my someone, you’re never rejected. Decide what to be and go be it.” (Avett Brothers & Daniel C Mulligan Sr.)