Last week we held a ceremony to celebrate the life of my father. The service was quite wonderful as my sister held a reading and we had two friends from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) speak to their friendship with my father. I spoke at the end before the officiant offered some words and the rendering of military funeral honors from representatives of the Marine Corps.
I’m sharing my piece below as I was a bit choked up and almost didn’t get through it all. In addition…I had a tech fail in my speech…go figure. 🙂
My father was a complicated person. He had an equal measure of friends, enemies, loves, and acquaintances. When informed of his passing, it was inspiring to witness the stories that came out as people bite witness to the tapestry of his life.
Death, loss, and suffering were an omnipresent piece of my father’s life. They’re also a necessary and valuable component of my life. In the home I’ve built with my family, we have various memento mori placed throughout our house. Memento mori is Latin for “Remember that you must die.” We can learn a lot about life by knowing that we will die.
As a son speaking to his father, I want to share some of what I learned from him as I bore witness to decisions that he made.
The first thing that I learned from my father is that life is hard at times, and that is what makes it worth living. I do not need to recount for this room the many tragedies that dotted his timeline. Where many individuals would turn pessimistic and act out of grievance, my father continued to persevere. As I encountered my own challenges, my father was often there by my side to indicate that these calamities were temporary. They also provided us with an opportunity to build the most important quality of all, character. Character was the one true way to judge an individual.
The second thing that I learned from my father was his ability to reinvent himself and strive for something better. In our lives, we’re often presented with a series of poor options, and we need to make the best of it. As I was entering high school, our house was turned upside down. My father left and famously indicated to one of my siblings that he needed to figure himself out first before he could be there for us. I’ve spent, and I’m sure my brothers and sisters have also spent a lot of time ruminating on that moment and those words. I can only imagine the ruthless cunning it would take to make that decision and walk away. My father did walk away. He also knew that he wanted to be a better person, and this current path was not taking him there. He took time to reboot his life and create the identity he desired. Few people have a second act in life. My father seized that opportunity and created the life he wanted.
These first two lessons, left to themselves, are ultimately the root of toxicity in our lives. The last thing I learned from my father is that you need to celebrate the small wonders of life. My father grew up in a time when, as a man, you did not talk about feelings, develop emotional intelligence, or show empathy for others. In our society, we’re gradually learning more about the effects of trauma and mental health. This toxic positivity poisons the mind, body, and soul. It negatively impacts those around us, and society in general. As my father entered his second act, we derisively gave him the nickname, Sappy Pappy. This was because my father was always willing to reflect and celebrate the small things in life. Whether it was sharing an inside joke with a friend, getting beat up by his grandchildren, my father was always interested and willing to bear witness, often with a tear in his eye.
I’ll leave you with one of my last memories of my father. He was visiting our new home and I was proud to show him around the yard. We spent some time looking at the pond and the waterfowl that habited the space. Not soon after, he was in Florida and called me. I was involved in some project and let his message go to voicemail.
As we remember the life of Bill O’Byrne, we’re offered an opportunity to re-examine our own lives and the ripples we leave behind. What challenges have we each encountered and what marks does that leave on us? How might we choose to make better choices as we’re presented with the trials and tribulations in our daily lives? What are we missing as we stare at screens, subscribe to false narratives, or just get caught up in our own lives?
As if the tears were not enough, when I went to play the voicemail above, for some reason the mic would not pick up sound from my phone no matter how high I raised the volume.
My sister and her family were seated in front and they were one of the few that actually heard the message.
They also were the few in the room that started talking to each other and laughing as I played the message. After the service, I went and asked them why they thought it was so funny. They indicated that they got the same message.
Here I thought this was a special moment…and my father was sending the same response to others. ¯\_(ツ)_/