Monday, May 11, 2015

Dad's celebration of life

My family nominated me to write and deliver my father's eulogy last week, and I was so afraid that I wouldn't be able to find the right words, or say the right things. I was also so afraid that I'd be an absolute basket case, unable to talk. Instead, the day before Dad's funeral, the words miraculously came to me in less than an hour time; and I was able to deliver them almost tearlessly.  I'd asked for clarity and composure, and my father in heaven responded.  

Both of them!

Here's the eulogy I delivered, and some of the photos that I took during the service. The weather was perfect, a beautiful blue-sky day with nary a cloud in sight. The skies and seas were calm; both literally and figuratively. The only thing that could have made it better, is if my mother was physically with us - but because she could not leave Jim - she was most definitely with us in spirit. Mom, I know you and Dad were so proud of us.  I was, too.

Good morning everyone, thank you for being here today.  We’re gathered here not to grieve, but to celebrate the life of my father, Walter Francis Foley.  You may know him as Walter or Walt, the tireless pharmacist who worked the bench at Snow’s Pharmacy and served the town of Concord for more than 30 years.  For his seven children, he was Dad.  For his 20 grandchildren, and five great grandchildren, he was Grampy.  For all of us, he was a good and kind man, a quiet man, who worked so hard, loved a good joke or story, and spent his life serving others.


A lot of people work hard. But to put it in perspective, my mother and father had six children in seven years.  Their sixth son, Walter Junior, was born a few months after Snow’s Pharmacy opened.  Remember: this was 50 years ago, back in the days before all-night drive through pharmacies, or places where you can fill your prescription while you shop for groceries.   In the 1960’s if you needed medication, you got it from the drugstore, when it was open.  Snow’s was always open for those in need.  


For the next six years, my father with the unwavering support of his devoted wife, Mary, worked seven days a week, often heading down to “The Shop” in the middle of the night to prepare medicine for people who needed it, urgently.  Dad (and later all of the kids) also delivered prescriptions, free of charge. 

(17 of my father's 20 grandchildren served as his pallbearers)

“Running deliveries” meant driving all around town, and bringing medication and supplies to those who could not leave their homes. This was really sacred work for Dad, because he knew that sometimes, he might be the only person that his customers had seen all day, or all week.  So not only would he bring them their medication, he would sit and talk with them. People knew that he cared.  And he did. My father did not take a single vacation until the summer of 1970.  And, so it is, I was born nine months later, in the Spring of 1971, just three days before my father’s 40th birthday. Happy Birthday Dad!


But you know, my father didn’t ever call it “work.”  It wasn’t work to him, it was his life-long passion and God-given calling to help other people.  Whether it be the thousands of customers that he served through the years in his beloved Shop; or the strangers whose roads he would plow with his Ford Truck after a big snowstorm.  Or the patients at Emerson Hospital he so gently transported by wheelchair and gurney for a few years, following his third and final retirement from Snow’s.  My mother and father, together, instilled in each of their seven children a work ethic and sense of compassion, that is stronger than welded steel. 

(My brother, Wally, reading Ecclesiastes.)

Because my mother was so devoted to raising our family, my father was able to devote his attention to his profession. And he was the inspiration for two of his children, his daughters Marylou and Beth, to also choose pharmacy as their careers.   What a tribute!

(Wally's children bringing forth the communion gifts.)

Earlier in his life, Dad served as a radio operator in the Navy.  And the flags are at half-mast, today, in Concord Center because of Dad’s service to our country.  His time in the Navy sparked a love of the ocean, and some of my best memories of my father are those spent on the boat with him, sitting up on the fly bridge, Dad’s got a can of Budweiser in his hand, I’m on his knee, and he’s singing, “Bell Bottom Trousers and Coats of Navy Blue!” Some of my most frightening memories were on the boat, too, because as my siblings can all attest, there were a few times, we had trouble at sea. On the upside, Dad gave us a wonderful opportunity to get on a first name basis with the Coast Guard.  There’s always that silver lining!


The past few years have been difficult sailing for my father, but he navigated the rocky waters of Parkinson’s with grace.  And I have been blinded by the love and devotion that my family has shown to my father during this time. As we heard in Wally's reading of Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.  And as we heard in Janet's reading of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “These three remain: Hope, Faith and Love. But the greatest of these is LOVE.” The family tree really is the strongest tree and I am so amazed and proud of how beautifully our family has demonstrated that.  


To my mother, who has been a role model of what it means to forgive and love.  To my Aunt Peggy, who drove in from Boston to visit my father so frequently, always equipped with chocolate desserts for his sweet tooth. 

To my sister Marylou, who would fly up to visit Dad, and slept many a night on the pull-out couch at Robbin’s Brook. To my sister Janet, who never showed up to visit Dad without her manicure kit in hand and would spend hours, restoring Dad to his handsome glory. 

To my sister, Eileen, who nurtured Dad’s spirit with inspirational scripture and verse. To my brother, Wally, who never ceased – not even in Dad’s final hours - nurturing his heart with laughter.  My father’s final words were spoken in response to Wally, when my brother asked him if he’d like a Budweiser beer.  His reply? YES!


But most importantly, to my brother, Frank and my sister, Beth.  

God Bless You, both. 

To Frank – for visiting Dad nearly every single day, for bringing him to your home, for letting him in to your heart, and for doing everything you could do to carry out his wishes. I know it hasn’t always been easy, but we are thankful to you.  

To Beth - for being Dad’s Number One wingman, not only on the pharmacy bench, but in life.  You have devoted yourself to Dad, and at least for me, I never would have had the relationship that I was so blessed to have with Dad, if not for your unwavering and selfless efforts.   


In the words of another great Concord man – Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."


By this definition, my father was a wildly successful man.  He loved, and he was loved. And so many lives breathed easier because of him.  Dad made the world better, just by being in it.  But Dad wasn’t only successful; he was incredibly lucky to have a family that adored him. The last time I talked with Dad, was when we wished each other a Happy Birthday - just two weeks ago. He was with me when I took my first breath at Emerson; and I had the privilege of being with him when he took his last breath - in the same hospital.  


This past Sunday night, and early in to Monday morning, he was at various times, flocked by his children, several grandchildren, and his sister – who held his hands and feet, sang him his favorite songs including a more risqué version of “Bell Bottom Trousers”, and recounted some of our best family memories. 

(Father Gomes, also a former Navy pharmacist!)

Dad did not leave this world alone; he was surrounded in laughter and love, and it was magnificent.


So thank you again to our dear friends and family for being a part of our father’s successful life. Maybe you came to my father for medicine, but the truth is, each and every one of you were HIS medicine.  Your kindness, your friendship, your stories, your lives … is what made his life so happy and full.  


Science has taught us that energy is neither created nor destroyed, so it is our most heartfelt prayer that you always feel our father’s loving energy surround you. He is now part of the thousand winds that blow – the diamond glints on the snow; the sunlight on ripened grain; the gentle falling autumn rain.  


Dad will forever live in in the hearts of those who loved him.  And he will forever be remembered every time we pick up a broom, because Dad so loved to sweep.  


To our Aunt Ann, thank you again for being here; my father would be so honored that you sang at his Celebration of Life ... you always were his favorite singer.  

(Our amazing family cantor singing, "The Prayer of St. Francis.")