Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"What has happened to us?"

My dad, Bruno, passed on August 9, 2012 - just 7 weeks after he was diagnosed. Pancreatic cancer is a dreadful disease that ravaged him.
This is the eulogy that I was honored to deliver.

People talk about a successful/rewarding life as one where you leave the world a little better by having been in it. Papa did that on a moment-to-moment, person-to-person basis. If you were lucky enough to cross paths with Bruno, chances are your day was brighter afterwards.
Bruno was always there with a smile - that inviting disarming smile. And eyes that smiled too. His beautiful blue eyes were less piercing than inviting – as full of potential as a sky-blue sky. He managed to create a comfortable space that welcomed you in. His youthful manner and playful charm allowed him to connect so easily with so many of us, children of all ages.
My cousin, Alida, told me recently that “You could always count on Bruno. One time it was just me and your dad driving back to get Vitorio and Bruno was telling me stories about the refugee camp in Italy and what my father was like then and what our families went through to get to America. He was a great story teller and that long drive melted away and seemed to only take minutes. When we pulled in the driveway he turned and smiled at me and said he really enjoyed our conversation and was sorry it had to come to an end. I told him the same and I really meant it. I felt we had really bonded during that car ride.” That is Papa – connecting in whatever small way when given any chance.
It was not at all unusual for my friends or cousins to say at the mention of my Papa, “I love your dad” or something along those lines. I was always pleasantly surprised - not that he wasn’t lovable, but that so many other people so readily saw it too. You know…I love him , and on another level… he’s just my dad.
He was a strong-willed husband and a firm father. I can’t say that I appreciated the strictness when I was young – but I do now. You always knew where he stood. I learned more than I wanted to know about commitment, self-discipline, honesty and honor.
My first driving lessons were sitting on his lap behind the wheel or our rust orange ’67 Fairlane 500. Steering through the parking lot after a super-long fun day at the beach. As a kid, I thought he was the smartest and coolest for considering the number of lights we’d hit on the way home from anyplace when picking his route. I wish that I had more patience when it came to spending time under that Ford, learning how to fix it and so much else. Papa was meticulous and thus, not necessarily the speediest. He was the Super at my house for the last few years – a blessing if ever there was one. Til the end, we’d be waiting for Nono to finish up just one more thing before coming in from the garage for dinner. It was the only time Papa was likely to be “late”.
Like so many in this room, he worked hard his whole life. Between Saturday morning overtime and a second job driving a limo, he wasn’t always around as much as I would have liked. I imagine he felt the same.
If you’ve eaten more than once with my Papa, you know that he liked to grab that end piece from a loaf of Italian bread.
If you can tell anything about a person by the quality of their relationships, then you can’t help but conclude that Papa was exceptional. He was an incredible family man. He was a Milevoj in the very best sense – quiet and strong, respectful and respected, and incredibly devoted to his family. Besides Cio Dario and our much-loved late Cia Nela, he was like a brother to many of his cousins. He was a loving presence during the tragic illnesses of several of our family members in the past 10 years. He was right next to me when I was diagnosed and every day since. Papa is present. His expressions of love and caring went out to so many.
People have commented on how unfair papa’s death is. Even at 75 years of age, it still seems premature. The speed with which this dreadful disease ravaged him – just 50 days from diagnosis to passing - is unbelievable. I know that Papa said that word – “unbelievable” hundreds of times during that period. Still, in the cosmic balance, I’ve feel unfairly blessed to have the most fantastic dad for 45 years. He made me who I am – and…for better or worse, I am more like him than anyone else. From already good, our relationship was getting even better over time. Papa is my go-to guy. After Jacquelyn, he was primary counselor – the person I’d go to for advice on life and how to navigate the stickiest situations in it. I am sad because we had so much more growing together and loving to do.
Jacquelyn has already spoken about the love and life that Ana and Noah share with him. Whereas many kids never know their grandfathers, they were blessed with nearly 6 years of the most devoted, fantastic and loving Nono imaginable. They’d say good bye at the back door looking forward to the next time, “se vidimo Utorak” (see you on Tuesday). They brought that smile to his face until the very end. I will never forget the breathtaking beauty of their last few goodbyes with him. The sadness lies in all of the wonderful lessons and memories which they won’t be able to enjoy.
We treasure every moment that Bruno graced our lives.
He is a special soul who lives on.
He will always have the end piece in our lives.
We love you Papa.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Something to Grab Onto

Ana swings across the monkey bars like my little chimp, bounding across the rungs – proudly reaching the other end. Noah displays an intrinsic technique on a climbing wall, pulling himself up from one hand and foot hold to the next – surprised to find himself tens of feet up in the air.
We are born into a continuous climb called life. So much so that to cease the ascent invites demoralization, if not depression.
All of this becomes intensified – as does every other instant in life – when our existence is threatened. Carefree suddenly turns into precarious. I am seeing this play out yet again, more painfully than ever, in my Papa’s relentless disease progression.
Since the day that he was diagnosed a mere 7 weeks ago, it has been nothing but bad news. That first biopsy result was like a knockout punch that sent him down to the mat. Every time that he has tried to get up, there has been another blow. Sometimes he has barely been up on his knees again before he is pummeled back down.
Yet, it is when we are down – more than ever – that we need something to grab onto, a handhold to clutch. It is the hope that carries us through every day of our lives. It’s why we get up in the morning, why we save, why we have children, why we dream and make plans, why we pray to God, why we love, why we….
Why we live our lives.
Papa has had precious little to grab onto. There hasn’t been much for him to pin his hopes on.
My cancer experience was very different. Most of my news after the shock of the initial pancreatic cancer diagnosis was very good. A successful surgery with clean margins, good responses to chemo and radiation, clean Cat scans, a still efficient digestive system – each a major blessing. Compared to many, it was very easy for me to maintain a positive and hopeful attitude.
My Papa barely ever had a chance. He is now home for hospice care. He is thankfully without major pain but wasting away before our eyes. As he keeps saying – it is unbelievable. Too many of you know this.
We appreciate all of your love, prayers and good thoughts. Grant him peace.

I have been thinking even more about James Taylor’s words (below). Please do.

“Shower the people you love with love
Show them the way that you feel
Things are gonna be much better
If we only will”