My father died on Valentine’s Day 2006. He was 61. I delivered the eulogy at his funeral. I think some people were nervous about what I was going to say. Like any family, we had our ups and downs. I looked at the eulogy as an opportunity to pay my respects. But I also took it as an opportunity to set a new standard for myself, to live a better life to than I had before in order to honor his memory and wrest some meaning out of it. For that reason, I like to re-read the eulogy occasionally and remind myself that I need to live my life as fully as I can. Here it is:
I am Shamus, son of Robert.
At my father’s wake last night I shook many hands and saw many faces. Many of them were strangers, but all of them had nice memories of my father.
There must have been at least 50 or 60 people from the 99. As you know, that was one of my father’s favorite places to be. But after the wake last night some of us went to the 99 on Route 140. They were really busy. And they couldn’t seat us. So we had to go to Friendly’s. The service was terrible, but I was satisfied. So, thanks a lot!
As many of you know, until yesterday, I was a reporter for the Patriot Ledger. I start my new job at the end of this month.
The very last story I had a part in writing for the Ledger was my father’s obituary. It was a struggle for me, because I wanted to make him look good. I wanted his life to seem important. I wanted people to read the paper and say, Robert McGillicuddy was a great man.
But all I could remember are the little things.
He was the one who taught me how to play baseball and soccer. He coached almost every team I played on. Growing up, I would wake up every Sunday morning to donie day, the day when he would go out and buy donuts for the whole family before we woke up. When I was a teenager, he drove me to work every morning when I worked the breakfast shift at Burger King. When one of my cats died on my lap as we rushed it to the vet, my dad was the one who cried because I couldn’t. When I started looking for a new job recently, he took me out and bought me this suit.
These are the things I remember today about him. There are other good memories, but they follow the same theme.
But what could I say about him in an obituary? He wasn’t rich. He wasn’t famous. He never saved the world from anything.
He was just a man. Just a father. A brother. A son.
And by the way, Grammy, I spoke to my dad last night. Even though he’s gone now, he still wants to be in your will. And he wants more money than Uncle Brian.
Yes, my father was just a man. But he was a very good man. Loyal, caring, jovial. A good sense of humor, only partly marred by a tendency to tell corny or off-color jokes that you can’t tell in church.
I think these last few years he was happier than I had ever known him to be. In a way, that makes his passing easier for me. He had a great relationship with his children and his family. He had a woman in his life that made him very happy. He was seeing professional success. He had so many friends. He was enjoying life. He seemed hopeful whenever I talked to him.
And the night he died, he was probably at his very best.
It took him a little while to realize it fully, but after he had a heart attack 14 years ago, I think he knew that every day he had after that was a gift. I think he lived his life these last several years with that in mind.
And although his mark on this world might seem modest to some, I don’t think so.
The fact is, when all is said and done, my father will be remembered for what he left behind: All of us. Me, my sisters, his friends and family. All the people who are here today. It’s up to us to decide his legacy. Me and my sisters especially.
Losing him makes me want to be the best man that I can be. Because I know I made him proud in life. He always told me and everyone he knew. And I want to continue to make him proud. I’m not a very religious man, but I know he’ll be watching.
On Wednesday morning, some of us went to his apartment by the beach in Scituate to pack up some things. I dreaded going. I didn’t want to feel the presence of his death. But it felt good to go through his things. Some of what I found made me laugh. And some of what I found made me cry.
As I put one last box into the car and got ready to leave, I looked up at his apartment and saw a seagull sitting on the roof directly over it. It was staring at me.
It was standing right above the spot my dad would have been standing if he were waving goodbye through his sliding glass door.
As I looked at that seagull, I suddenly felt my father’s presence so very strongly. I don’t know if things work like this, but I thought my dad was seeing me through the eyes of that seagull.
Maybe he was watching. Maybe he saw me taking care of things, like he would if he were in my position. And maybe what he saw made him proud on last time.