As it turns out, Eulogies typically don't happen at funeral masses. But because my family has attended this church for a long time, and because my Aunt Ann was a part of the service (and made connections with the organist who then talked with the Priest), an exception was made.
Below is the Eulogy that I delivered after the Homily. This is the Eulogy that took me almost 10 hours to write and when I collapsed in to bed at three in the morning - seven hours before the Funeral Mass was scheduled to take place - clear as day, I could hear my Uncle Bill say to me, "Thank you, Dear."
I love that man so much and it was my great honor to have the opportunity to tell everyone how much he meant to me. Or rather, how much he means to me. Because even now, I can feel his strong spirit surrounding me.
You were a terrible driver.
My mother told me when I was a child that I should never drive with you and if I must, I should always sit in the back and never forget to wear my seat belt.
Albeit a danger on the road, you were a lucky man. To not only walk away from your countless car accidents unscathed, but to have lived such a full and rich life. I do not know of anyone who has given so much love - and received so much love - within their lifetime. I do not know of any man that is so adored by his children and grandchildren that they would consider building their own homes in their father's front yard.
(For those that don't know - my cousin Margaret's house is a few hundred feet off her parent's house. Smack dab in the right field of their front yard.)
To me, you were a constant source of entertainment. My favorite story that you ever told was the one where your mother, who on one particular day, was so angry at you and your brother, Joe - that she tried to throw a pot at the two of you as you ran up a flight of stairs. But instead of hitting you, the pot ricocheted off the wall struck her in the head and knocked her out cold. And rather than stick around to see if your mother was OK, you opted to hide because you knew that if she was angry before she gave herself a black eye, she’d be even more cross when she resumed consciousness.
To your children you were their mentor, coach and confidant. May I ask: How many fathers bring flowers to their daughters in high school on Valentine‘s Day? How many fathers would get excited over baking a rhubarb pie with their teenager? How many fathers have the privilege of working shoulder to shoulder with their grown sons? And how many fathers have such respect and decency, that they will tell their sons, when they are on a job working hard - talking hard - and getting dirty, that all of their work is to stay on the job, because as soon as they get home, they are in the company of women?
There was never any question that your family was the most important part of your life and because of that, you were committed to the success and well being of your children’s children.
You were not only “Father” to this family. You were a GRAND father. You have helped to shape and nurture your grandchildren’s lives, solely because you were a critical part of them. Like a dandelion’s seeds will blow in the breeze and spout new life in far reaching places - so the positive impact that you have had on your grandchildren has taken root to bloom and grow.
But the love and dedication for your children and grandchildren was eclipsed by the adoration and devotion that you had for your wife. Your Amazing Grace.
You were her dashingly handsome teenage sweetheart. She was your beautiful girlfriend. Your relationship was unlike any other, a match truly made in heaven. Your marriage of 56 years is what every marriage should be.
The way that you would put your arm around her, the way that you would gently hold her hand, and to see your face light up like the Fourth of July whenever she walked in to a room or spoke, was magic for everyone to see. When I once asked your advice on where you would live if you could live anywhere, you told me, “Your Aunt Grace sometimes gets a little irritated with me. But I‘d be happy wherever I was. So long as she’d allow me to be by her side.”
Uncle Bill, it was just the way that you lived your life. You were a beacon of eternal optimism, hope and strength. You harnessed the power of mind over body. Last year, when your dog Ruffo knocked you down and broke your hip, you didn’t cry out for help. Instead, when the first person called, you answered your cell phone, “Hello, Bill Finnell” as if nothing had ever happened. And when you heard that it was your daughter on the other end, you very casually asked if she had a pair of crutches you could borrow?
Lest anyone forget you were given a three-month life expectancy almost five years ago. You told the doctors that they had their work cut out for them and boy did they ever. You absolutely loved your life and because of that, you never gave up. When you were told that you would be growing weaker, you began getting up at three in the morning and working out so that your body would be as strong as your mind, for as long as possible.
But how is it possible that you were able to travel to California, just four short months ago?
I believe it was because there was nothing more important than for you to be present and support your daughter as she completed her first marathon. So you climbed aboard a plane, and flew 3,000 miles across the country (and back again) - took a cab - a train - and a bus so you could be there, waiting for us, as we hobbled across the finish line. Make no mistake: if you hadn’t been there, I would still be on the course. But I told myself, “If Uncle Bill can get himself to the finish line, by golly, I can too.” And that is where I found the strength to continue.
Then again, you have always given me the strength to continue.
Consider, it was 30 years ago last month that I moved in to your home. I was only eight-years-old at the time and I thought I was just visiting South Carolina on vacation before the new school year resumed. But when I didn't fly home and my mother and brother joined us from Massachusetts a few days later, I knew that my life was about to change, forever.
Those were some very tumultuous times. But you, Uncle Bill, were solid ground. You took all of us in, under your wing, and you made us feel safe and secure and welcome. You helped us to start over again. You showered us with your love and hospitality. You encouraged us. And you showed us, through your example, how a husband should cherish his wife and family, unconditionally.
Children and adults adore you. You were humble, gracious, patient, compassionate and kind. But if you saw something wrong, you were not afraid to speak up. Like the young man that you watched a judge try to sentence to jail because he could not afford to pay his fine. You not only spoke up, but you paid his fine and then told that young man, an absolute stranger to you, that the best way he could ever pay you back, would be to go forth and do something positive with his life. You believed in people and in doing so, you helped people to believe in themselves.
You had what can only be considered a God-given talent of making everyone feel special, like they were the most important person in the world. And whenever you would talk with someone, you were never distracted. You were always present in the moment. You nurtured relationships and created strong bonds and in doing so, you were an absolute gift to those who you cared about.
Uncle Bill, you are who I strive to be more like, every day.
You were a man with a dream and you lived that dream. There is no question you are the most successful man I have ever met. But what really defines success? Is it money or possessions or fame? In truth, it is none of the above.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,
"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."Uncle Bill, you have done all of those things and more.
So you have not only succeeded in life, you have thrived.
Your daughter Margaret called me at sunrise on Wednesday to tell me that you had left us. But Uncle Bill, you haven't really left us. You will never leave us. You will always be a part of any one's life that you have touched. When I hugged you tightly just last month and told you that I loved you, you smiled and warmly said, "I know, Dear. I know you, do. Thank you for that."
Uncle Bill, if I had been emotionally able, I would have said, "No. Thank You."
Thank you for the goodness that you always showed to me and especially, the kindness that you always showed to my mother. Thank you for taking us in and making us a part of your family. Thank you for looking out for me, and my siblings, as we grew up. Thank you for taking me pony shopping when I was nine-years-old in your yellow MGB. Thank you for being a shining example of what I should look for in a husband. Thank you for being my advocate and my friend and my motivation. Thank you for being at the finish line.
No one lives forever. But Uncle Bill, you will forever live in my heart.
Finally. I know that Uncle Bill would want for me to tell you: Thank you, to each and every one that is gathered here today. Thank you so very much for coming to remember him, for being here to support his family, for sharing in his life and for being his friend.
Now go forth and enjoy your day.
Go forth and enjoy your life.
Put the ones you love, before all else.
And if anyone ever tries to hit you in the head with a pot, run like the wind.