On July 21, 2014, just one week after his seventy-second birthday, my father, Donald E. Jerome, “Paw-Paw”, “Uncle Gene” passed away peacefully in his sleep.
My brother and I spent the last few days of our father’s life with him, hoping he’d bounce back as he so easily did in the past. But after many years of physical pain, many years of his body struggling, he went home to heaven.
I met with a friend this week to talk about my father’s death. And while dad and I have had our share of arguments and disagreements over the years, still, at the end, everything was at peace between us. Any words needing to be said were said. And Dad, despite being so weak he could hardly speak, true to his nature of making sure his loved ones were taken care of made, ordered me to make sure I ate something. And I, his daughter in every way and true to my nature told him I’d eat when he’d finally rest and get much needed sleep. Naturally, Dad countered that he’d sleep when I’d go get myself something to eat.
And so, like we’d done so many times in my adult life, my final conversation with my father was a spirited debate with a twinkle in his eyes and his lips curved into that gentle smile I’ll miss terribly.
He passed away peacefully in his sleep eight hours later.
In the coming months, I’m sure I’ll recount stories of my father. For now, I’m writing this the day before his funeral, in a rare quiet moment after having put the final touches on his Eulogy. This post is being scheduled to release an hour after his funeral tomorrow. I don’t know how you write an Eulogy, all I know is how I felt about my father and what he taught me about life, and I wanted to honor him as best as I could. It’s near impossible to truly sum up such a generous and compassionate individual with mere words.
I love you Dad. Thank you for all you taught me about life, either with your words or your actions. Thank you for all the times you put what was best for me above your feelings. Thank you for teaching me how to be a parent, for teaching me how to work for what I want, for teaching me that there is no greater gift than that of unconditional love, and that what truly matters in this world has no monetary value. I was blessed on the day God saw fit to place me in your family as your daughter when I was given up for adoption.
I found myself struggling to write this. And that’s comical considering what I do for a living. At one point this week, it made sense to my grief stricken mind that maybe there’s someone more qualified than I to write my father’s eulogy; maybe there’s someone who can find the right words to define a man who has meant so much to so many people. So I thought of not writing the eulogy. I thought of asking someone else to do it for me. And certainly, no one would blame me, because I’ve just lost my father. I wanted to just not do it, to just give up.
And then my mind drifted to when I was a child, particularly to Saturday mornings. I’d get up, get a bowl of cereal, and if Dad was going to his office, he’d ask me if I wanted to go with him. And of course I did. They had a break room with cookies in it, and I could always sneak down and get a few. And Dad’s office had this photo cube that was a radio as well. And even better, devoid of people as it was on Saturday mornings, it echoed. To a child, making noise, especially echoey noise, was almost as awesome as being told breakfast was going to be cake and lunch was going to be ice cream.
And in my father’s office there was a plaque. And on that plaque there was a very famous quote: “Never, never, never give up” by Sir Winston Churchill, a distant relative.
Dad lived his life by those words. Dad taught his daughter the very meaning of those words by his every action in his life. And so, I sent an email to my editor whining about not being able to do it, took a deep breath, and began to just write.
I could stand here today and tell you when Dad was born and when he died. I can tell you where he went to college, and what he did as a career. But those few little facts? They in no way encompass who he was as a person. They in no way tell the story of a man who defined himself not by the amount of his bank account but by the wealth of his soul.
Dad always helped those in need: he was a big supporter of several charities, he gave his time as a Eucharistic minister visiting those unable to receive the Eucharist as well as helping those less fortunate through his work through Love Truck and the Samaritan Inn, or the gift of his kind and thoughtful words for those who needed them.
Dad was also stubborn, and while that word sometimes comes with a negative association, for Donald Eugene Jerome, his headstrong and determined personality is what led him to achieve more than most people. He always believed you could achieve whatever it was you wanted to achieve, and what mattered was not where you came from or what you have done before, but where you would go and what you would do. And he never gave up. Rather than let obstacles in his way stop him from what he wanted, he simply found a way to work through them. He grew up in poverty, yet put himself through college to receive his degree. Rather than let infertility rob him of fatherhood, he adopted two children. He refused to allow health issues and physical disabilities prevent him from living a full life. By my age, he had lived in South America, all throughout the United States, and traveled to Mexico and Canada. In his retirement years, he fulfilled a long lived dream of seeing Rome and the Vatican.
Dad was happiest when he was with his family, and his greatest joys in his life were his seven grandchildren: Amethyst, Luke, Tyler, Autumn, Cody, Benjamin and Sawyer.
But if I had to choose one word to define my father, it would be faith. Not once, despite losing siblings and both his parents, despite having physical handicaps and declining health, did my father ever ask God “why?” He simply would take a deep breath and ask God for the strength to make it through whatever he was faced with. When I would face my own struggles, Dad would remind me of the Serenity Prayer and tell me that if God brings us to it, He’ll bring us through it.
People often say how they wish they’ll pass on. Dad got his wish: his two children with him during his final days. He was right with God. He had said the words he’d wished to say to those he loved. And as he’d wished for, he went home to heaven peacefully in his sleep.
My father achieved much in his time on earth: A successful career, a family, service to those less unfortunate. But above everything else, he died a man wealthy in what was the most important gift and blessing he’d ever wanted: The love of his family.