Tuesday, December 13, 2016

OT: A Daughter's Eulogy for Her Beloved Dad

My daughter Kara was fortunate enough to marry into a wonderful Irish clan called WALSH -- a little over two years ago here (at a weekend to remember) at the University of Notre Dame.  Unfortunately for me -- that was the only time my path crossed Tom Walsh...

This past Thursday, our son-in-law Conor Walsh lost his remarkable UNCLE TOMMY to a 22 month long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Photo above (LtoR):  Uncle Tommy, son Kyle, daughter Kelsie, wife Carrie and daughter Kiera.

Tom Walsh's funeral was held yesterday morning.

Kiera, Tommy's oldest daughter -- delivered this wonderful eulogy about her Dad.  It was so well written and delivered, I wanted all of you to see it...

“Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?” You may recognize this quote. It is from my dad’s favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”

I’m Kiera, Thomas’s oldest daughter and I want to begin by sincerely thanking each and every one of you for being here to celebrate my dad’s greatness. I could never have imagined myself standing here, but I am incredibly honored to share a few words about my dad with you today.

You may know him by one of his many names: Thomas, Tom, Tommy, Uncle Tommy, Mr. Walsh, Coach, T-Wiz, or Dad- whoever he was to you, I think we can all agree, he was simply exceptional.

We watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a family every year at Christmas time. The movie’s message has weaved its way through my dad’s life and it has really resonated with us during this 22-month journey. The message- that things of true worth are not measured in dollars, but in currency of friendship and family, and the good karma that one puts into the world. 

And like George Bailey, my dad was the richest man in town.

As a child, my dad’s large, loving and loud Irish family from Staten Island served as a strong foundation for all that he valued. His parents set an example of a wonderful marriage and creation of a strong family. My dad’s five sisters and one brother were their own community, teammates in every sense of the word- whether it be cleaning the dishes, taking over Hillside swim club, tackling chores, or playing a made-up game in which my dad would make up his own rules. For example, my dad would say, “Okay let’s play lacrosse”, however he was the only one with a stick and everyone else just ran around. Hence the “Tommy’s Game, Tommy’s Rules” phrase on these purple bracelets that so many of you have worn in support of my dad. Similar to then, he made his own rules during his fight against pancreatic cancer and boy did he win. My dad loved to play games, including cor cor ringa lario- he also loved to run. He earned the nick name “Tough as nails” because he ran through injuries, he never let the pain effect his effort. Throughout his lifetime and especially when faced with the challenge of battling cancer, the nickname remained true- my dad was “tough as nails”. It was his upbringing that contributed to the person he was- patient, understanding and sympathetic, a great listener and someone who always provided a level-headed point of view. 

His fun continued on to SUNY Cortland where he was known as a “wild Irishman”- he made many new friends, indulged in many beers, and met the love of his life and his perfect balance, my mother Carrie. His easy-going, fun-loving, sweet natured way needed a partner who was feisty, in control, and Italian. Their love blossomed into marriage and many people would say, “Only Tommy could be married to Carrie- only Tommy could handle that firecracker!”

My dad loved what he loved. Amongst many things, he loved his big Irish family. He loved the Walsh family reunions where one could hear traditional Irish music and Danny Boy and the Red Rose CafĂ© on repeat. Anytime we could all be together was cherished. He loved watching the family grow and expand, however never allowing the strength of our bond to lessen. FOE became our family’s acronym for “Family Over Everything”.

My dad also loved Bruce Springsteen. His favorite song, “Thunder Road”, became his anthem at the many parties he attended. Speaking of parties, my dad was everyone’s favorite wedding guest, dance partner and the life of every party. In 2005, my dad discovered his “happy place”, Penn State, lovingly referred to by all as “Happy Valley”. With all three of his kids attending Penn State, he fell in love with the place, as did we all. But T-Wiz LOVED Penn State. It was as if he found the “fountain of youth”. He even received an alumni card in the mail and would flash it at the doors of frat houses with a quick “Alumni, 1982” with a confident head nod. He and my mom hosted unbelievable tailgates and all of our friend circles grew to love our parents. What was not to love? It wasn’t just the football and tailgating that my dad loved- he was 100% correct when he said that THON was the greatest thing about Penn State. Many of you know, The Dance Marathon is a student-run philanthropy event that raises money for Pediatric Cancer- Kyle, Kelsie, and myself danced in THON and my dad was our #1 cheerleader. We didn’t know then the first hand impact of cancer and my dad and I often talked about how our perspective changed with the onset of his diagnosis. Cancer is cruel and it affects the whole family. 

Now we all know that my mom loved to travel, whereas my dad was happy with the simple and maybe cheaper options . My mom was amazing in that way, as she pushed my dad, Kyle, Kelsie, and myself to see the world. We went on many amazing trips and had incredible adventures, but no matter where we went, my dad’s favorite place in the world was “7 Helen Road”. Our home in Clinton, New Jersey was where my dad played what, according to him, was his most important role- being a father. During the end of his battle with cancer, he told us that he “only wanted to be a good lawyer, but really wanted to be a great father.” He said his kids were the benchmarks of his life. How lucky are we to have a dad who did it all? The bed time “tuck-ins”, the nightly prayers, the spider killings, the dancing/singing/freeze tag games, the made-up adventures in the back yard, the coach to all of our soccer, softball, and basketball teams. He never missed a game. How fortunate are we to have always had the sound advice of a father who led by example, consistently supported us and inspired us to try our best. He was not just our father but our closest friend. He was our greatest gift.

So we see that my dad did love with all of his might and with an infectious enthusiasm. But more than anything else, he loved people.
In the movie, Clarence the guardian angels says “Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”

My dad loved all of you in this room. No matter when you met my dad, he touched your lives in some way. My dad always liked keeping tabs on everyone, even when he was most sick and confined to his brown lazy boy chair, he would ask how each one of you was doing- things like- where are they working? Whose kid is getting married? Where are the kids going to college? Who are they dating? What team they are rooting for? What did they do over the weekend? Who was at the party? He loved each and every one of you in this room. He was exceptional in making everyone feel welcome. He instilled a bit of his wisdom with each role that he played. He inspired others in the way he lived, and the way he fought (during the past two years). He loved with a full and genuine heart. He made others smile with the sharing of his own. He created laughter and made each and every one feel unique and as if they were the most important person to him in that moment. His impact on others was unmatched. His selfless nature was effortless. 

It has been an incredibly difficult 22-month journey. My dad fought cancer with everything he had up until the very end because he simply wanted to live. As his hospice nurse put it, “He just didn’t wanna leave the party.”

Gosh do I love my dad, and I know you all do too. Thank you for loving him. Thank you for sharing your memories and thoughts about my dad. My family and I know that he was loved beyond measure.

“Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?” After we leave church today and go back to our daily routine- We will all feel that hole in our lives in different ways. It may be when you turn on a Penn State game, go to pick up the phone, try to find a dance partner, hear a Springsteen song, raise a glass of Irish beer, or glance over at his brown lazy boy chair. And while that hole can never be filled, we will smile, and remember that our memories with him will last forever. 

See Dad, you really had a wonderful life. I love you. 

Thank you all for coming.

A candle was lit and prayers were said yesterday morning at Notre Dame's Grotto for Uncle Tommy Walsh -- Heaven is his home now!