By Tim Sullivan
I am writing this on Father’s Day. Our tradition of breakfast in bed gave way to the new Waffle House in downtown Decatur. It was the kid’s idea (which frankly, seems to be an alarming trend for Father’s Day activities) but we all enjoyed it.
The day has drifted along – bike riding for Kristen and Margo, soccer in the park for me and Elliott, errands, baseball practice in the early evening. I even flexed my dad muscles by reading the New York Times and watching the U.S. Open. But I keep coming back to thoughts of my brother Rob.
Rob’s wake and funeral last month must have set some sort of Catholic Church attendance record. Do they keep stats? The three wake sessions were hardly enough for the throngs of people who came through. His funeral filled St. Agnes Cathedral for the first time since 9/11. Robert Jr.,16, gave a poignant and mature eulogy buttressed on either side by his siblings Caitlin,14, and Patrick, 12. It could not have been written or delivered without the gift of time that Rob gave Suzanne and the kids. He took a dire diagnosis and somehow stretched it out for six-and-a-half years like it was an entirely negotiable contract.
People I hadn’t seen in decades came through to pay respects and it warmed my heart to know how fondly they remembered Rob. One friend recalled that we had this big Chevy Impala station wagon. She said in high school Rob would pile kids in and make sure that everyone got home safely from parties. The tidbit spoke volumes, but I expected stories like this because I grew up with him, too. The week he died, Suzanne was at his bedside and thanked him for the wonderful life they had together. Ever the wise ass, he quipped “glad I could help.” But this underscores that he truly was something of an opportunistic helper. Nice guys bow at his altar.
One attendee said he worked with Rob at Verizon many years ago. He was younger than my brother, but a fellow Manhattan College alum so Rob took him under his wing. He beamed when he spoke about how Rob was the most intelligent guy in the department and also the most patient and helpful. He felt so fortunate to have known and worked with Rob and he just wanted me to know that. And now I am so thankful to know that.
My brother Bill and I were at the end of the receiving line during the first wake session, welcoming and thanking the countless friends from Rockville Centre. One guy shook our hands, offered condolences and moved along. But he quickly came back. He had tears in his eyes and he was shaking a little bit. He said, “you know about an hour ago when the priest was leading you all in the Our Father? I want you to know that it traveled down the line that runs out the door, through the parking lot and around the block. People around the block were saying an Our Father for your brother.” This is an anecdote I’ll tuck away for keeps.
So maybe I’m spending a good chunk of Father’s Day reflecting on my brother and the sweet takeaways from last month, but that’s okay by me. The tribute to him may have been the most life-affirming event I’ve ever been a part of. Of course he wanted to live much longer. Of course there have been many moments where I’ve found myself staring at a photo of him, full of life, a bear hug waiting to happen, and it is nearly impossible to believe he is gone. But my heart is full. His life resonates even louder now. Be kind, be helpful, love and be loved. It has been a good Father’s Day.
Tim Sullivan grew up in a large family in the Northeast and now lives with his small family in Oakhurst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.