October 25, 2003

Remembering My Father, 1930 - 1999

Four years ago today, on my forty-third birthday, my father passed away.

His passing wasn’t unexpected. He’d had Alzheimers and Parkinsons, and had been slowly slipping from our grasp over the prior seven or eight years.

My mother, bless her, cared for him the whole time, refusing to send him to a nursing home, and giving him the best care she was capable of. She refused to take a break or vacation, in part I think because she was so overwhelmed by the whole thing. Overwhelmed by the doctors and the hospitals and the drugs and Medicare and the times when he didn’t know who she was.

It took three years to convince her that someone else could take over for even a little while, and so the year before he died I went home to take care of him for that little while.

The two weeks I spent with him are incredibly precious to me. He was there, and he wasn’t there. In the lucid moments I wanted to ask him what he thought about the non-lucid moments, and I knew I couldn’t because it might have hurt him. But it didn’t really matter what we talked about, because I got a chance to be with him in a way I hadn’t since I was a child; but now he was the child, and I was the grownup, and it was tender and hard and strange all at the same time.

We would walk up and down the street, and sometimes around the block. And one night I ordered pizza. And several nights old friends of his from college who lived nearby came over for dinner. But mostly we sat quietly, or watched tv, and I would run, and he would pretend to do his exercises, and I would look at him and wonder what had happened to my father. I wondered where he’d gone, and why it had to be so.

In the epilogue to Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance Pirsig explores this very question after the death of his son. What he finds is that through the birth of a daughter he is able to repair the hole in the fabric of his life that had been caused by Chris’ death. And while this new daughter is not the physical reincarnation of Chris, she is imbued with his spirit, and this makes it possible to stop wondering where Chris has gone to.

Not long after returning home from caring for my father, Rachel got pregnant. And just two and a half months after Nathaniel was born my father passed away. And in much the same way that Pirsig found Chris’ spirit in his new daughter, Rachel and I have found the spirits of our fathers, first in Nathaniel, and now in Sebastian. And through them we have been able to repair the holes left by our father’s deaths, and with them we have started to weave new patterns into the tapestry called our lives.

Before I leave, I’d like to share the eulogy I wrote for my father, with help from my siblings and our spouses, in front of the fire at Cayo’s house. You can find it in the extended portion of this entry.

Eulogy for Frank J. Leahy, Jr.
October 29, 1999, Osterville, Massachusetts

Welcome to this most glorious fall day here on Cape Cod. Thank you all for coming to help us celebrate the life of my father Frank Leahy.

I stood this morning on the beach at Cayo’s house and watched the waves lap softly against the sand. As I looked out across the bay I could see Dead Neck where my father spent some of the happiest moments of his life. I could see him sailing out to Dead Neck in his Cat Boat. I could see him tossing us off his shoulders into the water. And I could see him leaning back and letting out one of his great belly laughs as he enjoyed someone tell a funny story.

The night Dad died Jean, Chris and I met at my brother’s house. We laughed and we cried and we reminisced about a man who was happiest when surrounded by his family and friends. Jeannie remembered sitting on his knee at the dinner table, stirring his coffee and catching the sugar bubbles in his spoon. “Catch the money sweetheart” he’d always say. Chris remembered him at his hockey games shouting “Hey ref, what about that elbow ref,” his voice carrying far above the crowd. And I remembered him collecting me at the hospital in a police car after I had broken my arm at age 5, and his letting me flash the lights and turn on the siren.

Each of us sitting here today knows a slightly different Frank Leahy. His brother and sister Paul and Anne knew him growing up as a part of their family. His school chums Billy Glover, Gerry Curtis, Webby Durant and Alice Haley Kelly knew him in high school and then later at college. His and Mom’s college buddies, Tommie and Mickey, Mary Jane, Sara Lee, Gus and Jane, Clare, Ambi and Marilyn, Polly and Mike, all knew him at Harvard and remained good friends with him all the way through his life. And there were many others who knew him - at the Chicago Police Department, at the FBI, and at the Commission on the Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. All of these people, and all of these memories, that’s what makes up the Frank Leahy we know and love.

But my mother Louise probably knew him best. Married in a hurricane, they were together for 45 years. Dad began to decline some 8 years ago, and for the past 4 years my mother provided 24 hour care - a testament to her love and devotion. A year ago I offered to come home and spell her, and so I spent two weeks with Dad as Mom took her first vacation in over 3 years. It was an amazing lesson in patience and humility. And whilst it has been difficult for us all to see Dad fade away, in my conversations with him I came to feel that he wasn’t unhappy or distressed, but that he was merely somewhere close by, in another world that was just beyond my reach.

Frank Jr. was a kind and gentle man all through his life, right up and to the end. And he had many other qualities that we will remember him for. He was charming and gracious. He valued education. He valued work. But most of all I believe he valued family and friends. Rachel, Nathaniel and I were planning on coming to the Cape for Thanksgiving and I was so looking forward to having Dad meet my new son for the first time. But it wasn’t meant to be. Because on October 25, 1999, Dad died on my 43rd birthday. Exactly 43 years before, on October 25th 1956 he had begun a circle that included me, then Jeannie, then Chris, and now our families. He has now completed that circle, and all of us here are now free to include him in our circles, in the ways that we remember him best.

Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would ask now of Death.
And he said:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and see God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Posted by: Frank @ 10:31 pm — Filed under:

Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>



In an effort to control spam, please fill in the result of the equation below