On Life and Death and the Aftermath

Last call

Life doesn’t ask for permission, nor does it beg forgiveness. The past month for me has been extraordinarily difficult and has truly driven home this point.

If you read my last post, then you know my wife had fairly invasive surgery mid-February. It was a struggle for me to juggle the multiple roles she takes on for our family, but we were getting by. Then, 11 days after her surgery, after a long fight with dementia and other health issues, her father passed away.

At one point during this past week, leading up to the wake and funeral, my wife told me that she hurt on a cellular level. That might be the most apt description for the obvious pain that radiated from her. And yet, because there was no other choice, she had to see the arrangements through.

Fortunately, my wife’s family is close-knit and everyone pitched in to make sure my father-in-law’s services were an appropriate testament to the man. Flowers were ordered, funeral cards were made, picture boards and a slide show were created, and outfits were bought, tailored and arranged and rearranged–much like our emotions.

It was a roller coaster of unbearable sadness, punctuated at times by hilarious memory. As it is with life.

My father-in-law was a police officer for 36 years, and when his former partners came through the receiving line at the wake, every one was distraught, and every one had a story to tell. Like the time my father-in-law, wearing only his bathrobe and slippers, helped subdue a perpetrator.  And I stood at my wife’s side as she laughed at every story, cried with those who shed tears, and endured every gripping hug that pulled taut the six-inch incision on her chest.

Then there was the funeral. Nothing undoes me quite like bagpipes. And when “Amazing Grace” overtook the church, I think every family member felt the gutting. Yet we endured, somberly, holding hands and crying

I was fortunate enough to deliver the eulogy, which you can read at the end of this post. It’s a rare honor to speak about someone’s life is one last, public, and meaningful way. I shared the honor with my father-in-law’s nephew, and I believe the two of us did justice to the name and to the character of the man.

And now we are in the aftermath. This is where, in spite of kicking our asses, life moves on, offering no apologies. It’s why Billy Pilgrim’s line from Slaughterhouse-Five is so apt, because, indeed, “So it goes.”

Fortunately, spring is in the air, and hopefully the season will usher in positive change with its warmth. Not that is has to, because life is the ultimate, uncontrollable entity, which is why we should cherish it so. But it would be nice for it to atone, if only a little while.

Eulogy:

On June 29, 2002, Chris Connelly stood with his daughter, Carrie, at the back of this church and asked her if she wanted to go through her marriage to me. He assured her that he’d have a police escort to get them out of town if she wanted to run. In his classic, half-kidding, half-serious tone, he opened a door for his daughter, protecting her, if she felt she needed it.

Fortunately, she did not, or I wouldn’t have the honor of being here today.

In essence, that moment says all you need to know about Chris Connelly. He lived to protect and to serve. And he did so with a joking manner that he hoped put you on the right side of where he thought you should be. Whether he was bantering on his way into Albany with Geraldine and Joanne, while he worked at CT, or the countless times, here in Waterford, when he pulled someone over, and even later, while at Peebles Island, he cared for the people he interacted with. He wanted the best for everyone and saw ways to help make that so, however he could.

Chris was proud of two aspects of his life over all others: his family, and being a police officer. And in his role as patriarch and policeman, he served not for the respect nor for the money, but for the loyalty he felt. He worked overtime and holidays–when no one else wanted to be there. And yet, he still found his way home for a brief stop, for a bite to eat, to check on his family, until the walkie talkie crackled with a call.

Chris Connelly was blessed with a sense of duty and was supported by his family. Donna and he shared 40 years together, creating a family he adored. He watched the streets where his children grew and knew he had the greatest hand in protecting them. Carrie, Christopher, and Shannon understand devotion in ways many of us do not, because they were allowed to see it firsthand, through tireless effort on their father’s part.

And yet, we all learned things about Chris, once he became a grandfather. He became Poppy and he drove his granddaughter Grace around the cul-de-sac in his police cruiser, she on his lap, steering, both with enormous smiles on their faces. And later, when Chris had the heart attack that ended his working days, along came Kaygan. She helped to pull him through his recovery, and beyond, transitioning him completely into the grandfather figure he became.

He embraced the transition from cruiser to couch. It allowed him more time to watch the Cowboys or to read a book, to enjoy the downtime he so very much deserved. Yet, he retained the spark, the fight within, that was forged through his years of service, and he kept it all the way through. The famous poem by Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is the ideal way to envision Chris’s approach. He raged against the dying of light, like a man who understood how precious life is. And in that fight, we were given a blessing, to once again see how it is to fight, to persevere, to protect and to serve those we love, by never giving up.

So, to Chris Connelly,

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal;

Love leaves a memory no one can steal.

 

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