I do not want to be here today for many painful reasons. Joe Finnegan was not just my father, but he was my dear friend. He was also the first person I would see and speak with in the morning and the last person I would see at night. He was the person I spent every day with by my side for at least a year and almost every day by my side for several years because I was also his primary care giver, getting his medicine organized, getting him dressed, getting his meals set to match his dietary needs and measure each fluid ounce per doctor’s orders. In the last few months, we had a home health person scheduled to come once a week but often they were unreliable and dad and I decided we could take care of ourselves. Mom wanted me here today so I am here to honor her wish. Dad wanted me here but we had many conversations and he knew I if I didn’t die of grief I would wrestle over the decision to come. To quote dad in his final day, “What options do I have?” Dad’s options were slowly being taken away from him and he rode each blow out like a champ. He and his father before him had deep beliefs that we must stand up and speak for people who cannot speak for themselves. So I am here to tell you, Dad loved his life even with every uncomfortable challenge and he told me again on his last day that he did not want to die but he didn’t think he had an option. He loved our walks to the beach with Louie or reading his books, or spending time by the pool in our garden with friends or fun times with Mom. Dad loved peddling his bike the day and weeks before he went to the hospital for acid reflux. He loved almost everything but Joe Finnegan does not want to be here now, either and never wanted to be among the whited sepulchers.
How can I in five minutes summarize the legend of the type of man whose character inspired epic novels translated in languages around the world for centuries. He would want me to thank you for coming because he loved people – except maybe the rare one he told not to come. This past week has been painful but when I was asked if he had any favorite Bible verses we should include, I was able to remember countless conversations he and I had about our faith and the Bible not only because I loved hearing his stories of growing up with a father so strict that he made all the children get on their knees at home every night to recite the Hail Mary and Our Father and they attended every church service religiously and followed traditions like no meat on Friday. We also got to talk daily about scripture and interpretation because Dad and I attended a weekly Contemplative Prayer group even if we were not able to attend every week, we had a book we read before bed almost every night. Each short reading had a scripture that often evoked a relevant memory for dad to share with me. We learned so much about each other on a deep level regarding worldly struggles and our belief in a spiritual realm. We also had a shared dislike for the book of Job. Why would God allow Satan out to harm his most faithful servant? That was something neither Dad nor I could comprehend. In the final analysis, it seems, it is because God grants us free will and without free will we have no way of determining the quality of the soul of the individual character.
My dad was an honorable man. I would tell him all the time he was a better man than I will ever be. My kindergarten report card had teacher notes that I liked to tell jokes. Now I am stuck with this weird sense of humor only dad might appreciate. He was perhaps not a perfect man, but his character was rich with every good quality throughout his life. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are: Wisdom, Intellect, Counsel, Fortitude, Science, Piety, and Love of the Lord and Dad’s cup runneth over in each. Dad was the ultimate care giver of people throughout his life. He cared for his brothers and sisters especially after both his parents died. He told me he sold his home and gave half of his money to his sister who would take care of their youngest brother, who was my dad’s Godson. Dad took his role seriously even if they were only volunteer positions like his job at the NCH ER where he spent every Sunday night helping people in their unique emergency for about eight years. Dad told me years ago he served on the Board of a Hospital in MA and he was the first non-doctor ever assigned to that post. Doctors today are not even made to take the Hippocratic Oath but it was a motto Dad and I tried to live daily in dealing with all living beings directly or indirectly as we know every action can cause a ripple effect and we do not make decisions lightly because we try to do no harm in the immediate or long term in the micro sense and macro sense. He was my teacher and my guide I was blessed to have give historical relevance to every news story of today or in historical events before my birth. One of his favorite movies recently was Hacksaw Ridge. Dad was a veteran himself rarely spoke of his service and he did not think he deserved any honor for his service knowing how lucky he was to not ever have to fire or even clean a gun while stationed over seas. After watching Hacksaw Ridge, Dad told me if he could do it all over again, he probably would join something more like the Peace Corps because in retrospect he could have been of more service to others. That was my Father. Always trying to think of how he could be of better service to do the right thing and try to counsel others to do the right thing.
Some people suggested I tell the story of our hurricane survival, and that is a good story, but most noteworthy is how dad was not concerned about details like running out of oxygen because he told me he trusted me to take care of him. In the aftermath, however, dad was in his wheelchair in our backyard that was strewn with broken trees and branches and so many palm fronds in the pool it was impossible to see the furniture at the bottom. Dad was trying to pick up branches from his wheelchair and seemed unusually distraught. He told me he was just so frustrated he couldn’t help me. I reminded him that his just being there was helping me and circumstances weren’t much different than when he and I first moved to Naples and there was no yard because it was so overgrown, no pool, and barely a shell of a house we had to rebuild. The difference now is that we had friends who could help us because although we knew no one when we first moved to Naples more than 20 years ago, we were blessed to also build an amazing community of friends like you all, who helped us not only survive but make life worth living.
I have heard a lot in the past few years about how lucky dad was to have me. The truth is, I was lucky to have him. And Louie and I will miss him every day.
(Eulogy written by Michelle Finnegan at her dad's memorial in Naples Fl.)