Just a few days ago, a man died. But there’s no reason for you to care. You don’t care that his name was Phil. You don’t care that he was Catholic. You don’t care that he was a first-generation American from a family of Italians. You don’t care that he never let his small stature dictate what he could and could not do or say. You don’t care that he was one of the funniest people I ever met. Nothing I say about him will make you care about him more or less. He’s just one man among seven billion other people on the planet.
But to my family, he was Phil, a lifelong friend. He was a friend with whom an age gap of approximately 20 and 55 years with my parents and me, respectively, didn’t matter. He used to play soccer like I did, but he was almost too small for the team. He was an Army veteran. He was married to Ruby for more than six decades, and he cried at the renewal of their vows on their fiftieth anniversary. I’m told that he professed his love for Ruby quite possibly literally with his dying breath.
He was always ready to give hugs to my whole family, even at later times when he was horizontal in a hospital bed or could barely breathe when standing for more than a few seconds. But even then, that isn’t what we saw when we looked at him. We saw a lively guy, who often peppered his speech with expletives, followed by a swift apology to his wife. We saw a man whom nothing could rile faster than talk of liberals and politics. We saw a man who insisted, with a hint of a smirk, the only Italian he knew was the bad words. We saw a man whose most frequent joke was to say “edumacated,” preceding “I can only say ‘educated’ on Sundays.” We saw a man who never missed an opportunity to show and tell us how much he loved us and cherished our friendship.
You didn’t know him and you don’t have a reason to care, but that was Phil.
And today he was buried. I couldn’t be there because I work in a town an hour away, but I attended the visitation last night. Although there were a few teary eyes, everyone in the packed room at the funeral home couldn’t help but go on and on to Phil’s family about how funny he was and what a difference he made in their lives. Even Cory, who only met Phil once (because I simply couldn’t properly explain the man in words) told Phil’s family that he had a presence; he was not a forgettable person.
I thought about posting the last photo Phil and I took together just before Christmas, but he had gotten thin and feeble, and since he asked to be cremated, partly so people wouldn’t look at him, I thought I should respect that wish even regarding a photo. Additionally, that makes the photo mine and my family’s to treasure. Because to us, no matter how his outward appearance changed, he was still the man we loved.
In the past year, I’ve known other people to die who had an impact on my life. Names like Larry, Trish and Lorna. People much older than I am, but friends and acquaintances nonetheless. My parents often brought my sister and me around these adults at church, Christmas parties and other events. I learned at a young age to value these adult friendships just as much as my kid friendships.
And now death is bringing those physical friendships, one by one, to an end. Even if you don’t believe in heaven, most of you probably know that feeling when someone dies, that feelings of loss, but only in the physical sense, not in the connection that was established long beforehand. Now, in my early grownup years, it’s painful to see these seasoned grownups go, but I truly am thrilled to have known them.
So today, I say goodbye to another. Phil. I hope he knew how much I valued his friendship and that, even in a world of people who didn’t know him and don’t care, this girl cares very much.