Wednesday, August 4, 2010

eulogy

Note from Jacquie:

Thank you so much, everyone. Your comforting messages and calls really do mean a great deal to me. We're doing okay. I'm still in Connecticut, trying to help mom wade through the mountains of tasks both miniscule and monumental. I miss my Dad. I can't believe he died. I can't believe I was here, we were here, my kids and I had a few really nice days with Mom and Dad before everything turned upside down. Those are the images I'm trying to preserve, keeping them close to ward off the memories of those really bad moments. I'll probably write about all of it eventually; if I've learned anything from the shit storm that has been 2010 thus far, it's that writing helps me process my pain. This hurts. I'm not quite ready. In the meantime, I'd like to share the beautiful eulogy that was read by two of my brave big sisters at Dad's funeral. We sisters all chimed in on the content, but Mar and Jules put it all together and got up there and read it, loud and proud. Dad would have been beaming.
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July 21, 2010
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EULOGY FOR JOSEPH M. COREY M.D. (JULY 27, 2010)
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Mary Beth:
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On behalf of our family – my Mom; my sisters Ann, Ellie, Julie, Jane and Jacquie; my companion Mark; my brothers-in-law Bill Hanrahan, who wrote the bulk of that beautiful obituary, Doug Holt and Bill Kennedy; my nieces and nephews, Colleen, Erin, Joseph, Corey, Noah, Dylan, Jimmy & Clara; my Dad’s sisters Aunt Glor & her children, and Aunt Lil – and our all of our Flatley clan – thank you all for being here today to join us in celebrating my Dad’s life.
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I'd also like to extend a special thank you to Uncle Brian for officiating, and to our vocalists, our cousin Meghan Butler, and to my childhood friend Tracey Marble – we went to school together from our days at St. Thomas across the street through Norwalk High.

These past few days have been unbelievable, surreal for all of us, with lots of tears and laughter and story-telling and memories. We’re all so grateful for the outpouring of love and comfort we’ve received from all of you and from everyone who knew our Dad.
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In collecting our thoughts for today, we were laughing about the fact that everyone says, "Your father was SUCH a nice guy."Everyone. No one hedges their praise. He was truly, sincerely, from the bottom of his soul, a nice guy.
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I’ll always treasure memories of calling home. He’d say, "Hi Mar!" with so much warmth and love in his voice. He made me feel like the most special person. And when I told my sisters that, they said, "Me too!"
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It's so fitting that we're gathered today in Norwalk, CT, where Dad was born in 1933 to Lebanese immigrants, Joseph Sr and Elizabeth Corey. He was the youngest of four and their only son. The baby, with three older sisters. In other words, The Prince. (Or, as his sisters describe it, "Allah came down from heaven.")
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He was a standout student and athlete and a born leader. He was president of Norwalk High School class of 1951, went on to The College of the Holy Cross (which is also my alma mater), and then medical school at Tufts University. It was during his residency that he met and fell in love with our mom, Ellen Flatley.
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My parents met at St. Elizabeth Hospital, when he was a medical student and she a nurse. Their first date was intended to be a double date with mom’s great friend Rita Sullivan and another guy. Mom was supposed to be with the other guy. (Sorry, Dr. Davidson.) We kids were shocked to hear from Mrs. Sullivan years later that Mom made Rita pretend she was sick, as Mom had her eyes set on Joe. My parents celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary earlier this summer. Last year we all got together for their 50th in the place where they celebrated their honeymoon, the Poconos. (We had such a great time.)
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Mom and Dad had a beautiful marriage. As one of Aunt Monny's kids said, "They had quite the love affair, didn't they." Theirs was such a special, rare, awe-inspiring and enviable partnership. We, their children, saw two people very much in love, who loved their life together and who were aging beautifully together.

Dad truly loved my Mom. She recently said, "I lived with a guy who complimented me all the time. No matter what I was wearing, even coming back from the gym, he'd say, "You look great." He never walked behind her without saying, "Nice legs."

One of our favorite stories that best describes their relationship occured many years ago, when they were still on Bettswood Rd. Mom had ducked into their master bath and had turned off the bathroom light on the way out. The bedroom light was not on. She saw Dad coming in and, as she later described it, she stood still because she knew Dad would hug her when he walked by. Unfortunately, Dad did not see her and instead of hugging her, plowed right into her, resulting in a broken wrist! An unfortunate outcome, but I know we were all struck by that detail: that Dad wouldn’t ever walk by Mom without hugging her.

It’s hard to narrow down the right words to describe Dad. Joyful. Appreciative. Kind. Gentle. Funny. Silly. Capable. Warm. Skilled. And fully alive.

Dad was so warm. His bear hugs were legendary. And he loved a good joke. Or a bad joke. We all rolled our eyes when he read the comics in the paper every day and would invariably laugh out loud, shoulders shaking.

He was an avid golfer and he and Mom shared a love of opera. Sunday mornings were not complete unless La Boheme or Rigoletto or La Traviata was cranking on the stereo with Dad cooking omelettes in the kitchen.

He was a busy surgeon but we had dinner as a family almost every night. Dad would quiz us on either state capitals or opera characters at the dinner table. Monday was meatloaf night and Dad would go around the table and squeeze open our baked potatoes, so we wouldn't burn our fingers. Long past the age when it was necessary, Dad would "do" our baked potatoes. He was a fully engaged parent who co-parented long before co-parenting was in vogue – the baby's high chair was always by his place at the table.

Dad was an early and enthusiastic adopter of new technology. Our first microwave took up half the kitchen counter. Our first remote control actually had a cord. He had that huge video camera with the oversized, blinding floodlight. (One happy result: we Corey girls were always very comfortable on camera.) He was the first to get EVERYTHING – until the computer came along. Having never learned how to type, Dad then became the lurker, reading our family's daily email chain but never laying finger to keyboard.
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Despite being a proud, first generation Lebanese immigrant, he could belt out "Mamie Riley" with the best of them. His love of that song, the fight song for his beloved Holy Cross Crusaders, became an institution at every Irish Flatley wedding.
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He was a champion napper. He could fall asleep at the drop of a hat and invariably woke up happy, refreshed and whistling. He could switch gears from intensely focused on a project to deep sleep with enviable ease.
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He was very precise. Some might even say anal. When we went on a family vacation, even if we arrived at 2 a.m., he'd unpack and get totally organized before going to bed. He'd always finish a job he started ... no procrastinating, he'd complete what he started. And those skills that made him a skilled surgeon and woodworker served him well while recovering from his kidney transplant. (Thanks again, Ellie!) While laid up for months, he got hooked on cooking shows and discovered a newfound love of cooking. And as a cook, his kitchen was immaculate. You should have seen it – all his ingredients pre-measured into a row of little bowls, ready to go.

He was a great man, and a great Dad, and we'll really miss him.

JULIE:
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Dad loved his girls, didn't he? Whenever we were with him, flanking him, he'd just light up. His pride was palpable. One of his greatest gifts to us was that we truly knew we were loved by him. Last night at the wake, countless people who knew Dad said to us, your father so loved you girls. Every time I heard that, I thought, yeah, I know. We've always known, and even in the toughest of times, it was never diminished.
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Try to imagine for a moment our house when we were teenagers. Six girls, in various stages of puberty, pre-teen, and full-blown teenage years. He diffused most of the tension with humor. When a brave young man would come to the house to pick us up for a date, Dad would chat the poor kid up. "So, ya married?" "What are your intentions, young man?", but he would ultimately send the boy off with his daughter in tow with a sincere: "Remember, you have precious cargo."
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To say we challenged our parents in those years is a monstrous understatement. Some of us screwed up more than others, but I know I can speak for my sisters when I say more than any consequence, having to face Dad when you've let him down was worse than whatever punishment that would be handed down. It was a terrible thing to disappoint our Dad. But even in that brutal moment of consequence, the underlying feeling wasn't that we were rotten kids, but that he so loved us, and believed in us, and we let him down. Everything that happened in our family came from a place of love. What a beautiful gift.
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As much as we knew he loved us, we all reveled in the joy he got from his grandchildren. Colleen, Erin, Joseph, Corey, Noah, Dylan, Jimmy and Clara loved their Jidoo, and he so loved them. Colleen giggles remembering him staring into her face with his goofy, silly grin and saying, "I love that dumb face."
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Last night hundreds of people came out to pay their respects to this man who touched their lives. They expressed gratitude for Dad's friendship, but also for a scar they sport, and the care that went into his making it. I was struck by how many different aspects of his life the people there represented. Dad as a surgeon, patient, husband, father, brother, friend, classmate, and president of every club he joined that needed a great leader. Someone who worked with him on some board or another said to me that his work there was really where his passion was. But Dad did everything fully engaged, and we all believed the side we saw was where his heart was.
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Because it was.
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When thinking about the highlights of Dad, and how we can celebrate his life today, I realize that we have always celebrated Dad. This man was so loved.
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And he taught us well. He taught us how to figure things out, to stick with things, to appreciate books and knowledge and the revered dictionary. To value life, and every moment and small beautiful thing in it. To live in the moment, with our eyes open, to and see and appreciate all the beautiful things around us. He showed us this by example. Countless times as kids, and then as adults, as we were gathered, Dad would sit back, smile his wonderful smile and say, "It just doesn't get any better than this, does it?"
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We thought we were coming up this week for a family reunion. Now I know were we were supposed to be here for a different reason. Instead of getting the call at home that there was trouble, and making the trip for his funeral, we got to spend a day and a half with Dad before this became the funeral.
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We didn't get to see Mom and Dad often, as most of us have settled out of state, so when we see our parents, there's so much novelty, it's such a treat. My kids and I arrived here Wednesday night in a blackout, and were forced to all sit together by candlelight. No lights, no TV, no computers. We sat around and talked. We inflated air mattresses, figured out sleeping arrangements, listened to the Mets game on the radio, messed around with the kids, laughed, visited, caught up. It was so good to see everyone, and just be together. We stocked up on those great big Daddy bear hugs, and gave that face we loved so much so many kisses. We didn't know we only had 36 hours left with Dad at that time.
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If I could have spent my last evening at home with Dad in any way, I'm not sure I would have set the scene differently. OK, I'd have taken away that nagging cough he was battling, and maybe would have sat a little closer. But those were quality hours, and they are a gift. In those 36 hours I must have heard Dad say, "I'm so glad you're here," and "It's so good to see your face!" a dozen times. Nothing means more to me now than those words.
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The night before he died, we sat with him in his ICU room. He was feeling better, and we thought he was going to be OK. The mood was relaxed. We were chatting and happy to be there with him. We hugged and doted on him as we did with our teddy bear of a Dad. We laughed, it was good. He took the opportunity to boast about his family to the nurse who stopped in, particularly pointing out Ellie, his kidney donor. He beamed with pride as he looked around at his girls. His eyes scanned the room, taking in each of us, finally landing on Mom - the love of his life. He exuded love for her that night, as he did every time he looked at her. That was a little embarrassing as kids, but awe-inspiring as we came to understand the depth of their love. Dad was happy, and at peace in that moment. We left smiling.
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As we walk through his house now, his absence is wrenching, but his presence is everywhere. There is a beautiful wood piece that Dad crafted in every room, a photo, a memento representing him at every turn. It seems ridiculous that he is not here, while we are all gathered together. We're mindful of how much he loved getting us all together. But as his craftsmanship leaves us with evidence of his impact, so too does the skin tone of his grandchildren, the crinkle in his daughters' eyes, the goofy humor we all, sadly, inherited from him, and the strength to stand up here today when our hearts are breaking.
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It's so hard for us all to imagine a world without Dad in it, but we'll take comfort in each other, and in knowing that he is with us today, and will be with us always.

13 comments:

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Thanks so much for posting this, Jacquie. I'm amazed once again at the poise, the composure, the incredible calm of Mary Beth and Julie up there.

We had the obituary, we had the eulogy, we had the open mic at the lunch. And I'm so glad we have this venue to keep the Dad stories going. Because I have lots more.....

I love you,
Ellie

p.s. Love the photo. Jimmy and Jidoo involved in a project, and Clara snacking.

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Actually El, if you look closely you'll recall that this was the blood pressure contest the night of the blackout!

xo - good thoughts today

Jacquie

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Oh yeah, I couldn't tell, for some reason. We were a family with good blood pressure that night. Including, sigh, Dad....

Ellie

(thanks....)

Beau Coup Cupcakes said...

Just BEAUTIFUL! Having been in your shoes, I don't envy you. That said, rest assured that you will get through this and your memories will sustain you as time goes by. Hang in there!

MB said...

Thanks for posting the eulogy, Jacq. I think we all, collectively, did a pretty good job of putting Dad's tribute together so quickly!

And talk about composed -- how about Ellie doing a reading at the funeral and telling a story at the open mic, and Jacquie & Jane singing two songs at Dad's funeral. Beautifully, of course. And Ann was so strong, as were all the bros-in-law & grandkids. We did it for Dad. xoxo

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Thanks for sharing, Jacquie. It's beautiful! All of you girls are so amazing. Your dad was proud for good reason :-)

It was a gift to have those last days with him, for sure. And now you get to have heart wrenching but quality time with your mom.

love you,
beth

Karen Ketchup said...

Beautiful, girls. I heard how lovely this was, and I'm so glad to read it in all its loveliness for myself. I was a broken-hearted twenty-year-old when I gave the eulogy at my dad's funeral...

Lots of love,
Karen

Autumn said...

Just beautiful, Jacquie. You Corey girls are very lucky to have had such a loving and supportive dad and to have witnessed such a beautiful marriage.
I know how painful it is to lose a parent, and my heart is with you all.

Love you,
Autumn

Keely said...

love you all

Springer Kneeblood said...

That was absolutely riveting and a beautiful way to remember a man who, obviously, was loved dearly by his family and friends. I can't imagine a more eloquent eulogy.

Hsin-Yi said...

I never met your father, but that blog brought tears to my eyes. My heart goes out to your family.

Steve Earl said...

What a beautiful man and a beautiful family!Reading this brought gushes of tears and memories of my own wonderful parents. Thank you for sharing and my best wishes to you all . . .

Steve Earl

Desiree said...

Wow. . what an beautiful eulogy and what an amazing family you have. I couldn't read through it without breaking down, don't know how your sisters did it. Strong women you Corey sisters. Love and miss you Jacquie.