Remembering Pop

On Living through Loss

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Forgive me reader, for I have been delinquent.

As it often does, a brief birthday respite metastasized into a creatively cancerous, all-too-lengthy lapse. As such, I present you with an apology and not one, but two points of gratitude:

  • I apologize if I have let you down. In fact, I likely will again. I find that honesty trumps nebulous moralizing and promises made with no intention of being kept.

  • Thank you for reading. Your reading keeps me writing, thinking, and learning. Collectively, you serve (wittingly or not) as metaphorical Sword of Damocles precariously perched over my head. You keep this hunched writer hunching, typing, and publishing.

  • Thank you for writing. Replies from kind readers like you are unexpected treats — sweet cherries atop my labor of love. Their authenticity and spontaneity make them all the more meaningful.

Above: Brotherly love atop a foundation of love.

Today marks the anniversary of my grandfather’s death.

Pop—as all the cousins affectionately called him—was a man larger than life.

He was many things to many people: a father, a son, a brother, a grandfather, a veteran, an attorney, a mentor, a confidant, a parishioner, a gentleman, a scholar, a joker, a student, a Catholic, and more.

To me, he was—and is—the man I hope to one day become.

If, as is said, you are what you put into the world, Pop was selfless love and brilliant light.

Seldom does a day go by where I don’t imagine watching a Yankee game with him, discussing a book we were simultaneously reading, asking him for much needed advice, or simply sitting quietly in his kind, calm, gentle presence.

I had the honor and privilege of delivering the eulogy at his funeral mass many years ago. I fondly recall writing it alongside my mom and brother around the dark marble of our kitchen island, pencils scratching against page after page of snow white, 8.5 x 11 inch printer paper. Composed in the wee hours of the morning, it was a rhythmic cadence of scribbling, erasing, crumpling, and repeating until far too many sheets of paper were made soggy by our tears.

Over time, these tears of grief turned to ones of joy; sadness became solace as we celebrated a life well lived, a man well loved. Indeed, God is good and so too was Pop.

Before too many tears wet this keyboard, I share the eulogy I delivered the morning of April 9th.

Pop’s Eulogy

As Pop lie in his hospital bed steadfastly, earnestly awaiting his Lord and Savior, I asked him how he was. He replied “Everything is good.”

I found this profound. 

A man battling Death itself found the beauty, grace, and inherent goodness in everything God made up to his final hour. Although tied to tubes, IVs and monitors, his faith served to liberate him.

Our grandfather shared his faith as though playing a trumpet. His actions, words and wisdom served as the notes that made up the beautiful symphony that was his life. The blare of our grandfather’s trumpet is clear and certain.

His trumpet is his dialogue, unwavering and unambiguous.

His trumpet is his conduct, exemplary and steadfast.

His trumpet is his love, sincere and unfaltering.

We have heard his message, we have viewed his actions, and we have been forever moved. It is our grandfather who quoted Saint Francis of Assisi, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach, unless our walking is our preaching.”

Pop was a man who loved words, and among his favorite were those in the final stanza of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And – which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

Yes, Pop was quite the man. In fact, more than once he took credit for writing this very poem. Pop entertained us with tall tales, as a self-proclaimed Olympian, a much-lauded singer, a US President, and one who received urgent phone calls from Joe Girardi when he contemplated calling Mariano Rivera from the bullpen.

One story in particular stands out. After the death of his beloved bride, Anne, Pop—then a young 86 years—did what any logical man his age would: he decided it was time to purchase a new car. Rounding up a grandson to drive him to the Lexus dealership, Pop browsed a bit, found a jet-black sedan that he fancied, and decided to purchase it right then and there. There was only one flaw in Pop’s grand plan—he had no driver’s license.

So, when the salesman requested his license, Pop produced a license that expired several years earlier. After much confusion on the part of the salesman, Pop gave one of his classic grins and exclaimed “Oh! I must have left my new license at home.” Using his charm, his million-dollar smile, and his clever instincts, unlicensed, Pop drove home that day in his new car.

As in the anecdote, Pop was literally and figuratively a man without license. Always moving with great speed and alacrity he went where others dared not venture. He did what others never dreamed of doing.

He was a man of character, a man of conviction, a man of action, a man of faith, of hope, and of love.

A man who moved some to tears because of his kindness, and a man who made others cry with his antics and banter.

A man who traveled to Notre Dame, Indiana, to attend Annie and Dan’s wedding.

A man who never dreamed of missing St. Patrick’s Day in Manhattan.

A man who championed our Holy Thursday walks.

A man who liked his Wild Turkeys strong and his company even stronger.

A man who anchored a family throughout every maelstrom life dealt, including the death of his daughter Julia.

A man who greeted his wife with a joyful “How is my beautiful bride?” throughout Nana’s battle with Parkinson’s disease.

A man who wore the brightest suits on the darkest days.

A man who loved his Bronx Bombers.

A man whose positivity was ever powerful, like the waves that crash on Breezy Point’s beach.

A man who was not just hunter, but Chief Hunter.

A man who sought refuge in the foxholes of the Rhineland, and a man who gave us refuge with ardent support and encouragement.

A man who read as much as he breathed and learned as much as he lived.

A man who counted his blessings, not his burdens.

The youngest ninety-year-old man I have ever met.

A man the stuff of which they do not make anymore.

The finest man I will ever know.

Rest in Peace, Pop, our Chief Hunter.

Keep exploring, keep laughing, keep plugging, keep loving, and keep praying, God knows that we will be doing that in your memory, as everything is indeed JOLLY GOOD.

Until we meet again, Pop.

I don’t know where that will be, but I know how to get there.

Per my about pageWhite Noise is a work of experimentation. I view it as a sort of thinking aloud, a stress testing of my nascent ideas. Through it, I hope to sharpen my opinions against the whetstone of other people’s feedback, commentary, and input.

If you want to discuss any of the ideas or musings mentioned above or have any books, papers, or links that you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of White Noise, please reach out to me by replying to this email.

With sincere gratitude,