My father passed away on this day, February 5th, back in 2011. In honor of the anniversary of his passing, I have decided to share the eulogy that I wrote for his funeral.
In his autobiography, “Dispatches from the Edge,” journalist Anderson Cooper makes an unexpected statement about poverty in Africa. When many African people die, he lamented, they leave behind nothing – no photographs, no journals or diaries, no trace that they had ever lived and died. To him, this was the greatest sadness he could ever imagine.
Today, we gather here to commemorate, through his death, my father’s life. He does leave behind several photographs, handwritten things, and lots of memories. But in spite of this, we still mourn his loss. We still find his loss to be one of the greatest sadnesses we could ever imagine.
In my father’s mind, as in the minds of every one of us, lay an entire universe. There are planets – our loved ones, they are our worlds – and there are galaxies, of family, friends, co-workers, classmates, and acquaintances. And there are a seemingly infinite amount of stars – representing the many experiences and memories within each of us.
We mourn today because, none of us, no matter how long we may have known my father, have been able to see every single star in his universe.
I’ve seen many of his stars. My parents and I visited each of the Missions when we first moved to San Antonio. My family and I went to Disneyland with relatives when my sisters and I were little. I remember zoos and aquariums. My family and I have seen Canada and Mexico, New York and Puerto Rico, California and Oklahoma, and many states between the Pacific and the Atlantic.
But there are other stars I only saw hints of as they sailed by, as quick as comets. I know my father’s universe included some surprising things, like an appreciation of the Independent Film Channel, the knowledge that comic book superhero Peter Parker became Spider-Man while he was still in high school, and the ability to beat Super Mario Bros. on the original Nintendo system, all the way through, at least once, before he got bored and didn’t want to play through the whole thing all over again.
We mourn today because we expected more time: more time together to watch stars with him, and more time to watch new stars be created, as we shared new experiences with him and made new memories alongside him.
We will never see a star that represents my father at my wedding, or at the weddings of my younger sisters. We will never see the star representing the first time he would have met and played with my future children, or my future nieces and nephews. We will never see the star that represents the fulfillment of his desire to retire in someplace warm, with a beach and a view of the ocean.
When my father was first diagnosed with cancer, I worried a lot about these things. I wondered what it would be like on my wedding day, without him. I wondered what I would tell my kids about their grandfather. I wondered what it would be like to see Puerto Rico, without my father there to tell me where the best parts were hidden, high in the mountains of the island.
And now, faced with his passing, watching the stars fall from the sky, I’m not thinking about any of these things anymore.
Instead, I’m grateful for what we did have time to share. I’m grateful for the memories my family and I already possess, from trick-or-treating in a shopping mall in California, to visiting California ghost towns with my mother’s father and the family dog. We walked the Riverwalk. We saw Niagra Falls. We visited New York City, walked Central Park, and we saw the Twin Towers gracing the skyline, weeks before September 11th took them down.
There will always be a part of me that mourns for the lost opportunities, but I know that I can’t let that be what I take away from today. My father’s death is not about what we didn’t have, what we never will have, but what we did have.
Some of our loved ones burn brighter than planets, and more like the suns at the center of our solar systems. They burn brightly for us, for as long as they can. And as we stand there, spending our lives basking in the warmth of their love, we will all have to make the choice: to enjoy the light while we have it, or to spend our entire lives fearing the darkness that’ll come after.
Today, we choose light. We choose life. We choose to live and love and cherish what we have, while looking back fondly on those we have lost, appreciating the time we were lucky enough to spend together. Black holes of sorrow will try to overtake the our universe. Black holes of regret may try to swallow up the few, lingering rays of light that still emanate from the spot where our loved ones once stood and burned so radiantly.
Once we leave here today, our lives will have to go on. But even without my father, all of us will continue to shine, brighter than we ever have before. Instead of sorrow, we should find strength in love, from every star around us that has ever gone out. It is what they’d want us to do.
Today, we remember. Today, we celebrate. Today, we pay our respects.
And after that, we all shine on.