Eulogy for my Father, Patrick Magill
What follows is a copy of the eulogy I gave at my father's memorial service earlier this week. I have had a few requests for this, and quite honestly, I do not have the physical or emotional energy to write a regular blog right now. For his sake, I would like to thank everybody who attended the service—the sheer volume of people was staggering—and for my own sake, I'd like to thank everybody who has expressed sympathy for me and my family. Thank you all. He was a great man, and we will miss him terribly.
Buddha was once asked where we go when we die. He replied with a smile that whatever happens in death is so far beyond our comprehension that all we can do is smile in the face of it. This was one of my father’s favorite anecdotes. He and I spent a lot of time discussing politics, science, philosophy, and religion, and he would inevitably repeat this anecdote about Buddha—though sometimes he said it was the Dalai Lama—whenever the subject of death or the afterlife would come up.
|Thank you, Kaley, for sharing this picture|
Make no mistakes; my father was a Christian man with faith in the teachings of Christ, but at the same time, he wasn’t arrogant about the big questions. He was humble with the knowledge that he didn’t have all the answers, and when it came time for him to face death, he was able to do it with dignity; he was able to do it with a smile.
Before my father showed us how it is done, I didn’t used to believe that a person could die with dignity. Death is messy and unpleasant. You lose control over your body and your mind, and if you don’t die quickly, it can be painful, lonely, and undignified. But my father didn’t die that way.
He wasn’t happy to be dying, and I’m sure he didn’t think it was very fair. But even as he fell apart both physically and mentally, he remained strong for himself and for the loved ones around him. It’s the single greatest show of strength I have ever seen. He refused to give in to fear, anger, or shame. It’s the last one—shame—I think is the most important, because I never saw my father ashamed about anything.
It wasn’t pride exactly, but for his whole life, he could stand naked before the whole world, and he would stand tall. Like I said, he was a humble man, and I know nobody in this room would disagree. If there was somebody who couldn’t stand tall alongside him, for whatever reasons, my father would lift that person up, because he believed in justice and he refused to believe that anybody was worse than him.
It’s no great mystery then why he chose to be a defense lawyer, a husband, and a father. He had faith in God, but he also had faith in people. It’s what made him so good in all aspects of his life. I can only speak as his son, but that’s more than enough to show you what I mean.
A few months after I moved out of the house and went to college to find my own way in life, my father came up to see me. He prodded me a little to find out where I stood and how I was doing, he shared stories of his time in college (which decorum prevents me from sharing here today) and offered plenty of sage advice, but at no point did he tell me exactly what I was supposed to do. In fact, at no point in my life did my father tell me exactly what I was supposed to do. He knew I had to figure that out for myself, and he had faith that I could, that I was strong enough to face the world and chase my own dreams.
Not long after I got married, he and my mother came to visit us in Maryland. My dad and I went out on the back porch, in the snow, and shared a cigar. This time, he wasn’t interested in prodding or offering advice; no matter what I wanted to talk about, he kept steering the conversation back to my writing. He had just read my latest work and wanted to talk about the ideas I was exploring, whether or not I was inspired by Einstein’s religious convictions, and so on. He didn’t need to know how I was doing, because he had the utmost faith that, if things weren’t going well and I needed help, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask. Luckily, I didn’t need to.
|Here he is with my son, Tommy, one year ago|
And when Tommy was born and my parents came to visit us yet again, he may have said something along the lines of, “I’m sure you’ll make a good dad,” but for the most part, he was there for Tommy, not me. Again, he wasn’t worried about me, because he had faith. He knew I could handle it. It was then that I think I finally understood that he had always been proud of me and my brothers, that it would be next to impossible for any of us to have truly disappointed him.
Despite that, I’ve lived my whole life—and don’t doubt that I will continue to do so—trying to make him proud of me. There are more parts of myself than I can count that I can trace back to a desire to impress my father. My love of music and literature, what I write, my interests in science, philosophy, politics, and religion, how I have chosen to raise my own son, how I act as a husband. All of it is, in some way or another, designed around trying to show my father that I can be like him. I may not be a perfect copy, and I don’t think of myself as being as good as my father, but the fact that he’s gone now won’t change anything. I’m still trying to live up to his example.
|Thanks, Mom, for this one, with his four grandsons—Noah, Luke, Tommy, and Ben—earlier this year|
He died with dignity because—and I don’t mean this as an insult to anybody here—he was the best of us. We should all spend the rest of our lives trying to be as generous, as good-humored, as honest, and as loving as he was. Then we can be the best of him, and we can strive to die with as much dignity as he did. We can face the end with a smile, because even if we don’t understand it, we know that we have nothing to be ashamed of.
I’d like to finish by quoting one of my father’s favorite songs: “The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old, but his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul. My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man. I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band.”
-e. magill 10/20/2010