A Tribute to the Strongest Man I’ve Ever Known

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by Dana on June 17, 2012

This Father’s Day, I’d like to honor my dad’s memory by sharing the eulogy I delivered at his funeral almost one year ago…

July 23, 2011

My father was the best dad a girl could ask for, a sharp businessman, a trusted friend and brother, a proud papa, and a teacher, mentor and role model for many. No matter the situation, he always had some words of wisdom for you—and you could always count on him to be there for you when you needed him.

For me, the way I cope with difficult situations in my life, is to try to take something good from the experience—to pay close attention to the lessons I’m supposed to learn from it. And watching my father go through his journey into the next world over the past couple of weeks was life-changing for me. It was an honor to be present for it and it changed my perspective on many things. I don’t think you can watch someone you love go through the process of dying and not be forever changed. You may recall my dad telling you at one point or another that he was going to “learn” you something. Well, “learn me,” he did.

This morning, I’d like to share with you a few lessons that most stood out for me.

First…A positive attitude can get you through anything.

My dad was the strongest man I ever met—both physically and mentally. I was so proud of the way he fought his battle with cancer, fearlessly and always positive to the very end. Just a week before he died, as we moved him to his hospital bed, still saying, “I think I’m gonna need to rest for 2 or 3 days to get my strength back.”

No one would have ever guessed that he would have survived 27 months with a stage 4 diagnosis in his mid-70s. It’s unheard of! Yet he always believed he would emerge as the winner. And while he’s no longer with us, I believe he did win—because he never once allowed the disease to destroy the spirit of who he was.

He was always someone who made you feel good, just by being around him. He’d put you at ease and he always made you feel important. And while he was sick, he never showed that he was worried; instead, he was more concerned that those he loved were worried about him. He didn’t want to trouble anyone. As he lay in his hospital bed over the past week, even when he could no longer speak, he would take all the energy he had left in his body to give his visitors a sign that everything was ok—whether it was his famous wink, a squeeze of the hand, or a thumbs-up. In fact, just about an hour before he passed, he mustered up the strength to give me one final big wink. And a few days earlier, he told me, “Something good is going to happen; I know it.” And I believe that it did—because he is finally at peace and no longer has to fight.

My second lesson…Slow down and enjoy your life.

My dad genuinely loved life. You can see it in the look on his face in all the pictures on display here today.

He took pleasure in the simple things—spending time with family, eating platefuls of good Italian food, grabbing a cup of coffee with friends at the donut shop, and hanging out with “the boys” at their construction sites. He enjoyed reading inspiring books and taking long walks all over town. And he loved—and I do mean loved—his work. In fact, it really wasn’t work at all to him. He had a passion for fixing things—for analyzing problems and figuring out the solutions.

He was a natural storyteller. Who here hasn’t heard one of his accounts about Lee Iacocca, World War II, his time in the Army, or his shenanigans at the Latin Quarters? The best was that he told the same stories—over and over and over…but he could get away with it. He was so engaging that it never got old.

In watching his final moments, I realized that all of the petty, insignificant things that we spend so much time focusing on mean nothing in the end. I don’t know about all of you—but for me, life gets so busy. I’m so concerned with all the things that need to get done that I often miss what’s happening right in front of me. But this experience has inspired me to be more present in my life—to enjoy the everyday moments, do work I love, reconnect with old family and friends—and overall, to just soak in all the good stuff and forget about the rest.

My final lesson from this experience…Never underestimate your power to impact others’ lives.

In my dad’s final days, he was not only visited by close family and friends—which I expected—but also by a number of people I had never even met before. It was amazing to see all of the people whose lives that he touched in some way—and to see all of that love come back to him when he needed it the most. It was a great tribute to the kind of man he was. And even when he couldn’t speak, you could tell from the look in his eyes how much each person’s visit meant to him.

I know it was tough to see him that way—especially since we were all so used to seeing him so strong—but even those of you for whom it was incredibly hard, pushed through your pain to be there and show him how much you loved him. For that I want to thank you. I know how hard it was.

A few nights before my father passed, when I was sleeping over, an amazing sense of peace seemed to wash over him and he began grinning from ear to ear just like a little boy. It almost seemed like he was glowing. I’d never seen anything like it—and you just knew that you were in the presence of something not of this world.

We all know that my dad hated being sick and I am relieved knowing that now he gets to be strong and whole and peaceful again. I take comfort that he was welcomed into heaven by his parents and brothers—and he will now be watching over my mother, myself, my children and all of you. There is no one better to have on our side up there and there is no one I would trust more to protect us.

We were all very lucky to have known my dad—and I know he will be greatly missed and remembered—for all his good deeds, the smiles he put on our faces, and the love he showed us. And you can’t lose when you’re remembered. So he was right…He did, indeed, win the battle.

He very much looked forward to the day that he’d be able to take a good, long walk again, and get back to fixing things—and I think we can all be sure that that’s what he’s doing now…as well as enjoying having a whole new audience to tell all his stories to…


{ 1 comment }

Gwen Callas-Miller June 17, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Beautiful, Dana. Thanks for sharing these wonderful memories. I wish I could have known your father.