Ashes to Ashes (A Progressive Wake)

Today is my 59th birthday. Happy Birthday to me. Last Saturday, I attended a funeral. It’s getting a little close to home.

The only way for me to deal with death is to laugh. I hate death. I hate sadness. I don’t like crying. I don’t like being in a room with lots of sad people. So, I want to prevent that at my funeral.

Now, some may say it’s unlikely there will be much sadness at my funeral, but I’m trying to be optimistic.

I don’t want a preacher with a couple of readings and a generic homily with my name stuck in a few places.

I don’t want a “Celebration of Life” since that just means “boring-ass funeral.”

So, I want my services to be fun (or at least different.)

One of the interesting (or bizarre) aspects of cremation is that the ashes don’t have to end up in only one container. More than one of the bereaved can receive a portion of the deceased as a memento (“souvenir” seemed crass.) For an extra fee, you can have ashes sealed in a locket, so you can match your relatives to your outfit.

This has been discussed twice now, coincidentally at two different Italian funerals. This is why so many Churches in Italy have so many pieces of so many Saints. Divide and conquer.

I am planning to be cremated when my time comes, and hopefully not before. Since I am not a small person, there may be an excess of ashes. So, this is my last request, which my wife predictably refuses to honor.

Wait for my wife to be acquitted of my murder on grounds of temporary (or permanent) insanity.

Cremate me. First, put some microwave popcorn in my pockets so I have a snack while crossing the River Styx, then cremate me.

Divide my ashes into ten urns. There aren’t ten people who care enough to want a piece of me – again, see the Italians: “You wanna piece of me?” – but they’re not for people, they’re for pubs. They’re the stops on my progressive wake. A progressive wake is a pub crawl to the Hereafter.

Mark the urns:

  1. Trinity Hall
  2. Dubliner
  3. The Ginger Man
  4. The Old Monk
  5. Adair’s Saloon
  6. Lakewood Landing
  7. Meddlesome Moth
  8. Hillside Tavern
  9. The Londoner
  10. Flying Saucer

Deliver each urn to the appropriate pub. (I didn’t choose any outside the Metroplex or on a cruise ship, so this should be doable on an afternoon.) The delivery person might want to wrap the urn in a box and address to me, with a good tip to the bartender and a promise that it will be picked up quickly. This would probably be more acceptable than to ask, “Can we leave a small jar of dead guy here for a few hours?”

Now, you (my mourners) are ready to hold the progressive wake.

At my memorial service, hand each of the five or six people that show up a map with all the pubs marked. You could also show them the map at the bottom of this discussion, or give them a link to this page.

Call an Uber or two for the participants (don’t drink and drive!)

  • Visit a listed pub.
  • Bonus points for calling “Bring out your dead!” as you enter.
  • Drink the suggested drink (see the map) – or whatever, it’s not like I’m there to judge. (Well, part of me is there, but I won’t judge.)
  • Tell an amusing story about me. After a few drinks, just make something up.
  • Collect the urn.
  • Tip the bartender.
  • Repeat.

Once all the pubs are visited and all the urns collected, return to the memorial service. Apologize to the hosts from the funeral home for the slight delay.

Record any eulogies that are given. If the participants followed the spirit(s) of the Progressive Wake, they may be good blackmail material or at least they will be funny.

Dump all the little urns into one big-ass urn. Have someone with allergies do this, so there will be some tears at the service, after all.

Bury me none on the lone prairie.

Progressive Wake

Murphy James Gilhooly, 2006-2019

Murphy James Gilhooly was my puppy for almost thirteen years. As much as Ripley was supposed to be my dog, Murphy was my dog. It is very difficult to say “goodbye.” However, today we had to do so.

fullsizeoutput_1d45

We met Murphy after an East Lake Pet Orphanage Advisory Board meeting in early 2006. He was at least a year old at that point, but we’ll never really know, since he was adopted. The rest of the board said there was a gorgeous Cocker we just had to meet.

This should have set off warning bells.

The rest of the board assumed we would love a Cocker since we already had one, and they knew we had adopted an additional dog already. Most of them were pet fanatics, so what’s the difference between two and three dogs?

So, we went down to the adoption area to meet Java. As the staff opened his crate, a brown blur rushed out, straight into a glass window, and bounced off.

Then, he did it again.

This should have set off warning bells.

What really happened is that I thought, “This dog is so stupid, he deserves to live with us.”

I didn’t like “Java” as a name, since Java was a computer programming language I fought with every day t work, but I liked having a name that reflected his coloring. (The staff picked “Java” to mean “coffee”.) My first thought was “Guinness”, but he wouldn’t pass as an Irish Setter, so I had to find another Irish Stout. Murphy’s Stout, founded by James Murphy. So, reverse the name, and Murphy James was ready to come home.

Virginia still blames me for the adoption since I had him named before we left for home. However, this is not true because I had to get home first to look up Murphy’s Stout.

Murphy and Katie doing laps
Doing laps with Katie

Murphy actually accumulated names over the years. I’m not sure how it started, but by the end, he was Murphy James Elliott Macintosh McIlhenny Molanaphy Gilhooly, Esq. Elliott is my sister-in-law’s cat (with a slightly different spelling.) Macintosh is what I am typing this on. McIlHenny is the maker of Tabasco, which Virginia requires for her eggs. Molanaphy was a classmate of mine in grade school. I think. However, Murphy was pretty sure his first name was “Dammit.”

Before the adoption could go through, we took Bubba over to meet his potential new brother and they got along fine, so we signed the paperwork and Java became Murphy. I’m still not sure Murphy ever knew Bubba was a different dog. I have a feeling he always thought Bubba was his reflection, just a different color and doing different things. Murphy was not a Rhodes scholar.

The Graduate

Maybe he was a Rhodes Scholar

However, as much as Murphy’s intellegence has been questioned over the years, he is the only one of all of our dogs to graduate from puppy training. I’m still not sure how he did it, but he actually graduated. (They didn’t let him keep the hat.) He has a diploma (somewhere) to prove it.

Murphy drove my sister-in-law Mary crazy one visit while she was Mom and pet-sitting because he always wanted to be touching her. Most dogs want to be in proximity, but Murphy perferred direct contact. (He would sit pressed up to me on the couch.)

We had phone calls in France about “the brown one won’t stop touching me!”

That said, Murphy was the only one of our dogs Mary said she would take if something happened to us. So. maybe “annoying” eventually became “a certain charm.”

We’re not sure where Murphy actually came from – we know he began his rescue life abandoned and tied to a tree with his sister at the SPCA. He had chronic eye issues, so he was thought to be unadoptable. Luckily, East Lake Pet Orphanage took him and nursed him into shape, and then he met us – a couple who already had a dog with chronic eye issues. We knew how to do eye drops. Well, Virginia did.

Murphy had eye issues. He had allergies. He had bad skin. He blew out one of his ACLs before I blew out mine, then he blew out another one. He was basically the poster child for why breeders are often considered evil and why pure-breds are not always better. He had every issue Cockers were known to have. He had more specialists than I do, but he enjoyed car rides, and he loved his vets, no matter what they did to him.

His biggest problem was his food allergies, since it meant we couldn’t put his pills in bread or hot dogs or Pill Pockets, like normal dogs. His hunting instinct was pretty much useless on anything other than medications hidden in his food, and finding cookies in his eye doctor’s lab coat pockets. By the end, Virginia was making grilled chicken, grinding it up, and putting his pills in chicken. Maybe he wasn’t that dumb.

Peanut Butter

Somebody get this peanut butter off my tongue!

He also could not easily be distracted. One of the vets said that when we had to give him a allergy shot, we should just distract him with a spoonful of peanut butter. A normal dog would start licking the peanut butter off the spoon, and never notice the shot. Murphy would ignore the peanut butter until he had been given the shot, and then lick it off.

The one time I had to take him to visit one of his specialists alone, we were lead to an exam room and he immediately pooped on the floor. A lot. So, I asked, “Uh, did you guys need a stool sample today?” The vet tech said, “No”, so I said, “Then we need some paper towels. And a mop. And a gas mask.”

Murphy wrote our family Christmas newsletter before Rocky took over. It was vastly more popular than the ones I wrote. Murphy got a thank-you note from my Aunt. Hand-written. In the mail. The next year, Murphy wrote about how my sister-in-law was “cheap with the treats” and started a firestorm with my in-laws. Virginia had to remind them Murphy didn’t actually write the newsletter.

Murphy was a good dog, but they’re all good dogs. I’ve had some hesitations about adding dogs to our household with almost all of our dogs. My only hesitation with Murphy was I wasn’t going to call him “Java.”

Cocker Guards
Murphy and Bubba, guarding the yard

He was the happiest dog I have ever known.

Godspeed, Murph. We’ll see you on the other side. I hope Heaven doesn’t have a glass door.

around-the-far-curve_453034438_o

Funeral Rites (for a Rat)

Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here today,
to remember our brother rat.

He died as he lived his life,
On the patio, and in the yard.

Place rat gently in the pooper scooper.

Please forgive his brother Chihuahua,
Who really just wanted a new fuzzy toy.

As we process to his resting place,
We commit him to his Creator.

Oh, Lord, bless this rat.
Unto You, we commit his soul.

Dump gently over the fence.

Amen.

Notes: Yes, the Chihuahua did it again. I admit “brother” rat is an assumption because I really didn’t want to be examining a dead rat’s genitalia on a darkened patio. You have to say “resting place” and not “final resting place” because while the Chihuahua is inside the fence, there are other critters on the outside. Rest In Peace.

The Essence of Ripley

Two more memories of Ripley, both involving sleep.

When our first dog, Bubba, came home, he seemed to have some behavior issues. These culminated in his marking my side of the bed (ick!) His trainer said he was trying to assert dominance, and the procedure to stop it was easy: you tied him on a short lead to the bedpost, so he could sleep near us, but not on the bed with us. After a couple of days, Virginia caved and removed the lead – but Bubba slept on the bed, and no more dominance issues. He learned his lesson.

With Ripley, we decided prevention was better than cure. We tied him to the bed with a short lead, and went to sleep. In the morning, he was sleeping on the bed. On a very short lead. The rest of the lead was still attached to the bedpost. It was in his way, so he had just chewed through it, so he could sleep where he wanted. He learned a slightly different lesson than Bubba had. Advantage, Ripley.

Virginia and Ripley had an ongoing battle on sleeping by the side of the bed. They each wanted to sleep on the outside, nearest the side of the bed. (Ripley’s sister Katie sleeps next to me on the side of the bed now, but if she wants to sleep next to the side of the bed, I don’t care. It keeps me further away from the monsters.)

Virginia asserted her dominance and put Ripley between us, so she could have the outside lane. Once she was asleep, Ripley jumped out of bed, went over to her side, and started scratching on the bed. Virginia moved over. Ripley jumped up and slept where he wanted. Advantage, Ripley.

Ripley J Gilhooly (1998-2016)

Ripley J Gilhooly crossed the bridge on August 16, 2016. My wife Virginia and I adopted him in 2001 from Richardson Humane Society, so he had been in our family for fifteen years. He had been with us almost from the beginning. Bubba, our first dog, was a wedding gift, and Ripley was Bubba’s dog. (Ripley was in charge, but he let Bubba think he was.)

Bubba once had a playmate because my Mother-in-law visited for the winter and she had a Shih-Tzu named Flower. When Flower went home to Jersey, Bubba was lonely. So, Virginia decided Bubba needed a dog.

IMG_2117Sometime in the Spring of 2001, Virginia dragged me to a Richardson Humane Society garage sale fund raising event. It was a Saturday morning before dawn, I hadn’t had much coffee, and I was desperately trying to avoid any manual labor. I think she may have literally dragged me.

We passed a couple of puppies in a baby crib. (I’m a Grandpa now, so I know it was probably a Pack’n’Play.) I looked in, looked at Virginia, and said, “Hey! My dog is over there!”

That’s how I met Ripley.

Virginia had said Bubba needed a pet, but I think she had a short list of breeds in mind, including Shih-Tzus, and “stumpy mutt” was not on that list. So, Ripley was not her first choice. He may not have been in the Top Twenty.

So, let’s review our first impressions.

  • Me: “Hey! My dog is over there!”
  • Virginia: “That is the ugliest dog I have ever seen.”

Her sister and niece also thought he was ugly. Apparently, Ripley was tearing up a blanket in the crib, but I had not noticed. All the women did. Apparently, this was a warning sign. I ignored any warning signs.

He was my dog, that was all I knew.

I still don’t know how I knew he was my dog. I have met a lot of dogs since. We have three others in the house now (Murphy, Katie and Rocky). We’ve lost four in the time we’ve been married (Bubba, Sparky, Max and Flower.) So, I am quite familiar with dogs. When Murphy ran into a glass wall – twice – in five minutes, I said, “He’s dumb enough to live with us.” We inherited Flower. When I saw the look Virginia gave Rocky after she rescued him, I said, “He’s not going anywhere.”

Ripley was just my dog from the moment I saw him.

Ripley, of course, thought he was Virginia’s dog. I’m not sure if this was a neurotic need to win over the one who voted against him, or if he liked a challenge, or if he just figured out rather quickly where the food came from.

Somehow, the ugly dog became her dog, and then he wasn’t ugly any more. (He was my dog very briefly, when somebody had to bathe him after he managed to dig up the garden an hour before both families arrived for Christmas dinner, but there was little doubt the rest of the time.)

We always assumed he was not loved very much in his original home, especially after we found out he and his sister had been dumped at the shelter, but the family came back the next day, and picked up his sister. They abandoned him twice in two days.

He had spent time at a number of foster homes with Richardson Humane Society – when we took him to a reunion one year, everyone seemed to know him. I never understood why nobody else had adopted him, because everybody loved him. I think he really was supposed to be my dog. Well, Virginia’s dog. Our dog.

Food was Ripley’s passion. When Ripley moved in to our house, he discovered we were free-feeding Bubba. Bubba was very good at self-regulating, he would eat until he was satisfied, and then he would go play or sleep or annoy one of us until we played with him. Ripley parked himself in front of the food bowl and ate. The bowl was magically refilled by his new favorite parent. He ate some more. It was filled again.

Eventually, I found him, lying next to the food bowl, just flicking his tongue in and out to eat without having to stand up.

The vet weighed him at his first checkup. He was no longer underweight. In fact, she uttered whatever the veterinary term is for “Holy crap!”

We stopped free feeding.

Ripley would eat, and then go help Bubba finish his food. 

We started feeding them in their crates, which we still do today.

It took a long time to figure out what breed Ripley really was, because the shelters tend to just put down whatever pops in their heads, and rescues will label a dog whatever they think is an adoptable breed, and it’s not like anybody has medical records for them.

Ripley was a “terrier mix” for a long time until somebody finally said he looked like a PBGV (which is Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, a French breed that nobody had ever head of.   PBGV sounds very sexy (the full name sounds sexier, but only with a French accent.) Translated, it’s a Small (Petit) Low To The Ground (Basset) Wire-Hared (Griffon) from Vendeen. Everything sounds better in French.

Ripley was small. He was low to the ground. He had wired hair. We’re pretty sure he was a native Texan, though – he would always bark at cows or horses on the TV.

After we met Ripley at the RHS event, we found his foster Mom, arranged a playdate with Bubba, and after they seemed to get along, we decided we would take over fostering him. We did the paperwork to be a foster, but nobody believed it. We were foster failures. He never left.

Until today.

We’ll never know how old Ripley was, since he was rescued. People figured he was born in October 1998 or so, so he was probably at least 17 years old. We know he left us on August 16, 2016.

After he passed 10 and had survived three back surgeries, I had actually thought he was immortal. That’s not exactly true – after he had torn the skirting off the couch, chewed the bottom of a $3000 dining table and dug up the garden an hour before family and in-laws arrived for Christmas dinner – all within his first year with us – and survived all of that, I thought he was invincible.

If I ever got caught doing something that really annoyed my wife, I was planning to just say, “Ripley said it was OK.”

Ripley was not very good at training. Someone who is married to me thought he was stupid, but later realized that he’s just stubborn.

Bubba flew through training, so we took Ripley along one week. Ripley appeared to struggle. The instructor had a firm policy to never say “No!” to a dog – you would redirect from bad behavior to good.

As far as I recall, this is his first and final training lesson:

  • Trainer: “Sit, Ripley!”
  • Ripley rolled over.
  • Trainer: “Let’s try again. Sit, Ripley!”
  • Ripley rolled over.
  • Trainer: “Once more. Sit, Ripley!”
  • Ripley rolled over.
  • Trainer: “NO! NO! NO! NO!”

I have never been more proud of one of my dogs. I managed to not laugh until we were in the car, but I still giggle today when I think about it.

Here are the commands Ripley eventually mastered:

  • Do you want to go outside?
  • Let’s eat dinner
  • Let’s go take a nap
  • Let’s go get a cookie
  • Go in your crate (this required cookie bribes)

(He would sit occasionally. If I saw him about to sit, I would say, “Sit” just to take credit. He never really learned to roll over, so he just knew how to push a trainer’s buttons.)

Ripley would jump over our baby gates (used to keep dogs out of specific rooms, like the room with the skirt-less couch and chewed table) because we never told him he was not supposed to jump the gates. We have a video of him jumping the gate, wearing a SuperDog cape. We were stupid dog parents early on. Eventually, this lead to his back trouble.

Ripley had one of the most expensive backs ever.

Ripley ruptured his back at the start of Memorial Day weekend 2005, just before we were supposed to leave on a trip up North for my niece’s wedding. Nobody actually cared if I was there, but my Mom-in-law was coming in my car, as she wouldn’t fly. So, I had to go.

That was the weekend that we learned Ripley understood math, since his emergency surgery cost almost exactly the same amount as what we had saved for the trip. To those who thought we should just “put him down and get another dog”, I will say this: We did what we thought was required as good pet owners, we got ten more years to spend with Ripley, and I got out of a wedding. I think we made the right choice.

Ripley had another rupture and one more round of surgery a year later, but after that, his neurosurgeon must have paid off her yacht, because she suggested that we go to OSU and have disk ablation surgery. This procedure prevents further ruptures. (Wait. There’s a cheaper procedure that prevents doing that other procedure you’ve done twice?)

So, we spent a romantic weekend in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Of course, on the way to the pre-op exam, Ripley stopped short in the parking lot, and Virginia tore her Achilles, trying not to step on him. So, now I had two creatures limping. (I did ask if we could put my wife down, but the vet said “No.”)

Ripley was a very good learning experience for the student doctors. One held him gently while they were inserting an IV because “he was so friendly.” She learned quickly that if you poke a dog with a sharp object on one end, the other end is likely to bite whomever is holding him gently.

The vet leading the team said, “Well, she won’t do that again.” Ripley was a teacher.

Ripley was quarantined as a bite rísk while he was recovering from surgery. I don’t think anyone really believed he was a bite risk, but rules are rules. I had never had a dog in quarantine before. It made him sound tough. Ripley ended up in quarantine and on crate rest at the same time, so he slept twice as much.

He got much mileage out of his bad back, since he was the only dog in the house that could trip someone, and instead of getting yelled at, he would get petted to see if he was OK. I’m pretty sure he knew this and milked it.

Here’s another lesson we learned: Short dogs can’t get your attention easily, especially if they don’t bark much. The fastest way is to poke you in the legs, or nip at your ankles. So, Ripley did both. Actually, he only nipped my wife, but she’s slower than I am (probably from the ankle injury.) He would poke me.

One day, I was standing in the kitchen, and I felt a poke. I moved over a bit. Another poke. What was wrong with this idiot dog? I moved over. Poke. Move. Poke. Move. Then, my wife said, “You realize that now you are standing by the cookie jar. You’ve been herded.”

I gave Ripley a cookie.

He only did that a couple of times before I learned.

After that, I would just go stand by the cookie jar to begin with, mainly because Ripley taught Katie to poke me, too.

Ripley did learn one useful trick after his surgeries, so he was trainable, after all – we put ramps by the couches and bed, and he (mostly) stopped jumping on and off the furniture, and used the ramps instead. I do think it helped that they took less energy to use. Nonetheless, the one other command he (mostly) learned was “Ripley! Use your ramp!”, which was generally yelled from across the room as someone saw him heading over the side of the couch.

The ramps will stay, even though he’s gone, because all the dogs have learned to use them.

Ripley was a world-class napper. I was always afraid all of the energy he was storing up would come out at once, and we’d have a supernova. Unfortunately, it never happened. He just left us quietly.

You never miss a dog right away, especially if there are other dogs in the house. However, over time, you realize that all dogs are equally adorable and annoying – but in their own unique ways.

There will never be another Ripley.

He was my dog.

I miss him.

 

 

A Eulogy, Of Sorts

My brother-in-law Jack passed away just over a week ago. His services were this week, so it has been a little bit insane around here.

We’ve had enough deaths in the family and extended family over the past few years where the rituals all seem very familiar, but not any less painful. Call the funeral home, schedule the Mass, pick the readings, set up the website, etc. It’s the business of death, and you’re on a timer. It’s ugly, and you don’t get a lot of time to reflect.

Jack was the one person in my collection of in-laws that I should have been closer to – and I don’t really know why I wasn’t. He lived only twenty or so miles away, he was an IT manager (like me – but his role was much more important), he was middle-aged (like me), he was married to a Pesce (like me.) The list goes on and on. I guess I didn’t make enough of an effort. Plus, he was always busy, helping someone somewhere – either at work or Church.

Something that occurred to me after he was buried this week – When my Mom-in-law passed away, I thought, “No more pain.” When my Dad passed away, I thought “No more arguments.” When Jack passed away, I thought “That should have been me.”

Not “could“, but “should.”

I’m not sure why I thought I should be dead instead of Jack. Possibly because I had a Doppler test that showed my carotid arteries were blocked 20 – 30% the day before he collapsed at work. I was told that nothing was done until you hit 70% or so. My doctor changed my blood pressure medication, and that was it.

So, I may have bad arteries, but not bad enough to fix.

Jack had a bad heart. The physical one. It was functioning at 45% at his last test, but his doctor didn’t think he needed a pacemaker. So, he had a bad heart, but not bad enough to fix.

I am a bit concerned about doctors and their advice now.

While Jack had a bad physical heart, his spiritual heart was larger than almost anyone I know.  He had at least three families – his biological one with his wife, daughters and relatives; his spiritual one, as he was a Deacon at his Church; and his business one, since he was a manager at Verizon.

All of his families came to pay their respects. In force.

It was selfish, I suppose, that one of my thoughts the day after he passed away was, “Please, Lord, don’t make me do another eulogy.” Luckily for me, there were plenty of people who had spent more time with him that stepped up to the challenge, from all of his families.

Not that I wouldn’t have done one. I would have talked about arena football and baseball and statistics and cruises and Mojitos, which were not covered at length by those who knew him from Church or work.

There are times you realize you are close to someone from a familial sense, but not close at all in another. Jack managed a test lab at Verizon – his team validated equipment before it was placed into service in the Verizon network. I finally found out what he did after he passed away. I started my career in telecom almost thirty years ago, helping run a small long distance company’s computer center. We had that in common, and we never talked about it, because I never found out about it.

If you don’t know what your relatives do, go find out. You may be surprised.

Jack and I had baseball in common, but you just don’t talk much during baseball games – and I’m not sure I ever heard him curse, and if a game was playing somewhere, it was probably also on the TV at Jack’s house.

My wife and I had season tickets to the Grand Prairie AirHogs for years, and we never got him to a game. I feel guilty and disappointed at the same time about that.

I will always be grateful to Jack that my wife knows as much about sports as she does, and it’s because he taught her by taking her to games while she was growing up. I have to explain very little to her, which has saved me a lot of time and stress.

I could have asked him how to survive an Italian-American wife, because if he could have explained that, it would have been one of the miracles he needs for Sainthood.

When I got promoted to manager at IBM last year, Jack was the one person around me that had a similar title and experiences – and he had been doing it for years.

Jack had a team that loved him (which was demonstrated at the vigil and funeral.) Jack was my best possible source of information and advice on how to survive Corporate America as a newly-minted manager – especially since all of the managers who worked with me were busy rearranging deck chairs during our latest reorganization.

I let that opportunity just pass me by. It just never occurred to me to ask Jack to go have a cup of coffee (or three) and have him explain how the world of management works.

I am really disappointed in myself for that.

So, now I can just hope Jack will watch me and guide me from above. I think a manager’s greatest accomplishment is to be genuinely missed by his team. Death is the most sudden way to leave the corporation, but I think every manager should aspire to having his team think, “What are we going to do now?” and not just “Who do we get stuck with next?” whenever he moves on to the next challenge, either here or in the next world.

Jack’s team is wondering what they are going to do now.

I’m wondering what I’m going to do now.

I miss you, Jack. Thanks for all the times you were there. The times you weren’t are on me.

A year ago

One year ago today, my Dad passed away. His was one in a series of deaths that happened in rapid succession, so when I went back to look at my blog post about it, I realized I never wrote one. I think I set up his memorial website (http://www.johnvgilhooly.com) and linked it on Facebook, and that was about it for social media. It’s interesting living in an age where I have dead friends on Facebook.

We had just lost my wife’s Aunt in December, and I had created a website, helped write her remembrance, help choose readings for the service, and was just back from the service when Dad died. So, in a way, the death checklist cycle just started over, and I never really thought much about it – I just went through the motions again. A death can be surreal, especially when they happen close together. (From December 2013 to February 2014, we lost my wife’s Aunt, my wife’s cousin (a beneficiary in her Aunt’s will), one of our friends from baseball, and my Dad. So much for deaths in threes.) 

I lost a Dad and gained a Mom, since I’ve now spent more time with my Mom in the past year that I had since I left for college. My parents were a true partnership, and duties were divided, which meant when one partner left, the other may or may not have any idea about how some parts of life’s enterprise operated. Luckily, my Dad was an attorney and everything was pretty well documented. He even wrote his own obituary. This was someone who pays attention to the details.

So, a year later, I’m re-reading my eulogy, and I’m trying to remember the day.

I do know that I had been in St Thomas Aquinas Church hundreds of times – I had even served Mass there for years, but that day was the first time I was ever in the pulpit. I remember my brother and I were both frantically trying to find the lectern – he’d never been in the pulpit, either. So, I spoke from the pulpit. How we were spared fire from the heavens raining down is still a mystery to me. 

I tend to find something to obsess about during times of extreme stress, since if I have something to concentrate on, I won’t freak out about whatever is really happening. It’s the mental version of biting your lip to keep from laughing or crying. Distraction. I was actually obsessing about trying to remember which of my friends from work I had seen before the service, so I could thank them later, and I was obsessing about having addressed Abbot Peter Verhalen from Cistercian as “Fr Peter” when he is actually “Fr Abbot”, but I think he forgave me. It helps that I knew him before he was even “Father”, since he graduated right after I started there.

I’m not sure why I remember all that.

Here’s what I said that day – although I’ve been told that reading it was not as funny as seeing me deliver it. I don’t really like saying “deliver it” because it makes a eulogy sound like a sketch, which it should not be, unless I’m delivering it. Then, all bets are off. However, the best (and easiest) laughs are produced at times of crisis or sorrow, because nothing is funnier than when it is inappropriate to laugh. I really hoped people would laugh. I hate crying. I also thought echos of laughter in an acoustically sound Church would sound really cool. They did.

I said:

Reverend Fathers and Deacons, family and friends,

For those who don’t recognize me, I’m Kevin John Gilhooly. My Dad didn’t want a “Junior”, so I have his name as my middle name. I realized this morning, that had I been a Junior, people would now be saying, “Look, it’s Littlejohn”, so, my Dad was a wise man. For those who thought I was Stephen, he’s my younger brother. He’s next.

My memories of my Dad are very distinct moments in time, rather than a wash of almost 53 years, which is how long we knew each other.

My Dad was a first-generation American. My Grandpa Gilhooly emigrated from County Leitrim, Ireland early in the 1900s, and settled in Providence, RI. So, since this is about someone of Irish descent (and technically an Irish citizen), it starts with a drinking story and it ends with a drinking story.

This is the story of my first official drink. I was already 18 and I was working in a liquor store, so it was not my actual first drink, but this was the first one Dad bought me.

Dad had invited me to lunch, which was a bit unusual. We went downtown, which was a bit unusual. Since we were downtown, and the restaurant he chose was next door to St Jude Chapel, he suggested I go to Confession since we were “in the area”. I’ve always wondered if tricking someone into going to Confession was a sin. Probably not.

We went into the restaraunt and he ordered a bourbon and Coke. Dad asked me if I would like a drink. I said, “I’ll have a Jamesons and water.” He hadn’t realized that people that work at liquor stores get discounts, and that causes rather expensive taste. I think he was secretly impressed. It was a very good drink.

Now, some random moments.

My Dad and I did one “traditional” father-son activity together. The YMCA had a program called “Indian Guides”, a father-son activity. I was most excited since we got to choose Indian names for ourselves. After much consideration, I chose “Running Deer”. When the leader asked my Dad for his Indian name at the meeting that night, he just looked tired, and said “Walking Deer”. At least we sounded related. It was either about a six-week summer program, or that was how long Dad needed to discover he was not Native American. (Surprisingly, my brother Stephen was never an Indian Guide.)

There are many occasions where at the time, it seemed we didn’t understand each other at all, which is probably common with parents and children. These are the moments life lessons are passed down. Sometimes.

Two life lessons about food.

When Stephen and I were growing up, we usually attended 9:15am Mass on Sunday. As a special treat, some weeks, we would go to Kip’s Big Boy after Mass. On one of those visits, I was told I couldn’t have my original order because it was too expensive. So, I changed my order. (This was all before the waitress arrived, since orders were generally pre-approved.) Then, Dad ordered himself ten Silver Dollar pancakes. I was incensed. Ten dollars worth of pancakes after denying my reasonable request for extra bacon? (Or whatever it was.) Then, our breakfasts arrived. My Dad was paying a dollar each for some of the smallest pancakes I had ever seen! I finally had to ask why they were a dollar each. Dad had to explain they were the size of silver dollars. I had never seen a silver dollar. So, life lesson: never assume your parents are insane until you do the research.

Another morning, Dad made English muffins and asked how many I would like. I said four. Moments later, he arrived with a really large pile of hot breakfast treats. More than I had ever seen. I wasn’t sure I could finish that much. So, I asked, “Why are there so many English muffins?” He said, “You asked for four.” He counted muffins pre-slicing. I never realized I had been eating half muffins. Important lessons a parent can teach.

Life lessons about music.

In 1974, Joe Cocker had a hit song called “You Are So Beautiful”. There are not many more lyrics in the song than those in the title. Basically, “You are so beautiful to me. Can’t you see? You are so beautiful to me.” For a 14-year old who had been writing poetry in English class for homework, it was a moment of clarity – pure emotion in a minimum of words. For a 44-year old corporate attorney in the middle of a seven-hour drive to visit his in-laws, it was not. He said, “You think they would have bought a few extra lyrics.” To each his own, I suppose.

My first concert was the second Texxas Jam in 1978 at the Cotton Bowl. It was an all-day show, with multiple bands. My Dad was my date. Actually, he invited himself so I wouldn’t be maimed or murdered. I had never smoked pot, but I did recognize it when the guy next to my Dad tried to pass him a joint. (He declined). In fact, later on, Dad mentioned in a rather loud voice that he really didn’t like the smell of marijuana. We had more room around us after that, since I’m pretty sure everyone thought he was a narc.

The only band Dad liked was The Little River Band, and that’s because they closed with “Return To Sender”, a song older than I.

Fleetwood Mac closed the show. As Stevie Nicks sang, “Rihannon”, Dad leaned over and said, “What is she saying?” I was in the middle of a “You Are So Beautiful”-poetry moment, but I managed to answer, “Rihannon. She’s a Welsh witch.” That was the last time I got the “You kids these days” look. I suppose the lesson is that some music does not cross generations.

Some life lessons about business.

My Dad was part of the Bob O’Links Homeowners Association. In fact, he was the President for a time. That was the group that successfully fought to keep Bob O’Links Golf Course zoned for single-family homes while the owners were trying to get the City Council to change it to allow apartments. So, if traffic is a bit heavy on Abrams at times, think what it would be like if the area from Abrams to Wendover and Bob O’Links to Sondra were all filled with apartments. Thanks, Dad. Fight the good fight, because sometimes, you win.

I worked at TI for a couple of years after I moved back to Dallas after college. My Dad actually helped get me in the door. I was on a small team that produced ad hoc reports for people – in the days before PCs, only the IT staff could access information easily.

I had a report requested for someone in the legal department, and had done a number of iterations, but I couldn’t get what they wanted. I finally asked who the report was for. In a hushed voice, I was told “John Gilhooly.” So, I went over to my Dad’s office and asked what he was trying to prove. A couple of hours later, he had his numbers. So, find out who is in charge, and ask them. That was actually a real life lesson. Also, you may never know how important your Dad is until you see the level of fear in his people’s eyes as a deadline approaches.

I will close, as promised, with a drinking story. This one happened last Monday night, the day before Dad passed away. My wife Virginia and I went to visit him while my Mom was teaching her grief counseling class. Technically, we were Dad-sitting. He was asleep when we arrived. Since he was on pain killers, I thought he might sleep the entire time we were there.

Mom showed us where everything was (which was in the same place since 1972 when they bought the house.) She said he could have orange juice to drink if he wanted something. She wasn’t sure he would want food.

A few minutes after she left, I heard Dad calling me. He was awake and wanted to get out of bed. I helped him into his wheelchair, and brought him into the living room, so he could be with us.

I asked if he wanted something to drink and he said, “Yes. A Bourbon and Sprite, but only half a jigger of Bourbon.”

I thought for a moment. On one hand, here was a cancer patient on hydrocodone asking for alcohol. On the other hand, it was only half a jigger, and he’s Irish. Plus, he had a twinkle in his eye that meant “I know I’m being bad”. So, I made him a drink.

He said he was hungry. My (Italian-American) wife Virginia made him some dinner. She also gave him a piece of cake she had brought over.

So, the last thing I did for my Dad was fix him a drink, and the last thing Virginia did was feed him. Somehow, that seems appropriate. I am very thankful for that evening.

Goodbye, Dad. See you on the other side. I’ll have a Jamesons and water.

Thank you all for being here with us.

Short and sweet.

It’s interesting to read that piece again today, because the first time I re-read it, I realized that almost everything in the eulogy happened before I was eighteen or the day before Dad died. There was a long period of time where we were at odds with each other, over any number of issues. However, as the elder son, it was my job to fight all the battles, so my younger brother would know which battles to fight and which to pass.

I remember that almost being”Littlejohn” actually occurred to me as I was walking up to the pulpit, so I wasn’t exactly focused before I got started. The question about tricking someone to go to Confession is much, much funnier if there is a line of priests and deacons on the other side of the Sacristy that you can pause and look at, inquiringly. That’s when everybody laughed.

I don’t think I really cried until the piper started playing at the cemetery. I never knew my Dad wanted a piper at his funeral. In fact, obsessing about why an Irishman wanted a Scottish player at his funeral almost kept me from crying, but some songs make me cry.

It all seems like a long time ago, now. In a way, it was.

When you’ve been estranged from someone for a number of years, losing him is actually very awkward. Everyone expects that you had the same relationship with him that they did, but nobody else was his eldest son. It’s different.

My wife still thinks “I should call Mom” constantly and her Mom’s been gone for over five years – but they were very close. She thought about calling her Aunt for advice on doing her Aunt’s estate. My family does not have this type of closeness, for good or bad.

I haven’t thought “I should call Dad” very much in the past year, since I wasn’t thinking that when he was still there to call. We had managed to get from “estranged” to “distant” or “formally cordial” by the time he passed, so we were making progress. We just weren’t there yet. I guess we’ll finish on the other side.

He was still my Dad, estrangement, arguments and all. He’s still gone. That still sucks.