Since our insufficiently symbolicmourning dove experience, I've been living vicariously through my friend Deb, whose new friends Habigail and Nanook took up residence on her amazing Long Island City fire escape garden. Habby and Nanook produced two eggs, hatched them, and now spend their days nuzzling their clutch in an excruciatingly cute manner and taunting Deb's cat, Icky. I am so jealous.
This eulogy for my dad was the most difficult writing assignment I've ever had – even harder than my eleventh grade King Lear paper that my dad basically had to ghostwrite because I procrastinated and then panicked the night before it was due. He was always bailing me out of jams.
Not much has changed, it seems. Faced with what seemed an impossible task, I procastinated. I panicked. The morning of the memorial, I got up early, sat next to a homeless person at Starbucks, and banged on my keyboard crying until something came out. You can do that sort of thing in New York - no one even notices when you're being a total freak.
What came out was creaky and imperfect. It wasn't even close to everything that was in my heart. Obit writers say it takes years to do justice to an extraordinary life. I had over three decades – plus 18 months warning while he was sick and 40 days after his death – to think it through and get it right.
But time didn't help. What I really needed was my dad to bail me out. He would have had the right turn of phrase, the perfect anecdote, the thread that tied it all together. He would have made connections I hadn't thought of and spotted the sentiment that didn't ring true. I no longer have the benefit of having his brilliant mind at my disposal, and so everything I do and say from now on will suffer from the want of it.
Whatever I said, it probably didn't matter. There was a lot of love in the room. I hope that the 280+ people in the congregation walked away knowing that my dad's children and his wife adored him. In the end, we gave him a proper send-off, and he deserved that.
Best beloveds, I leave you with "The Parting Glass," a hauntingly beautiful Irish folk song that we played during our final toast to my dad. You can listen to it here - it gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.
The Parting Glass
Of all the money that e'er I had I spent it in good company. And all the harm I've ever done Alas it was to none but me. And all I've done for want of wit To mem'ry now I can't recall; So fill to me the parting glass Good night and joy be to you all.
If I had money enough to spend, And leisure time to sit awhile. There is a fair maid in this town, That surely has my heart beguiled. Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips, I own, she has my heart in thrall; Then fill to me the parting glass, Good night and joy be to you all.
Of all the comrades that e'er I had, They're sorry for my going away. And all the sweethearts that e'er I had, They'd wish me one more day to stay. But since it fell unto my lot, That I should rise and you should not, I gently rise and softly call, Good night and joy be to you all.
The day after my dad died, a pair of mourning doves built a nest outside my parents' bedroom window nine floors above Manhattan's Upper West Side. We were too exhausted and too shellshocked to wonder why. We simply named them Victoria and Albert.
Albert, a dun-colored, sweet tempered, slightly chubby little fellow, foraged for nesting material in the leafy backyards of West End Avenue. Returning to Victoria with the most improbable items, he climbed on her back and poked her with sticks until she acknowledged him.
They wedged their charming children's book nest in the corner of the partially open window, sticks and leaves and tail feathers poking into the room where my mom awakens evert morning to their stereophonic cooing.
A few days later, two eggs appeared -- luminous, opalescent symbols of eternal life. Devoted parents-to-be, the doves incubate their eggs together, taking shifts. Mourning doves are said to mate for life.
Thirty-two years ago, my parents moved their young family into this apartment, looked out this very window, and saw a rainbow.
Even as the wind blows and the snow gathers, Victoria and Albert sit perfectly still, their little faces content with purpose and bright with anticipation.
Every day, we run to the window to check for babies. The delight we feel in bearing witness to this intensely private, primal process, is immense. We marvel at their sweetness, their devotion to each other. They are such companionable little creatures – they even tolerate our company. Indeed, they seem to be watching over us, just like my dad did. Don't worry, poulakia! I'm with you always.*
What a benediction this new life is, especially at time of overwhelming subtraction. And what a blessing it is to read your comments, your stories, to be showered with such loving support and fellow feeling. I am so touched and so grateful. Thank you.
*My dad called my mom and me poulakia, or "little birds" in Greek. I heard recently that the word also means something quite different (and less sweet) in Greek slang, but nevermind.