A Tribute to Dad
Eulogy by Joy Guidi Wygant, Aug, 30, 2012
As you just heard from Kathy, Dad gave us many gifts throughout our lives. I’d like to talk more about the gifts we experienced with Dad in the final months and weeks of his life.
Our whole family was here in May to celebrate Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary. It was a gift to have everyone together when Dad was in good health. We had the celebration a month before their anniversary because I didn’t want to visit Florida during the intense heat of summer. The early celebration was one of our first blessings. In hindsight, I realize that everything about Dad’s illness unfolded the way it was meant to be.
Dad started feeling unwell shortly after we left. He was diagnosed with cancer in June, and by late July we learned that Dad had six months to live. Kathy decided to come immediately and support Mom and Dad through his final months of life. I planned a two week visit with my daughter Sienna, with the intention of spending time together before his illness got worse. This has not been the trip that any of us imagined. Yet, I am grateful that I was able be here for Dad and with my family during his final weeks.
For the first week of our visit, Dad was doing relatively well at home – he was walking, eating, and interacting with friends and family, even though he spent most of his time sitting and his energy was low. We shared meals together, and he enjoyed the company of his granddaughter who would cheerfully sign “I love you Papa” and “good night” to everyone in the house. He watched her paint with her Auntie Kathy, and worried about the mess they were making in the living room. We shared videos of Sienna learning to swim in the neighbor’s pool. This was the gift of time with Dad as we knew him.
Suddenly, Dad took a turn for the worse & we began more intense care for him at home. It was a gift for me to care for Dad and show my love in these simple acts. Sienna witnessed many changes but never wavered in her love for Papa – she continued to give kisses and say I love you. She’d been affected by everything for sure, but amazed me with her strength and ability to bring happiness in such a difficult time. What a gift for me to see the strength of my little girl, and a gift for Papa to receive a child’s love every day.
Eventually, we realized it was time for Dad to be admitted to the Hospice unit at JFK hospital. At times, Dad was barely able to communicate, only able to answer Yes or No questions with a slight movement of his head. We weren’t always sure if he understood our questions. The uncertainty about Dad’s condition and how long he had left were difficult for us to endure. But each time it felt like we could take no more, someone stepped into our lives to support us, or Dad gave us the gift of a good day. We were able to rebuild our emotional and physical strength and face the next phase of Dad’s transition.
One of the great gifts we received during our stay at Hospice was meeting Father Gabriel, who we are honored to have here with us today. But first I must offer our deepest and most heartfelt gratitude to Sister Dorothy, who gently insisted that we invite him to meet Dad even when Kathy and I were hesitant to do so. Sister Dorothy knew what we needed even when we did not.
Father Gabriel first came to visit Dad on Sunday night. Dad was not able to sign, but could understand what was going on around him. Within moments, Father Gabriel expressed that he had a deep and powerful connection with Dad. He knew one sign, “I love you”, which brought tears to dad’s eyes. He took notice of the beautiful collage that Kathy had made, which sits here with us today, and asked about its meaning. Kathy had made it as a tribute to Dad and there are pieces representing Mom, Dad, our family, and the angels around us.
Father Gabriel’s connection to our family was immediate and deep. We all felt his love and his presence gave us peace and comfort in a time of deep sadness. He gave Dad a beautiful rosary that had been blessed by the Pope; when he placed it on Dad’s neck, we could see that this brought Dad much peace and comfort.
Over the next few days, Father Gabriel offered many blessings for Dad and our family. His frequent visits gave us something to look forward to, he made us laugh and be thankful for the gifts that each day brought us. We had both powerful and silly moments within our family – and as you all know, humor was one of Dad’s strongest characteristics – so it was fitting that we laughed during this time of sorrow. For laughter surely helps us endure.
We had many gifts during those last days, but there is one miracle I want to share that will always remain with our family. After a powerful visit with Dad on Monday night, Father Gabriel promised to return Tuesday with a cappuccino. Even though dad wasn’t eating or drinking, he said the smell would make Dad happy. Dad woke Tuesday morning and surprised everyone – he was more alert than he had been in days and was able to sign very clearly. He said that he wanted to see Sienna one more time before she went home. Father Gabriel arrived with two cappuccinos for mom and dad. Dad asked, “Can I have that? Really?” and proceeded to drink his cappuccino completely on his own. The doctors and nurses were amazed – David and I were stunned when we arrived. Dad looked better than he had in days.
Sienna came in and signed her “I love you Papa” and gave him a kiss. She brought him a painting which Dad studied very closely, before giving us very precise instructions on where to hang it on the wall. Dad was in control. In the busy room, filled with caregivers, family and friends, Dad sipped his cappuccino and enjoyed every last drop of foam – telling us this was the best cappuccino he’d ever had. It made us all so happy to see his pleasure. We had more time to tell Dad how much we loved him, and how he would not be forgotten. Sienna got ready to leave, waved and said “bye bye Papa”. Dad said goodbye with sheer grace and composure that will always amaze me. These were the hours with Dad which will never be forgotten – his last rally with his family, being strong in front of Sienna and alert to witness her love for him as she said her final goodbye.
By that afternoon, Dad’s condition declined again. We realized what an amazing gift those few hours were and how perfectly they were timed. And though Dad was no longer signing, the last form of communication Dad retained was his request for a kiss – he puckered his lips ever so slightly and we knew what he wanted. With three women in the room, there was no shortage of kisses for Dad. What a gift that was for us. Dad had always been strong, practical, stubborn, and funny. But in his last days, he shared the power of love for his family. What a beautiful way for him to communicate and tell us he loved us – what a beautiful gift that we could understand what he needed and happily give it to him.
Dad had said all along that he didn’t want treatment and that he didn’t want to suffer. Even though his passing was quicker than any of us had ever imagined, we know it was his final gift to spare us the pain and sadness of seeing him suffer. He left this world with such grace and took care of us until the very end. You will never be forgotten Dad, we love you very much.