Monday, September 14, 2015

Eulogy for My Father

I share this story knowing that I am sharing it as I saw it but the story is shared by others as well who may tell it differently ... all of the ways that people talk about their stories of loss are true for them so I offer you my truth.

Two weeks ago Saturday I got a call that no one wants to receive.  My sister called me in tears to say that my father had stopped breathing and he was at the hospital.  I started making arrangements to fly to California (thankfully my sister was able to pay fly my daughter and I out).  She would tell me later that night as we were continuing to make plans that the nurses were not sure he would make it through the night.  I have never willed a plane to carry my daughter and I faster.  Each time we stopped I expected to have a text or phone message that my father had died.  When I arrived and got to the hospital, my father was in the ICU, on a ventilator and enough IV lines to make him look like a cyborg.  Over the next five days we sat by my father's bed side searching for signs of awareness, signs that he was getting stronger and meeting with doctors to find out what was going on.  Each day there were decisions to be made. He did make physical progress for a brief time - breathing on his own, maintaining his blood pressure etc but while he had periods of waking up, he never seemed to really be there as much as my family and I hoped he would be.  Finally, as his physical health began to decline, we had to admit that he would not return to us and we made the difficult decision to stop life support and hours later, he slipped away peacefully early Friday morning.

I asked my mother that I be allowed to speak as his funeral.  My sister and I offered the only two eulogies during his funeral Mass in addition to a priest friend's homily.  The night before other family friends had a chance to share memories during the vigil service.  This was one of the hardest things I have written and delivered.  I am very grateful to my wife Donna, always my trusted editor, for her great work on this particular piece.  My father and I had a very complicated relationship, which over time I will need to process and work through.  In this eulogy, I sought a balance of honoring his wonderful qualities and his challenging ones - one often the shadow of the other. I loved my father and I am glad that I can remember him in his fullness.

I am grateful for the incredible outpouring of love and support my family and I have received over the past two weeks.  I saw friends and family I have not seen in decades.  While we were fortunate to have so much love around us, it was so hard to not have my wife Donna there with me, to hold me, for her to participate in the public mourning of my father.

While the public mourning is finished, the work has only begun to live life without him physically here in it.  I share this with all of you as my public remembrance of my father.

My parents and I at my graduation from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley in 2008!

John E. Sequeira
delivered Wednesday September 9, 2015

John Sequeira was many things - husband, father, brother, uncle, grandfather, friend, deacon, colleague. I know he would love the gatherings yesterday and today - except that he would want to join in the fun.  He would love seeing all of you, from so many times and places in his life. He would truly not know where to begin with saying hello and hugging you, asking how you are and about your kids and grandkids.  He was the person that if you popped into his mind, he would pick up the phone and call you.  It didn't matter how long it had been, you would pick up where you left off.  In many ways he was also a person that never met a stranger, just someone he didn't know yet. It is a testament to who he was that so many of you who were once strangers mourn his loss today with us.

I could talk with you today about all of his professional accomplishments, his commitment to the Church, his active participation in social justice, the overcoming of his own struggles in life or what a great friend he was. To be honest, it is an impossible to task to tell you all that I might in just a short period … after all, like my father, I am a preacher. What I hope to do is to talk with you about how my father most impacted my life.

I am sure it surprises those that knew us best, for me to tell you that my dad and I often had passionate and heated conversations … we sometimes had a hard time agreeing especially around politics.You see all of my life I have heard how like my father I am - whether how I look or how similar we are in character and temperament … most of the time it was about our temperament.  Both of us liked things the way WE liked them; believed what we believed intensely and loved what we loved passionately; we both struggled with our perfectionism and we each let little things really get to us. Our families saw those times when we were at our worst. Yet much of the time, including today, I am honored to be ‘just like John’ because along with those qualities that are challenging, I share his best qualities.  I also have friends in my life that I have known for decades,we both had a passion for justice and we both shared a deep love of theology and ethics.

One of my favorite theologians from the 20th Century, James Luther Adams said “An unexamined faith is not worth having, for it can be true only by accident.” Both of my parents taught me to examine my faith, but it was with my father, for the most part, that I engaged in theological discussions with, even when I was young. My father was a faithful servant of the Church, but he also showed me by example how to disagree with it conscientiously. That examination of faith has lead me into amazing encounters with people of all faiths and enabled me to develop a rich and deep spiritual life. While I am sure he was sad that I could no longer find a home in the Catholic Church, I always knew he respected my spiritual journey and the person of faith that I am.  I was proud of his work with the American Institute of Ethics and even prouder when he asked me to serve on the Board. It was amazing to work with my dad at something we shared. In recent years, we were able to share a love of multifaith engagement and dialogue.  I hope that he knew he gave me the gift of constantly seeking God in my own life.

Of course for as much as we could find common ground in our faith journeys, our shared passion for politics could lead to some serious differences in opinion.  Most of our family found it hard to be around us when politics came up.  He considered me an over the top liberal and I could not believe he wasn't.  Let's just say that political debate over the phone or the dinner table might get a tad loud and just a little heated.  Yet at the core of all this was a shared passion to make justice - we just disagreed sometimes in how we might best get there. Others might not miss those debates but I will.

The greatest gift he gave me was love and acceptance.  From her visit to meet the family, my dad knew that Donna would be around for a long time to come so over time he shared his love of golf and San Francisco with Donna.  He took her to hit a golf ball for the first time and as luck would have it, she impressed him by hitting a great first shot … Donna would say ‘she was in like Flynn’ after that.  I never had to worry that my dad would turn his back on me or not love the person I chose to love. It just happened that both my dad and Donna loved storytelling, history and he taught her to love golf. He had a gift for sharing what he loved with others.

Perhaps his most important gift was his ability to show up with gentleness and care. He was present in the hospital the day Mollie our daughter was born.  I hate needles so while they put in the IV, Dad stood there telling me it would be ok. My Dad would sometimes get frustrated with me over the small things, but when it came to the big moments he was calm, patient and loving. He, my mom and sister were waiting in the hallway when Donna brought Mollie down to meet them, Donna remembers him beaming and laughing in that way he had so you could feel his joy. Mollie is named after his grandmother, who I grew up hearing stories about all my life and I know how much that naming meant to him. He dearly loved all three of his grandchildren and he lives on in them.

I hope you will continue to share stories of my dad. I am grateful for the teacher, conversation partner, storyteller, thinker and gentle, loving man but most importantly I am glad that he was able to show me that the story of any human being is a complicated one, complete with amazing goodness and love, moments of weakness and mistakes, times of pain and joy … and worth living and examining in all its messiness.

Thank you, Dad, for showing me how to live and love with passion.