That day in March was long. A soft rain fell. It's not often that a thousand days can pass without so much as a second thought, but then, before you are aware of it, the sun ebbs away and a stillness fills the emptiness that is night. There is no sound. That night; that long night in March, a soft, gentle rain fell on the sand and against the windows. As you gazed out towards the ocean, a reflection looked back, and with every breath, the window fogged.
Daddy was a smart dresser. Trousers, carefully creased, silk ties, crisp shirts and a suit jacket. As a little girl, I found myself earning dimes and quarters by pressing my Daddy's dress shirts, monogrammed handkerchiefs and other linens set aside for attention. To this day I find ironing to be one of the most relaxing, rewarding and strangely addictive household duties. As a little girl, being able to be responsible for my Daddy's dapper appearance gave me a sense of pride. Those were the days of dreams.
Fast forward some 30 years, to a small beach side community, and you could still see that same dapper appearance. The characteristics were still present, although somewhat dulled by age. The rich heathers, greys and mossy colors of Daddy's wool jackets were still calming to gaze at. The jacket that once fit a strapping young man, now hung loosely on an older man whose disease owned his frame. A nicely pressed handkerchief could be found in one of the pockets, as well as a rosary and most likely a prayer card.
The jacket still conveyed a sense of character; it drew a vein of respect and appeared like a well told tale; the type of story the Irish are famous for. There would be no tall tale on that long day in March. Daddy's gentle spirit tired easily, but his hands, bony now from age and disease still held an air of distinction. Daddy's hands wiped tears from 2 daughters' eyes, guided 2 brothers' in baseball, danced with grandchildren and embraced my mother.
Cancer knows no financial bracket. The disease truly does not discriminate. If you've a beating heart, then you're ripe for the disease. Once dashingly handsome with black wavy hair, dancing Irish eyes and a generous smile, dimmed from the daily grind of an overpowering cancer. The end was close.
The jacket smelled of moth balls. There was a small tear in the silk lining. Regardless of these small imperfections, the jacket held its distinguishable traits. It had been worn with pride.
That last evening, the Pacific Coast brought forth a fine Irish rain. Soft and steady, it fell like a serenade, a love story calling back a long lost son. Far off in the distance, Daddy could hear the melody of the rain falling. Surrounded by those who loved Daddy, we gathered around his bedside in the living room. As a family, we honored our Daddy's last wishes to be able to die at home; to admire the poetic beauty of the crashing waves cascading against the rock. Memories of years with his children and grandchildren flooded his mind. There were the happy explorations of small tide pools with little creatures hidden within the cracks and crevices. The days at the beach with Daddy.
Saturday evening came. The priest arrived for the final anointing of the sick. We gathered around Daddy. Private discussions had taken place; one by one, over the course of a week. Apologies, recollections - the "should have", wish I "would have" and "if only" were offered. A daydream gave Daddy the last bit of pure joy as he walked towards the tunnel of light. And then, with night drawing to a close, soft rain caressing the sand, and the sound of the mighty ocean splashing against the rocks, Daddy took his final sigh of relief. It was over. No drama.
The rosary a few days later, an open casket for those that needed closure, and I looked at my Daddy in his plain, simple and beautiful casket. A rosary has been intertwined upon his hand. I did not want to accept his death then nor do I now.
And there, a small frame ravaged by the cruelty of cancer laid a gentle man. An Irishman. A father, husband, grandfather, friend - a gentle soul. And as if they were companions for their lifetimes - Daddy wears his tweed styled, wool jacket. The wool jacket. It was something else, indeed.
**This is dedicated to the memory of my dearest Daddy, Peter J. Gartlan, who left this world far too early. On a rich, rainy Irish night on March 4, 1995, Daddy went home to heaven. 69 years were not enough. He had so much more to accomplish. There were unfinished jokes. Hugs left unhugged. Daddy, you are missed. 20 years later and you are still my Secret Pal**
Much love forever and always,
Your daughter, Ann Corry