Thursday, June 15, 2017




PRAYER FOR BALANCE


        Lord,
          give me the grace
          and give me the gift to be able:

          to see and to hear both sides
                    of an argument,
          to know when to give another space
                    and when to intervene,
                    to step back or to step in,
                    to speak or to listen,
                    to know which one is best
                    for any given situation,
          to know when to let go
                    and when to hang on,
          to be stubborn as a bulldog
                    or to run away like a deer,
          to work hard and then to know
                    when it’s time to play
                    and when it’s time to rest,
          to know when to serve
                    and when to be served,
          to know when to mix
                    and when to be alone,
          to know when to be like rock
                    and when to be like water,
          knowing that you are with me
          and with all others,
          this day and every day,
          all the days of our life. Amen.



© Andy Costello, Prayers in the Meanwhile
June 15, 2017

INNER  CLOWN 

What socks to put on in the morning?
What mask to wear throughout the day?
My inner clown yells: “Me, Me. Choose me.”

The world needs more clowns - more
humor, more laughter, more tickle,
more seeing the funny side of the street.

FOX News - Comedy Central - Look in the
TV screen called “My Mirror!” You know your
warts and all - so laugh, laugh at yourself.


© Andy Costello, Reflections  2017


Wednesday, June 14, 2017


THE 
DEATH 
OF  MICHAEL  



Chapter One RAIN AND TEARS                             
Chapter Two THE WEEK BEFORE                         
Chapter Three THE WEEK HE DIED 

Chapter Four THE WEEK AFTER 

Chapter Five DOES THE RAIN STOP? 

Chapter Six REMEMBERING 


CHAPTER ONE
RAIN AND TEARS

It rained the night, the day Michael died.

“Life is like an onion. You peel off a layer at a time and sometimes you cry.” I thought of those words as I cried. I thought of those words that night as I drove alone towards Brooklyn - the night of the day that Michael died. It was raining.

The phone call came at 11 A.M. It’s always a phone call, isn’t it? I was down in Glen Riddle, Pennsylvania, giving a nun’s retreat when it happened. “Hello.” It was my brother-in-law, Jerry. He broke down as he told me that his son Michael was dead - dead at the age of fifteen.

It was too sudden. It was too quick. He had only gone into the hospital that Sunday evening. Here it was Tuesday morning and Michael was dead. I took a good breath and said, “I’ll be home as soon as I can. WOW! Hope everybody is okay.”

The rain was steady as I drove up the New Jersey Turnpike. It was good to have this time to be alone in the car. I needed this time to cry and gain some strength before I would reach my sister and brother-in-law and the family.

It was now Tuesday evening. It had taken all day to get somebody to take my place giving the retreat. Thanks to my two good friends, Sal and Joe, all was taken care of.

As I drove that night I found it hard to believe that Michael was dead. Just last Friday my sister Mary called me at our retreat house in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania. It was just after five and we were about to begin a week- end retreat for men. She told me that she just found out from the doctor that Michael might have Hodgkin’s disease. That was the first time I heard that Michael was sick. They had no idea till that afternoon that he was sick. Mary said that he would probably 90 into the hospital that Sunday.

That whole weekend I thought about Michael. I wanted to be with him in Brooklyn, but I had to be on this men’s retreat. Then on Sunday I had to drive directly from Tobyhanna to Glen Riddle for the nun’s retreat.

When I woke up that Sunday morning, I knew I had to get to Brooklyn. I’ll drive there first and then head for Glen Riddle, even if it meant being late. I just had to see Michael and see how he was.

I kept thinking that night as I drove up the turnpike how thankful to God I am that I made the decision ion that Sunday morning to drive to Brooklyn. I didn’t leave Tobyhanna till around eleven in the morning. That meant I’d only see Michael for a few hours, but at least I’ d see him

The trip usually takes two and a half hours. That Sunday it took four hours, because I got a flat tire about five hundred yards from the toll booth of the George Washington Bridge. The traffic was bumper to bumper. I made it worse. I was in the left lane when I heard that ugly sound of escaping air. My right front tire had died.

As I changed the tire I cursed; I had lots of second thoughts about this rushed trip to Brooklyn. After all I’ll only see him for an hour at the rate I’m going. Here it was 95 degrees - bumper to bumper - and I get a flat. Boy, am I stupid. Why didn’t I wait till the end of the week? That way I’d have a whole weekend to see Michael and the family.

I got the tire changed pretty fast, probably because of the nasty looks from the cars that had to move over to the middle lane to pass me. I finally made it to Brooklyn just in time for Sunday dinner. I ended up seeing Michael for 45 minutes.

Thank you God. Now I know why you had me 90 home that Sunday. It was the last time saw Michael alive. I had to leave for Glen Riddle at four” I made it there just in time for the retreat. Michael left for the hospital- around five-thirty that afternoon.

The whole family went together. Michael was quieter that usual. He must have known what was going on. Michael was smart. Michael was nosy. Michael always knew what was going on. You should have seen him playing cards. And we come from a family of card players

That Sunday night a doctor examined him and said there was no swelling in the glands. In spite of that remark, Sunday night at the hospital was rough on everyone.

Monday wasn’t any easier, That evening the whole family, Mary and Jerry, and their three kids, Monica, Gerard and Maryna, drove down to see Michael again. They were scared. Some hope existed because of the doctor’s remark from Sunday night. Nobody was thinking death, Nobody had an thinking that this would the last time they would see him alive.

Poor Maryna wasn’t old enough to go up to see her brother. She was eight. But her dad fixed that. As they left Michael his dad told him to put every light in his room on and then stand at the window. The whole family then got in their car and drove around the block till they faced Michael’s room on the seventeenth floor. They got out, looked up, and there stood wonderful blond hair light surrounded in light.

His dad Jerry told me later on, “That was the last time we all say Michael alive.”

On the way home from the hospital that night they too got a flat tire.

The next morning, Tuesday, Jerry woke up to go to the eight o’clock Mass at their parish church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. As he was dressing he was waiting for the phone to ring. On Monday morning Michael had called from the hospital to make sure everybody was up for work and school. That was Michael’s job every morning. He was always the first one up. He was always the one who woke everybody up to a new day - to new life,

Just as Jerry was going out the door the phone rang. He explained to Michael that he was going to Mass now to say some prayers in hopes that the operation that morning would be a success. He also said that his mom would be at Mass later on in the morning and taking him communion. Michael’s parents have been delegated to bring communion to shut-ins and the sick in their parish.

It was to be a very brief operation that morning. They were to take a gland out of his shoulder for a biopsy. It shouldn’t take long.

Then it happened. He started to fail. They tried everything. He must have been very sick, because he died so suddenly.

The hospital called Mary at home and told her Michael was in critical condition. Mary called Jerry at work. Then she called her best friend Marie who was in the middle of washing her hair. Marie grabbed a towel, ran to her car, picked up Mary and rushed to the hospital.

Jerry quickly got a cab from his office in New York. I wonder what sped through his head as the cab sped towards the hospital. I wonder what the cab driver thought as looked in the rear view mirror and saw the face of someone wanting to get to a hospital as fast as possible,

Mary got there first. A doctor and a nurse met her and walked her down a long corridor. Mary knew immediately that Michael was dead. She got to a room and there the doctor told her that Michael had just died on the table.

Jerry arrived and rushed upstairs to Michael’s room. At first there was a mix up. The people there didn’t know what was happening. Finally they brought Jerry to Mary, She rushed into his arms in tears and that’s how heard his son was dead.

What do you write after that? Do you go on?

It was just after this that I got the phone call telling me Michael had died.

That night in the rain, as I drove towards Brooklyn, seemed long and slow. The minutes were filled with tears and memories of a fascinating character named Michael.



CHAPTER TWO
THE WEEK BEFORE

Michael loved life. He was the total extrovert. He was into everything. I think this was the toughest thing that hit us when he died. You always knew he was in the house.

Did he know he was going to die?

That Sunday evening in the hospital Michael made an enigmatic remark. “When I die, don’t write a book about how I died, but how I lived.” Michael said that joking around, imitating a tough guy. He and his brother were sitting there in the hospital talking about the movie Brian’s Song. It’s the story about Brian Piccolo’s struggle with leukemia and his eventual death. It’s the story of his deep friendship with fellow football player, Gayle Sayers,

Michael had no such struggle. He died so quickly that we can only describe his life. How did he live? One answer would be to simply look at that last week before he died.

It was a week that he went to a Mets game, a Yankee game, played basketball, baseball, finished school, went shopping, read, fooled around, listened to music, tried to listen in on a hundred conversations, and probably tried ten new things and thought a thousand new thoughts. It was also the week he found out he was seriously sick.

Michael was a Mets’ fan from the beginning. That Wednesday night he and five other guys from the block drove out to Shea stadium to watch the Mets try to beat Cincinnati, Being an optimist Michael had no doubts that the Mets would win. I can picture him now booing and banging his brother, saying, “Dang it!” when George Foster homered and won the game for Cincinnati. Thanks George.

Knowing Michael, as soon as the game was over, the game was over. He moved onto new material. His team had lost, so what else se was new? Now a new game began as the bunch of them headed home. Their driver, Mike Ganey, got lost in Queens. Each new mistake stake got Michael’s mouth moving more and more. Everybody knew that you couldn’t make a mistake if Michael was around. He wouldn’t let you live it down. “Nice going.... Gooooooood move Ganey.... Hey, I think I’m going to like it here in New Jersey.” They were still in Queens.

I heard that story in the funeral parlor. The kid who was telling it said, “Somebody in the car finally yelled, ‘Michael, shut up or we’ll kill you.’” When the kid realized he said the word “kill” in the funeral parlor he turned red. But Michael’s brother Gerard, standing next to me said, “Relax. That’s all right. We’re doing okay. We all loved Michael and his mouth.”

Michael enjoyed the game of life, even when your favorite team loses, even when you’re lost in Queens.

All this took place during the week of June 5 – 11th, 1977. That Friday my sister Mary received the phone call from the doctor. He wanted Michael in the hospital for tests. It looked like Hodgkin’s disease. She called her husband. Mary then called me in Tobyhanna. Then the fears moved in.

He wasn’t to go into the hospital till Sunday. How do you keep a kid busy till then? This was not a problem with Michael. The problem was rather: How does the whole family keep busy till they know what’s happening. The problem was rather: How do you tell a kid of 15 he is seriously sick? Did he know it. He had been to the doctor a few times al ready in the year, especially when he couldn’t’ t shake a cough. He must have figured out something when he had to be X-rayed. He had to drop off the track team at Regis High School because he didn’t have the energy needed. He started to fall asleep while watching television. This wasn’t like Michael. When asked if he wanted to work for the summer, Michael said he would rather rest.

Mary and Jerry told Michael he was seriously sick that Friday evening.

The next day, Saturday, was tense. To keep busy the whole family got in the car to 90 down town to do some shopping. Michael needed slippers for the hospital, but a 15 year old boy doesn’t wear slippers. They went downtown night for moccasins. He also needed a new pair of sneakers, so Michael ended up with new moccasins, plus a neat pair of green Puma sneakers. His reaction to that was, “Aaaallll right.”

That was Saturday morning. What about Saturday afternoon? On the way home in the car Mary said a prayer that something would come up. She forgot that Michael never had a problem in finding things to do.

As they were coming up the block, Jimmy Croney was coming down the block with tickets for the Yankee game that afternoon. He had ten tickets and went scouting for kids. He headed right for Michael and Gerard, knowing that one loved the Yankees and the other “hated’ those Yankees.

Mary couldn’t believe that her prayers answered so quickly.

Gerard had a great time in the bleachers of Yankee stadium that day; Michael didn’t. The Yankees won. Naturally, 1977 was their year. I found out about all this at the funeral parlor. Michael had a beautiful color as he lay there in the coffin. I asked about it all and found out that he was out there in the bleachers of Yankee Stadium a few days earlier screaming for the other tell. Did you hear him Reggie Jackson?

That week he also played baseball, basketball, cards, chess, and lots of other things we never knew he was into. He went to Central Park with the guys from Regis High School to climb trees. He also finished in that week his first year at Regis. Was he looking forward to all the pranks he would be pulling as a sophomore? Was he beginning to wonder if he had leukemia or some sickness like that? Did he how he was going to die?

The next day was Sunday. As usual he was the first one up in the morning. The whole family went to church together, came home, had a big breakfast, read the papers, and enjoyed the beauty of a Sunday morning together. In the afternoon the two brothers played stick ball with the kids on the block and then came in for Sunday dinner when I got home around three o’clock as I described above.

As I was going out the door around four to drive to Glen Riddle, I saw Michael and Gerard both going down to the park to watch a baseball game. The park wasn’t too far away. It was just an excuse for the two of them to have one last talk together before Michael went to hospital.

The call came in around five-thirty. They were just back in time and all headed for the hospital together.

Later on in the evening Father Jack McGowan, a great friend of the family, came down to see if Michael wanted to receive the Sacrament of the Sick. A few jokes went back and forth between the two of them. Both were blessed with a great sense of humor, but both were also nervous. Michael said, “Yes” and then all the family prayed for Michael. The whole family also received communion together in the Sign or Sacrament of the Lord’s presence.

As I wrote in the beginning of this chapter, it was on this Sunday evening that Michael said, “When I die don’t write a book about how I died, but how I lived.”



CHAPTER THREE
THE WEEK MICHAEL DIED

I arrived home that rainy Tuesday night from Glen Riddle around 11:30. There is no need to describe what happened. All of us, who have experienced the death of a father or a mother or sister or brother and have had to drive or fly back to our roots, know what it’s like.

I heard more of the story about what happened in between the tears and the unbelief that Michael had died so suddenly.

I heard that my mother and sister Peggy had driven up from Baltimore that morning. Their plans were to drive to our house in Brooklyn and then go to the hospital to see Michael. When they got to the house Peggy saw all the cars and knew something was wrong.

They were on the road when Michael died. Peggy, Sister St. Monica, is a nun. She was teaching in Baltimore at the time. My mom was down in Laurel, Maryland for the high school graduation of my brother’s daughter, Mary.

That whole weekend my sister Mary had a dilemma. Do I call them up and have them worry or should I wait? She decided to wait till after graduation. But just in case she sent a note down to my sister-in-law Joanne. Kathy, another of my brother’s daughters, was up in Brooklyn that Sunday and was heading back to Maryland. But on the way back the car broke down. She called her mom and dad and told about the note. She ended up reading it over the phone to her mom. When the graduation was over Joanne told my mom that Michael was in the hospital – but just for tests. Then she called my sister in Baltimore. Peggy said she would drive my mom up to Brooklyn the next morning, Mary didn’t t want to make everybody nervous, She didn’t want to say anything till the reports from the hospital were in.

And everybody knows that night it’s hard to sleep that night. I tossed and turned what everybody had said and how their eyes looked. I worried about my mom and Peggy. What were they going through? Both were so special to Michael. Did they feel bad that they weren’t there? I worried about eight year old Maryna. How was she taking the death of her brother? What goes on in the mind of an eight year old girl?

Then I began to worry about the doctors and the nurses from the operating room. Were they able to handle this sudden tragedy? Did their husbands or wives or kids ask, “What’s wrong with you tonight?” Just thinking about that brought more tears. Who do they go to when everything goes wrong? Their family doctor, when he heard the news, immediately closed down his office for the day. It was too much.

The next day Michael’s father had to go to the morgue. Even the word sounds what it’s like. We waited for my brother Billy and his wife Joanne. They arrived around ten o’clock that morning from Maryland. Then the men, Jerry, his son Gerard, Billy and I drove to Kings County Hospital where they do all the autopsies

How does a morgue handle all these emotional people coming in to identify bodies? The room where we had to wait and fill out the papers was not designed by the director of a funeral parlor. It was typical New York City Government office space.

However the woman there was special. She landed everything beautifully. She told Jerry that she had heard from a nurse in the hospital where Michael died that Michael was a great kid. Then she stopped doing her papers for a moment. She looked at Jerry delicately, Wow! You look just like your son. She had seen the body downstairs in the morgue, jolt know how that woman was placed in that job, or how New York City places its people, but this woman was in the right place all right time.

She called downstairs. It took a while till they were ready for us. Then she took us down on the elevator to the morgue. Michael lay there on a hospital table, behind a glass window, His dad asked if he could touch the body, but the woman said gently that he better not. I wondered why they had this glass wall. Then I real realized that people would leap on their beloved.

It was a scene I’ll never forget. There was a father and a brother facing the death of someone they shared 15 years of life with - memories, ups and downs, jokes, - the big moments and the small moments, I’ll never forget that scene of tears and love and death.

Then I noticed that my brother-in-law suddenly braced himself. He wiped the tears. I could hear him saying to himself, “I got to be strong for Mary.” Then he said, “Let’s go.” The four of us than thanked the woman and headed for the door. We headed for the next few days together,

While we were at the morgue my two sisters were home. They were just sitting there, talking about the gift of Michael. My sister Peggy told me later on that Mary began to realize that she had better start thinking about Michael’s burial.

Mary got up and welt up into Michael’s room. She came out to the living room holding Michael’s navy blue suit. She spoke softly, “I’ll have to put this on him and he hated it.” Mary loves to sew and she told Peggy that she had made the suit for a cruise the family had taken together the summer before. She said that Michael looked so handsome in it, but how he hated it.

Then she said gently, “What I would like to do right now is put him in his blue jeans, his red track jacket from Regis, and his favorite shirt.” She knew Michael; she knew he never liked to wear a suit.

So back went the suit and out of the closet came his blue jeans, his favorite tan sport shirt, and his red Regis High School jacket. Mary smiled because she said she could hear Michael saying, “That’s cool, mom. That’s cool.”

Later on in the day Jerry had to take the clothes to the funeral parlor. He really liked the idea dressing Michael up the way he would like. But he added that he wanted to take Michael’s new Puma sneakers along too. Mary said, “Why not give them to some kid who would really love a brand new pair of Pumas?” Jerry answered, “No, I want him to wear the Pumas . I’ll go out and buy another pair of Pumas for some kid, but I want Michael to wear this new pair.”

The rest of that Wednesday the family and friends had some time together. Thank God Mary and Jerry have so many friends. Without the presence of people like Marie and Chris and so many others we wouldn’t have had so much strength and grace to make it through the next few days.

Next morning Jerry and I went up to Cosgrove’s Funeral Parlor. Jerry wanted to see if everything was all right. The undertaker did a beautiful job. I’ve read criticism about funeral parlors, about the American way of death, the way the corpse is prettied up in make believe sleep; but I’ve also read enough anthropology to know death has to be handled with some kind of ritual and ceremony. I stood back and cried a bit when Jerry performed his own private ritual. He stood there quietly for a moment. Then he kissed the forehead gently. Lastly he made the sign of the cross. We both wondered how we’d all make it through these three days.

The viewing was from two to five in the afternoon and from seven to ten at night. The whole family went to the funeral parlor at one o’clock. We all watched Mary to see if she was all right.

Then the doors were opened. After they were closed at night, after we got home, took off our shoes and talked a bit, we all were able to sleep immediately, because those two days at the funeral parlor were long, long days.

Perhaps it was the red jacket; perhaps it was the enormous strength of Mary and Jerry; perhaps it was the fact that we have so many friends; but everybody who walked into that small chapel, walked out having experienced something special. They saw our tears. They saw the tragedy of Michael’s sudden death. They saw the nervous faces of his classmates from Regis High School, who didn’t have time to figure what this was all about. But they also saw a family with enormous faith in God. This was the most precious gift our parents and their parents and their parents passed down to us. Faith is in our roots.

Looking back now we all have some specific memories from those long hours at Cosgrove’s Funeral Parlor. I’m sure my mother knew it was the exact spot where my father Michael was also waked. To me the most graphic moment was on Friday evening when my seven nieces arrived from Maryland, My brother and sister-in-law have seven kids - all girls. Because it looks like our name won’t go on, I always tell my brother he’s a failure. Because of their jobs, they weren’t able to arrive from Maryland till then. Around ten to nine all seven girls walked into the funeral parlor together. Suddenly there was a strange silence. Everybody stopped talking at once. The girls stood there in the back not sure just what to do. They could see their cousin Michael up there in the coffin. We had the benefit of three days together. They didn’t know what to expect, just coming off the highway. They hesitated. Then everyone in the still crowded funeral parlor watched those seven girls walked up and kneel down by one at Michael’s coffin. What would seven girls - aged 12 to 20 - be thinking and feeling as they knelt there? I thought it was good for them to face all this, the reality of death, because someday they might have to face what my sister Mary is going through now.

I still have vivid memories of Jimmy Hennessey’s death from when I was a kid. He was a kid in our grammar school class who died around the age of ten. The wake was held in his home. Well, I’m glad our culture moved wakes to funeral parlors. That was the first death I experienced. I remember silence, tears, old people sitting around on chairs, and our whole class marching over to 64th Street in white shirts and blue ties. What will my brother’s seven girls remember about Michael’s funeral?

And what about their cousin Maryna? How was she taking her brother’s death? Should she go to the funeral parlor? Mary did what she always did with Maryna. She asked her. She first explained what was happening. Then she gave her some time to think. Then she asked her if she wanted to go. Maryna is a very interesting kid - a little professor. She said she wanted to go, but only for a little while. So that’s what she did. One of us would take her over to the house of her best friend, Patricia Lavelle, for the rest of the day. What will Maryna’s memories of Michael’s death be? Or better what will be their memories of his life be? The two of them used to have great times together.

The next morning we had the Mass. All of Michael’s classmates who helped us so much during the week were there, plus most of the other young men from Regis High School. Father Steve Duffy, Father Raymond Swords, and so many other Jesuits from Regis came over to concelebrate the Mass. Some very good Redemptorist friends of Mary and Jerry also came, Marty Crowe, Tom Radley, Phil Dabney, Joe Keenan, Tom Barrett, and Jack McGowan.

Being a priest I’ve been to many funerals but this one was the biggest yet, I concelebrated my father’s death in 1970 with so many friends. Looking back now I think his funeral was a bit easier. He had lung cancer and we knew it. He went into a deep coma, We had a week’s warning. But most of all, my dad had a long beautiful life.

But Michael was young and full of life when he died. So my goal for the Mass was to celebrated life not death. I wanted to let the huge crowd in that church really know who Michael was and what his life was like. I wanted to celebrate the life that God had given us in Michael.

Monica, his sister, did the first of three readings we selected for the Mass, It was from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament. We picked it because it was the type of “stuff” Michael liked.

There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens.

A time to be born, 
and a time to die;
a time to plant, 
and a time to uproot the plant.

A time to tear down, 
and a time to build.
A time to tear down, 
and a time to build.
A time to weep, 
and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, 
and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones, 
and a time to gather them;
a time a time to embrace, 
and a time to be far from embraces.

A time to seek, 
and a time to lose;
a time to keep 
and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, 
and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, 
and a time Io speak.

Monica didn’t hesitate for a moment. She was doing this for her brother.

Next came her brother Gerard. He did the second reading. Because he’s six foot three, he had trouble adjusting to the microphone which was set for someone five foot nine. Michael used to needle Gerard, saying that someday he would be taller than him. For the second reading we decided to add a personal touch. Gerard read their family poem. It was a poem that had been part of the family down through the years for many reasons, but especially because of the last stanza. Monica had it put in her yearbook when she graduated from Saint Joseph Hill Academy in Staten Island. Gerard bent over and began reading the following poem by Robert Frost.
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way:
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh                   
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

As Gerard read that poem the family knew that it now had another meaning.

Then I read the following words from the gospel of Saint John. They are words Jesus spoke the night before he died.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you  that I was going to prepare a place for you?

I am indeed going to prepare a place for you, and then I shall come back to take you with me, that where I am you also may be. You know the way that leads where I go.”

“Lord,” said Thomas, “we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”

Jesus told him: “I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father also. From this point on you know him; you have seen him.”

The sermon must be Michael. That was my goal as I prepared it. I wanted it to be full of life, so I told the crowded church that Michael’s days were totally alive. He was all mouth. He was all ears. He never missed a trick. He was a star. He was a gentleman - with a heavy stress on gentle. He had the gift of being able to talk with anyone and everyone. You could always see him talking with old people, young people, all kinds of people. I stressed the word “talking.” He loved to talk, In his 15 years, he lived 50 years. He did, He loved sports, studies, reading, needling people and playing practical jokes. But he never hurt people. He was the old man, the kid, the brat, the enquirer, the investigator and the type of person who loved to be himself. If he was anyone, he was his own man. Then I added, “But there’s a world of difference between hearing about Michael and experiencing Michael.” I saw many heads saying “yes” when I said that.

I said all that in the sermon. But I wanted to end by stressing something else. Somehow this 15 year old kid had a unique gift. I’ve never experienced it quite so much in anyone else. He made people feel special. He made the other person that he was with feel that they were valuable. He made me feel special. He made me feel important. He always wanted to know when I was coming to Brooklyn. He wanted to see me.
         
After he started going to Regis High School Michael started telling me about a Father Duffy who taught Latin. Michael really loved the guy. He was an “old” Jesuit whom I knew was special from the way Michael described him. Michael would come home from school and it was “Father Duffy this” and “Father Duffy that”. I didn’t meet the man till Michael’s funeral , but I knew he was special.

Michael made the old ladies on the block feel special. He would stop right in the middle of a game of street football with his famous, “Hold everything.” Then he’d run help lug their packages right to the door. Then he’d run back to the game of life. This was so normal for Michael that nobody noticed it or made cracks about it. Everybody knew if an old lady came down the block with a package, that it was time for a break till Michael was back,

He always made sure little kids felt special, especially those whom the other kids left out.

For 10 years I saw Michael do this to his parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, everybody. You should have seen the line he had for both his grandmothers. He had both of them wrapped around his finger. So that is why I ended my sermon with the following message. He made everyone feel special, like a star. So I’m sure his grandfather Mike went up to God and said, “Hey God, you have to meet my grandson Michael. He’s something else. He’s special.” So after hearing so much about Michael, God decided he would take him home to Himself.

Of course that’s the kind of stuff the Irish call blarney. Of course it brought tears. Then I said, “So I don’t know about you, but I’d like to give his parents and God a hand for creating such a beautiful kid.” And the church clapped the loudest clap and the longest clap I’ve ever heard.

After the Mass we all headed for the cemetery in Staten Island. We made it there and back without too much trouble. Jerry’s sister Marge and brother-in-law Jack got lost, but that gave us something to distract us and needle Jack about after we got home from the cemetery.

We came back to food. For three days our friends from the neighborhood and New Jersey brought us lots of food. We (meaning the women of course) ended up not having to cook for almost a week and half. This ancient custom of bringing food and making the meals for people experiencing the death of a loved one is one more sign of the loving care of people for people.

Upstairs, downstairs, and in the cellar we had wall-to-wall friends, cousins, uncles, aunts and neighbors. After some funerals you want to be alone, but after this one, we all seemed to want to be with people. Michael would want it that way, because he loved a full house.

Late that night it all ended. We made it. All were okay for the time being. We were too drained to feel anything beyond being tired. However, as I lay in bed that night the only person I still worried about was Maryna. I thought about a special moment in the cellar that afternoon. She said something I thought was precious. We were talking about Father’s Day which was coming up the next day. Maryna said to me, “Why don’t they have a brother’s day?”


CHAPTER FOUR
THE WEEK AFTER

Board by board the boardwalk is built.

I once rebuilt a boardwalk at our retreat house in West End, New Jersey. A big storm had ripped it apart. It wasn’t that long. In fact my sister-in-law, Joanne, had dubbed it, “The World’s Shortest Boardwalk.” But as I began to repair it, the other end looked about 10 miles away. However, as I nailed back board after board, I began to say with the hammer, “Board by board the boardwalk is built.”

The time after a death is like the time after a storm. You have to begin to put the boardwalk of your life back together again, even if part of it was swept out to sea.

The time after a funeral is a time for healing, for rebuilding, for starting again. Slowly one has to survey the damage caused by the storm and hopefully make the decision to go forward. Obviously it can be a time of anger and depression. It’s a time then when we need each other. It’s a time we have to sit around and share.

But people have to go back to work. One by one people go out the door. The friends that filled the funeral parlor, the church, the house, get in their cars and drive away. The family sits there minus one.

Fortunately my sister Peggy, Sister St. Monica, had just finished the school year. She was able to stay around to help keep my sister Mary moving when she needed moving, give her time to speak when she needed an ear, and let her have time to be alone when she needed to be alone. My sister-in-law Joanne also took a week off from work to stay around and help everybody through this new week without Michael.

Compared to the week before everything was obviously quieter. Thus it was a week to reflect upon all that had happened so quickly. Reflection then is probably the first step, the first board, on the way to beginning to rebuild one’s life without the other.

I wondered how my sister Mary was doing. Last week was too crowded and too soon to really know. Was it easier for her to take Michael’s death because she was actually working on a paper on death for a course she was taking at Fordham University? How close to the reality of what she was beginning to go through were these recent books on death? To me Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Rabbi Earl Grollman’s books on death were very close to touching on feelings and thoughts that hit people when someone they love dies. They helped me; would they help Mary?

As the week went on Mary told us that she was only now beginning to see why so many things that took place in the past year happened. Things that had puzzled her only now began to fit into place.

The year before Michael was thinking of going away to a high school preparatory seminary run by the Redemptorists. He was dabbling with the dream of perhaps becoming a priest someday. All of a sudden he received a scholarship to Regis High School in New York City. It’s one of the best high schools in the country. Michael was a brilliant kid and this Jesuit high school was a great challenge for him. In the one year he was there Mary saw how well rounded an education he was getting. Perhaps they were after him too. Mary and Jerry told me last summer that they would have been proud if Michael had gone away to our Redemptorist minor seminary in North East, Pennsylvania. They felt Michael, being Michael, was mature enough to handle being away from home for high school. I had gone there, felt homesick at times, but ended up loving every minute of it. Their real good friend, Father Jack McGowan knew Michael very well and would have kept an eye on him. But Mary now realized that if Michael had gone away to St. Mary’s in North East, they would have seen very little of him this past year, the last year of his life. If he had gone away Mary felt she would have always wondered if Michael would have shown any signs of serious sickness. Thank God he stayed home and went to Regis. All they noticed was the cough and the tiredness. With that they took him to the doctor.

Mary also realized now why the whole family went on a cruise last summer, just before Monica went away to Villanova University. It was their last big vacation together as a family. Michael loved every minute of it, running up and down stairs, hiding from Maryna, playing pin ball with Gerard and Monica, and eating a hundred times a day.

Those were the big things that began to hit Mary. But mainly there were all those special little moments to remember: going to stores together, remarks, playing cards, cooking together - oh yeah Michael loved to cook. Moments like that were precious memories Mary kept in the photo album of her mind. The tears would come when she realized Michael would no longer be around to have his picture taken doing all the million and one things that kid loved to do.

On one of the mornings of that new week my sister Mary and I both woke up with the same idea. What about a special “thank you” card for all the people who came to be with us at Michael’s death? I mentioned it to Jerry and Mary jumped in with, “Yeah, I was thinking of that just this morning.” We put our heads together and came up with the idea of a card or something with Michael’s picture on it. Somebody suggested putting on it Robert Frost’s poem. Many people who heard Gerard read it at the funeral Mass wanted a copy of it. They said that they had never heard it before. I guess they too slept through many an American Literature course in high school.

With a picture of Michael and the poem Jerry and I drove down to see a friend of his who did a lot of printing for American Express - the company where Jerry works. On the way down in the car Jerry kept telling me that he wanted whatever Mary wanted. We must get the best for Michael, no matter the cost.

We finally found the place somewhere in downtown Brooklyn. We even found a parking spot. Jerry’s friend, the owner, was great. Soon we had a tour of his whole printing plant. However, I think now that he became very nervous when Jerry had to tell him why we had come.

Finally we got down to business. The result was a card with Michael’s picture inside on the left. On the right, where most cards have a verse, the printer put Robert Frost’s poem.

But what should we put on the front of the card? We hadn’t planned that well, because we really weren’t that sure of what we wanted. After a while I suggested putting down the message of my sermon last week. It was what I felt was the main message of Michael’s life. “Michael was special... and so are you.” Jerry immediately said, “No, ‘Michael is special’ instead of ‘Michael was special.’” There is a big difference between “is” and “was” after someone dies.

So that’s what we ended up with. Jerry ordered a thousand cards in blue and white. There on the outside of the card is the simple statement:
Michael is special
...and so are you!

On the inside is Michael’s picture and Robert Frost’s poem.

We then drove home knowing Mary would like it. For a while both of us were silent. After a long pause Jerry said, “Do you know what Mikey would say about that card, ‘Dad that’s cool.’“

The Doody Family


CHAPTER FIVE
DOES THE RAIN STOP?

          Does the rain stop?

During the weeks that followed the reality of Michael’s death slowly took root. Each of the three kids and Mary and Jerry were the soil of Michael’s life; so too they were the soil of his death. His body was planted in the cemetery. His presence was still in the house. How long does an amputee feel the presence of a leg that is no longer there?

Michael’s older brother Gerard bunked with him for 15 years in the same room. They were true brothers, fighting, laughing, tricking each other every chance they had. Gerard kept telling me that he couldn’t believe what had happened. “One day he’s here; the next day he’s gone.”

Monica and Maryna, the oldest and the youngest kids, struggled in their own ways. Michael was such an extrovert and into so many things, that it’s hard to have all your investments suddenly terminated. Now I understand the meaning of the Depression. It was a crash and suddenly everything is lost. Michael, Maryna and Monica invested a lot of time together.

Then there were all those thank you cards to write. We come from a family that doesn’t like to just send out a Christmas card. We like to make it personal. I guess we get it from our mother, “the letter writer.”

Mary told me how difficult it was sending out all those thank you cards. Each one she picked up had Michael’s picture staring her in the face. But water cleanses and tears have the power of running water to refresh the soul.

It took a couple of weeks, but Mary sent out all those cards. Thank God she had my sister Peggy to do the addresses. They were an advertisement for caring. Many people who received a card phoned immediately to say, “Thank you for the thank you.” Do you then add, “Thank you for saying ‘thank you’ for the thank you”? Smile.

Then there was the meeting of people on the street and the going back to work. Everyone who has experienced death knows that it’s the person whom you meet that needs the reassurance. Fortunately, after standing there in the funeral parlor, meeting person after person, one learns what to say. One knows that the other person doesn’t have to say anything; one also knows that the other is scared. Their presence is enough. It helps fill the absence.

Jerry began telling me about people at American Express where he works. Many of them came over to the wake and the funeral Mass. But then there were others he hadn’t seen yet. Some were scared. They didn’t know what to say. They too needed reassurance. Do you bring it up to them? He knew that they didn’t know how he was taking the sudden death of his son. On the other hand, who knows what memories of past deaths erupt when someone hears about the death of someone else? Who knows what the other has been through? Who knows what how much the other person fears death? Death sure gives us a chance to get out of ourselves and into an awareness of what the other might be going through. I guess the only way to find out is to begin talking.

Mary told me about the day she met Elaine, an old friend of hers, at the bank. They hadn’t seen each other in over a year. Naturally they began asking how the kids were. Mary suddenly had to break the news about Michael. What do you do? What do you say so as not to make the other feel uncomfortable because they hadn’t heard what happened? They both went across the street for coffee. Mary told the whole story. Then the tears continued, because Elaine began telling Mary about her son Anthony. He was the same age as Michael. He had cancer. For the past year he has been suffering terribly. Constantly they have had to go back and forth to the hospital for treatments. Does the rain stop?

I couldn’t help meditating on a saying I read somewhere a long time ago. I don’t remember who wrote it, or exactly how it goes, but I’m sure whoever wrote it wouldn’t mind me using it.
Suffering enters
the human heart
to create there
places that never
existed there before.

A good friend of mine always used to say about people I’d get angry with, “Oh he just has suffered enough. That’s why he doesn’t understand.” Suffering sure is a great teacher, that is if we want to learn. Michael’s death was to teach us so much. But what away to learn.

I noticed that my brother-in-law did a lot of thinking about Michael’s death. I caught him so many times just sitting there by himself. “What are you doing?” He’d answer, “Oh, just thinking. Just thinking.” Then he’d give me the results of his “just thinkings.” I’ve read many articles that talk about the difference between loneliness and solitude. With Jerry I experienced the results of his solitude. Healing takes time. Healing needs friends. But it also needs quiet.

He told me about some of his thoughts and prayers after dropping into his parish church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It’s still open during the day and it’s still a great place to escape into the presence of God.

He told me about a book he had just read by Raymond Moody, Life After Light. It was simply story after story of people who had a near-death experience. Almost everybody saw a great light ... a being of light at the end of a dark tunnel or cave.” “I am the Light of the World.” That is how I heard the story about the night before Michael died, how the whole family stood there on a dark street and looked up and saw Michael standing there in the light of his hospital room.

Jerry told me how blessed he was that he and Mary had made a Marriage Encounter Week-end a few years earlier - how it really helped them to grow so much. “Imagine, he told me, “how couples might turn on each other and blame each other for a kid’s death. Imagine if they found it difficult to communicate with each other, especially at a time like this.” He was so glad that they learned so much through that week-end. They had learned to regularly take the time out to listen to each other - to check things out - especially feelings.

Another time that I was talking to Jerry he told me about the time he had to go up to Michael’s room in the hospital just after he died. He had just heard the news from Mary. Before they left for home Jerry had to go and pick up Michael’s things. It really hurt to find his bed already fixed up for the next person. It was too quick. In the next bed was this beautiful old Italian man. He was lying there moaning, “The little boy is dead. The little boy is dead.” How do hospitals, if they do it at all, break the news about a death to the person in the next bed?

Jerry often told me about all the trouble he had in trying to get the autopsy report. New York City paperwork is slow, but six months was too long. It finally arrived. It was hard to figure out because it was rather technical and the handwritten parts were rather scribbled. Michael had an enormous tumor in his chest. It was larger than a grapefruit. The cancer was eating into his lungs, esophagus and the sac around his heart.

To find out more clearly what the autopsy was saying I showed it to a good friend of mine, Garry, who is just about to begin interning as a doctor. He read the report slowly. I was amazed at his response. He was not technical. He spoke with deep concern and care. “It must have been rough on Michael’s parents.” That was his first response as he looked up. “This happened too quickly.” He went on, “The family must have been in shock. How did they ever make it?” Then he said, “Many times in cases like this, it gets so bad that the family finally says, ‘It will be a blessing if he dies.’ But this kid died too quickly. How did the family take it?”

If all doctors were as sensitive and as aware as that, then we are in for a great new wave of doctors. I’m aware that people like Doctor Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are trying to educate as many clergymen and women, medical personnel, and social workers to be as sensitive as possible towards those experiencing death. Here was a new doctor who was extremely sensitive in just reading an autopsy report.

Receiving the autopsy and moments like that were tough. I suppose what would have taken place if Michael had died slowly the gradual saying that it would be a blessing if he die, had to take place after his death. The fact that he also had malignant tumors in his kidneys and lungs helped us say that.

It also made us aware of the tragedy of young people dying from various types of cancer. Stories about athletes with leukemia or young people who die in car accidents often appear in the papers. Last week while I was giving a parish mission in North Carolina a couple came up to me to ask for prayers for Woody. He was their fifteen year old nephew who had died two months ago in a motorcycle accident in Alabama. Now I have some small idea about what’s happening behind the scenes of stories like that.

The clock moved forward. The healing slowly began. Mary told me that she and Jerry had no regrets. But they also told me that there were still many rainy days, days when the whole thing seemed like a dream -a nightmare - that they hoped would be gone in the morning.


CHAPTER SIX
REMEMBERING

A good friend of our family, Father Jack McGowan, lost all his books in a fire at our seminary last year. His room with everything he owned, photos, souvenirs, letters, all were lost.

I was recently talking to him about Michael and he said, “Well, I hope they keep on talking about him.” He then mentioned an idea from a book he had lost in the fire, Dawn Without Darkness by Anthony Padovano. “To remember somebody is to keep that person alive. As long as somebody remembers us, we are a live to that person.” “Unfortunately,” Jack added, “the book is out of print. But see, it’s still around because I remember it.”

That’s why I’m writing this book. I don’t want Michael to be out of print. I want to keep on talking, keep on remembering him, keep him alive. I want to gather some of the beautiful memories that kid gave us.

On June 14th of this year we celebrated the first anniversary of his death. We had a crowded mass at our parish church. But the most beautiful thing happened after mass back at the house.

Father Tim Healy, S.J. and a bunch of Michael’s classmates from Regis High School came down the house. It was tough for Mary and Jerry to see these kids, because they could picture how Michael would have grown in one year. But as they sat there and ate as only teen-age boys can, they began telling stories about Michael. Each story triggered another story.

Sitting there listening, I began to notice that each story began with the word, "Remember."  "Remember when Michael pulled that trick on Father Duffy.” "Remember the day so and so had Michael lock him in his own locker, so he could try to catch the guy who knew the combination to his lock and who was putting stuff in his locker.” “Remember how Michael locked him in and then ran around the school telling how stupid this guy was to let himself be locked in his own locker.” “Remember the day Michael tried to take over the basketball team ...a mere freshman.” “Remember... remember... remember.”

Sitting there I looked around the room watching everybody’s face. I experienced why Abraham Heschel, Elie Wiesel and Henri Nouwen said story telling and remembering were so important. Now I understood better, how much of the Bible was written. It was written to preserve the stories and the memories of a people. Now I understood the meaning of the words of Jesus, “Do this in memory of me.” The early Christians must have sat around and did exactly what we were doing that Wednesday. They must have said, "Remember that day when Jesus told the story of the Prodigal Son. "Remember the day we wanted to get rid of those kids and Jesus told us to let them come to him.” “Remember... remember... remember.” As we sat there eating we remembered Michael. So too Jesus was remembered in the breaking of the bread.

Well, somebody must have said, “Hey, we better write these stories down before we lose them. We better write down these things Jesus taught us so we can pass them down to our kids.”

I sat there listening to those kids, hoping they would write down those stories about Michael which I had never heard before. I wish I had a tape recorder handy.

It taught me first hand, the importance of talking about those who have died. It taught me the importance of anniversaries. It taught me the importance of an audience, for friends of a dead person to get together and talk about their friend. It taught me the importance of writing things down.

Yet I hesitated about writing this book. Should I or shouldn’t I? Would it cause only rain. Would it cause only more pain just as grass is beginning to grow over Michael’s grave?

I wasn’t sure, so I asked my brother-in-law, Jerry. He paused and said, ‘Let me think about it.” About a month later he said, “Okay, maybe it will help others who have to go through the same thing.”

I asked him if he had anything he would like me to say. “Put in,” he said, “that after 8 months, after 10 months, after 12 months, it’s still murder. For the first 6 months people are real aware of what happened, what you must be going through, but then after that some people must figure you should be over it. Well, it’s one year now, and we still miss Michael more than ever.”

I was one of those people who felt they were doing okay. I told Jerry that. “Well,” he said, “tell people what we are going through, just in case this happens to them and they think they are the only ones who feel this bad a year after someone dies.”

I’ve often wondered about this “missing” of someone. In my sermon on Michael’s first anniversary I used the example of an amputee. During this past year whenever I met a person who had lost an arm or a leg I asked them what it’s like to lose an arm or a leg. I asked them how long they felt pain in the missing limb. They all answered that the “phantom pain” never leaves. Often, they told me, you’d find yourself reaching down to scratch a leg that wasn’t there. I couldn’t understand that. I figured that the pain would disappear after a while. But then I thought about stroke patients. They have a rupture or something like that in their brain and then the whole left or right side would go. I thought back to when we studied biology and remembered how different parts of the brain control different parts of the body. There was the answer. A person might lose an arm or a leg, but they still had a place in the brain for that missing arm or leg.

There it was. It was now so simple. Michael is gone. But our brains still contain all those beautiful memories of him. As long as we’re around Michael will be around. He had become part of us - a member of us. To remember is to “re – member” a person, to pull together parts, members, of us that are gone.

But we need that audience to share our rememberings. My sister-in-law Joanne told me about a couple who moved from their neighborhood in Maryland to the mid-west. The husband had been transferred. Just after they arrived there they had the tragedy of losing a child. Joanne heard that they were still going through hell, especially because they didn’t know anybody out there to share their stories about their kid with. Nor did anybody out there know their kid.

Thank God then that Mary has friends like Marie who is a great listener. Marie and people like Father Marty Crowe would call and ask, “How are things going?” People like Father Joe Keenan would come down at least once a week to listen and pray with Mary and Jerry. The priests at Regis kept in contact. Then there was that big mass last September at Regis when all the school gathered to remember Michael in prayer.

But most especially I noticed that the family itself, Jerry and Mary, Monica, Gerard and Maryna talked to each other about Michael. How else could then live in a house filled with the memories of Michael? How else could they face the big days of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and especially Michael’s birthday? On Michael’s birthday, Mary and Jerry took Gerard and Maryna down to Villanova so they could be together with Monica. They drove down after school, went out to dinner, and drove back to Brooklyn that same night. The next day the New York papers told the story of a couple in Westchester, New York, who committed suicide together the day before. Their only son, aged 17, had drowned the summer before.

Jerry was right. People need to know they are not the only ones who are going through this. I hope this book reaches people who think they are all alone.

I began writing. I began gathering what I remembered about Michael. I began jotting down all the ideas that Jerry had given me. I began thinking about all Mary had told me in many late night conversations. She had said that many days she was operating at only 25 percent of her energies.

Mary told me that it was the little things that caused the most pain. Little reminders would flash so suddenly and unexpectedly. She said she would be sitting on the train and there would be a kid sitting there who would be Michael’s age. The tears would flow. She wished she had a pair of sunglasses handy. Then there would be those moments when Michael would be needed for a fourth hand in cards, or she’d catch herself calling him to run to the store. Then there was the day at Jerry’s mom’s apartment when she told us that Michael had promised the week before he died that he’d be there the following week to paint her apartment. Or there was the knowing that he would have been tops in whatever field he entered. There was the knowing that the family would never be the same again.

We will continue to cry knowing that the pain will never leave us. But the pain is the reminder, just as much as the picture of Michael on top of the television. The pain reminds us of what we lost and so we remember those whom we love. It’s not a vicious circle, but part of a beautiful circle that makes us human. As somebody said, “Only humans remember their dead.”

This book then is a memory, a remembering of Michael. I write it for the family. I write it for his friends. I write it for all those who might be going through what we’re going through – losing someone special.

Maybe too, this book will help someone realize the message of Michael’s life. It is written on his tombstone: “Michael is special to God ... and so are you.” It is that same message that was on his memorial card with the added words about God. Michael was only 15 when he died, so he only had a chance to meet so many people to tell them that they were special, to help them experience that. Maybe this book will help Michael’s message reach so many more.

I suppose too that I wanted to write this book to fulfill the prediction Michael made that Sunday night before he died: “Someday they are going to write a book about me.”

He gave one stipulation: “Don’t write about how I died, but about how I lived.” Part of us died when Michael died and I suppose this is the root of our sadness. So I hope this book preserves a bit of the life of Michael Doody, who died in the year of Our Lord, June 14, 1977